Daddy never allowed pets. That’s probably why I fell so much in love with Jessi’s pet rat. Booker was the closest thing I ever had to a pet of my own. I made him up… well, mostly, sort of. I made up all the stories about him in my diary, but Booker, or at least what he meant to me, was real.
Great Falls really isn’t much of a town, and it was less of one when I was little. It was quite rural, a collection of cozy homes on spacious lots, unlike the sprawl of suburban pack that’s sprung up there over the last twenty years. We lived in such a cozy home, a little cozier than most on account of Daddy’s job.
Ferris Creek ran down the back-side of our property, out along the southeast section of town, under the main highway and then eventually out past Great Falls High School and behind Ferris Tallow before turning its way north to follow the lake road on its way to the Z. For those of you city folks, “main highway” meant a road that actually had painted lines and occasional traffic on it. And “creek”? Well, Ferris Creek was a river of cow manure in the winter and a barren rock bed in the summer.
Jessi lived on the west side of the creek, as did most of Great Falls. It was more than a two mile walk “down the street” to her house that I made alone as often as I was allowed. I was ten years old on this particular hot summer afternoon when I made my trek down the street to Jessi’s.
Halfway along, the road crossed the culvert. As I passed over, looking across the guardrail, the normally uneventful rock bed, with its thick layer of dried moss and manure, contained also one ugly grey plastic bag. I was raised to detest litter, so I was staring at the bag in contempt when I saw it move. At first, I thought it was the rippling mirage of the summer heat, rising up off the rocks. The bag moved again.
Curious, and a little bit scared, I climbed down the bank to inspect the movement. You always have to be careful of snakes and rabid animals and stuff, so I searched around and found a stick. Not very long, but it would have to do. I poked at the bag. Brittle in the heat, it tore open easily and I nearly vomited as the smell of rotting carcass escaped under my nose, literally knocking me over backward.
Using the stick, I moved upwind and pulled the bag open further to reveal a small puppy, one eye barely open, struggling among the dead bodies of his sisters and brothers. I screamed my tears, fought the nausea, and pulled him from the bag. Cuddling his helpless and stinky little body in my arms, I scrambled out of the culvert. I ran all the way back home as fast as I could, bursting in the door with the drama I owned all of in my house.
“Mama! Help!” I screamed, slamming the door behind me.
I’d been in trouble many times for yelling like that with no broken leg or a geyser of blood to justify it. I didn’t care.
I found her in the kitchen where her look of panic quickly changed to one of relief. She didn’t seem worried or hurried about my plight. She got a towel and put it on the table and I set the puppy down. Frantically, and out of breath, I explained what I’d found.
“His name’s Booker,” I finished. “Can I keep him?”
I knew the answer to that even though Mama didn’t give it. “You know your father won’t let you have a dog.” We filled an eyedropper with warm milk and I fed him some. He drank it as best he could. He spit up a lot, but he was eating, and Mama said that was a good sign. She got up and made a call to a veterinary doctor for some advice and disappeared into the other room with the phone. When she returned, she helped me give him a lukewarm bath.
“What’d the doctor say, Mama? Is Booker going to be okay?”
“They said to keep feeding him, but don’t feed him too much. He’ll know when he’s hungry. They said there’s not much they can do until he’s stronger and their office is closed right now, but just keep feeding him and let him sleep, and they’ll see him in the morning.”
“I’ll stay up with him,” I said.
We dried him off and I sat there with my new puppy, on the towel in my lap. I nursed him as best I could with the eye-dropper when he was hungry, and petted him when he wasn’t. He slept when he wasn’t hungry.
A few hours later, Booker was gone. Daddy took him out to bury him while Mama explained through my tears the truth about what the vet had really told her. Booker’s contact with the dead bodies and his fat tummy were an assurance that he had no chance at all of survival. He had worms. Maybe if we’d found him sooner… The only thing we could do was make his last hours comfortable.
I hated Mama for lying to me. She did it so I wouldn’t be upset until I had to be, but I didn’t understand at the time. Daddy was the one I hated worse. “You don’t need to be messing with the damn dead dog’s grave, Flower Anne,” was what he said when I asked where he buried Booker. Two days later, I noticed a thousand flies swarming the garbage bin. I took his body out and buried him myself proper.
After supper that night, despite my efforts to volunteer, Daddy took out the garbage to be collected next morning. When he came back in, he had that look and I knew I was getting it.
“What happened to the God-damned dog, Flower Anne?”
I just looked at him.
He gave me the whipping of my life for fishing that dog out. To teach me my lesson good, he made me dig Booker back up and put him back in the can where I found him. I cried when the garbage truck woke me up. They came early that morning, and Daddy hadn’t left for work yet.
Two years later, I got my first diary. Booker got a life.
© 2012 Anne Schilde