Mean, Mean Puppy

Stace Budzko

     
   

Not more than a handshake and a how-do-you-do into the home visit with the pet adoption people, and Dizzy, my three-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, is airborne from couch to ottoman, ottoman to front door, to see who’s who and what’s what.

            — She sure is excitable, this guy Stu says.

            — Got that right, this gal Jean says.

            — It’s Diz, I say. And she is a he. As in Dizzy Dean – the late, great, Cardinal fire baller.

            — Right, Stu says.

            — Of course, Jean says.

            Both are in dark suits, both proceed to write on their legal pads.

            — Would either of you like anything, I say. Coffee? Tea? There’s red and white wine.

            — We’re on the clock, Stu says. Coffee will do.

            I direct Stu and Jean to the living room. Through the picture window I can see their Crown Vic. Put a coffee cup on the dash, and they’re police detectives. I tell them to hold tight. Be back in a jiff, I say, and leave for the kitchen.

            I corner my man Diz next to his kibble dish. I whisper sternly, Dude, you’re killing me.

            Diz gives me the old what’s up snout then scratches his head against the center island and pretends to act all confused. He begins to sniff then paw at the cabinet where he knows I keep his favorite treats – Snausages, Bully Sticks, Dingoes. Lately, he eats only these.

            — Don’t even, I say. You have to earn those, hombre.

            Back in the living room, Stu and Jean take stock of things: feather dog beds (check); corduroy critters shaped like cats and mailmen (check); fenced in backyard (check); dog books, dog pictures, dog diaries (check, check, and check).

            As they do, I take Diz by his front paws.

            — Get it together, I beg. We need this.



When I arrive with a tray of ladyfingers my late wife left in the freezer, “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” kicks in on the home stereo. This is no happy accident. Next, like clockwork, a DVD begins to play on the flat screen. There’s Diz in full chase after seagulls on L Street Beach. This is followed by the two of us in Columbus Park on the hunt for squirrels. After, we fly a kite. Again, all part of the plan.

            As things run, I tell Stu and Jean how much Zoe, the Bichon we found on Dogmates, stood out from the pack. The line on their website that read house-trained love monger seeks loving owner was the big heart clincher.

            — If I can speak for Diz, I say, Zoe’s white fluff is a postcard. She’s the one. In fact, I believe Diz picked her out before me. There’s a real canine connection there.

            Jean gets to the point.

            — You’re last on the list of three other potential owners, she says.

            — Three, I say.

            Stu does a finger count.

            — Two, plus the family in Gloucester, he says. Three it is.

            I vision Diz out in the breezeway, getting busy sniffing shoes. Knowing what I know about this hambone, he’s about to make scraps of Stu’s tassel loafers, and pronto if he doesn’t get his way.

            Like me, he’s had his fill of bad news.

            — Bichons and Yorkies, Jean says. They are oil and water.

            — Come again, I say.

            — Not compatible, Stu says. Yorkies are mean, mean puppies. They need to be the center of attention. Always.

            — Add to the fact you’re a recent widow, Jean says. Or is it widower? I always forget.

            — Grief, Stu follows. Never good.

            — Table that thought, I say.



In the kitchen, Diz lies on Ruth’s Eat Dessert First! area rug where my sweetheart took her morning tea. There, under skylight, the two of them would work on cake drawings and pastry creations before she left for cooking school. She created. Diz tested. Don’t ask why, but she trusted that imp-wolf to let her know what needed love and what was only love. This was their ritual.

            I massage Diz’s legs, hoping he might spring to life. Mingle, I plead.

            He wants nothing of it; his mood swings are nothing new.

            Recently, the two of us took in an episode of Dog Whisperer. On the program, these newlyweds in Sacramento had issues with their Rottweiler, Snowball. Seems Snowball would alarm the neighbors whenever the couple tried to get romantic. Not cool. And it seems these Sacramento lovebirds wanted to have kids. Human kids. Like ASAP. They were this close to kicking Snowball to the curb. Long story short, the show had an effect. About halfway through, Diz sashayed to the magazine rack only to then raise a leg on my recent Single Again trial subscription.

            From the other room, Jean asks if everything is ok.

            — Everything’s wonderful, I say, now working the soft belly region. Diz is busting to show you something.

            — Your phone, Stu says.

            — It’s ringing, Jean says. Again.

            — Oh, that, I say. Probably someone looking for something. Excuse me again.

            Like yesterday and the day before, there are calls. This one is Ruth’s former Product Knowledge instructor. He goes off on how she could pick out a Rambutan from a Jackfruit blindfolded. Monday prior, it was her Breakfast Cookery instructor who gushed on and on about her knowledge of an egg.

            Ok. Good to know. Thanks.

            But I know what they’re really after. They want to know why.

            And like previous calls, I offer Ruth’s story: Her mother did it with pills. Her mother’s mother did it off a bridge. There’s your why.



We’ll need a personal statement, Jean mouths. Something to let us know you’re best for Ruth.

            Ruth?

            — It’s decision time, Stu says. This is for all the marbles.

            — You mean Zoe, I say. The Bichon.

            — Right, Jean says.

            — Of course, Stu says. Zoe, the Bichon.

            Jean then pulls out one of those little recorders that reporters use. For the most part the questions deal with formal education, work history, personal references. Whew, fine, easy.

            Next, she inquires about pet foods, veterinarians, daily walk schedule. Simple enough.

            Stu, I notice, is busy with a contract of ownership. It’s all I can do to not look on.

            Eventually, Jean wants to know why Dogmates shouldn’t go with another family.

            — Why you, Stu says.

            — Well, I say. It’s like I told Diz this summer when we pulled into the drive after our crosscountry getaway. This was a trip we had done before with his mother, my wife. From Nebraska on home, he couldn’t be bothered. He would barely stick his head out the window. It was there in the yard when I said, point blank, you know something Diz, we need to bring the pack back up to three.
She would want that.

            Stu gives a heartfelt nod.

            Jean reaches for the tissues.



Somewhere between the anxiety of the contract and the appreciation of how much Jean and Stu are in sugar heaven from Ruth’s ladyfingers, Diz appears. In the afternoon glow, he arrives holding the strapless dress Ruth wore to her graduation last spring. He places this at Jean’s feet.

            — Well hello there, Jean says.

            — What do we have here, Stu asks.

            Before I can strong arm Diz, he charges upstairs only to come back in short time with her chef’s hat. He rests this at Stu’s feet. Item by item he lays out Ruth’s entire outfit in the living room. This is not a surprise. Around Memorial Day he began to act up.

            Mornings, Diz often wakes me holding my girl in his snout. That’s how I see things when he brings to bed one of her personal possessions. He’s holding Ruth.

            And some days are worse than others.

            Two months ago he came to the kitchen table with a bathrobe as I was signing a life insurance policy in the event something should happen to me. I wanted Diz to be taken care of.

            Like Stu and Jean, the insurance man was equally perplexed.


I follow Stu and Jean out to their car. In the back seat is what appears to be a dog crate. It’s not that big, about right for a small scrapper. With the tinted glass its difficult to know for sure, but I think it’s moving.

            — We’ll let you know of our decision in a day or two, Jean says.

            She hands me a business card, tells me if I have any questions, feel free.

            For the first time, Stu is quiet. He occupies himself over a road map.

            Jean turns the car on, adjusts her seat then pauses, just so, when she catches herself in the rearview mirror.

            — Anything else, I say. Is there anything else you want to know?

            — No, she says.

            — You sure? Anything. Anything at all?

     
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Stace Budzko has been published or is forthcoming in Blip, Southeast Review, Quiddity, Versal, Portland Magazine, Bridport Prize Anthology, Upstreet, Necessary Fiction, Prime Number, Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction, Press 53, PANK, Hobart, elimae, The Los Angeles Review, Night Train, The Collagist, Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Flash Fiction, Flash Fiction Forward, Brevity & Echo, Quick Fiction and elsewhere. The screen adaptations of his stories have received numerous honors as well.  At present, he is a writing instructor at Emmanuel College and writer-in-residence at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.