You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks
“Edgar, don’t kick him.”
Edgar Randall grunted. Maybe he was an old man set in his ways, but he did not like this dog. It was dumb, always underfoot, and he was getting suspicious it was out to trip him up. He kicked the dog again when his sister wasn’t looking.
“Edgar! Don’t!” Cheryl yelled from the hall after the dog yelped.
“Dog’s got to learn manners,” he called. Staring at the cowering mutt, he said, “You’d make a fine meal, you know?”
The dog cocked its head.
He did not hate dogs. Instead, he had what he liked to call a strong aversion to inept mongrels. He had a definite rule never to own a dog that wasn’t respectable.
The telephone rang and Cheryl answered it. His sister thought he could not hear well and Edgar thought it shrewd not to let on so she would speak openly in front of him.
“Yes, Martha, he’s been at it all morning. I’m afraid he’s going to hurt the poor creature.”
Edgar shook his head. Everyone was so afraid he would injure the animal. His sisters were both younger and some time ago Cheryl took up living with him. He didn’t mind so much, it was nice having a woman cooking for him and cleaning his laundry. He only wished they wouldn’t gossip so.
“No, Martha, the dog just stays right beside him, pathetic like.”
Pathetic! Phew! Edgar laughed. His sisters were the two most sentimental women he knew. It sure had no affection for him like they insisted. He shoved the dog out of the way and sat down on the couch. After a few minutes the dog crept back to his feet and laid down.
Cheryl came back into the living room. Seeing the dog at his feet, she touched her hand to her chest.
“Wipe that smile off your face. It’s a mangy mutt. I don’t see why you insist on having it here.”
Cheryl didn’t say anything. She sat down and picked up the novel she was reading. He couldn’t tell, but he was sure it was one of those dirty books, the kind that would turn their mother over in her grave. He glared at her. After a moment, she looked up, no doubt in response to his stare. “Do you need something, Edgar?”
He did need something. He wanted his peace and quiet. Cheryl was the loudest silent reader.
“Oh, Morris called today,” Cheryl said after a while.
“Who’s Morris? Why do I care he called?”
Cheryl was always telling him so-and-so had telephoned asking how he was and wanting to speak with him. After telling her a hundred times he didn’t know the person and didn’t want to speak with them did she give up asking. Now she just told him afterwards that someone had called for him. He didn’t get as angry then.
“Dr. Morris, the veterinarian. He asked about Polaris and when we would be bringing him in to get his shots. Do you want to go with me to take him?”
Edgar tried to pretend he didn’t hear her, but a disapproving grunt escaped.
“Morris would like to see you. I thought it was sweet for him to call personally.”
Cheryl had a way of talking that seemed to answer questions before they began to rise in his mind. She was good at communication—that’s why he let her answer the telephone. She had a way of knowing everybody and how they all fit together. The last time he’d answered the phone someone had tried to convince him that there was medication ready for him down at the pharmacy. He’d had to inform them he didn’t take medication, but they were insistent that he was wrong. Cheryl took the call, calmed them down and handled it. But sometimes she got things wrong. Like this vet appointment. Never in his life had he worried about up-to-date vaccines.
“If you take this dog to the vet, you’d better leave him there.”
“You got bad taste in dogs. This one here ain’t worth the food you feed him.”
“Edgar, how dare you say that about your prized Polaris!”
When Cheryl left the next week to take the dog to the vet, he got up from his coveted corner of the couch. He couldn’t move around freely when she was here, and she did not leave him alone often. He had had to tell her four times that he would be just fine while she stepped out.
He examined the books on the shelves. Cheryl had ditched his books and filled them with her own amusements. He didn’t miss his books so much—he hardly remembered what it was that he used to read and he didn’t care for reading anymore—but he wondered about her and her strange interests because they seemed so masculine. There was a collection on World War I and another on hunting. But the largest was on dog breeds and training. For all her research, Cheryl did not know the first thing about the species. It was embarrassing, her ignorance. He constantly had to correct her.
A picture on the mantel caught his attention. He hadn’t noticed it before, but then, Cheryl was always adding her own things to his house. It was a picture of himself dressed in a suit with a silly blue band around his upper arm and beside him stood the mutt. He rubbed his shirt sleeve over the glass to remove the dust, but the effort only sharpened the features. It was him all right, with that dog.
“Cheryl,” he said when she returned from the vet, “what’s that picture doing above the mantel?”
“The one with me and that mutt?”
“Polaris? Oh, that was taken when you two won first place at regionals.”
“You’re telling me that’s a show dog and I did the showing?”
She sounded so enthusiastic as with anticipation of something grand on the horizon. She would do that sometimes, but he never understood what she was hoping would happen. Nothing ever did seem to happen.
“Don’t you remember?”
He shook his head.
“I think I should remember if I’d done such an embarrassing thing as take that mutt to a dog show.”
Cheryl frowned and patted the dog before unleashing him. He trotted to Edgar and nuzzled his hand. When Edgar shooed him away, the dog nestled down on the floor by his master’s feet and rested its big fluffy head on his slipper. Edgar wondered in awe at the years that had turned Polaris’ black fur gray. He suddenly realized this was his dog, reunited with him, and if he could just touch it, he would know he wasn’t dreaming. He reached down but halfway there he paused, distracted by his own hand.
Abby Morales is a Palmetto State native who self-published her first novel to get the bull out of the pen. Upon completing Jamie Morgan (2016), she joined a group of women who have written in the Western genre. While she enjoys crafting short stories, the novel still allures; she is working on a long-form piece of historical fiction that she hopes to publish traditionally. A graduate of the University of South Carolina, Morales now works for the nonprofit SC811 as an accounting and payroll specialist. She is devoted to writing and developing the love of writing in others.