OCTOBER: BRINGING IT HOME
“Yep, let’s do it.”
Mark gave an easy grin and closed the door behind him. I stood at the bottom of the steps and picked at my new tee shirt and slightly worn-out denim skirt. It wasn’t quite right.
“How do I look?”
“Perfect. Don’t worry, it’ll be fun.”
He wore a white shirt tucked in to his pale blue jeans, and he’d even shaved smooth around the goatee. His hair was tied back into an inch-long ponytail. His eyes sparkled as he walked over to her. “It’ll be fun, remember? Don’t worry. Let’s just go and play, shall we?”
“Hang on, I’ve got to change. I can’t do this. I need jeans and boots.” I shrugged. “I think it’s time to retire the skirt. It doesn’t work any more.”
Mark shrugged, he didn’t care either way.
He drove the long way into Oliver, taking it slow. I wished I still smoked because I was nervous as hell. Instead I sipped on my coffee and looked out the car window.
“Do you think Frida will be okay on her own?” I worried.
He nodded and glanced over at me. “It would’ve been too much for us to bring her, you agree, right? She’d hate being in the crowds, and what’s worse; someone might have wanted to adopt her. You couldn’t put her through that. At least this way, she’s home safe and sound, and you can focus on the other dogs up for adoption and not worry about our girl.”
He was right. I stared at the Ortiz Mountains. “Can we hike up there some day?”
“Sure, Jenny, sure.”
The road drifted up and down small rises, into dried up/ fried up valleys, and finally hit the highway. He turned right after the three or four cars passed us heading into town. I sighed.
“Well, all you really need to do is to take care of the dogs, and try to find them good local families, forever homes for them.”
He took the curves faster than usual, and I grabbed the door handle. I wanted to bitch at him, but I didn’t. I finished the coffee as we pulled into town. The galleries were staying open later than usual and had advertised the big event: Rose’s Rescue was in town. Oliver was busier than usual after two radio stations and the local newspapers had interviewed her. Louisa had come through and each story showed both her compassion and drive to rescue these dogs the best she could. We parked on the left, out of the way. Mark stopped the engine. We sat there in the quiet. I turned to Mark and realized he wasn’t his usual easy-going self.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, don’t worry about me. It’s new, that’s all. I’ll be okay, will you?”
I reached over and grabbed his hand and kissed it.
“Yes,” I took a deep breath, “let’s go.”
“Louisa, how can I help?”
The parking lot was cordoned off with tape and tables. In the shade sat five scared dogs. I veered towards them and sat near by, talking softly to each one, calling their names, and letting them come to me. Within a few minutes, I had all of them leaning on me and licking whatever limb they could reach. I laughed and relaxed.
Louisa sat on top of the table nearest me, Buddha-like, and watched us. “That’s what they all needed – a familiar friendly face. It’ll be easier now. Thanks for coming to do this, Jenny. It’ll help out a lot.”
I shrugged and sat back with Nelson lying across my lap. “What’s the plan, then?”
Louisa wore clean tidy black jeans and a faded green shirt. Her hair had been recently buzzed, and I noticed that her fingernails were clean for once. I wanted to tease her but that’s not how we were together; I smiled to myself anyway. I looked around the parking lot. Luckily, Louisa had claimed the one and only shady spot in front of the cars parked off the highway. We had some hundred by ten feet rectangle of dirt to call our own. Mark unpacked the Subaru and brought over the posters he’d made, images and cartoons of dogs were painted onto the plywood scraps from home. He propped one against the table near me, and tacked another to the tree behind. He took one over to the tavern. He leaned it against their sandwich board. He went inside.
Louisa looked at her notepad and talked about the different dogs she’d brought. I knew them all, but some better than others.
“We have some volunteers coming out here to help, so we could to wait for them, I guess, but maybe not, if Anne and Graham get here soon. We’ll see. My thought was that we’d each take a dog and stay with him or her until they find a family or we get tired and pack up to go home. I’m not staying for the whole night, that’s a promise.”
She stood up with a grin and checked on her dogs. Their files were still in the truck and she went to get them as I held five leashes and prayed no one tried to escape.
Anne arrived and went straight inside. She spoke to Mark on the doorsteps, about the music probably, and Mark glanced my way, said something else, and then went back into the tavern. Anne came over.
“No Graham today?” I asked.
“He’ll be here later. They had a call out, a medical one; it didn’t sound too serious, but he’ll be gone for an hour or more. What do you need me to do?”
Louisa came over and gave us each our folders with the dogs’ medical histories, rabies certificates, and a donation/ adoption form. I checked that everything was there. I was to take care of Nelson again. I also held onto a female older pit-bull, white but for a pink nose and brown ears, who was incredibly gentle and a sweetheart. Louisa took on the two five year old Labs and Anne kept an eye on the absolute New Mexico mutt that we had no idea what he was. Cute, short brown fur, odd colored eyes, and four legs. That’s all I could really say about him. Oh, and he had a curly tail and was short like a corgi.
The afternoon slowly ticked by, cars came and went, and the tavern filled up. One by one, the tourists left town. One by one, the locals came over to hang out with the dogs.
“I’d like her. The husky.”
I looked up to see an older woman in her fifties or so pointing at Nelson. She didn’t approach us, but stared at my dog. “Yeah, she’ll do. It is a girl, isn’t it?”
I petted his head and stood up. “No, this is Nelson, he’s young neutered husky mix and he’s still a bit skittish after being a stray for too long. That’s what Louisa thinks anyway.” I remembered my lines and asked about the home situation and what was she looking for in a dog. I wanted to make a good match.
“I need a guard dog for out where I live.”
“Okay, where’s that?”
She pointed up into the mountains behind us. “The Ortiz. There are too many damn coyotes for my liking. I need to keep them away since I don’t want to shoot every last one of them. I need a guard dog.”
She was serious too.
“What does that mean to you?” I had to ask.
The woman took off her sunglasses and checked me out, slowly, up and down. “Do you live round here?”
I nodded but said nothing else. The contrast between us couldn’t have been stronger. I was the new kid on the block and she knew it.
“Hmm. Well, as you should know, it’s not safe out here. A woman alone needs a dog in the yard, especially at night. He’ll have his own doghouse; so don’t worry. But his job is to protect me.”
She took a few steps towards us and Nelson gave out a low deep growl. The woman ignored it and came closer, reaching out to pet the dog on the head. Nelson flinched and tried to back out the way but the woman closed the gap and tried again. I heard the growl forming in the back of Nelson’s throat and I stepped in between the two of them.
“Did you say you’ll be leaving him outside at night? On his own?”
The woman wore a dark green baseball cap, big boots despite the heat, and a full set of army fatigues. She stared at me as if I were an idiot. “That’s what guard dogs do, they guard you.”
I didn’t know what came over me but I pushed her away from Nelson.
“Really? Well, this isn’t a guard dog, not for you anyway. Nellie is a sweet sensitive boy and he needs to sleep inside, ride inside, be treated gently, he’s a companion dog, not some kind of cheap alarm system.”
My voice squeaked the last words and I took a breath. I stepped back from her. I looked around in panic. Louisa came over and started talking to the woman, “Dana, I think you’d be better off taking a different kind of puppy from the shelter, one that doesn’t have the issues that these dogs do…”
I tuned them both out and sat down with Nelson in the shade and hugged him to me. I whispered, “she wasn’t good enough, she wasn’t good enough.” Nelson licked my tears away and leaned against me. His tail thumped against me. His odd colored eyes didn’t leave mine. I stroked his thick neck and shoulders.
Louisa sat down near us both and watched the traffic go by before asking if I was okay.
“I didn’t like her.”
She nodded. “But you do know that a lot of these people are terrible with other people but great with dogs? Just because you didn’t like the woman, didn’t mean she’d be a bad home.”
“But it would be the worst thing for Nelson, stuck in a yard on his own. How would he get any confidence? Who’d play with him and hug him and love him?”
Louisa smiled softly. “Not all dogs are treated like that, Jen. We can’t be too picky, that’s all I’m saying. The focus is to find these dogs home, they might not be perfect, but they’re better off in their own homes. Think about it.”
She stood up and whistled to herself. All the dogs watched her closely. I stayed in the shade with Nelson.
Anne was chatting to a family with some young kids, and within minutes the two labs were playing and bouncing and licking those two boys upside down. The mom burst out laughing at one point and the dad pulled out his camera. Anne took him to the table and talked to him about the sanctuary and I heard him say that they’d come out just for the fundraiser, hoping to find a new pup.
“Or two.” He watched his kids rolling in the dirt and he turned back to Anne and her folder. “What do I need to do?”
She’d smiled easily and described the dogs in detail, talking about their medical histories, and the way they’d ended up at the sanctuary after being found wandering the highway some five months previous.
“Drop-offs we reckon. It happens a lot, people drive out and see the loose dogs here and leave theirs. Deliberately. Crazy, isn’t it?”
“Hell yeah, so no one came to claim them?”
“No, we put the info out through the local email groups, told the shelter, and even made a few flyers. Nothing came back. Louisa wanted to fatten them both up first. They were pretty malnourished. Anyway, they both have a clean bill of health, still energetic and playful as you see. We don’t have set fees but if you can make a donation towards her costs?”
“Absolutely, we want to help set her up. I gave one of my paintings for the auction and we’d thought we’d stay for that part of the night, but I think we’ll just take the kids and the dogs back home and settle everyone in. I might drop by later, but I’m not sure.”
He filled in the paperwork and handed over a check for a hundred dollars. Anne shook his hand and passed over two leashes. Louisa appeared and crouched down next to the dogs and the two young boys. She spoke quietly to all four of them. They listened carefully. Each boy took a leash and petted the dog closest to him slowly and gently. She talked some more and the boys nodded seriously. She stood up and walked back to her truck without looking back.
“Good job,” I couldn’t help but say.
Anne drank her water and offered me a protein bar from her bag. The other three dogs lay in the sunshine and our volunteers relaxed in the foldout chairs, chatting to each other and talking to folks as they came over. Anne knelt next to me. We watched but said little. Her face was more tense than usual but I didn’t ask. Mark popped his head out of the tavern and saw us. He waved and headed back in. Anne stood.
“I’d better check on the bands. Isn’t Mark playing with the Thrashers tonight?” She saw my expression and carried on quickly as she walked away, “Are you going to be okay out here?”
“Sure. We’re fine.”
She checked in with Louisa, who looked at her phone, and nodded once.
A young man came over and sat down facing Nelson, asking, “Would he be good with kids?”
“Well, I have a toddler and a four year old, crazy little guys, always into mischief. I tell the wife we should send them to school and get them socialized but no, she wants the home schooling thing. I love them to death, but they don’t stop running around.” he smiled a lopsided grin, and pulled out a pouch. “Smoke? It’s homegrown.”
I shook my head and looked to see if anyone was listening.
“No, he’s unpredictable with kids. He might bite. He might hurt them. He’s a guard dog, you see. Best left alone outside. That kind of thing.”
“That’s a shame. He looks sweet.”
I stood up, and held onto Nelson’s leash tightly as if I might lose him. I nodded seriously.
“Looks are deceiving. You’d do better with that pit-bull over there. Angel, she’s great with kids. Very sweet and loyal. Older too, less likely to be wound up by their playing.”
“Thanks,” he held out his hand and shook mine. “I appreciate your honesty. I’ll check her out, yeah, that sounds good.” He stood up and went over to meet the other dogs.
“How did it go?”
“Great.” I took a big gulp from his beer. “Great.”
“Did you adopt out any?”
I nodded and took another gulp. “Yeah, all of them. Even the funny short little mutt found a home in Cordova with this older couple who live near a creek or river or something.”
“That’s great. Well done, Jen. Where did Nelson end up going? Anyone we know?”
“Yeah, good people, just a couple with a dog.”
Mark ordered another round for us all. “Did you like them?”
I nodded again and looked around the tavern. “Yeah, they’re not bad.”
The room was packed, completely and fully packed, with all the tables and chairs taken, kids and dogs running between and through us, and a reggae band made talking hard. I focused on watching everyone hopping from group to group, stopping here and there, shaking hands, hugging, and laughing easily. I wandered over to the bathrooms and washed my hands and face. It was only six o’clock and I was exhausted.
The drummer from the Woodman Thrashers joined us at the table, Dave that is, the young kid who’d called Mark a narc all those months ago. He’d cleaned up in a grunge band kind of a way, with a different tee shirt that although was black and torn, somehow looked new on him. He’d spiked his hair up and off his face and looked ready for fame and fortune.
“Are you ready, Mark? We’ll be playing those five songs we gave you so no surprises for your first time on stage here. Come on; let’s go set you up, okay? We’ll be on after the next group’s done.”
Mark grinned widely until he saw my surprised look. “I meant to tell you, but you’ve been so busy.” He scratched as his goatee and shrugged sheepishly. “I wanted you to just look up and see me on stage. I’ll be back later, save me some food if you get any, okay?”
The tavern filled up around me as Mark wandered off with Dave, Andrew, and Jimmy, heading out onto the crowded porch. Frank and Debbie came up and asked about how the monsoons treated us in the end.
“We had ten full buckets of water for a moment there. Of course, most of it’s been used up already. The tomatoes take a gallon each, I’d had no idea that they’d be so thirsty.”
Frank pulled up a chair and set his pint on the table. He leaned forward. “It was good to see you at the fire department the other day, but you’ve not been back? Oh and I heard the cops came around, is that right?”
“Yeah, it was a bust.”
“That’s too bad. Did they fine you or what?”
“No, it was a bust; they didn’t find anything, that’s what I meant. We don’t have anything.”
He sat back, disappointed. “They came up to our gate but the kids ran down and spoke to them, babbling away. The cops asked a bunch of questions and the kids just chatted away so innocently that they all drove off back towards town. I watched it all from the house. The kids were so excited by being interrogated. They ended up playing cops and growers all afternoon.”
Debbie laughed at the image and started to ask more about our homestead. I described the bus and the porch we’d made, the chicken run without any chickens, the waterless storage buckets, and the compost that didn’t compost.
“All in all, I think we’re doing great. Mark loves being out on the land, and the dogs, I mean, the dog loves following him around as he fixes up the place. What about you? What are you doing these days?”
She talked, in detail, of the hot water system that they’d installed, the size piping, the kind of pump, the water flow per minutes from the water storage tanks. People round here don’t mess around with small talk. She talked. I listened.
Mark wandered over to the stage with Drummer Dave and talked about setting up after the next band. He walked out to the car to grab his guitar. Anne stood and went out to the porch, talking to Louisa who wanted to go home, please. Anne wouldn’t let her until the auction had run its course. They went back and forth about what Louisa needed to do.
I didn’t listen as my cheese and chicken enchiladas had to be eaten. I ignored the world as I tucked right in. The level of activity, noise, and all the random conversations here, there, and everywhere, was deafening, and well, it was all a bit too much for me yet I didn’t want to leave and miss out. I ate the plate clean and even licked it when no one was looking. I leaned back against the wall and drank some water sensibly.
A family took to the stage among much good-natured catcalling and yelling. Their eight-year-old girl waved at us all and claimed a microphone. She spoke softly. The tavern dropped silent fast.
“I’d like to say thank you to Louisa. She gave me a dog two years ago when I was a kid.”
Everyone laughed. She smiled and brushed the dreadlocks off her face and smiled at us confidently.
“Geraldine is the best dog ever. She’s black and white, and she comes with me everywhere. I love her. Thank you, Louisa. I hope you can keep the rescue running. This song is for you.”
She turned and nodded at her dad who started playing his guitar. Her mom stepped forward and gave her a quick hug, and set in with her mandolin. The tavern listened in silence as the youngster held on to the mic and began to sing. A song of hope and compassion, a song of love and family, the words fell off her tongue and kept us focused in awe.
She stopped and the whole tavern erupted, a standing ovation from us all, and with loud cheers and clapping of hands and stomping feet, they began again, a faster uplifting tune that had the front tables pushed aside and five or more couples danced and swung each other around, laughingly bumping into each other over and over.
I beamed. I listened and beamed, my feet tapping under the table.
“Would you do me the honor?” Mark held out his hand and bowed ridiculously low and wobbly. I stood with a curtsy, and he followed me up to dance. We didn’t have a clue and that was perfect too.
The Thrashers took to the stage just as most of the tourists left, which was probably a good thing. 1980s punk covers didn’t really fit the crowd at that point but suddenly a group from out of town showed up, all in their early twenties, all carded carefully, and ready for a good night in town. The volume cranked up. I waved at Mark but he didn’t notice, he was busy drinking and playing with the band. I snuck out onto the porch and found a quiet corner to myself. I sat down and watched my boyfriend through the window.
“You did what?”
“I bid on something in the auction.” Mark told me, as we were getting ready to leave, many hours later. I drank back a full glass of water before asking, “what exactly?”
He grinned sheepishly. “Something we need.”
“Oh really? Like what?”
He shrugged, “it’s outside, want to see?”
The tavern had emptied out but for a few hard-core partiers such as ourselves. Dieselhead Danny had shown up at eleven with a gang of friends from Albuquerque. Anne and Louisa left at some reasonable hour but I couldn’t tell you when. Graham hadn’t shown up at all.
I paid the tab and we wandered outside, hand in hand. The street was empty but for a handful of cars and trucks. There were no such things as street lamps and it was pitch black outside. Mark walked ahead of me and past the Subaru and towards an old Ford pick-up truck. I caught up with him, pulling him back with me, the drunken fool. He turned me back around and pointed at a pale rusty red truck with blue doors and a black bumper tied on with wire.
“This, I won this.”
He opened the door proudly and climbed inside. “Come on up, honey, and keep this old cowboy warm.”
“You didn’t? My God, Mark…how much? You should’ve talked to me first.”
Again the sheepish look as he told me that he couldn’t resist, “it’s perfect for us. This old bench seat means you can sit right next to me as we cruise Oliver on a Friday night. Frida can have the window seat. It’s got a V8 engine, new brakes, and the tires are pretty good. It runs; that’s the best part. It’s old and funky and it runs, slowly…but it’ll get me around when you’re at work, or when I need to go to Louisa’s.” He babbled away nervously and showed me the lights and the radio and the cassette player and the duct-tape and the baling wire in the glove locker. “It’s so New Mexican.”
I turned on the radio and a country western song burst out full volume, startling us both, and I laughed out loud.
“Okay, okay, you can keep it. And, er, I got something today as well.”
“You did?” He looked relieved. “Did you bid on something too? What did you get?”
I cranked open the window and whistled.
A shadowy triangular silhouette appeared in our car window, with the horizontal shape of a Flying Nun, his ears flapped in sleepy confusion.
“Nelson, I got Nelson.”