After I finish showering and getting dressed, I sit down to put on my shoes.
Fleegle carries over one of my running shoes and drops it at my feet. “Put this one on,” he says, then carries over a hiking boot and drops it next to the running shoe. “And this one.”
I look down at the two mismatched shoes, both lefties. “Why?”
“Because I want to go running, and when I get tired, I want to hike through the woods looking for a good stick to chew.”
I push the running shoe and hiking boot aside and reach for my cowboy boots.
“Not those, Raud,” Fleegle whines. “Standing around and posing is so boring. Have you even met a horse? They’re so big, if you’re not careful they can poop on your head.”
I reach for my hat, a silver belly rancher. “I think I’ll wear my hat too.” I get it positioned on my head just right, stand and look down at Fleegle. “Maybe we could trade in your walking harness and leash for a horse halter and lead rope.”
“Some big macho cowboy you’ll be with his little chocolate pony.”
I plop on the living room couch and I’m happily melding with it after a long day on my feet, when Fleegle walks in the room dragging my leash.
“Come on, Raud, I’m taking you for a walk before you get immersed in that talking head show on television.”
“You mean the news.”
“News, schmooze, I’ve seen better improv at the dog park.”
“They’re not making it up.”
“They tell you something bad everyday and nothing ever gets better, how can they not be making that up? They’re reading something someone else wrote. It’s second hand. If they’re not making it up, they’re playing that operator game you and your friends play at parties where the first friend says to the second friend, ‘I’m a lazy sod who’s too stupid to work,’ and by the time it gets to the last friend it’s, ‘I’m a big cod hovering the poop.’” He drops the leash in my lap. “Get up. Let’s go walk.”
“In a minute. Let me rest my bones first.”
“What bones? Where?”
“No bones, just a figure of speech,” I say and close my eyes.
“Like your talking heads,” Fleegle says as the clicking of his nails recedes from the room, but moments later a curious goobering sound in the other room triggers that sixth sense I’ve developed living with a Labrador that alerts me to something being goobered that shouldn’t be. I get up to find Fleegle’s mouth busy with my cell phone. It beeps away as he dials with his teeth.
“What are you doing?”
“Calling my back up walker.”
“And who might that be?”
“My girlfriend. Could you put Brooke’s number on speed dial? Your phone will last longer if you do.”
“Give me that,” I say and take the phone out of his mouth. Amazingly, it’s ringing. I hang up and slip it in my pocket. “All right, let’s go for a walk.”
Moments later my phone rings. It’s Brooke. I answer, “Hi.”
“Hi, did you just call me?”
I look at Fleegle. “Actually, my ass dialed you.”
Fleegle glares at me. “Hey, I’m not your donkey. And tell Brooke that if she brings pot-stickers, I’ll wait and walk the both of you.”
I unlock the passenger side door of the car for my date, Brooke, saying, “If you let me get in first, I’ll keep Fleegle from jumping on you.”
“What’s a Fleegle?”
I move out of the way so she can see in the car. Fleegle is in the passenger seat slobbering on the window at us. “That’s a Fleegle.”
“Oh cool, you brought your dog.”
“I have trouble saying no to him. You aren’t allergic or anything?”
“Nope, bring it on.”
I climb in the driver’s side. Fleegle’s tail thumps away with excitement as he faces the passenger door, waiting for it to open. “Who’s that, Raud? Did you bring me a friend to play with?”
“That’s Brooke. She and I are going on a date.”
“We’re going on a date? I love dates. Are prunes dates? Look, she’s showing me her teeth. Ooo, she has food in her teeth. I love her. Should I clean her teeth when she gets in?” He spins a circle in his seat. “Let her in, Raud, don’t keep her waiting.”
“Then get in the back and make some room for her.”
“Wait a second. Where’s the girlfriend questionnaire? Has she filled it out yet? How’d she do on the cat question?”
“Please get in the back.”
He positions himself between the two front seats and Brooke climbs in.
“He sure is a happy dog,” she says.
He can barely contain himself and makes a move to climb on her lap. I grab him and hold him back.
She scruffs his neck with both hands. “It’s okay, you can let go. I grew up with Labs.”
At her touch, Fleegle melts into a ball of fluff with his head in her lap.
Surprised, yet appreciative of his calmness, I say, “He thinks he’s a lap dog.”
He looks at me out of the corner of his eye. “I am a lap dog. I am one with the lap.”
She strokes his back. “The perfect dog for cold winter nights.”
He squirms onto his back. “Belly rub, please.”
Fleegle makes his mooing sound that says he’s happy. “She can skip the questionnaire.”
Still rubbing his belly, she says, “With my job and apartment, I can’t have a dog, but boy do I miss them. I know you said you wanted to go out to eat, but why don’t we get some Chinese take-out and go to the park and I can take Fleegle for a walk.”
Fleegle sighs. “I love my date, Raud. And I love pot stickers, get lots of pot stickers for Brooke and me to eat on our walk. And maybe some salad for you, too, of course. You need to get in shape for this dating thing.”
I’m sitting at my desk trying to come up with story ideas when a Christmas song comes on the music stream I’ve got playing on the computer. It takes me a moment to place it because it’s an electronic version minus the vocals. It’s Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and the next thing I know I’m lost in Christmas past when Fleegle pushes through the flaps of his dog door.
He sits next to me. “Whatcha doing, Raud?”
“Taking a trip down Memory Lane.”
His tail thumps against the wall. “Oh, can I go? Is that where all the puppies live?”
“Memory Lane, not Mammary Lane. For an animal that’s supposed to have such great hearing you sure do fumble it a lot.”
He cocks his ears back. “Oh, do you hear that?”
“That’s the sound of unnecessary criticism,” he says and goes back out through his dog door.
Moments later he comes back in. “Whatcha doing, Raud?” he asks as he sits next to me.
“You just asked me that.”
“I know, but you deserve another try.”
“Well, I’ve come to the end of Memory Lane and have turned onto Apologetic Blvd. Where I’m waiting until my best friend shows up so we can go for a walk.”
His tail sweeps the floor. “Oh boy, I love walks. I’ll go get your leash.”
Fleegle yells in panic and runs from the living room picture window. “Raud, the wolves have followed us home. They just passed the house. One even peed on my mailbox.”
“A taste of your own medicine, huh?” I get up from my desk and go take a look out the picture window. Two coyotes are cruising down the street at a good trot. It’s also garbage day and everyone has put their cans out on the curb for pickup. “And I thought it was the neighborhood dogs tipping over the cans.”
“Ooo, I bet that’s fun. Can we do that?”
“Not today. Maybe tomorrow.”
“But the cans will be empty tomorrow.”
Fleegle and I are driving through Forest Park on an empty stretch of road when two coyotes emerge from the brush on one side and disappear into the trees on the other.
Fleegle lets out a yowl of fear. “Dire wolves,” he shouts.
“Nah, too small. Those are coyotes. Dire wolves were the size of ponies and are extinct. Those coyotes weigh less than you.” I reassure him with a pat on his back. “But who knows what a coyote would weigh if it got to eat as much as you do.”
“How much do I weigh?”
“How much is that?”
“Two and a half of the big bags of kibble.”
“What about timber wolves? They’re not extinct and they’ve been reintroduced in Yellowstone. How much do they weigh?”
“A little over three big bags of kibble. But they haven’t reintroduced timber wolves in Forest Park.”
“They roam, you know, hundreds of miles,” he says. “Is it lunchtime yet? I need to eat more if I’m going to stay bigger than those coyotes and be as big as a timber wolf.”
I’m stretched out on the psychiatrist’s red leather couch, my first appointment seeking help.
“So what seems to be bothering you?” the psychiatrist asks from behind my shoulder where he sits out of view. His voice is vaguely familiar but I can’t place it.
“It’s my dog. He’s driving me crazy.”
“Dogs can do that. But they can also mirror back to us our own troublesome issues. Like the dog who poops in the husband’s shoes when he walks allover the wife, who is the dog’s favorite. The dog is trying to teach the wife to stand up for herself. Is your dog pooping in your girlfriend’s shoes? Maybe you could be more specific? What does your dog do that drives you crazy?”
“Let me rephrase that. It’s not that he’s driving me crazy with his bad behavior, but that I think I’m going crazy because he speaks to me, just like a person does. He’ll come into the room where I am and ask me what I’m doing, like a coworker or something. And I can understand him just as I can understand you now, doctor.”
“You must be a good companion to your dog. Consider yourself lucky. A lot more people would understand their dogs if they’d only stop and listen to them.” The familiarity of the psychiatrist’s voice nags at me. “But I tell you what, Mr. Kennedy, I’m going to write you a prescription that should help you with the anxiety you’re feeling.”
“A prescription for what?” I ask.
“Chocolate, of course.”
I finally recognize the voice, sit up and look over my shoulder. Fleegle sits in the psychiatrist’s chair, legs crossed, and a prescription pad on his knee with a pen shaped like a dog biscuit held ready over the page.
I run my hand down my face. “Have I dreamt myself into Fleegle World again?”
Fleegle shakes his head. “Oh no, this is Raudy Boy World. If this were Fleegle World, that red leather couch you’re sitting on would be brown and made of chocolate sponge cake. Wouldn’t that be comfortable?” He jumps off his chair in excitement. “Ooo, but look, you kept your Labrador tail. Maybe it’s there to stay and you’ll still have it when you wake up. Wouldn’t that be nice.”