by Hildie Block
“How much again?”
He felt like that was the question always on the tip of his tongue, screaming to get out. But asking would open the floodgates, the torrents, the tears – you get it--and he couldn’t deal with that again. Not again.
“So, the fence?” Steve was biting his tongue as he glared out the window at the workmen finishing the 6 foot high boundary fence. It was nice enough, but he’d bought the house for “curb appeal” and now that was shot. Couldn’t even see the cobalt blue shutters or the flowering cherry blossom anymore.
“They say it will be done next week,” Portia was busy measuring out dog food into Madonna’s bowl.
“How’s my little hamburger today?” His hand received a lick from the gigantic Leonberger mountain of fur as he bent down and patted her burgeoning belly. “Are you sure the puppies aren’t due for a week? She looks about to burst, like now!”
“That’s what the vet says,” Portia tucked her hair behind her ear. “He says it’s a big litter, maybe 10, but not due till next Tuesday.”
“Ten. He’s sure? Ten.” He shook his head. “Ten times what again?”
“About 2,000. Maybe even 2500. Depends.”
Steve tried not to do the math in his head. He tried not to remember how he got into this.
Trying is one thing.
It’s not succeeding.
Because, because a year ago, just last spring life had been different.
They didn’t have a lot of things. They didn’t have a dog. A pregnant dog (or a fence, a six-foot tall fence that ran around the entire property).
What they did have (aside from Portia’s job) was a couple of bills. Bills from school loans. Car loans (one for a car they didn’t even have anymore). Arguments about money. They had some things, like a house with curb appeal with a big ole mortgage.
And Portia got this plan.
It started with a photo.
“Honey, look at this!” he poked Portia’s ribs in bed. She was trying to fall asleep, a high school art teacher; she got up early. Steve was trying to be tired in the morning.
A glowing tablet was being shoved at Portia from the other side of the bed in the darkened room.
“Steve, I have to get up in the morning—“
“So do I – c’mon, just look. I won’t bug you again—“
“A dog –“
“Look at that face! So noble, so loyal. That’s a dog that’ll--”
“Why are you looking at dogs—“
“I wasn’t – it was just this one. Leonberger. It’s just, so . . . perfect . . . . I feel like I did when I met you --”
To be completely honest, what Portia saw was the inside of her eyelids.
“We need a dog.”
“I’m going to sleep—“
“You wanted a dog, remember, last summer when we are at the beach? That lab was playing in the sand and you said, you know, Steve, I think we should get a dog—“
“I just heard you say yes—“
“Portia? Portia honey, I love you.”
In the morning, there was a printout about “Leonbergers” on the table. They were huge, like St. Bernard, I’m-going-to-save-you-from-the-avalanche huge. And furry.
To Steve, they were the perfect dog. To Portia they were another bill. She had printed it out and left it for Steve, and circled in bright red the price, $2200 for a puppy.
$2200 they didn’t have.
Steve changed his profile picture to a brownish Leonberger.
He sent Portia postings from different breeders about puppies.
Portia didn’t answer the emails. Instead, she sent him copies of their credit card bills.
Steve sent Portia pictures of Leonberger puppies wearing pajamas,
Portia sent Steve their mortgage statement.
Steven sent Portia a text that read “A boy can dream.”
They didn’t talk about the dog after that. Not at dinner, not in bed. Not on their Saturday morning ramble through the state park.
Then came that spring day. The fateful spring day at work when two things happened to Portia.
During her planning, her co-teacher Shinae came in and was complaining about her controlling, cheating boyfriend. Portia just listened because she really felt bad saying “Oh yeah, no, Steve doesn’t do that. No, all guys aren’t like that. Sorry.” It just didn’t sound right after Shinae told her about her boyfriend using her credit card to take another woman to a hotel, to bring up that OH GOD, STEVE WANTS A DOG AND WE CAN’T AFFORD IT.
But for some terrible reason, Portia did just that, “Well, Steve wants a dog!”
Shinae paused and just stared at her. “Man wants a dog?”
Portia took a breath. “Yeah, he wants a $2K dog. A big dog. Lots of hair.”
Shinae looked at Portia, leaned in, closed her eyes to slits “He gonna walk it?”
“The man loves you, right? Is good to you. Right? Wants a dog? That’s it?” Shinae shook her head and dismissed her with a wave, “He got a birthday or something comin’ up? Get the man a dog!”
In fact, Steve did have a birthday coming up, his 30th. Portia started looking at RescuePets, but there weren’t a lot of Leonbergers around. And by “not a lot” – there were none. So she started checking out the breeders Steve had sent. She sent out some inquiries about price and litters. But over $2,000? That was nuts.
But how much did the diamond earrings that he’d bought her for her 30th cost? Or her engagement ring? Still, $2k. . . .
While she was still looking at dogs, Principal Johnson called her in. She sank into the vinyl seat with an unflattering honk. “Portia, I don’t know what you’ve heard –“
Portia shook her head.
“The state, it’s been talking about cuts for a long time.” She took a drink of her coffee, “No one thought it would come to this, so probably you just didn’t hear—“
Portia’s heart sunk through her stomach.
“They are cutting arts programs, across the board. My hands are tied. You understand?
“We won’t know for a while what it means to us – but you should be prepared. For the worst.” Principal Johnson played with the pens on her desk. “I would have never imagined losing the art department. I’m so sorry.”
Portia just kept sitting there, waiting for instructions. Here’s what you do next. Here’s how you make this work. Here’s the name of another school – but if the whole state was cutting funding – it would mean a move. And that would be hard with Steve’s job. The house. The market was lower now than when they bought the house, they couldn’t sell – they’d end up having to bring money to the table.
Those thoughts were chasing through Portia’s head as she drove home. As she drove right through the red light.
As she got spun around by a minivan going through a green light.
Steve met her at the hospital.
“I’m fine –“
“The car isn’t –
“Sorry – I was having a day—“
His arms went around her. “I’m just glad you are okay.”
She looked at him, “Just because I have a concussion, doesn’t make it okay to spout clichés.”
He laughed, “How’s this – you are more important to me than a 4-cylinder hybrid.”
She scrunched up her face – “A 4-cylinder hybrid in frosted ice hyacinth.”
“You are so predictable.”
“You mean more to me, are more important to me, than a formerly reliable 4-cylinder hybrid in frosted ice hyacinth.”
“That’ll do. Now take me home.”
“Your chariot awaits,” he said as he spun around the hospital required wheelchair.
He pushed her down to the desk to check out. They waited behind a couple checking out with newborn twins. While they received their instructions, Portia started cooking up a plan to fix it all. Maybe it was just the concussion talking, but, maybe it was crazy enough to work.
The next day when Steve came home, she had it all laid out. She’d printed out spreadsheets and pictures of Leonbergers all over the dining room table.
“Honey, you aren’t supposed to be on the computer, your concussion—“
“Stever, I figured it out!”
“Pee, back in bed!”
listen – “
“I’ll listen when you are in bed—“
“What do you think of this one?”
She held up a color print out of a Leonberger puppy from a breeder about an hour away.
“Happy Birthday! We can go see her! She’ll be ready to leave her mom in 2 weeks!”
“What?” Steve couldn’t even process what she was saying.
“We get a female – you get your dog! And then in a year we can breed her. They have big litters, did you see? Maybe twice a year! And then we sell the puppies! She’ll more than pay for herself! See how it works? It’s like magic!”
And that’s how it happened. They brought home Madonna. Portia lost her job. And dogs, they are expensive! The crate and the dishes and the toys, okay. And the food. A lot of food. She was so sweet. But all that fur. And the shots and the vet bills.
The stud fee. And then the fence, because she kept getting out. And the wall she chewed (the wall!). But she slept on their bed, and looked at them with those loving eyes. She was perfect.
And there was always the money from the litters. Twice a year.
Even if the fence did cost $5k.
Still. It would partially make up for Portia’s job.
It could work.
Portia left an anxious voicemail for Steve at work, “She’s having a hard time; I’m taking her over Dr. Singh.”
Steve couldn’t believe how nervous he was. He didn’t even tell anyone at work he was leaving. This dog noticed when he had a coughing fit. This dog, this dog would pull him out of a burning building. If anything happened . . . .
The puppies were delivered by Caesarian section.
You don’t want to know how much that cost.
The 10 puppies, Madonna, Portia, and Steve barely fit in Steve’s car. And they’d have to go back for shots and checkups.
It was a couple days of Steve crunching the numbers before Portia finally told him the bad news.
“Honey, about Madonna’s surgery –“
“Hang on, Pee, it’s about to go to time out –“ He was glued to March Madness as usual. “Okay, sure, Madonna’s surgery –“
“Dr. Singh says it happens sometimes –“
“Well, there was a cyst or something and –“
“Is she okay?” Steve’s eye grew wide.
“It’s just. It’s just, she might not be able to have more litters. They aren’t sure.”
“Of course.” Steve started to laugh. “Of course.”
Weeks flew by and the puppies grew. They got a few calls from folks who wanted to adopt the puppies. Not ten calls. Not ten people coming by. By the time they were 9 weeks old, only 6 were spoken for.
Portia made Steve’s favorite meatballs, and still they didn’t talk through dinner.
Finally, that night in bed, Steve rolled over and
tapped Portia on the shoulder.
“Honey? When the puppies are
house broken . . . “
“Stever? I have an idea – we can send the boys out to stud and . . .”
“Portia, when they are housebroken, we are going to need you to get a job, doing something. Maybe preschool? Or an afterschool program? But something.”
“Honey, I love you.”
“I know, honey, I love you, too.”
“Remember that time we were on the beach, and we saw that lab playing in the sand with those kids?”
“You said, we should have some kids? And I said, we should get a dog?”
“Steve, I’m pregnant.”