To the Rascals

You curl your stocky, furry frame against my legs, and soon the rhythmic sounds of your deep breathing mixes with the gentle whirring of the fan bathing us both in its soft breeze. In these humid summer evenings, I’m surprised you choose my room to spend the night—even with the fan, it’s a little stifling. The cold stone floor in the main level seems like it would make for a better respite. Instead, your warm body nestles next to mine.

I’ve taken off your collar for the night, along with your brother Stormy’s, so that their jangling won’t disturb any of our dreams. I’m still drifting off when I hear you make hiccupped, staccato yips and I feel you twitch your paws involuntarily. These jerkings make me think you’re enthralled in some fantastic chase.

I read some article—ages ago—that dogs dream, that some scientists conducted MRIs as you all dozed. I wonder if you remember your dreams. Do you enjoy them? Do you get scared? Can they startle and confuse you?

How much of this is anthropomorphizing—is foisting of our human conscious experience onto you—I don’t know. I do know that I relish the nights that you, Forest, choose to spend nestled in the covers of my bed. Even if your weight does constrict my tossing and turning, and even if you do eventually find a way to nudge me against the wall or off the bed.

I feel so keenly aware of your mortality. Maybe it’s because your parents—my grandparents’ dogs—have passed away at ages you and Stormy are rapidly approaching.

Maybe it’s because you both run away so often—as you do the following evening, while I’m standing out in the yard with you. You bolt past me, all gleefully-flapping ears and lolling tongues.

“Hey! Hey! Forest, Stormy, come back here!” I shout, clambering barefoot onto the rocks of our neighbor’s yard. But, of course, neither of you listen. You race on into the undergrowth.

I sprint back inside my house to grab shoes and leashes, and to frantically call down to the basement to ask for my brother’s advice. I pace the neighborhood, then drive it with the windows rolled down, ears pricked for that jangling of your collars.

No use—you’re intent on chasing whatever you’ve seen.

“Agh!” I was responsible for taking care of you, and now you’re out of sight. Now, you could run out in front of a car.

I have terrible images drifting through my mind throughout the rest of my waking hours. I see you both lying on the side of the road, bleeding. I picture Stormy’s recent stiches on his side being rent apart, leaving some awful expanse of rawness. And though every time before you have managed to make it back home safely—though kind strangers have called us to tell us they’ve found you pair of panting, exhausted hounds—I am terrified that this time, these images will flesh out into the last memories of you I can hold.

The next morning, my mom shakes me awake to say that someone came to the door saying they saw you two. Instantly awake and alert despite the early hour (5:50, according to my watch) I jump up to resume looking for you. After another round of driving, whole body straining to take in some impression of you in sight or sound, I set off on foot again.

I walk the trails to the dog park, startling turkeys from their roosts. With urgency in my step, I nevertheless bask in the pale sunlight of the young morning. I marvel at the dense greenery carpeting either side of the dirt paths, vying for sunlight. I notice the tender sprouts, newly arisen, precociously, defiantly surging upwards alongside the older growths. I’m grateful that the large muddy puddles no longer congest my trek, as they had a week ago. Eventually, I turn to trace a route which, in the ten years I’ve spent living adjacent to this park, I have never explored. I reach a trailhead, then pass on into a mostly-dormant loop of houses, then reenter my own neighborhood, having amassed no further clues of your whereabouts.

Later, someone calls to say they have one of you. I race over to the address he gives and find you, Forest, looking only slightly worse for wear. Your fur isn’t matted with mud and burs, as it has been on previous escapades.

I thank this kind stranger profusely, so grateful to have at least one of you crazy hounds back under my watch. After shaking your collar a little, I see your brother emerge from some large bushes.

I breathe, relieved. His stiches are still intact, and the area surrounding the wound—which was shorn down to the skin prior to surgery, and has since regrown a thin wash of silver-colored fur—is clean.

I bring you home, leading you individually into the shower (which I know you both hate) to gently massage off some of the grime you have accumulated. I make sure you have plenty of water, food, and bedding.

My brother tells me later that you have both been shivering, and so we take you out into the sunshine. By this point, you and your brother are struggling to move; it seems the aches and pains have set into your joints. We heap towels over you both and fret.

I scramble some farm-fresh eggs, piling the bright, golden mounds into two metal bowls. You both glance up when I come back outside with the silver dishes, but seem too weak to do more than observe. I set each dish right beside you, and am happy to see you both wolf down the food. Then you’re able to shake off the towels and to attempt to steal the eggs I’ve made for myself, making me laugh brightly into the blue afternoon sky.

You don’t try handling the stairs to get to my room for the next few days; years ago, you would have been bounding again hours after returning from one such adventure, but your aging bodies take longer to recover now.

Eventually, you make it back to my bed, curling against me. You still seem exhausted from your fantastic chase.

I listen to the rhythmic breathing, so serene in its soft refrain of exhales and inhales, and eventually drift off as well.

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