Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bark, Bark

"You hungry, Skip?" Kevin Fields pulled himself away from his book of short stories to rhetorically ask his German Shepherd, Cleon, nee Skip. When Cleon-Skip offered no response save for the low, continuing whine that had interrupted Kevin from his reading in the first place, he added, "Of course you are," then got up to feed the poor old bastard. In lieu of a bookmark, he used a Bic lighter to save his place. Neat trick.

Cleon, dog of eleven years, Kevin's of four (inherited from his old man, who died of a stroke at forty-seven), was uncharacteristic of his breed. He detested going on walks, for one. For another, he was as timid as a snowflake. Kevin's father used to joke that not only would Cleon fail to protect the household should a burglary or home invasion occur, but that he would, in all likelihood, become an accomplice to the crime. (What Kevin Fields Sr. failed to predict before he died, however, was that there are easier ways to rob a house. You don't even have to break into one. You just have to work at a bank.)

Cleon. He hated leashes, would turn into a pacifist whenever a collar was put around his neck, would rather be dragged up the street paws first than to wear that bitch bracelet, and good luck trying.

But his intentions were pure. He wanted to befriend everyone he encountered. Without fail, though, his exuberance was met with shock and fear from strangers. One time in the park, Cleon went running up to a mother pushing her baby in a stroller. It didn't matter that all he wanted to do was sniff the pretty lady and maybe Eskimo kiss her baby; the mother saw a 90-pound hulk of a dog -- a canine colossus -- locomoting toward her and recoiled in abject terror.

The police came.

On another occasion, Cleon had worms and was taken to the vet. Panic ensued: parents and toddlers and dogs alike running for shelter as though Cleon were Godzilla, they denizens of New Japan. I think only the president survived.

Poor old Cleon, only wanting love, always met with abhorrence. Kevin thought it wrong to anthropomorphize the old soldier, but he couldn't help comparing him to Lenny in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. He also considered Cleon naive, and imagined that if it were possible for dogs to fall for Nigerian e-mail scams, Cleon would be an easy mark. The easiest.

But Cleon wasn't without sense. The dog had a way of telling who did or didn't want to be in his presence. He understood that he was imposing, that he intimidated most children, their parents, their parents' veterinarians. When Cleon's enthusiasm was met with fear or hostility -- and doesn't pepper spray sting like a motherfucker when all you want to do is get a closer look at that beach ball? -- he'd stand down, sulk for a second or two, and look for another trajectory toward something that looked just as fun.

Nor was Cleon without wits. In that way, he was smarter than a lot of Kevin's friends and most of his family members, many of whom had little or no understanding of social niceties, let alone the norms. Cleon knew not to throw up on the carpet; Kevin's friends didn't. If you gave Cleon a treat -- a chew toy, some Ruffles with ketchup, a teddy bear that he could tear the shit out of -- you were his friend for life (unless you threw up on the carpet). When Kevin's late mother and father got into a row on Thanksgiving of 2003 and started throwing turkey then lobster then dishes then cutting knives at one another, Cleon hid in a corner to avoid the chaos. "Because Cleon knew it was better to let them kill each other rather than to interfere in their petty bullshit," Kevin would say.

Good dog.


"Skip! Hey, Skip!" Kevin called to Cleon from the laundry room. "C'mon, Skip! Hot food, don't waste it!"

When Cleon didn't come, Kevin reentered the family room to rouse the ancient specimen. "Get up, boy. Time's running out. Last warning before I throw it away for the crows and the raccoons..."

Cleon was gone. Skip was gone. All that remained on the carpet was a depression in the shape of a German Shepherd.

Neat trick.

[Note: No pets, real or imagined, were harmed during the writing of this story. Also, the image accompanying this post was painted by Igor Lysenko. It's called "Disappearing Dog," and you can buy it here:]

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