By Mark Tulin
I decided to hide my face when the stranger came for my dog. Reggie was a toy poodle. The best dog I ever had. Strangers would soon try to take him from me, but I had other plans.
My mother told me too many times that I couldn’t have a dog because of asthma. Ever since we got Reggie, I couldn’t stop sneezing and coughing. So much that I had to get allergy shots once a week and take nebulizer treatments every day. Even the doctor said, “Get rid of the dog.”
I begged my mother not to give my dog away, but all she said was, “There will be other things in your life that will make you happy.”
Like what? I thought.
I didn’t give squat about riding a bike or playing basketball. I wanted to keep my dog, dammit.
A few hours before the little girl and her mother arrived, I lay on the sofa, acting as if I were sleeping. I knew there would be a problem soon, so I thought that if I looked like I was snoozing, they wouldn’t wake me up. Mom would just say, “Sorry, maybe you can come back another day. I’d like to have Harry awake when he gives away his dog.”
I had to do something. So earlier that day, I took him to a secret place in the woods. It was our favorite spot where Reggie and I always sat. It was by the stream, and we could watch the little waterfall for hours. I told him to stay where we usually sat, on the big slate stone, and I’d bring him food and water later, and I’d try to convince my mother to keep him.
“Please, stay,” I told him, and I made him sit on the rock.
Reggie looked into my eyes and whined. It was a sad whine, like his heart was breaking. I kept telling him to stay, but he wouldn’t listen. He kept following me. I scolded him several times before he got the message, and when I turned down the path and didn’t see him, I ran as fast as I could.
I know it stinks to do it that way, but that’s what I decided. I didn’t want him going to some lame girl with buck teeth who wouldn’t know how to care for him like me, so I made a choice to hide him away in the park until I could get Mom to see things my way.
After a half-hour of feigning sleep on the sofa, my mother announced, “She’ll be here soon.”
She was a little girl about eight and was coming with her mother, who my Mom found on Craig’s List.
“She sounds so sweet over the phone, Harry, and their whole family loves animals.”
That’s a lot of bull, I said to myself. How could Mom know that just by a phone conversation?
Then she said. “They live in a ranch-style home in the suburbs with a big yard where Reggie could run around. He wouldn’t have to be cooped up in a little apartment all the time.”
“He doesn’t like yards, Mom. He likes city streets with food wrappers on the ground and little patches of grass where he could poop or pee.”
“Nonsense,” Mom said. “This woman has a little girl who’s just dying to have a dog like Reggie. She said that they’re probably going to keep Reggie’s name, so he doesn’t get confused. Isn’t that thoughtful?”
“Oh, fine! Now she’s stealing my dog’s name, too. I was the person who gave Reggie that name—named him after Reggie Jackson. She doesn’t even know who Reggie Jackson is.”
“Don’t be like that, Harry. They’re good people. We’re lucky we found someone with a child who really wants him. And nobody in the house is allergic to animals. That was the first thing I asked the Mom, especially if her daughter had allergies.”
“Reggie likes boys better than girls. He likes their smell better. Girls wear too much perfume. It makes him sneeze.”
“Let it go, Harry. I know it hurts, but you’ll get over it.”
I looked up at the clock above the entrance to the kitchen. The second hand kept ticking a little too fast for me. I had less than five minutes before they’d be here—and then what?
I began to visualize them getting into an accident on the way over here, not a fatal one, like an eighteen-wheeler crashing into them, but one just bad enough to wreck their car and prevent them from driving. Then I might be able to sneak Reggie back into the house and not have him wait for me at the park.
The doorbell rang. I didn’t get off the sofa to answer, hoping that my mother wouldn’t hear the doorbell and they’d think that we weren’t home and leave.
Mom came rushing out of the kitchen in her apron. “Why didn’t you answer it, Harry?”
The lady and her daughter were greeted my mother and walked into the living room. They were so confident that they would get Reggie that it made me sick. I didn’t even say hello. I kept giving them the eye hoping that they’d melt into a puddle.
When the little girl smiled at me with her straight white teeth, for some reason, I imagined Reggie jumping on her lap and licking her face like she was a cone of vanilla ice-cream. I couldn’t stop thinking that maybe the little girl in her light blue dress, white stockings, and black patent-leather shoes would be a good companion for Reggie. I didn’t want to believe it, but something in my heart told me that she would love him as much as I did.
I kept silent, stunned by the way I was thinking. I couldn’t deny the truth. Once it got into my head, I couldn’t make it go away.
Mom handed Reggie’s silver doggie bowls to the woman along with his flannel bed, stuffed animal, and an unopened bag of dry dog chow.
I could hear my lungs struggling for air. I wheezed as loud as a heavy metal band, but no one else heard me. Mom's attention was on the mother and the little girl who was dressed up like a baby doll. I needed to take my quick-acting inhaler but was too disoriented to get it from the bathroom. Instead, I watched the little girl ask her mommy where the dog was and that she was anxious to play with him.
“Harry?” my mother said, “I told you to bring in Reggie. Now, please get him.”
I didn’t move off the sofa, not because I didn’t want to but because fear prevented me.
“Harry? Are you okay?”
I nodded my head.
“Then get Reggie this minute. They’re waiting.”
“Okay, Mom,” I said with a slight wheeze.
A sudden burst of energy shot through my body, and I bounced off the sofa like a Super Ball and ran out the back door. I ran as fast as I could, praying to myself that Reggie would still be there. Not so much for me, but for the little girl who seemed so sure that my dog would make her happy. I didn’t want to disappoint her.