I was napping underneath Tina’s dangling feet—she was the smallest of my two-legger family—while she sat on the old red leather couch between her dad and granddad. Every now and then she brushed her toes against the fur on the top of my head. It woke me with a tickle, but I didn’t mind. Tina was my favorite being in the whole world and could do nothing that would bother me. I just lay there dozing and listening to what the old men had to say.
When Tina’s dad took her to the park to play with the other two-leggers her size, he was always the oldest dad there, but the other dads seemed to look up to him as if he’d been through this many times before and was full of wisdom, as if he was the dad they’d always wanted. But he’d just gotten a late start and was in the same boat as they were, though he never mentioned this. He did look more like a granddad than a dad, and with Tina sitting between him and her mother’s father, the two men looked like brothers. She sat there and giggled at the silly things they said while her feet rubbed the top of my head.
“What do you want to be when you grow up, Tina?” Granddad asked.
She pointed at me, lying on the floor. “I wanna be Charlie.”
Her dad smiled at her. He was a lawyer who had wanted to be a doctor when he was young, but the chemistry classes that first year in college didn’t quite take. “You want to be the dog? But you can be anything you want to be when you grow up, a doctor, a lawyer.”
She shook her head. “No, Charlie.”
Granddad rolled his eyes at his son-in-law. “Dan, she’s six years old. What six-year-old wants to be a lawyer?”
“It’s never too soon to plant the idea. I think she’ll make a great lawyer.”
They often went back and forth like this, not agreeing, but not really disagreeing, but letting the tension build, each finding confirmations in their opinion of the other like two old men on a park bench enjoying the possibility of a fight without running the risk of actually having it. I could sense the tension in their voices rise and every time it got too high, there would be a long silence, and then the build up would begin again. I didn’t like fighting, myself, or even the chance of it. Sniff the butt, sniff the face, and then move on. They called me a people dog and they were right. Not once had another dog given me a biscuit. Tina always shared. Sometimes unintentionally, like when she left her bowl of ice cream unattended.
They never said I could be anything I wanted when I grew up. I was the family dog and nothing more was expected of me. Don’t chew Tina’s socks. Carrying them around the house during times of excitement, like when the family returned home, was okay, but don’t put any holes in them, and definitely don’t swallow them. That was bad. Not only did they get pissed when I did it, they’d get pissed all over again when they found the sock in the yard. They dressed Tina in bright oranges and yellows like she was their sunflower and it made her socks easy to find. They stood out amongst all the green of the back lawn, and even passing through me couldn’t fade their colors.
I was to move when told to move, be quiet when shouted at, pretty much just do what I was told. Tina had two older brothers who were old enough to speak almost as well as their parents and they were sort of in the same boat as me. They were often told what to do and shouted at when they didn’t do it. Parental barking was effective, at least in the short term. The two-leggers must’ve learned it from us. Her brothers were frequently told they could be anything they wanted to be when they grew up, but it was followed with subtly toned phrases like, if you applied yourself, or, if you could just focus, or, if you stopped hanging out with that crowd. I didn’t understand the last bit because I never saw them hanging out with any crowd, but there was a lot I didn’t get, like how they could be anything they wanted in the first place. Could they metamorphose like a butterfly? If I’d wanted to be a German shepherd, I couldn’t because I was born a golden retriever and it was my lot in life to feel the need to always have a bone, a ball, or one of Tina’s socks in my mouth. Not that I’d want to be a German shepherd. They were too stressed from being on the job all the time, alert to any two-leggers who didn’t belong, and in the eyes of a German shepherd very few did, and even those who did were often suspect.
Tina’s dad cocked his head at her and glanced at her granddad. “You never know. With all the lawyer shows on television, she might want to be a lawyer.”
“She’s six, for Christ’s sake,” Granddad said. “Don’t you remember what it was like to be six?”
Her dad turned his hands over in his lap and pondered their wrinkled maps of time. “I don’t think I was ever six. I was on the professional track from day one. My parents made sure of that. Never waste a moment. Even the games they let me play had a purpose.”
Granddad chuckled. “I bet Monopoly was one of them.”
Dad nodded. “Yep, sure was.”
“And I bet they always told you that you could be anything you wanted to be when you grew up.”
“Yeah, they did. If I set my mind to it.”
I closed my eyes with a long sigh. Just give me a ball or a sock to carry in my mouth, I thought as Tina’s feet rubbed the top of my head, and all is well.