As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Thanks!
JULY: ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE
I woke up to the sun shining in through the bus windows. The sky was streaked in gold and periwinkle. My sweetie was snoring next to me. The wind gently rocked the bus, but in a good way. I yawned and stretched my legs. I climbed out of bed and took three steps to turn on the coffee pot. I stared out another window at the mountains to the south of us. Tall and craggy, they loomed over the valley we lived in.
I got dressed in the usual jeans and red tee shirt, found my new cowboy hat, and poured out a fresh brewed Joe. I opened the door quietly and stepped down on to our almost finished porch. The paint smell had finally blown away.
I stretched tall and touched the tin roof above before bending forward to scratch my toes. I looked all around and once again was overwhelmed by how beautiful the desert can be. Sitting down on the bench we’d made yesterday, I put my feet up. The coffee was perfect. The sky lightened into a teal and orange stripe fest. The silence enveloped me. I sighed. I drank the coffee.
“What the hell?”
In front of me stood a small animal. Furry. Four legs. Tail tucked somewhere underneath. She looked like a roast chicken that had been left drying out on the dining room table.
A stray dog, in other words, she looked like a border terrier mixed with something, I had no idea what. I put my feet to the floor softly and she flinched but didn’t run away. The poor little bugger was all skin and bones, panting even now in the cool morning temperatures. I stood up, talking gently the whole time. I took a couple of steps and climbed into the bus, grabbing a green cereal bowl and filling it with water. I couldn’t think of what to feed her.
I came back out and she’d gone. I stood there, water in hand, and started to cry. It was hormones, honest. I put the bowl on the wooden platform and sat back on the bench. Out from under my feet she crawled past me and crept over to the water. She drank half and then burped like a pro. I laughed out loud and she jumped, running back under the porch itself. I could see her through the flooring.
I drank some of my tepid coffee and started to talk. I described the bus and how we’d found it. I told her about the mice and rats. I mentioned my favorite colors. I just talked a bunch of crap really.
The dog came out and sat in front of me with her head tilted. She had long spindly legs and that scruffy wiry creamy straw-like fur that terriers are known for. On her top lip, she’d grown a short moustache. She licked her lips as I spoke.
“Are you hungry, Frida?”
She knew what I was offering and her tail made an appearance, wagging slowly and cautiously. I stood up.
“Well, let’s see what you might like, shall we? Come on inside, don’t worry; the fella snoring is one of those good ones. He’s a keeper. He’ll be nice to you, I promise.”
I looked behind me to see her at the top step, nose working furiously, aimed at the new kitchen. I squatted down and opened the fridge. We had some beans, rice, and tortillas, Mark’s leftover hamburger and fries, a bag of tomatoes, coffee, cream, and beer. Oh, and some eggs. I pulled out what I wanted and put everything on the counter above me. I found another bowl, blue this time, and half filled it with the rice, an egg and some burger and stirred it all together. I headed back outside with the little girl at my feet, staring at me expectantly.
I put the bowl by her water and stepped away.
She sat. She waited. She licked her moustache.
“Go on, it’s yours.”
We walked the property with the sun rising behind us. I walked and talked out loud to the pup. She bounced like a puppy, forgetting herself and chasing at leaves and flies. She looked up when I chatted. She played under the pinions and in the sand, digging furiously at a small hole. I wandered over to see what the fuss was and she stopped to stare at me. I squatted down to her height. I leaned against a banana of a boulder. She dug some more. Suddenly a mouse ran between her legs and I squealed. Frida lunged after the little creature and gave chase. I heard her excited yelps growing more and more distant. I waited. She didn’t come back when I thought she would.
I carried on walking. I reached the back half of the forty acres and came across a few deep holes, seemingly old ones, hidden by branches cut from a nearby juniper tree.
I stood on the high point that looks over a dry riverbed, an arroyo as they say hereabouts. Sand and river rock lined the route the water must take if ever it flows. We’d still not had more than a slight rain so far this summer. My umbrella stared forlornly at me from the hook on the porch.
I sat down and listened hard. No furry footsteps came my way. I sighed and stood up and walked home. I took the western path, cutting under a ridge with sandstone ledges that scared me; the slightest extra weight could bring them crashing down on me. I spotted a small stumpy cactus that had thrown out a shocking pink flower. Just the one. I got close and stared. It was delicate yet chunky. Solid in it’s new growth, the flower didn’t move in the breeze. Or when I poked it with a stick.
The sand turned a burnt sienna in places, and in others a golden cinnamon toast. I was hungry. I picked up the pace. The sky was becoming more of a gunmetal gray than the periwinkle blue I’d grown used to. In the distance I heard a rumble. It wasn’t my stomach this time.
I walked fast through the silver pale green shrubs and the forest of tall cactus near our homestead. I heard Mark snoring still. I rounded the tail end of the school bus. On the steps sat Frida, with both the water and food bowls licked clean. Her tail wriggled and she stood up and ran to me. She stood on her back legs when I bent down. A lick on the chin, and that was that; I loved her.
“What the hell is that?” Mark yelled from the bed.
I ran inside. Frida followed a few paces behind. On the pillow next to my boy was a mouse. A dead mouse. Mark had scooted to the bottom of the mattress. His hair stuck out in all directions and he gave me a frantic look. “How on earth did that get there? Is this some kind of a joke?”
I laughed, which probably wasn’t a good idea. He scowled. I nodded behind me. “I think she brought you a present.”
“Who?” Mark pulled his knees to his chest and stared at me in a foggy daze.
Frida stepped closer to me and peered at Mark from between my legs, all sixteen pounds of her pressed into me for support.
Frida whimpered and shook slightly. I looked down at my scruffy new friend. “That is a dog.”
“He has a moustache.”
“She, yes, she does. She has a name.”
“Frida, her name is Frida.”
“Oh, right. We can talk about this later, okay? Can you do me a favor now? Take the corpse away.” He pointed to my pillow. “You might want to wash that before tonight.”
I picked up the mouse with his bandana. Frida watched me with her head tilted sideways. Her one ear flopped and the other stood up high. She licked her top lip nervously. I smiled at her and looked back to Mark. “Isn’t she adorable?”
“Does that mean we’re keeping her?”
I smiled sweetly. “Did you want coffee in bed?”
“We should try to find if someone lost her.” Mark said sensibly.
“But what if they did and I have to give her back?”
He drank more coffee and leaned back against the headboard. I sat next to him. Frida looked at us from over the edge of the mattress, her little tufty ears following us back and forth. She watched as we decided her fate.
“What if it was your dog? Wouldn’t you want someone to give her back?”
“Yes, of course. Damn, now we’ll have to go to Oliver and try to find her family, won’t we?”
He nodded sagely, and lightly tapped the bed once. Frida needed no more encouragement and she bounced up. She stood there for a second, all eighteen inches tall, before she circled twice and curled up at his feet. Her eyes watched him closely.
“We can make some flyers or something. Go to the Post Office and ask around at the store and at the cafe. It’s a small enough town that they probably know the dogs’ names more than their neighbors.”
Mark was right; we’d have to go look, and make sure she wasn’t simply lost. To me, there was something wrong about how scared the pup was. That shouldn’t be allowed if she did indeed have a home nearby. Maybe someone dropped her off on the highway? Left her out here on her own?
“What about driving and asking the neighbors first? We could drive up Harold’s Way and ask around.”
Frida sighed and wriggled against Mark. He reached down and petted her absent-mindedly. I said nothing and left them to it.
“Hello? Anyone home?”
Mark shouted out of the car window. Three big furry dogs ran up to our Subaru and barked like crazy. Frida hid at my feet. The adobe house had one wall fallen in. A horse stood in a corral and watched us, flicking its tail. The German Shepherds soon got bored and walked back over to the shade of the porch. They didn’t stop staring. The house was pretty big but incredibly run down. Gutters half fell off the roof. Buckets lay everywhere. Empty bottles and trashcans lined the driveway. An old Chevy truck sat on blocks. The firewood pile had cacti growing out of it. The path to the front door was clear and well worn. Where was everyone?
I wanted to get out and look around. Mark wasn’t going to let me.
“Remember what Dieselhead Danny said, about how people don’t like visitors showing up uninvited? Especially folks they’ve never even met. We’re lucky we didn’t get shot.”
He looked around nervously, smoking as he checked his mirrors. “Do you have that note about Frida? We can stick it to the gate post on the way out.”
We turned the car around slowly, trying to avoid the stuff lying everywhere. The gate had been open when we drove up but I got out and pulled it shut behind us. I had some duct tape and I attached the description of Frida to the right hand side. That would get their attention.
One by one, we stuck notes on gates and sometimes on front doors, depending on the dog situation. If none charged us as we drove up, I was sent to do the deed. If the car was surrounded, Mark admitted defeat and we drove away with Frida on my lap. Her fur tickled. She leaned against me, nestling in for hugs when Mark wasn’t looking. We spent most of the morning looking for her owners but no one could help. Not that we met many people, but still, we did run into a few and not one recognized her. There was one last reclusive homestead on the way to Oliver we were told to check out first.
The gate was firmly shut but for some reason Mark insisted on going up closer. I got out to push the metal gate out the way when a voice shouted out to me.
“Don’t do that.”
Deep and strong, the voice was of God, booming out from the unseen. I spun around. A tall dark-skinned woman strode towards us. Frida whimpered and ran for the car, bouncing in and onto Mark’s lap. I was on my own here.
“I’m sorry to disturb you,” I started in my polite middle class way when she reached me. At some six-foot or so, she made a remarkable first impression. The long legs reached higher than my waist. The tee shirt hugged a skinny wiry body devoid of anything extra, (that’s a polite way of saying she was flat-chested), the muscles shaped her arms into string beans, and her hair was a silver gray, and almost invisible it was that short. Her blue eyes took me by surprise. I didn’t expect that. I stuttered out the story of finding Frida. “Are you missing a dog?”
“I might be. Describe her again.” She had a no nonsense approach for such a strange answer.
“Surely you’d know if a dog’s gone, right?”
“Not necessarily. You see, I run a rescue here. That’s why I didn’t want the gate opened by strangers. Look up the hill and you’ll see my dogs are watching us closely.”
I looked and almost fainted. The hilltop was lined with dogs staring at me, bunches of dogs, all eyes focused on my healthy sized thighs, the color of a medium rare hamburger.
“How many do you have?” I shuddered in awe.
“Thirty-three. Or maybe it’s thirty-two now?” She smiled and suddenly I liked her. A childish mischief came out in the twinkle in her eyes. I grinned back.
“Let me show you Frida, she’s with Mark in the car.”
“Okay, that’ll work. I did get some dogs in recently that haven’t adjusted to the pack dynamic. They want to leave. I try to take a handful in to Santa Fe each month to find more permanent homes, you know, but that’s hard to do sometimes.”
We walked back, introduced ourselves, and she talked about the sanctuary. She’d had the place for fifteen years, starting with two rescue dogs that she found wandering her land. Mark watched us but didn’t get out of the car, Frida sat on his lap, and they both stared at us worriedly. Her little ears drooped at the sight of us.
“Is that one of yours?” I asked.
Louise stepped closer.
“Yep, she came in last week. She hates it here. The other dogs are much bigger. This isn’t really the place for a dog like her; she’s too vulnerable. Too small.”
“How did you end up with her?” Mark piped up, curious after all.
“Her owner died of old age and in his sleep. The EMTs brought her here when no family came forward. They’re pretty good like that, taking care of more than just the emergency patients. You could say that she came here reluctantly.”
We stood next to each other in silence. In the Subaru, Frida sat on Mark’s lap and licked her nose nervously. The storm hovered above the hills to the north of us, which were lit by a streak of sunlight within a mix of dark gray and baby blue clouds. Ominous.
“Can we keep her?” Mark said it first. I grinned at him and he smiled back briefly before focusing on the woman next to me. She stood quietly scratching her shaven head absently.
“On one condition,” she answered after a moment spent assessing us both. “You come help me here with the dogs and the property. My husband left me last spring, for a woman with two cats.” She shook her head in disbelief. “I need help, with maintaining the place more than anything, but also taking four or five dogs to town each month to find them homes.” She broke into a toothy gapped grin that made me nod my head without thinking it through. She stuck out her hand to mine. I shook hers and I didn’t wonder why.
She stepped closer to the car and leaned down and into the window. Mark held onto Frida. Louisa laughed softly.
“Don’t worry, she’s yours. I’d say she’s about three years old, and I know she’s had her shots and been spayed. I have the records for you. She’s a good dog. Thanks for taking her.” She petted the pup gently. Louisa looked into Mark’s eyes. “I’ll see you on the weekend, shall I? Not too late, I get up a six.”