JayB bent over in the hallway to put on my leash and I could barely restrain my excitement. My nose told me that the winter cold had finally been pushed away by an increasingly insistent sun. Walks would last longer, and we would encounter more people and dogs.
I shoved impatiently against the outer screen door as my person opened it, but then he and I both stopped in surprise. A strange car was parked in our driveway, and standing beside it was a woman I’d never seen before.
JayB slowly descended the cement steps. A complicated churn of dark feelings wafted off the woman in our driveway, strong as any scent. I eyed her anxiously. She was scowling. Her light hair was longer than JayB’s, falling to a blunt end in line with her chin. She was shorter than he was, though built more solidly. Her smell was powerfully attractive, meat odors and other food aromas embedded in her clothing.
But JayB seemed anxious. Was this woman a threat? If so, shouldn’t we go back inside the house?
“Hello, Maddy.” JayB greeted her cautiously as we approached.
The woman put her hands on her hips. “Don’t ‘hello’ me,” she replied. “I made a list.”
“A list?” my person repeated.
The woman nodded vigorously. “I’m calling it the eight simple rules you have to obey for us to get back together again.”
There was a long pause. JayB cleared his throat. “I’m not sure what you’re saying to me, Maddy. To get back together, don’t we have to have been together in the first place?”
The woman (Maddy?) shook her head, her expression stern. “Okay, I’m going to have to add another rule. That’s exactly what I’m talking about, which is why I made a list!” She raised her phone and looked at it.
I sat attentively. No one has ever thrown a phone for me to chase, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
Maddy moved her lips for a moment, then nodded decisively. “Okay. Numeral one: you didn’t call me after we broke up. Who does that? Talk about cruel and unusual.”
“You told me not to call you ever again in this lifetime or the next.”
“Not for after we broke up! You always call someone after you break up. If you don’t, it means you’re a bad person.”
“You didn’t call me.”
I yawned, relaxing, because JayB no longer seemed agitated.
Maddy rolled her eyes. “It’s the man’s job. God. What magazines do you read? This is why women do everything in our country. Okay. Number—two—and this is the one deal-breaker for me, so I want you to take it as seriously as all the others—JayB, you act like nothing ever makes you angry. You’re so full of hidden fury you’re afraid to show it, or you might, I don’t know, take hostages. At some point, you’re going to explode and I don’t wanna be collateral when that happens. Everybody agrees with me on this.”
“Collateral? Why do I always feel like I need an interpreter when I speak with you?”
“Because you don’t listen!”
“Wait, who’s this ‘everybody’ who agrees with you? We don’t have any friends in common.”
“Everybody I tell about it. Duh.”
Obviously, we weren’t going to go for a walk any farther than we already had. Well, I had enjoyed it while it lasted.
JayB looked thoughtful. “I don’t think I’m actually as angry as you say, though. I don’t feel mad. If I were so full of fury, wouldn’t I know it?”
“That’s my point: if you don’t get angry, you’re going to be furious. Do you know what it’s like to be in a relationship with someone who’s steaming under the pot, waiting to spew all over everyone?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Well, it’s no picnic in the Bay of Pigs, I promise you. Okay, and this one is big, number three: you’ve got to stop trying to plan everything. Sometimes life is meant to be lived like it’s a train wreck, and not all in order according to some sort of strategy. You need to learn to be spontaneous, to do spontaneity. Come up with stuff that’s completely surprising, even to your own brain. Stuff that makes you cry.”
“What kind of stuff?”
“Like, surprise me by suddenly saying we’re going to London and we don’t have time to pack or even put on underwear. We’re just like, all of a sudden on a private jet to London. Or, we go to Target and have a huge shopping spree in the electronics department. My printer crapped out, so that would be a good one for today. Or something simple, like—you make me close my eyes, and when I open them, we’re at the top of a Ferris wheel somewhere.”
“I don’t think I can come up with those on my own.”
“Because you just said them. So they won’t be my ideas.”
Maddy made a disgusted noise. “Okay, I’m going to have to add another rule, which is that you stop being so logical all the time. Would it hurt you to give a fun and completely stupid reply to something? Stop thinking. Like, when I ask a question, your answer should be completely random for once. Just talk.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? You sound crazy.”
“Are these rules written down somewhere? Because maybe it would be easier if I just read them and got back to you.”
“You’ve made me lose count. Now I have to start over.”
JayB held up a hand. “No, please. Please don’t. I think I get what you’re going for here. In order for us to get back together, I would have to become a completely different person in every single way.”
“Exactly. Also: I don’t like your name.”
“What’s wrong with my name?”
“It makes no sense. J-A-Y-B. It’s like you’re a rapper or something. If you were under oath, you’d have to take a fifth, a name like that.”
“My given name is Jago Burr Danville. Would you prefer I go by Jago? That’s what my parents call me, but I’ve always hated it, and when I started using ‘JayB’ in middle school, the teachers said it was fine as long as I was expressing who I was. So, JayB is who I am. Expressed.”
Maddy frowned. “And what I am saying is, the point of the rules is I don’t like who you are. You need to change. All men need to change. You can ask any of my friends.”
“I think this might be a good time for me to remind you that you broke up with me, not the other way around.”
“That’s another rule, maybe the most important one. Now that we’re back together, it’s bygones be gone. You’ll have to let go of this thirsty need for revenge. I’m sorry I broke your heart, but boo-hoo. You’re thirty-three years old, for God’s sake.”
“And doesn’t it seem that to break up you have to be seriously dating in the first place? We only went out—what, twice—and you told me you wanted to break up both times.”
“First, it was two and a half times, and second, you just applied confirmation. You never took me seriously. I was the best thing that ever happened to you, but luckily you have a last chance now. You blow this one, and you’ll spend the rest of your life the way you were before we met.”
“Oh. Okay, sure. Happy,” Maddy snorted scornfully. “Well, because we’re getting back together again and you’ll probably want to take me out to dinner someplace nice, I’m going to ignore you. We both know you were a broken man when I put that burger in front of you. Then you left me a huge tip. I don’t get many tips. So I thought, okay, he’s what I’ve always wanted, a fool rushing in. Oh, wait, I almost forgot, and this is the one deal-breaker for me: you’ve got to get a job. I can’t be expected to support you for the rest of my life. I mean, what if we have children?”
“Of course I’m going to get a job. I just need to figure out what I’m going to do next. I can afford to take some time.”
Maddy vigorously shook her head. “Not if we’re getting back together, you can’t. I spoke to my manager and he said he’d be happy to give you a shot at waiting tables during the graverobber shift.”
“Thank you for doing that, Maddy, but I don’t want to be a waiter. I have an advanced degree and I’ll find something soon. But I do agree, this one sounds like a deal-breaker. Thank you so much for giving me all these ideas on how I can improve myself. I’ll just have to accept that you’ve moved on. Years from now, I hope, when you’re married to a wonderful man that you’ve completely remodeled to your satisfaction, you’ll look back on this time and remember me fondly.”
I glanced up in surprise as Maddy, sobbing, ran to JayB and threw her arms around him. He looked unsure and glanced down at me, but all I could do was wag. She put loud, wet kisses all over his face. “Okay. Okay. I knew you were worth it. I take back everything I told my girlfriends about you. So, I know you want to buy me a shower of gifts, but I’m even later for work than usual, so I’d better go. But call me, okay? We’ll make plans to do something spontaneous.”
I wagged because she held a delightfully aromatic splay of fingers toward me. “Who is this?” she wanted to know.
JayB cleared this throat. “That’s Clancy.”
“Hi, Clancy! I’m going to be your new mommy!” Waving, Maddy jumped back into her car and drove away.
I looked up at my person. Walk?
Walk! As we left the driveway, I didn’t need to turn around to know that Kelsey had bounded silently up to her habitual perch in the window and was watching us with those unloving, unwinking eyes. I didn’t care about her now; I was devoted to making sure JayB had all the fun a person could experience with a dog at the end of the leash.
We turned up the sidewalk and I was happy to find places to mark which, while not new to my nose, had been painted over by male dogs I had not met. I saluted them with a leg lift of my own, communicating my acceptance of their trespass without surrendering what was, after all, my territory.
Before long, I spotted Odin pulling his person on his own leash. I knew Odin well. He was a much older dog, thin, with light-colored, smooth, short fur, an inquisitive face, droopy ears, and a placid disposition. His person was a woman much older than JayB, and much smaller, too. In fact, as I watched, Odin was dragging her toward us and she was slapping her feet on the pavement in an attempt to stop him.
“Hello, Helen!” JayB called cheerfully. “How’re you this morning?”
Though Odin was a male and very often tried to pee where I had already marked, I actually enjoyed the old fellow. I could hear him at night sometimes, out in his own backyard, barking. His voice communicated the clear, uncluttered thoughts of a dog who had started barking, couldn’t remember why, and was unsure whether to stop.
When I reached Odin, he was more interested in greeting JayB than sniffing politely behind my tail. That was another thing about Odin—he was much more into humans than dogs. His method of greeting included lifting his heavy paws and plowing his nose dead center between my person’s legs. JayB bent over with an oomph sound.
Helen shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I’ve never been able to teach him not to do that.”
“I imagine,” JayB opined, “that when he does it to you, he comes pretty close to knocking you over. He probably weighs more than you do.”
Helen laughed while Odin and I examined each other for new smells. “You’re right,” she acknowledged ruefully. “They told me a coonhound would be easy to train, but I don’t know how.”
“I’ve never met a dog who was easy to train. Clancy sure isn’t.”
I was happy to hear my name.
“Remind me again what kind of dog Clancy is.”
“Well, when I rescued him, they said he was yellow Lab, but it’s sort of clear that he’s got a little something else in him.”
“Are you taking him to the dog park?” Helen asked.
I glanced up at my person as he nodded because I knew what “dog park” meant. Did that mean we were going to the dog park?
I could not imagine anything more wonderful.
A dog park is a place where people go to sit on benches and watch in amazement how much fun it is to be a dog. Off-leash and free, canines express their full personality. Odin is of the sniff-and-leg-lift persuasion, as it turns out, while I’m more inclined to pursue the female dogs, my nose aimed under their tails.
Some dogs are completely fixated on a toy and seem unaware of anything else—I ignore them because, though I do love a toy (especially a ball!) as much as the next dog, I only give chase if my person throws it. To do otherwise is to miss the whole point.
I could spend all day, every day, at the dog park. There is just so much to do there.
Plus, no cats.
Copyright © 2022 by W. Bruce Cameron