Sunday, May 30, 2010

Crime and Punishment Revisited

It was another grisly morning here. It seems that some time during the night Duncan tried, convicted and punished another of his friends. While Percy the Penguin is still recovering from last month's horrific disemboweling, Duncan has struck again, this time casting judgment on the closest of pals, his treasured and beloved Bah-Bah.

I'm not exactly sure what the crime was, or if one was even committed, or if perhaps this isn't a message meant for me, but Bah-Bah has literally fallen out of favor.

What I do know is this: some time between midnight and 6 AM, Bah-Bah, who was last seen resting beside Duncan on his pillow, fell three stories to the hard concrete below.

I didn't realize Duncan's most trusted friend was even missing. It wasn't until we walked this morning that I discovered the mangled body laying in a heap below our balcony.

Bah-Bah, legless, deaf and helpless, had been dropped thirty feet to a spot just outside our neighbor's garage. Duncan strolled casually by, acting as though he was oblivious to the mangled corpse of his friend, who has been with him nightly for the past two years. Duncan, who remembers every place he's ever seen a squirrel. Duncan, who can locate a golf ball under a foot of snow. Duncan, who hunts out lilacs and sunflowers from miles away and can spot a bunny in the thickest of shrubs or concealed deep in the tallest grass.

Bah-Bah, the truest and most loyal of buddies, was found on his side, his eyes open, the stitched-on smile still on his face. I gasped and rushed to his side. Thankfully––despite the tremendous wound in his side––he was still alive. I scooped him up and turned to Roo, who had taken a sudden very intense interest in a gum wrapper. We climbed the stairs and delivered Bah-Bah to the ICU with Percy before returning outside for our walk. Dunc kept a low profile, ambling quietly beside me, head down, as though nothing had happened.

The events of last night have rocked our apartment. Despite my assurances Buddy and Beaker, Baby and the Blue Buddha are terrified that they're next on the hit list.

I think it's time to pull in some outside help.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lilacs and Forgiveness

I was not a good papa tonight. Not only did Pip spend the day locked in the bedroom closet, where he'd wandered this morning while my back was turned, curling up in a tight little ball on the clean linens, but I was late getting home as well. I'd planned to leave work a few minutes early but once outside I spotted a small lilac bush and insisted on crawling through the shrubs to pick off a small sprig of fragrant purple flowers. I realized I hadn't had an opportunity to enjoy them this Spring and had just been lamenting the fact that I'd probably missed my chance for another year. When I saw them I couldn't resist and once I had them in my hand I held them close to my face, breathing in the scent which reminds me of my childhood and my grandmother. Driving home I felt nostalgic and eventually found myself at my previous job visiting for a long time with old colleagues.

It was nearly eight o'clock before I got home, long overdue. Dunc was sitting on the bed in the window, wiggling and yelping as though he thought I'd abandoned him forever. I carried my things up the stairs, my tiny clutch of lilac pinched in my curled fist. No sooner had I opened the door than Duncan jumped up on me, knocking the flowers to floor where he tromped joyously all over them, smashing them and scattering the tiny petals across the tile and carpet. I scooped them up and held them to my face one last time, thinking of Grandma and the smell of her yard all those years ago.

I leashed up Roo and took him outside. He pulled me downstairs and tended to business almost immediately. It was a long time before he was ready and when he was he knew where to go. We sidestepped the park and ventured down into Leawood. A warm wind came up, churning the leaves in the trees and waving across the long grass. Duncan kept pausing and turning his face into it, closing his eyes a moment in rapturous glee. Then he'd stare at the sky and the miles-tall cumulonimbus cloud which looked like the curled hand of an old woman, soft and white, wrinkled and cottony. Time and time again he did this, pausing to watch the cloud, which slowly unfurled, the fist relaxing, the fingers straightening and the palm opening to the fading gold of the sun like the secret insides of a flower. Ignoring the places he knows the bunnies congregate he pulled me down the street as though leading me in a specific direction. When we finally turned the corner across from the elementary school he stopped in front of a tall copse of white and purple lilacs, a mountain of them, all still new and wonderfully fragrant. He sat, turned his face skyward and seemed to smile at the cloud which had flattened out, one long finger pointing at us, to the place he'd led me where the lilacs still bloomed.

He sat quietly at my feet while I gathered a small handful, carefully plucking each and holding them to my nose, breathing in the memory of years passed. I don't know how long I stood there, eyes closed. The sun had drifted below the horizon and the clouds in the north and west had smeared across the sky, sparking with distant lightning. When he knew I was ready Duncan stood, stretched and led me back home, waiting patiently for dinner while I filled a small glass with water in which to place my treasure.

He's sitting at my feet now, licking my ankles and occasionally glancing up at the flowers resting next to me on the end table.

Pippin won't have anything to do with me, of course, and is no doubt planning the most opportune moment to retch on my pillow. It would be a bad thing but the lilacs somehow make it better before it's even happened.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunrise to Sunset

After nearly two weeks of rain and snow and impossibly Seattle-esque weather, weeks of Duncan moping in the window or pouting at my feet, whining to be taken out to chase the wet little mounds of baby bunnies, this day dawned perfectly, with a sunrise of sherbet oranges and faded blueberry blues.

I awoke shortly before six and everyone––the cats cuddled around me, Duncan at the foot of the bed wrapped in the blanket mom made him for Christmas, and me, especially––was surprised when I didn't roll back over, pull the pillow over my head and sleep for another hour or two. I climbed out of bed, got dressed and had served everyone breakfast before the rest of them joined me. I was standing at the door with the leash waiting for Roo to amble down the hall long before he figured out that I was serious about walking. He was slow and stretchy, pausing for some morning Downward Dog yoga twice before he was ready, and waited patiently for me to attach his leash, a rarity as he usually chirps and dances impatiently around me.

The morning was bright and rather than meander around our complex, as we usually do, we took our time crossing the street to venture into the park, which was entirely ours at that hour. None of the joggers or soccer hoards were out so I took him off leash and let him amble beside me. He was still sleepy and didn't dart ahead but stayed at my side despite my encouragement to run far and wide while he could. The park was lovely in its silence, welcoming and barely awake. The week's rain and snow and terrible winds had shaken the blossoms from the trees and the tiny white petals were scattered across the ground like a dusting of snow. Duncan finally woke up and galloped through them, rolling in them and collecting them in his fur. Then he'd jump up again, shake them free and run away again, pausing every now and then to wait for me, sighing as I took my time, kicking the dew from the blades of grass as I passed.

Only three hours later, after I'd finished the laundry and done the grocery shopping we went out again, walking the length of the property, stopping to let the strolling families, fresh from their breakfasts, pet him, the small children smiling wide as they patted his back, repeating, "Gog" while their parents said, "Yes, nice dog." Duncan didn't mind but stood patiently, his tongue, big and pink and fat on the end, lolling out of his mouth.

At three, after a brief visit from Ken, we ventured back to the park to throw the ball. The families had gathered again, this time for barbecues and Frisbee tosses. I settled down in the grass and watched an ant crawl up the length of my leg, tumbling from hair to hair, before finally reaching my shorts and then the vast white expanse of my t-shirt. Duncan rolled back and forth, kicking his legs up as though sprinting across the sky, where a white crab cloud morphed into a dancing rotisserie chicken, the claws changing slowly into funny little naked wings.

An hour later we ventured down to the pool to sit with Monica and Jimmy and Brady, who'd been there for hours, sunning themselves and taking dips in the surprisingly warm water. I'd made myself a drink, a vodka with blueberry pomegranate juice, and lounged on the deck chairs while Duncan and Roxie, Brady's dog, chased a tennis ball. Monica tossed the ball in the pool, which was too much for Roxie, who talks a tough talk but can't manage to walk it, but Duncan, with only a little coaxing, soon found himself paddling back and forth after it. He had trouble navigating the stairs but once he managed to figure them out he was fine. His first swim of the season. Soon we'll be spending our weekends at Chatfield splashing in the river.

After a short nap we ventured out at the moment when the sun had finally slipped below the horizon. The sky had softened and changed from faded blueberry to washed denim, and the moon, with bright Venus sitting just below her at four o'clock, was brilliant before us. The day had cooled and the heavy smells of evening were wafting all around us: cut grass, burgers and chicken on the grill, fabric softener blowing from the drier vents. Roo, finally dry, if not a bit fluffier than usual, trotted beside me, sniffing the edges of the low shrubs and peering deep within them for a sight of the bunnies, which only a few weeks ago were smaller than and nearly as trusting as kittens.

We will both sleep well tonight, me especially because I know this was a day for Duncan, who has been patiently waiting for the clouds to pass and the sun to shine bright in his face.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Water In All Its Forms

We have taken our last walk of the night, thankfully just as the storm turned, rain changing to snow. Now we sit on the patio, three stories above the greened grass and the puddling parking lot, the clouded sky an orange  blanket above us broken only by the occasional flash of wide, arcing lightning leftover from the earlier storm. Olive and Duncan, perched at my feet, startled at the last bright spark and the rumble from above and scurried inside where the candles flicker and Philip Glass plays on a loop on the stereo. Strangely the sprinkler system is running, hissing below, but not loud enough to drown out the soft flutter of the snow on the crisp, frozen grass, or the gentle dropplings of the rain. The night is loud with the sound of water in all its forms, frozen and running, steaming from under the newly parked cars.

Soon it will be time for bed. I'll lay awake long into the night, listening to the rain and snow storms and humming softly to the warm, furry bodies curled around me, wondering what color the world will be in the morning when the light falls on my eyes and they flutter open.

Springtime in The Rockies.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mom: An Olive Interlude

I have always been "Papa" to the chilluns, except when I first moved in with Ken and I was "Uncle Curt" to Nikki and Ashley.

There was a brief time, though, when Ken and I played the role of "Mom" to Olive and her five siblings. Ken had been working at a vet clinic and one of their patients went into labor. She'd been a cat living on the street outside a hotel in LA who'd been rescued by a concerned woman who'd been there on a business trip. The poor thing was brought back to Denver where her vets learned that not only was she pregnant but that she was recovering from a shattered pelvis, which meant a natural birth was out of the question. She went into labor a week early and unfortunately there was no time to do the blood work. I was at home that afternoon when Ken called and urged me to run to PetSmart to buy a case of formula for newborn kittens. He didn't have time to explain and the urgency in his voice told me I needed to be quick.

When I arrived at the clinic with the formula I learned the sad story. The rescued mother hadn't survived the cesarean and was only being kept alive by a ventilator. They'd attempted to get her six kittens to suckle so that they could get those first, very important nutrients from their mother, but none of them would. I sat with their mother while the staff cleaned up the newborns and checked that each of them was healthy. In her last moments, after they removed her from the ventilator, her eyes fixed and wide, I promised her that her kittens would be safe and she need not worry about them, that they would be loved and cared for.

The next few weeks were difficult ones. Ken volunteered us to take the kittens home nightly and care for them as their mother would have. That meant keeping them warm in a small box, feeding them every two hours, inducing them to go to the bathroom and cleaning up after them. We tended to those kittens like no other animal companion I've ever had, getting up with them three and four times a night, feeding them warm milk, simulating their mother's tongue and wiping their bottoms with a moist cotton ball, holding them and checking on them constantly. It was hard work but well worth it and we got to call each other "Mom" for weeks, and when we were done we got to pick which one got to join our family and stay with us forever.

Where our other children had been perfect angels, Olive was a nightmare, a mean and bitey little demon who preferred Ken to me. She hated me, refusing to cuddle, biting me all night long and hissing whenever I came near either her or Ken. She was the only pet I ever had that I actually considered giving up for adoption, but Ken prevailed and we kept her. It took several years but she finally calmed down and is now the most talkative and friendly one of the bunch. When Ken and I separated last year it seemed only natural that Winnie, Pip and Duncan would come with me, but we agonized over our poor, little orphan, eventually deciding she'd fare better with the others so she stayed with me. But whenever Ken comes over she runs out to greet him, jumps up on his lap and gives him all the love she's saved up for him since their last visit. She may live with me, but she's still very much his girl and he is still her Mom and Dad.

She's become very protective of me, though, sleeping on the pillow above my head with one paw on my ear, greeting me at the door with Duncan when I arrive home each night, and standing guard while I shower in the morning. She has long since shed her devilish ways and is my angel, the one companion I have who can call me "Mom."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Where the Wild Things Aren't

Some things are worth waiting for, and while the circumstances are not the best, the outcome––for Duncan and me and all the other dogs here at Raccoon Creek––has been worth the wait.

This morning I stood on my balcony, thirty-seven steps above the parking lot, and watched Pete and his wife pack the last of their belongings into a U-Haul, leash up Gil, take one last look around and then drive away from here forever. After a year of avoiding the little clearing among the buildings where the bunnies play, the place I dubbed The Lair after that night Pete stood idly by while his demon German Wire-Haired Pointer attacked Duncan, it is finally safe to venture back among the slowly budding Linden trees and low shrubs where the little birds hop and chirp.

There has been much talk of Pete and Gil among the residents here the past year. Despite Pete's initial assurance that Gil was friendly, the evidence was firmly against him. Nearly everyone I spoke with loathed the dog and had their own horrific encounters with them to share. Management had been made aware of them numerous times since my official report last July. Even Chelsea, owner of Hero's Pets, who lives in the building directly across from mine, who loves dogs and typically holds their companions responsible for their behavior, insisted there was something wrong with "that dog."

I'd heard a rumor a few weeks ago that they were moving but refused to believe it until I'd actually seen them depart. The circumstances of their departure, however, are quite sad. I'd noticed Pete's gray Ford Ranger sitting in the parking lot since January, often not moving for weeks at a time. I saw his wife walking Gil but for a long time Pete was nowhere to be found. The neighbor who told me they were leaving lives directly below them and confessed that Pete, no more than thirty years old, had suffered a stroke shortly after Christmas, and while he had survived and recovered, he was no longer able to drive. He'd been fortunate and was able to return to work but his wife had to drive him. Working on opposite sides of the city the daily commute had finally taken its toll and they'd decided to move closer to Pete's job to reduce the burden on her.

While I am sad to hear of Pete's health I cannot help but rejoice at their departure. I'd often stood outside in the early evenings watching them play off-leash with him and hoped they'd leave when their lease was up, I just didn't wish it to be under these circumstances.

I wish them well and hope they were able to get a nice big fenced-in yard where Gil can run, far away from other dogs which he is so obviously incapable of interacting with.

In the meantime, Duncan and I have a lot of new bunnies with whom to acquaint ourselves. And The Lair needs a new name for the monsters and wild things have finally taken their leave.