We rounded a curve and spotted some dudes in orange jump suits picking up trash by the road side, a sheriff’s van idling behind them, yellow light flashing. Bernie eased off the gas. We’d put a lot of perps into orange jump suits and you never knew when you’d bump into an old pal.
“Hey,” Bernie said. “Isn’t that Frenchie Boutette?”
The little roly-poly dude at the end, poking at a scrap of paper, missing, taking a short break? He glanced our way, recognized the car, easy to tell from how his eyebrows shot up. Yes, Frenchie for sure. We pulled over.
“Frenchie! How’s it going?”
Frenchie looked at Bernie, then at me, and backed away.
“Don’t be shy,” Bernie said. “We’re not going to bite you.”
“Think I’m fallin’ for that line again?” Frenchie said.
- from THE SOUND AND THE FURRY.
We did Julian Onderdonk, probably the best painter of bluebonnets. But there’s an argument to be made for Robert Wood. And do we like to argue in this country these days or what?
Happy Birthday Ben!
Here’s how it starts. Coming Tuesday.
Two humans stood outside my cage, a white-haired woman and a gum-chewing kid. Gum-chewing is one of the best sounds out there, and the smell’s not bad either. I liked the kid from the get-go.
They gazed in at me. I gazed out at them. The white-haired woman had blue eyes, washed out and watery. The kid’s eyes were a bright, clear blue, like the sky on a cloudless day. I hadn’t seen the sky in way too long.
“How about this one, Grammy?” the kid said.
The white-haired woman – that would be Grammy, not too hard to make these human-type connections once you get the hang of it – pinched up her face, and it was kind of pinched up to begin with. “Eat us out of house and home.”
The kid cracked her gum. What a sound! I can’t tell you what that does to me, shooting this buzzy feeling all the way from my ears to the tip of my tail and back again. “I don’t know, Grammy,” she said. “Looks thin to me.”
“My point exactly. He’s just waitin’ on some sucker to take him home and fatten him up. Check out the frame on him.”
“Frame?” said the kid, not getting it. I wasn’t getting it either.
“Bone structure, width of his shoulders, size of his paws,” Grammy said.
Something was wrong with my paws? I thought about hiding them out of sight, but how? I was still working on that problem when Adrienne came into view. Adrienne – a big woman with a powerful grip – ran the joint, a joint with cages for me and my kind. “Eats like a bird, believe it or not,” Adrienne said.
Was this a good time for growling? Probably not, which I didn’t realize until it was too late. I should have been doing everything I could to make a good impression. But you’d be growling yourself if the reason you ate like a bird was because you got fed like a bird. And by the way the whole thing about birds not eating much needs looking into. Ever seen one of those little red-breasted ones gulp down a long fat struggling worm? Enough said.
Grammy backed up a step. “Doesn’t look very friendly neither,” she said, and started to move away.
Meaning that was that, and not the first time for me in this place. Except for one thing, which was the kid not moving away, in fact leaning in closer. “Yeah he does, Grammy,” she said. “See his eyes?”
Grammy took a look. “What about ‘em?”
“They’re so gentle,” the kid said. The growling sound faded away. The kid turned to Adrienne. “And he’s smart, too, isn’t he?”
“Smart?” said Adrienne. “Uh, sure. For a dog.”
Which I didn’t get, and the kid didn’t seem to either. We were good at not getting things, me and the kid.
“What’s his name?” she said.
“No idea,” Adrienne said. “Dog officer picked him up a few months ago. Stray, no tags.”
“You mean I can name him?” the kid said.
“Whoa,” said Grammy.
The kid took out her gum, stuck it behind her ear. Maybe the coolest thing I’d ever seen. She went still, the way humans do when they’re going deep inside their heads. “Bowser,” she said at last.
“Huh?” said Grammy.
“I name him Bowser.”
“What kind of a name is Bowser?” Grammy said.
“What kind of a name is Birdie?” said the kid.
“It’s yours,” said Grammy. “A fine southern name.”
“Fine? Try trashy.”
“Watch your mouth.”
“I’m changing it to Emmanuelle the day I turn twenty-one, meaning exactly ten years minus three days from now,” said the kid – Birdie, if I was following this right, no guarantees about that. “Bowser’s not a trashy name.” She stuck her fingers through the cage wiring, no room for her whole hand. “It’s dignified.”
I stepped forward, gave her fingers a lick. They tasted of baloney, like maybe Birdie had eaten a baloney sandwich, and not long ago. The kid was off the charts.
“Let’s take him home,” she said.
Totally off the charts.
“This one?” Grammy said. “Really? What is he, anyhow?”
“A mutt, obviously,” Adrienne said. “Those ears are sherpherdy – if a little on the big and floppy side – that shaggy tail’s more poodly, and the color scheme’s kind of like a Bernese.”
Whoever she was talking about sounded like a winner to me. The kid must have been thinking the same thing, because she said, “Those are my three favorites!”
Grammy sighed. “Hope you know what you’re doing,” she said. “Happy belated birthday.”
“Not very belated. I love you, Grammy.”
“He’s your responsibility.”
“I know. You’ll never have to worry about a thing.”