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December 14, 2011 / 74

Dog Days

Dog Days

Arabella sat quietly watching the dog wander toward her down the street. It was sunny and hot, with air as still as the air inside a buried coffin. The dog was peeing on everything along its path, following the same path as the dog she’d watched a half an hour ago. There. The Grendle’s rose bush was being watered again; next would be the tree on the nearer side of their front yard.
Yes. He was right on target, on the same side of the tree too. Arabella smirked. Look out Mister fence post! He’s coming! He’s going to pee on you! Ooops. Too late. “Well. He can’t say I didn’t warn him,” she said as she smiled to herself.

“Are you speaking to me?” her mother asked, looking over her knitting from the other side of the porch.

Arabella squinched her face into her best imitation of the woodman and replied “No, Ma’am. I’se warn’t speekin’ at NO buddy!”

“’Bella! Don’t speak that way. How many times must I tell you? You’ll form bad speech habits and someday it will trouble you,” her mother said, her knitting needles speeding up along with her agitation.

“Yes’m,” Arabella looked away so her mother couldn’t see the smirk on her face.

Without even looking up from her work, her mother said, “And don’t go making faces. It’s purely bad manners.”

Just as the dog began to lift his leg on the corner of the Thompson’s house, he saw a cat walk around the house across the street. All thought of urination forgotten, the dog bolted toward the cat baying in full cry. The cat, a small black female, stood her ground and waited for the dog to reach her.

“Mama? Why are dogs so stupid?”

Her mother looked over her spectacles at the dog and cat in the yard across the street. They were barking and hissing and spitting and growling at each other in an amazing display of ferocity, the effectiveness of which was somewhat diminished by the three feet that separated them. “What makes you say that, child?”
Arabella tilted her head, “Well now, look at old Rufus there. Miz Sparky has ripped open his nose at least once a month for the last half year or so and Rufus just never learns; he keeps coming back and getting ripped again.”

“Well, Bella dear. Rufus is a male dog. Perhaps that has something to do with it?”

Arabella giggled. “You wouldn’t say that if Papa were here.”

Her mother put her knitting down in her lap and looked up at the squeal of pain as Miz Sparky maintained her perfect record against Rufus. She smiled and watched a hummingbird at the trumpet vine. “No. I probably wouldn’t.”

“Why’s that, Mama?” Arabella poked a new hole in her needlepoint sampler but didn’t draw the thread through. That way she looked busy, but wasn’t really.

Her mother appeared to ponder the question for a short time, then responded, “Well, I guess it’s because that’s just the way things are.”

“But Mama, isn’t that dishonest?”

“Perhaps. But again, it’s the way things are.”

“Why don’t you change them then?” she watched the play of emotions across her mother’s face, resentment, anger, sadness, and finally the return of resignation.

“Because I have more important things to do.”

Arabella settled back into her rocker and thought about her mother’s answer. What could be more important than being honest with people? Dishonesty led to misunderstanding, and that led to people doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons, and then, eventually, the truth came out and then people got hurt.

“Mama?” The deep sigh from her mother’s chair made Arabella look over at her. She was sitting there, her hands uncharacteristically still, looking and smiling at Arabella.

“Yes?”

“Do you love Papa?”

Her mother’s smile broadened and her face softened to match her voice.

“With all my heart.”

“Then why do you not tell him how you feel about males? He’s a male. Do you feel that way about Papa too?”

“No, sweetest. I don’t. Your father is special.”

“How?”

“Your father is smarter than other men.”

“Really? He doesn’t seem so. Why do you think so?”

Her mother smiled wider, her answer ready. “Well, he was smart enough to choose me as his wife. That alone shows more intelligence than any other man, and there were quite a few who had the chance, I don’t mind saying.” She picked up her knitting again and set to work.

Arabella watched an ant pick up a breadcrumb three times its size and resolutely head for the edge of the porch with its treasure. “Mama?”

“Ummm?”

“But if everybody’s mama felt the same way about their husbands, and they were all right, then either your belief that males are not overly bright, or at least less bright than females, must be wrong, or papa’s not as smart as a female?” The thought that her mother could possibly be, in fact had to be wrong staggered her. The facts were all there to be examined; there could be no doubt, no equivocation.

The question caught her mother in the middle of a tricky stitch. “Umm humm.”

“Mama! Which?”

The first distant rumble of thunder rolled over the prairie town as a puff of breeze stirred the dust. They both looked up at the dark thunderhead clouds billowing over the roof between the maple tree on the corner and the cottonwood behind the same house. The cottonwood leaves began to rustle. The wind began picking up as another rumble, closer this time, reached them on the porch.

“Best get the chairs and such inside, Sweetest. And go upstairs and close the West windows. Don’t want the rain coming in.”

“But Mama, you didn’t answer my question!”

“Not now, dear. Later,” she said as she gathered her yarn and needles and headed inside with them.

Arabella took a deep breath and blew it out in pique. Grownups! She looked toward the clouds again. She could see the lightning flashing through the cloud tops and she heard a near continuous rumble now. They were not just rain clouds, but storm clouds, agents of change, and they were almost upon the little town and its people, but they hadn’t arrived yet. For just a bit life could go on as it had.

As she went to do her mother’s bidding, Arabella forgot her questions on the porch and began to plan her 13th birthday party.

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