Another trip down memory lane…

My lungs filled with the crisp spring air as the screen door slammed behind me.  Dad had just performed the semi-annual ritual of the changing of the doors a few days earlier.  The cold winter of southern New York was tucked away with our glass-paned storm door, and the warmth of spring flowed through its wood-framed screen replacement.  It felt so much lighter than its heavy winter counterpart, and so easy to forget about letting its high-strung spring have its way.

Oops. I gotta remember to not let it slam.  Mom will get mad.

All guilt whisked away as bird songs filled my ears that morning.  A whiff of honeysuckle floated by.  I felt as light as that door, like I could skip the entire mile to school.  A blue jay’s “Darn it” call brought me down a notch as I realized I’d have to spend most of this gorgeous day inside St. Margaret’s Elementary School.

Pudgy’s bark swept me out of my thoughts and into his endless predicament.  I dropped my book bag and ran around to the back yard.  His haunches wildly swayed back and forth with the ecstatic wagging of his tail, sloshing drool off his slobbery tongue in every direction.  His long reddish brown hair glistened in the sun’s early rays.  Mouth wide open in his usual smile, he entreated me for the attention he could never get enough of.  How could I resist?

I sat on the short concrete wall of our diamond-shaped fish pond and gave Pudgy a good patting down.  He was his unruly mutty self, lunging his front paws toward my plaid, pleated lap as he tried to lick my face.  I kept pushing him away as I patted him at arm’s length, pounding his back with the urgency his tail beckoned.  There was no grass in Pudgy’s domain, only dusty, pounded dirt within the perimeter his chain commanded.  His small dog house beside the pond didn’t offer much protection from the harsh winters, and I could tell he was glad for the warmer weather.

I remembered his puppy days, when his cute wrinkled skin and husky frame begged the name “Pudgy.”  Each morning I ran to his little box in our front hallway, and played with him from sunup to sundown.

“We can’t keep a dog in the house,” my father said after a few weeks.  “He needs to go outside.”

My heart ached as I watched my Dad put tiny Pudgy at the end of that big, heavy metal chain.  My puppy barely had the strength to hold it up.

Poor Pudgy, I thought.  Daddy’s mean.

Pudgy’s insistent whining swirled me back to the present.  His frenzied wiggling, his lapping tongue, his persistent lunging, his bursting whimpers…I couldn’t take it anymore.

“You’re such a good boy,” I said.  I leaned forward and spoke softly into his ear, “Ya wanna be free?”

He smiled as big as ever, tongue flapping to the side, furiously wagging his body with his tail.  I glanced up to the kitchen window to see if anyone was looking.  The coast was clear.  I grabbed his leather collar and squeezed the clasp at the end of his chain.  He was off and running, happy as ever.  Didn’t even turn around to give me a thankful glance.

I smiled inside and out, pleased to see him run free, as free as I felt this fresh spring morning.  I skipped to my book bag, scooped it up, and began the long trek to school.

Fifteen minutes later, I was halfway up the big hill St. Margaret’s sat upon.  The hurried whooshing of cars on the busy street faded as my thoughts fell into the passing cracks of the steep sidewalk.

Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.

Couldn’t do that.

Reality jolted me back to the moment as I heard a familiar panting and tapping of paws behind me.

No way.

I turned around and there he was.

“Pudgy,” I said.  “Where the heck have you been?”

His hair was matted down and dripping with some kind of dark brown slime.  As he drew closer I could smell the putrid stench of whatever he had gotten into.  I wanted to throw up.

“Go home,” I said.

I faced him squarely and stomped my right foot.

Pudgy clenched his jaw, raised his pitiful brow and whined in pathetic, short spurts.  His tail was down, but his hind parts still wiggled with eager hope.

“No.  Go home.”

I stared him down till he turned around.  Satisfied with my command of the situation, I continued the last stretch up to St. Margaret’s.

What a smelly, filthy mutt.  No one can know he’s mine.

I joined my friends on the playground, and thankfully, Pudgy was nowhere to be seen.

The first bell rang, which signaled us to stop where we were, whatever we were doing.  The chattering, throbbing playground instantly froze in hushed compliance.

A minute later, the second bell rang, prompting us to quietly line up by size order, each line by classroom.  I was third in our seventh grade line, right behind Christine Milligan.  It was a cool place to be, because our teacher stood at the front of the line.  I could always sum her up in a few minutes, to determine her mood and what kind of a day it would be.

Today Sister Jane Mary, in her small frail sixty-something frame, dressed in long black habit and tight white about her face, looked particularly pleased with life in general.  That was a good sign.

Suddenly I smelled the stench.

No, it couldn’t be.

Pudgy’s panting broke the playground silence as he strutted past hundreds of scrunched up stares and pinched noses.  Drool sloshed off his limp tongue as he paraded his way up to Sister Jane Mary, and submissively gave her hand a sniff.  I wondered why she wasn’t bothered by the filth and smell as I looked on in horror.  She smiled down at him, and watched as he ran over to me.

“Is that your dog, Judy?” said Sister.

Blood surged to my face, as it burned with embarrassment.  Cruel snickers enveloped me.

“No, Sister, I never saw him before.”

Guilt pierced me.  I felt like I was reenacting Saint Peter’s denials as Pudgy nudged and whined at my hand, begging to be pet.

“Well he sure likes you,” she said.

I stared blankly ahead, ignoring Pudgy’s beseeching moans.  I brought this all upon myself, because I let him pull my heart strings that morning.

Traitor.  You stinky, dirty mutt.

The third bell rang, signaling us to enter the school by grade level, one line at a time.

Pudgy knew better than to trot into the building with me.  With one last whine as I approached the entrance, he dejectedly lumbered away.  My nostrils cleared of his ghastly odor.

I saved face that day.  I pulled it off.  None of my classmates said a word to me about that stinky, mangy mutt.  I had successfully disowned him.

Pudgy, I love you, but you’ve got to learn to obey.

Maybe I should, too.

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