by Janice C. Johnson
This nonfiction piece earned a place in the 2007 literary journal of UTA’s “Sigma Tau Delta” (English honor society) chapter.
One is a sweet, gentle blonde, the other a spunky and affectionate redhead. My husband Brent and I named them both. We provide for their physical and emotional needs, and are trying to teach them to be responsible members of society. We appreciate and encourage their differing talents and interests. I often address them collectively as “girls.” My beloved daughters? Well… no… my kids are both boys. I’m talking about my yellow Lab mutt Aggie, and our son’s Pomeranian mutt Tipper. I know they’re dogs, all right; I’ve never been one to cook for them or put clothes on them or anything like that. It’s just that with their companionable personalities, it’s easy to forget they are not human. They seem downright ladylike in repose, Aggie crossing her dainty front paws and looking regal, while Tipper lounges in front of the fireplace with her long hair draped over the tiles. But every once in a while something happens to remind me — forcibly — that they are dogs after all, complete with doggie instincts.
In retrospect, it was not my fault in the least and I shouldn’t feel guilty. Mr. and Mrs. Mockingbird had to notice the two dogs in the back yard when they decided to build a nest just three feet from the ground. I didn’t even know about the nest until one warm spring day when one of the Texas Sage bushes started making little squeaky noises. I peeked in to investigate. Four scrawny grey necks topped by bright yellow funnels stretched up, awaiting their next serving of bugs. Not wanting to delay their lunch, I went away.
Over the next few weeks, I saw the little guys grow from dollops of grey fuzz into something that more resembled birds, with those ugly baby-bird faces that only emus never seem to outgrow. Then one Friday the nest was empty. Well, congratulations, Mrs. Mockingbird; I guess they are launched.
When I let the dogs in for the night, Aggie picked up a toy and brought it in with her as usual. But the toy seemed unfamiliar so I took a closer look. Aggie beamed at me as two limp, scaly, claw-tipped legs dangled from one side of her mouth. Horrified, I hustled her back out. It was far too late to help the defunct bird and neither Brent nor I felt like wrestling it away from her (negotiations were short and consisted mostly of “eew!”). We ended up just leaving her outside to finish her business with it.
Saturday morning dawned with no visible trace of Aggie’s late-night snack. Relieved, I fed the dogs (a little less than usual for Aggie) and went on about my day. Later I let them in from the midafternoon heat. To my dismay, Aggie proudly carried in a dead juvenile mockingbird. AGAIN. Was it the same one, buried and then exhumed, or a sibling? I don’t know, but this bird looked decidedly shopworn. Out went Aggie with her ill-gotten prize, while I pondered whether the Feds would come after me for letting my dog eat the state bird. Or would it be the Texas Rangers? Not the baseball team; the law enforcement people.
I never actually saw Tipper sharing the spoils, but it may have been more than coincidence that an unpleasant aroma issued from her crate the next morning. Sure enough, she had had diarrhea — her only crate accident in over three years. It was all over the old mattress pad she slept on. Could this weekend get any more gross? I tugged the bedding out and set it in the garage to dry. Fortunately, dogs are impervious to sarcasm, so Tipper just wagged her tail when I asked whether she had eaten too many fries with her mockingburger.
After church and a nice, fortifying lunch, I went outside to clean up Tipper’s mattress pad. My plan seemed simple enough: shake out the dry dog poop onto the grass and then hose off as much of the residue as possible. However, two key facts escaped my notice:
1. The elastic edging created a curve which threw off the trajectory.
2. It wasn’t dry.
I felt the first splat near my collarbone, followed the next instant by a smaller blob landing somewhere below my right eye. Miraculously, Brent came outside at that moment with a rag in his hand, bent on some bicycle maintenance task. He noticed my mottled appearance but it was too late to make good his escape.
Still clutching the offending mattress pad, I said, “Honey, would you wipe this off me? I can’t see where it is!”
Brent courageously came within arm’s length and sacrificed his rag to make me more presentable. As I stood in the driveway radiating gratitude and a pungent odor, I found myself feeling strangely calm. In fact, an odd nostalgia enveloped me. It occurred to me that this didn’t say much for my mental balance.
By the time I had taken a hot (antibacterial) shower, though, I realized where the nostalgia came from. Smells are supposed to be our most powerful memory triggers. That particular smell had recalled me to those early years of motherhood, when “nurturing” sometimes meant cleaning up unspeakable messes at 3:00 a.m., and the word “projectile” was an ordinary part of my vocabulary. All I normally remember from those times is the tenderness I felt toward my babies. I wouldn’t trade even the smelliest moments for anything. And I’m delighted that nobody ate my children as soon as they were able to step out of the nest.
Thanks for reading!