Almost home after a day of errands with Mama and Daddy, my sisters and I were crammed into the back seat of the car. For a second we didn’t know what Mama meant when she spoke to Daddy in the driver’s seat.
“He’s gonna get hit.” Mama said.
We in the back seat jockeyed for position to get the best view through the windshield up front. We had to see who “he” was.
“He” was a dog.
The little blond dog trotted ahead of us right in the middle of the road. His fluffy tail, with long strands of blond hair trailing in the wind, curved up towards his back. He paid no attention when we passed but as we turned into our driveway he followed.
Daddy came to a stop in the driveway and so did the little dog. Through the window the dog and I stared at each other. He sat.
“Why’d he come here?” asked one of my sisters.
“Who knows.” Mama answered.
I leaned forward to poke my head between the two sitting in the front seat.
“Can we keep him?” I asked.
From the front came their synchronized “No.”
I offered a follow-up. “Why?”
“We already have a dog.” Daddy said as he opened her car door.
“Don’t touch him!” Mama yelled when I hopped from the car and walked straight to the little dog. “You don’t know what he might do.” she warned.
I talked to the dog as I approached. He wagged his tail before slightly baring his teeth. I stopped. He wagged his tail again then flopped to the ground on his back, bared his teeth even more, and appeared to squint.
He hadn’t snarled. He had smiled.
For that reason, Daddy named him “Smiley”. For a reason I don’t recall, I named him “Chip”. He never answered to either, but we kept the dog we couldn’t keep.
Chip was by my side constantly. He waited on the back porch when I went inside, followed me around the yard, and walked with me across the field to my grandmother’s. Our connection was instant and he acted as if I’d had him forever. Whenever I came home from being gone he’d squint, smile, and drop to have his belly rubbed.
Chip even followed me to the pasture where I picked blackberries. It had been a good summer for blackberries and cousins and I picked them by the quart for our grandmother who sold them and gave us the money. I’d picked blackberries all summer to save for a new bicycle. The one I wanted cost a hundred dollars, a lot of money at the time. I had so far earned ninety-four dollars but Chip’s arrival had temporarily slowed me from picking. I was back at it, excited that I’d almost reached my hundred dollar goal.
“He’s gonna get hit.” Mama said. “I had to get him out of the road again today.” Though normally by my side, whenever I was away Chip was seen walking in the middle of the road as he’d done that very first day. We sometimes caught him doing that at night.
The little dog had been at our house for maybe a month when Mama woke me up early one morning. “Something’s wrong with Chip.” she said.
I went outside to find him lying on the back porch. He didn’t stand up and the gash in the thigh of his left hind leg was still bloody. He’d have to go to the vet but I knew I had some money saved and I made it clear I would pay.
Daddy drove me to take the little dog to the vet and lectured me all the way. This is what happens when you have a dog, now money will need to be spent, the dog should have stayed out of the road, and on and on. He was mad that I’d spend my money on a stray dog. At the time I didn’t recognize his “anger” for what it really was. Disappointment. Not in me but for me. I’d worked and saved towards a goal and after almost reaching it this had happened. He thought I was being stupid.
I thought he was being heartless and I told him he’d never had a heart when it came to animals. It was a very rough argument.
The vet supposed Chip had been hit by a car. The little dog left the vet’s office with a shaved leg, several stitches, and a drainage tube dangling from the wounded area. I left the vet’s office minus ninety-four dollars. I never knew what Daddy paid in addition but I’m sure it was plenty.
For the next two weeks I cleaned the drainage tube and waited for the next vet appointment. All went well and the tube and stitches were soon removed. Chip was energetic as ever. The only sign that anything had even happened to him was the shaved patch on his leg where the hair had just started to come back.
The next morning he was gone.
We searched the neighborhood, questioned everyone we saw, and in morbid reality we checked the ditches. No sign of Chip. We continued to search for him off and on for a few weeks before deciding he’d simply run away like he’d done from the people before us.
“Why’d he even come here?” I asked.
“Who knows.” Daddy said.
Weeks passed and although we didn’t forget about Chip, we stopped looking.
I was in the yard when Daddy pulled in the driveway and told me to get in the car. He thought he’d seen Chip. We rode less than a mile down the street before entering another neighborhood. Two small girls played in a sandbox under a tree. Lying beside them in the grass was a little blond dog.
Daddy parked and we got out. I walked towards the dog, still unsure. He happened to wag his tail when one of the girls giggled and I saw the long blond hairs wave in the air.
“Chip?” The same dog who had never once answered to that name sat up instantly. He stood and walked slowly towards me. It was him.
He squinted, smiled, and dropped in front of me waiting for me to rub his belly.
A man came from the house and started talking to Daddy. As I rubbed Chip’s belly I heard Daddy ask questions about the dog. Apparently they’d had “Buddy” for eight years and he’d been a good dog, never leaving home, but a while back he suddenly disappeared for a month or so. When he came back he looked good but oddly one of his legs had been shaved.
Daddy explained all of that.
Funny too, the man went on to say, but Buddy never walks in the middle of the road anymore. He used to do that all the time.
“Why’d he go to your house?” the man wondered out loud.
“Who knows.” Daddy answered.
I was still rubbing Buddy’s belly when he stood and casually walked back to the sandbox where he wagged his tail at the girls before lying down again in the shade. Daddy walked over to where I stood and we watched Buddy roll onto his back, inviting the little girls to rub his belly.
I felt no sadness really, just a surge of happy satisfaction seeing my Chip, their Buddy, back where he belonged.
Daddy and I got in the car and sat for a minute. He watched me, to gauge my reaction to the situation I suppose. When he realized I felt pretty happy, he felt pretty happy too. I’d grown up a little maybe and I think he noticed. Under his breath Daddy said “See ya later, Smiley” and watched the little dog over his shoulder as we drove away. I noticed that.
Daddy and I hadn’t had much to say to each other since the bad argument on the way to the vet that morning some weeks ago, but we talked all the way back home.
“Yep.” Daddy said as we turned into our driveway. “Who knows why he ever came here.”
I wasn’t sure either why a dog that had never left home in eight years would follow us into our driveway, cause an uproar for a month, then go back home.
Then again… Daddy learned I’d grown up a little, I learned my father had a heart, and Buddy learned to stay out of the road.
So maybe that’s why. And that’s enough.
Stuart M. Perkins