Read A Dog’s Journey Online

Authors: W. Bruce Cameron

A Dog’s Journey (9 page)

“Maybe … CJ? Maybe we should go to prom together this year.”

“What? No, are you kidding? You don’t go to prom with your
friends.
That’s not what it’s for.”

“Yeah, but…”

“But what?” CJ rolled over, brushing her hair back from her face. “God, Trent, ask someone pretty. What about Susan? I know she likes you.”

“No, I’m … Pretty?” Trent said. “Come on. You know you’re pretty.”

CJ slugged him lightly in the arm. “Ya goof.”

Trent was frowning and looking at the ground.

“What?” CJ asked.

“Nothing.”

“Come on; let’s go to the park.”

We went for a walk. Rocky held us up, sniffing and marking the bushes, while I stuck close to CJ’s side. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a little box, but it wasn’t a treat. There was a flare of fire and then a smelly smoke was coming out of her mouth. I knew that odor: it was in all of CJ’s clothing and was often on her breath.

“So what’s probation like? The whole house arrest thing?” Trent wanted to know.

“It’s nothing. I just have to go to school. It’s not even real probation. Gloria acts like I’m some kind of, like, felon.” CJ laughed, then coughed out more smoke.

“You get to keep the dog, though.”

Both Rocky and I looked up at the word “dog.”

“I’m moving out the second I turn eighteen.”

“Yeah? How are you going to manage that?”

“I’ll join the army if I have to. I’ll go to a
nunnery.
I just have to survive until I’m twenty-one.”

Rocky and I found something deliciously dead to sniff, but CJ and Trent kept walking and our leashes pulled us away before either one of us could roll in it. Sometimes people let their dogs take the time to smell everything important, but most of the time they walk too fast and the wonderful opportunities are lost.

“What happens at twenty-one?” Trent asked.

“That’s when I get the first half of the trust fund my daddy left me.”

“Yeah? How much?”

“Like a million dollars.”

“No
way.

“Way. There was a settlement with the airline after the crash. It’s enough to pay for college and for me to move to New York to take my acting to the next level.”

A squirrel was hopping along in the grass a few houses ahead of us. It froze, realizing its fatal mistake. Rocky and I lowered our heads and charged, straining against our leashes. “Hey!” Trent said, laughing. He ran with us, but with him and CJ holding us back the squirrel was able to make it to a tree and dashed up, chattering at us. Otherwise we most surely would have caught it. We chased that same squirrel on the way back home. Did the stupid thing
want
to be caught?

Every so often CJ would say, “Want to go to the Vet?” Roughly translated, this meant “We’re going for a car ride in the front seat to see Doctor Marty!” I always responded enthusiastically, even when I came home one day wearing a stupid collar, a plastic cone that magnified all sounds and made it difficult to eat and drink. It had taken me a long time to get used to the idea, but eventually I had learned that people like to put their dogs in stupid collars from time to time.

When I next saw Rocky, he was wearing the same kind of collar! It made wrestling difficult, but we managed.

“Poor Rocky’s singing soprano now,” Trent said.

CJ laughed, smoke coming from her nose and mouth.

Soon after the stupid collar came off we started doing “art building,” which was where we’d go to a quiet place and I’d munch on a chew toy while CJ sat and played with smelly sticks and papers. Everyone at Art Building knew my name and petted me and sometimes fed me—it was so different from at home, where CJ hugged me and cuddled me and Gloria just pushed me away if I tried to greet her in any fashion.

Gloria never touched CJ, either, which was why it was good I was there. In a way, being held by CJ was my most important function. I could feel the lonely ache inside her melting away as we lay together on her bed. I would wag and kiss her and even nibble lightly on her arm, so happy to be with my girl.

When CJ wasn’t home I lived downstairs. Trent came over and he and CJ put a dog door in the basement door, so that I could go out into the backyard if I wanted. I loved going in and out through that dog door—there was always something fun to do on the other side!

Sometimes when I was out in the yard I could see Gloria standing at the window, watching me. I always wagged. Gloria was mad at me for some reason, but I knew from experience that people can’t stay mad at dogs forever.

One day when CJ came home it was late enough that the sun had set. She hugged me for a long time and was sad and upset. Then we went into her bathroom and she vomited. I yawned and paced anxiously—I never knew what to do when this happened. CJ and I both looked up at the same time and there was Gloria standing in the doorway, watching us.

“You wouldn’t have to do that so often if you didn’t eat so much,” Gloria said.

“Oh, mo-
ther,
” CJ replied. She stood and went to her sink and drank water.

“How did your auditions go?” Gloria asked.

“Terrible. I didn’t get
anything.
It’s like, you have to have been doing drama this whole year or they won’t even consider casting you.”

“Well. If they don’t want my daughter in their summer play, it’s their loss. It hardly matters—no one ever got to be an actress by being in plays in high school.”

“That’s right, Gloria. Who ever heard of an actor
acting
?”

“I am just saying that I never sang in high school and it didn’t slow me down one bit.”

“I am noticing all the record companies beating down our door lately.”

Gloria crossed her arms. “I had a very promising career until I got pregnant with you. Once you have a baby, it’s all different.”

“What are you saying, you couldn’t sing anymore because you’d had a baby? Did you deliver me through your esophagus?”

“You’ve never thanked me, not once.”

“I’m supposed to thank you for giving birth? Seriously? Do they make cards for that, like: ‘Thanks for letting me hang out in your uterus for nine months’?”

I launched myself up and landed with expert placement at the foot of the bed.

“Get off!” Gloria snapped.

Guiltily I jumped down and slumped to the floor, my head lowered.

“It’s okay, Molly. You’re a good girl,” CJ soothed. “What do you got against dogs, Gloria?”

“I just don’t see the attraction. They’re messy and foul smelling. They lick. They don’t do anything useful.”

“You’d feel different if you just spent time with one,” CJ replied, petting me.

“I have. My mother had a dog when I was little.”

“You never told me that.”

“She used to kiss it on the mouth; it was disgusting,” Gloria continued. “She was always loving it up. It was fat and it just lay in her lap all day and didn’t do anything useful, just sat and watched me clean the house.”

“Well, Molly’s not like that.”

“You spend all your money on dog food and vet bills when there are so many nice things we could buy.”

“Now that I have Molly, I don’t need anything else.” CJ scratched my ear and I leaned into it, groaning a little.

“I see. The dog gets all the credit and your mother gets nothing.” Gloria turned away and walked out the door. CJ got up and shut it and then cuddled with me on the bed.

“We’re getting out of here as soon as we can, I promise, Molly,” CJ said. I licked her in the face.

I was a good dog who was taking care of Ethan’s child, but it wasn’t just because it was what he would want. I loved CJ. I loved falling asleep in her arms and walking with her and going to do art building.

What I didn’t love was the boy named Shane who started coming over all the time. Gloria was very often not home in the evening, so Shane and CJ would cuddle on the couch. Shane’s hands smelled of the same smoke that permeated CJ’s clothing. He always said hello to me, but I could tell he didn’t really like me—the way he petted me was too perfunctory. A dog can always tell.

I didn’t trust people who didn’t like dogs.

One evening Trent and Rocky came over when Shane was there. Rocky was very alert, staring up at Trent, who didn’t sit down. I could feel Trent’s anger and sadness, and obviously Rocky could, too. I tried to engage Rocky in a little wrestling, but he wasn’t interested—he was focused on Trent.

“Oh, hey, just thought I’d come by, and…,” Trent said. He kicked at the carpet a little.

“As you can see, she’s busy,” Shane said.

“Yeah,” Trent said.

“No, come in; we’re just watching TV,” CJ said.

“No, I’d better go,” Trent said.

After he left I went to the window and looked out it and saw him standing next to his car, gazing at the house for a long minute before he opened the door and drove off.

Rocky was in the front seat.

The next day CJ didn’t come home from school right away, so I chewed sticks in the backyard and watched some birds hopping from tree to tree. Barking at birds seldom does any good, because birds don’t understand they are supposed to be afraid of dogs and will just go about their business. I had eaten dead birds before and they were not satisfying at all, and I probably wouldn’t eat a live one if I caught it, though I wouldn’t mind trying it to see if its being alive improved the taste any.

I was startled when Gloria slid open the back door. “Here, Molly. Want a treat?” she called.

I cautiously approached, wagging my tail and keeping my rear end lowered submissively. Gloria usually did not talk to me unless I was in trouble for something.

“Well, come on,” she said.

I entered the house and she closed the door behind me. “You like cheese?” she asked.

I wagged and followed her into the kitchen. She headed toward the refrigerator, so I watched her alertly, and was rewarded with the usual rush of delicious odors that swam out on the flood of cold air.

She rustled something. “It’s all moldy, but that’s okay for dogs, right? You want this?”

Gloria held out a big hunk of cheese at the end of a metal fork. I sniffed it, then very, very tentatively chewed at it, waiting for her to get angry. “Hurry up,” she said.

I pulled the cheese off the fork, dropped it to the floor, and then ate it in a few gulps. Okay, so maybe she wasn’t angry at me anymore!

“Here,” Gloria said. With a clang, she dropped a huge hunk of cheese into my food bowl. “Make yourself useful. Ridiculous we spend so much on premium dog food when you could be cleaning up our throwaways.”

I’d never before been given more than a little bit of cheese at a time, so to have all this at once was an unexpected luxury. I picked up the heavy block, unsure as to how to begin. Gloria left the kitchen, so I just concentrated on eating the cheese a bite at a time. By the time I was finished, I was drooling a little, and lapped up most of my water.

Gloria came through the kitchen a little while later. “Finished?” she said. She went to the rear door and slid it open. “Okay, out,” she ordered. I got the drift of what she was saying and hurriedly moved through the door out into the backyard. I felt better out there.

I didn’t know when CJ would be home, and I missed her. I went through the dog door into the basement and curled up on my pillow, wishing she were there with me.

I fell asleep, but when I woke up I felt sick. I paced for a while, panting. I was drooling and was thirsty and my legs were trembling. Eventually all I could do was stand there, shaking, too weak to move.

I heard CJ’s footsteps and knew she was home. She opened the door at the top of the stairs.

“Molly? Come! Come upstairs!” CJ called.

I knew I had to do what she asked. I took a step, dizzy, my head low.

“Molly?” CJ came down the stairs. “Molly? Are you okay?
Molly!

This time when she said my name it was a scream. I wanted to go to her to let her know it was okay, but I just couldn’t budge. When she came to me and picked me up it sounded like my head was buried under the covers—everything muffled and quiet.

“Mom! There’s something wrong with Molly!” CJ yelled. She carried me up the stairs and past Gloria, who was sitting on the couch. CJ ran with me out to the driveway.

When CJ set me down to open her car door I vomited explosively in the grass. “Oh God, what’s that? What did you eat? Oh, Molly!”

I was a front-seat dog for the car ride but couldn’t even lift my head to the window when CJ opened it. “Molly! We’re going to the Vet. Okay? Molly? Are you okay? Molly,
please
!”

I could feel the pain and fear in CJ, but I couldn’t move. It was getting dark in the car, darker and darker. I felt my tongue flop out of my mouth.

“Molly!” CJ shouted. “Molly!”

 

TEN

When I opened my eyes I could see nothing but a fuzzy light, my vision blurred and indistinct. It was a very familiar sensation—that and having unresponsive limbs and a head too heavy to hold up. I shut my eyes. It did not seem possible that I could be a puppy again.

What had happened to me?

I was hungry and instinctively groped for my mother. I couldn’t smell her, or smell anything, really. I groaned, feeling myself slide helplessly back to sleep.

“Molly?”

I jerked awake. The film left my vision and CJ swam into focus. My girl put her head next to mine.

“Oh, Molly, I was so worried about you.” Her hands stroked my fur and she kissed my face. I wagged, my tail banging softly on the metal table. I felt too weak to raise my head, though I did lick CJ’s hand, relieved I was still alive to take care of her.

Doctor Marty came up from behind her. “Her last seizure was very short and was more than four hours ago. I think we’re out of the woods.”

“What was it?” CJ asked.

“I don’t know,” the Vet said. “She obviously got into something she shouldn’t have.”

“Oh, Molly,” CJ said. “Don’t eat bad things, okay?”

I licked her face as she kissed me again. I was relieved that I was not a puppy, that I was still with my girl.

CJ and Gloria got angry at each other the first night I was home.

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