Hello Bookworms! This Friday I have a story written a few years ago from an interesting perspective. See if you can figure it out! “The Family Man” has themes of love (in all forms), family, and trust. Enjoy!
The Family Man
I stretch my head towards the sun. It’s warm when the sun stretches out of it’s bed beneath the horizon, almost as warm as my bed. I can’t lie, I love being outside more than I enjoy nights by the fire. Trees, bushes, a squirrel! I can’t believe the magic of nature in comparison with the mundane indoors.
“Tiny,” the man calls from further up the hill. I hadn’t noticed when I fell behind, but he’s at least twenty feet ahead of me now. His name is Paul.
I bound up the hill to close the distance between us. Paul looks pleased, and he pats a hand on my head, to confirm I understood and have done well.
We continue to the crest of the hill. Oh boy, that view! Even Paul looks excited. He surveys his land, our land, with a wide smile. All of his teeth say hello. I must look excited as well, because Paul says, “Another day in paradise, girl.”
I run circles around him. It’s another day in paradise! I am Paul’s right hand girl. I always want to make him proud. I do everything with him, and he doesn’t keep me pinned up like the dogs. Oh, Paul’s a dog breeder. He breeds German Shepherds. It has been this way for as long as I can remember. Some of the dogs are older than me, like Jud. The older dogs have puppies every year, and the puppies are adopted by nice looking people. Sometimes the older dogs die, and it’s sad, but that’s what happens when dogs grow old.
Paul looked younger when he first brought me home with him. He didn’t have the lighter colored flecks in his dark beard. His eyes didn’t sag back then. Even then though, no one besides Paul ever stayed at the ranch house with us. He has a few pictures in the office with other people around him, but I’ve never seen them in person. I must be his favorite.
I like it this way. Paul doesn’t need anyone besides me, and I don’t need anyone besides Paul. Sometimes, Paul tells me I need the vet. I don’t agree.
“Time for breakfast Tiny, let’s go back to the house,” Paul reminded me. His voice has become darker too, it sounds like the smell of the coffee I sometimes steal from his mug in the mornings, but I’m not supposed to do that. I don’t sound like Paul, when I speak, I sound like a brass bell. The kind of bell Paul rings for the dogs to come get dinner at night.
We run down grass as soft as my bed and between huge trees until the ranch house is in view. Just outside the ranch house is a large fence enclosure with twenty dogs inside. Four adults, and sixteen puppies.
“Howdy puppies,” Paul calls.
“Morning guys,” I repeat to them. A chorus of barks and yips sounds from behind the fence poles.
“What’s on the agenda today, Tiny?” Jud asks me. A puppy pulls at his floppy ear, and he shakes off the puppy. His eyes squint and his teeth show beneath his thick chops.
“Better you than me,” I tell him, “Paul and I will eat breakfast, then feed everyone else. Two more weeks till the puppies are gone!”
“And not soon enough,” Jud says. He lays his head down on his paws in defeat.
“Tiny,” Paul says, and I leave Jud’s side of the fence to join Paul,“I can’t keep up with the yard work that sixteen puppies creates.”
I whine below him and he shows me his teeth, this time, the corners of his snout are down turned unlike how it had been on the mountain. Paul opens the gate and starts to trek through the dog enclosure to get to the back door of the house, so I follow him. I want breakfast.
“Hey! Don’t you do that,” Paul yells, but the rebuked puppies don’t shy away from his strong tone when they jump on his thighs.
“You heard the man! Learn some respect,” I yell to the rambunctious puppies. What looks like mud smears across his pants. Paul pushes open the storm door to the house. Anxious paws scratch at the closed door behind us. “Attention hogs,” I mumble.
I know this house backwards and forwards, because it hasn’t changed since I’ve been around. Paul crosses the hardwood floors that sink in the middle, to the kitchen where the appliances were light at one time, but they have darkened with age. He opens a cabinet of honey colored wood. It’s right next to the cabinet where he keeps my treats.
“Shit,” Paul curses under his breath as he tips over a jar of jelly. It joins the myriad of stains from cans of wet dog food and pre-made spaghetti sauce on the cabinets. The counters are no better off than the cabinets. Paul throws a dirty bowl at the pile of dishes that remain in the sink. I could keep a better kitchen than this, and I don’t have any thumbs.
I slide my dish into my mouth from the counter and lay it at Paul’s feet. I stay while Paul takes the bowl at his feet, paces to the tin garbage can full of dry food, fills the bowl, and places it back down for me. Paul gets better food than I do, but sometimes he lets me try it. For his portion, Paul brews a mug of coffee and fries three eggs into a scrambled mess. He makes them with no salt, no pepper, but lots of hot sauce. I know Paul’s life by heart, unlike the dogs, who bark every two seconds, outside who see him as only their food provider.
We eat in silence, until I whine for the good food, then Paul throws me a spicy bit of egg. Sometimes Paul feeds the dogs eggs, but none of them are allowed to eat hot sauce eggs.
“Hot! Hot! Hot!” I whine, my tongue flaps outside my mouth from the heat, but I know they’re so much better this way!
As I finish my bit of egg, Paul goes back to his own food. He reaches across the table for a stack of papers with his empty hand.
“Bill, bill, bill, magazine…” Paul’s voice grumbles out along with crumbs of egg as he thumbs through the envelopes he never wants to see in the mail but inevitably come, “Oh! Here we go! Tiny look.”
I’m confused. The yellow paper fills my vision. Paul should know by now that I can’t read. That isn’t my fault though, he refuses to teach me. He takes the paper back and gazes at the block style font.
“A dog breeder’s holy grail. A kennel system that could house nearly thirty dogs. Top of the line, alright,” Paul whispered, mystified, “Tiny do you got $25,000?”
“No,” I say. I wouldn’t give it to him anyway, twenty dogs around here is enough of a distraction. I can’t imagine thirty.
The harsh sound of tires on a gravel driveway stop Paul before he can keep reading to me about kennels. Thank god. His eyes look to the German Shepard edition of his calendar. My ears perk up as I wait to hear more.
“I guess we better see who it is,” Pauls says. He stands up and motions for me to come with him. We walk to the door, but I bolt passed his frame in the doorway, and into the front yard. I run, full force, to the driveway. I must protect my home from the outsiders!
It’s a pick up truck. I sniff the tires, but they’re so old I can’t distinguish any scent, darn. The truck’s mostly white with some darker spots of metal that smell bad. A woman steps out from the driver’s seat while I inspect the rusted hitch. I take a few steps towards her, but she doesn’t see me. She’s looking at Paul.
I’m distracted from the woman by the sound of two children in the back of the car. Their limbs flail as they compete to escape the backseat first. Oh good, children. They’re worse than puppies.
“Julie?” Paul asks, his face slack. He takes his ball cap off to rub a hand on his head.
“Hi Paul,” the woman, Julie, says while Paul walks closer. “It’s good to see you,” Julie tells Paul when he finally stands beside me.
“How’s Sioux City?”
“Fair, you wouldn’t recognize most of it though,” Julie finishes talking and an uncomfortable silence falls between them, “Who’s this?” She asks, she looks at me at last! I wag my tail and cock my head to the side. Most people like that.
“I’m Tiny,” I repeat, but this Julie woman doesn’t seem to care. She keeps her eyes locked on Paul.
“Tiny? Paul, what a stupid name for a massive German Shepherd.”
“Hey!” I snap, and what does she mean German Shepherd, they’re out back.
“It’s ironic.” Paul answers flat and deep.
We all stand around again. I let my guard down, these visitors don’t seem to be a threat. They’re boring. Paul won’t want to keep boring visitors. I stare at the woman he called Julie for a while, she looks familiar.
She’s from the pictures in Paul’s office! This is one of the people he knows, but they have never come around before.
“Can the boys and I come in or are you going to make us camp out in the car?” Julie finally asks.
“Yes,” Paul stutters, “I”m sorry, bring my nephews over here and I’ll get you set up inside.”
“No!” I say. I feel red hot panic fall over me. I jump at Paul, something I never do, but he won’t listen. He only bats me away, face contorted into a sneer.
The group begins the walk to the house. I’m grateful, because the afternoon sun has started to make my fur feel as hot as a dog house roof in July, but it’s only May. The boys, Evan and Jacob, play with me every step of the way. I go along with it for Paul’s sake. We chase each other for twenty feet, then stop, then run again. They pet my ears and laugh. Julie continues to turn over her shoulder at us, but Paul doesn’t glance back once.
We can’t play as much when we are inside. The boys start to bump into furniture, so Julie yells at them to behave. At last, I walk in peace.
Later that night they all sit down to dinner. Paul gives me my normal dish by the table. I think they’re dinner includes the dark brown meat with sweet glaze that I don’t like as much as chicken.
“There’s this kennel system,” Paul begins telling Julie and the boy’s when the conversation drags, “Big enclosures for each of the dogs, safe locks and fences to ensure no one escapes into the hills,” A dreamy look came over his eyes. I whimper quietly, and put my head on his leg. I see Paul pulling away from me. Each time he talks about that stupid kennel or offers the children another helping of mac and cheese, he is less mine.
“It’s like a puppy palace!” Evan says through a mouth of mac and cheese.
“It sounds nice Paul,” Julie tells him with a smile. Her mouth look like a bent pea pod. They continue to eat, and I listen to Evan and Jacob tell Paul everything about their school and their friends. Julie makes a few comments about her job and Steven, her husband. She doesn’t talk as much as her kids. The heavy clank of metal forks is the melody of their conversation.
I drift off as they continue to talk about human things. I dream of Paul and I walking the hills in the morning like we always do. Then, I wonder if he will still wake up tomorrow morning. What if having visitors is more important than our morning walk? What if they don’t eat their eggs with hot sauce!
The door slams, a heavy clanking of metal on metal, and it wakes me up. Everyone is gone. The plates have been cleared, and the fire in the hearth is almost dead. I hear a snore upstairs, but it isn’t Paul’s snore. His snore is deep, too loud. I‘ve learned to tune it out as I slumber.
I push Paul’s office door open with my nose. He’s still awake in there.
“Hi girl,” Paul says. I come to his side, and Paul runs a hand between my ears and under my snout, the scratches he leaves in my skin feels good, and I can’t help but move my left leg to the beat of Paul’s nails against my skin. I miss this, but maybe not everything has to change with the visitors here.
“Paul!” Julie appears in the door frame where she wasn’t a moment ago. Her face the color of my dog bone, and she’s holding onto the door tighter than Paul ever held my leash. “Jacob’s gone. Evan said he left their room a half hour ago, but I can’t find him anywhere around the house inside, or out,” Julie finishes, her voice much louder than when she started.
“We’ll find him. He can’t get far in thirty minutes,” Paul says, “Jacob’s in trouble, Tiny. Can you help us find him?”
I don’t move right away. I watch Paul, his face is red and jaw is open. I’ve seen this look of concern before, but Paul becomes emotional about dogs, not people. Part of me doesn’t want to find the boy. Maybe without the boy, they rest will leave. Except Paul’s face. I can’t leave his face like that.
I run ahead of Paul, my mission clear. Find Jacob. I sprint through the house, sharp nails click against hardwoods. It’s a chorus of ticks and scrapes that make background music for the chase. I burst through the door followed by Paul and Julie.
“Tiny!” I hear a bark from behind me, when I turn around it’s Jud calling out, “What’s the commotion?”
“The boy is missing.”
“The little red haired one?” Jud asks and I nod in confirmation, “I saw him scamper by about fifteen minutes ago. Headed up the hill.”
I start running, but can’t remember if I thanked Jud or not. He is nothing but a background thought now that I have a direction to run in.
Julie calls out for Jacob the moment she is outside, Paul keeps running. It’s a ten minute walk up the hill to see the rest of the land, but we make the journey in six. I pant, my tongue flapping, but I don’t see, hear, or smell Jacob yet. I notice Paul fall back, but I don’t stop for him.
I’m ahead of the others by a few hundred feet when I smell something, salt. The wave of aromas is followed by sound. A cry. I bark and continue to run up the hill, in the direction of the sound. A few hundred feet more, around a corner of eroded rock, I see Jacob over the edge of a cliff.
I know exactly where we are, but I haven’t been to this edge of the property since I was a puppy. The rocks here are too steep and jagged for me to play on. I’m not as young as I used to be. They are even more dangerous for a little boy.
I bark the way Paul would normally scold me for, loud, high pitched eruptions of noise that didn’t stop. One right after the other.
Julie and Paul soon come around the same corner, Julie stops short and bumps into Paul. He grips her arm when they see where Jacob must be. I sniff around the precipice cautiously, and I decline my bark to a whine now that they see what is wrong.
“Help!” Comes a little voice over the edge.
Julie and Paul rush forward and try to wrap their hands around Jacob’s arms, but he’s trapped a few feet too far down. They can’t move him. It must be a ten foot drop. I watch their hands struggle to reach down to Jacob’s thin wrists. Jacob gasps between his tears.
I push on Paul’s back with my nose. I nuzzle underneath his arm, but he doesn’t turn. I have to do this. Whether Paul pays attention to what I do or not. Fear spikes in my brain so fast I think it might break through my skull. My paws leave the ground. I fly through the air. I whine so high pitched not even a dog could hear it, and land ten feet below.
“Tiny!” Paul yells from above us. He looks panicked again. Oh no, what if this wasn’t the good idea I thought it was!
One of my legs is broken, I can feel it. I bark higher than normal, like a bell that has been hit with all the force in the world. Jacob looks more scared than I do hurt, so I limp to his side. The boy pets me between the ears and under the chin like Paul would. I feel better and lick his face in thanks. I line myself up with the side of the cliff, and jerk my head back.
“Come one,” I say, though I know Jacob can’t understand me. However he can understand a rescue plan. Jacob puts his feet on my back like I want. He is two feet taller, just enough for Paul and Julie to grab his hands and yank him from my back.
I want to collapse from the release of Jacob’s weight on my back, but my mission isn’t over yet. My paws scrape against the rocks as I back up as far as I can. The jump is high, but if I made it one way I can make it back. That’s how it works, right? Remember, I used to play on these rocks all the time. I must have made this jump before! I don’t think, I just run and lunge.
I catch the edge of side of the cliff a foot and a half below the top. No! I think for a split second before a hand grabs at my shoulder. It hurts, but not as bad as the fall would have. When my body is heaved over the side, I see Paul underneath me. We both lay our heads back, our breath is even and heavy, it keeps time with our heart beats.
“Thank you,” Julie says. I jump. I hadn’t noticed her near us before. She looks cautious, so I lay my head down for her to lay a hand on.
“You’re welcome.” I reply, and this time, I think she understands.
xx Professional Bookworm