Here comes Hanna. Her high heels tap, tap, tapping down our half-rural, no-sidewalk, dead end street after her shift at the retirement home where she works. PR and activities director is what she does there. Pinewood Acres is the name of the place. “More like Belly Acres” she crabbed one night over beers on my stoop. But I know better. She’s got a soft spot for seniors. Which, when I think about how I’m getting a little gray around the edges, would be a comfort as we get on.
I watch her head up the drive to the side entrance of the house that faces me. As she gets out her key she glances up to catch my eye. Smiles. Sweet.
She’s single, now, too. And while we’ve known each other for ten years or more, lately things have heated up between us. I’ve helped her with some projects around her place and she has got me into gardening even if only for tomatoes and string beans. But turns out she’s fun to be with. Likes movies and reads books that I never heard of. And can she cook. She even got me off franks and beans, which my ex never could.
She knows I’ll be sprawled on a recliner, watching for her, nursing a beer after eight hours of framing walls and roofs. Used to be, she would head over here or I would go there and we would plan the evening: dinner in/out, movie, ‘your place/my place’ sleep over. But not anymore. Not since that bitch came into our lives.
Mandy. She’s a cute little beagle. Just showed up one day in her yard. No collar. No tag. No owners asking for her. Just there. And now we’re like a divorced couple with joint custody, only she has the dog all the time. And I’m allergic to dogs. And our together-time is cut in half. Let me explain. I’m a carpenter, right? So, I built her a dog house. But Hanna didn’t want the dog on a chain. Okay. So, I built a fence around her yard. First thunderstorm, Mandy is whining by the back door and never went back out.
Now, I like a good beagle as much as the next rabbit hunter. Gives me goose bumps to hear a hound ‘open up’ on a hot track. I grew up with hunting dogs. All my mom’s brothers had one or two in a backyard kennel. Saturday mornings all fall and into winter, I’m in the back seat on the way to one or another favorite farm listening to brags on their dogs. The one insult that would stop the discussion cold was to call a man’s hound a ‘lap dog.’ Those were fighting words. But, I tell you, that’s what Mandy was, a lap dog. So, on top of her being an insult to the breed, the dog has succeeded in bringing tears to my allergic eyes and messing up my love life. I needed to come up with something.
I set my beer bottle on the table next to a picture of my daughter—cap, gown, and diploma. She stuck around all summer after graduation, not sending out resumes, looking like she was never going to leave home. Then she met Jack. Jack! Look, for as much as I spend all day measuring and squaring and leveling, I can make crazy connections too. My mind can jump. In this case to my uncle Tony’s dog, Jack. Aha!
Over chicken curry at New Delhi a couple nights later, I suggested Mandy join my uncles’ preseason dog training program. I explained how they take their hounds to a nearby farm and let them chase rabbits. That way we could tell if Mandy was ‘broken’ on rabbits and if not, could learn from the others.
“What? You want her to chase cottontails? So, you can shoot them? It’s like killing squirrels or sparrows in our front yard.”
Before I could think, I blurted out, “But we eat them…me and my uncles. It’s not about killing. It’s food.”
Hannah looked at her plate and the blood-red tandoori chicken drumsticks, gulped, and pushed the plate aside. I had to back up and start over again. “Uhm, you know, I don’t hunt anymore. Used to. Not anymore.”
I moved to Plan B. “See, what my uncles are doing is like track coaches and football coaches. Conditioning. And, I don’t know if you noticed it, but Mandy is filling out a bit since you got her. This would be a way to A, tap into her true hunting-dog self…” I watched Hannah’s skeptical sidelong glance. “And B, a chance to slim her down a bit. And C, make some new friends.” Hannah took a minute to retrieve her naan bread and ruminate on a thoughtful bite.
Two weeks later when I noticed that Mandy was ‘in heat’, I gathered her from Hannah for a training session. Jack did his thing. Two months later Mandy delivered a litter of five. I helpfully suggested making a kind of playpen for the pups in a corner of Hannah’s basement. That way Mandy could be totally absorbed in their care and feeding while Hannah and I connected upstairs…again, for a while at least.