That Sweet Spot – 3. The Strategic Shrub

While pulling the weeds and tufts of grass that have sprouted up on Fleegle’s grave, Franny ambles up behind me and says, “Let me help you with that.”

She chomps down on some grass and starts chewing. As she glances up at me, she smiles and says, “I like how helping you involves eating.”

I chuckle. “It’s funny how that is so often the case.”

“ I know, right?” She takes another mouthful of grass. “Do you still miss him?”

“Fleegle? I do, but a strange thing happened a while back that helped. I was out here on my own, sitting next to his grave and quietly crying and missing him, when a voice inside my head told me it was time to stop grieving and to spend that energy on you, Huck and Hamish.”

“Whose voice?” she asks.

“I don’t know, but it wasn’t mine.”

Hearing his name, Hamish emerges from the nearest clump of bamboo, lifts his leg on a struggling shrub that is a favorite of the boys for scent marking. Somehow in dog logic, scent marking this particular shrub leads to controlling this half of the yard. When he finishes, he sits down and tilts his head at me.

“What is it?” I ask him.

He jerks his chin at Huckleberry across the yard sniffing his way through a pile of leaves in search of his ball. “Was Fleegle chocolate like the ball junkie over there?”

“Did someone ask about my ball?” Huckleberry shouts, his head popping out from the leaf pile. “Yep, found it!” He trots over with it and tosses it onto the grave.

“Yes,” I answer Hamish. “They look a lot alike.”

“That explains it,” Hamish says. “Sometimes I see Huckleberry outside peeing on my shrubs, but when I get up to reclaim the shrubs, I realize he’s lying there right next to me.”

Franny looks at Hamish and Huckleberry, then through a mouthful of grass, she says, “That’s just Saint Fleegle doing the rounds. He was here before you two and was already here when I got here. A better friend you couldn’t have, but you two are getting there.“ She finishes her grass, then quickly darts toward Huckleberry, snatches up his ball and runs off.

Huck’s eyes go wide. “Hey, that’s mine,” he says and chases after her.

Hamish is right beside him, trying to grab his flank in his mouth. “Boy, I love it when he runs. No one runs like Ball Breath Huck.”

The three of them disappear into the bamboo, their play barks and growls filling the air. I return to pulling the weeds on the grave, when out of the corner of my eye, I see Saint Fleegle lift his leg on the struggling shrub that was Hamish’s most recent scent buoy. He gives an upward nod of his chin at me and vanishes until his next visit.

That Sweet Spot – 2. Sniffles and Sighs

I’m sitting outside on the patio in the sun. It’s not officially spring, but it’s beginning to feel like it. The sun’s warmth melts my legs like butter. I look up at the pale blue sky, taking it all in, then close my eyes, feeling the brightness through my lids. I wonder if I had double lidded eyelids like a dog if it would block out the brightness. I’ve wondered this since I was a child and first learned of the double lidded eyelid. It would explain a lot of the daytime napping.

The rest of my body melts, joining the pool of butter around my chair, as I let out a long sigh. The birds chirp away as they hang out in the bamboo that runs along the border of the backyard, blocking out the neighbors and the outside world. In the background of my mellow mood, four-legged footfalls approach from inside the house and join me outside on the patio.

“Raud?” Hamish’s soft voice says.

“Yes?” I say, opening my eyes and looking at his soft brown eyes surrounded in reddish brown fur.

“I thought I heard you sniffle so I brought you a tissue.”

In his mouth is the leading edge of a roll of toilet paper that unspools behind him, across the patio into the kitchen, and probably all the way back through the house to the toilet paper holder mounted in the bathroom wall.

“That’s very kind of you, Hamish. Thank you.”

That Sweet Spot – 1. My Three Best Friends

“No, Huckleberry, I don’t want to play ball right now,” I say to my chocolate Lab as he drops his tennis ball at my feet for the fifth time. He picks up the ball and tosses it at my feet again.

“But why not?” he asks. “We’re outside and it’s not raining and I found a ball to play with.”

“Because I’m trying to write.”

“You can write with one hand and throw the ball with the other. I thought you wobbly ones prided yourselves on your ability to multitask.” He picks up the ball in his mouth and tosses it in my lap. It rolls across my notepad, leaving a slug trail of dog spit that I’ll have to write around like driving around an oily spot on the road. He backs up a few feet, his stare oscillating between me and the ball as his Jedi mind powers kick in.

I give in, pick up the ball with my left hand, while still holding my pen in my right, and toss it across the yard, doing just what he told me to do.

Huckleberry bolts after it. “Oh, boy! Oh, boy!” he slobbers as he chases.

Franny, my yellow Lab, ambles over to my patio chair for a back scratch, debris from a chewed stick stuck to her lips. “You’re lucky he’s the only one of us with the ball obsession.”

Without thinking, my hand goes to the spot on her back just forward of her tail and begins scratching.

“A little to the left, please,” she says and shifts her back to accommodate.

As I run my fingers through her thick fur, Hamish appears on the other side of my chair and presses his cheek against my chest. “Can I have a hug, Raud? I could really use a hug.”

I set my notepad down on the little side table, my pen on top of the pad, and gave him a hug with one arm while scratching Franny’s rump with the other, then I feel the ball land on my foot.

“Look, Raud, I brought you the ball. Isn’t that the coolest thing ever?”

“It sure is, big guy,” I say, and then remember a bag of chew toys arrived in the mail yesterday. Everyone loves a good chew toy, and I love it when they love it, especially when they love it enough to let me get some writing done.

I Am Looking For Fiction Suggestions

I was in the children’s book section of Barnes & Noble the other day looking for some examples of Boy and his Dog stories where the two of them have conversations with each other like I’ve been writing in the Negotiations with Cookies series. I was looking for actual dialogue between human and dog and not just stories told from the perspective of the dog.

Even with the help of the person running the kid’s book section, who was well informed on past and current fiction offerings, I came up empty handed.

So I ask, do you know of any good examples of stories with dialogue between a human and their dog? Or any animal really.

Fleegle’s Optimism Rubs Off

The other day I noticed an odd effect from writing the Negotiating with Cookies series about Fleegle and his antics. When I read nonfiction books or follow the news, I often see it influencing my storylines a few weeks later, like in The Dog Buddha and Odoriferous Parfait, but I’ve never been aware of what I’ve written having an influence on how I see the world, only the opposite.

In my work as a trainer and walker, I talk a lot to the dogs I’m with. This has led me to talk to myself quite a bit, often in the imagined voices of Fleegle or Sadie, my two dogs. They’re typical of their retriever breeds, Labrador and Golden, happy, upbeat, eager for the next adventure. I aspire to be this way too, but it doesn’t come naturally.

The other day I was contemplating some activity or other and just as my usual thinking began to poo-poo the idea of doing it, I heard Fleegle’s voice, the one I hear when writing his stories, say, “Oh, that’s a good idea. Let’s do it.” It totally caught me by surprise, and even more so when my critical mind agreed that he was right.

Life is but a Dream

Sometimes when I sit down to write, it’s like a door opens to my imagination and in walks Fleegle, chatting away about the things he chats about, and during the time that I’m writing, I’m convinced the words I’m hearing in my head and putting down on paper are what Fleegle would say if he actually did speak. It’s almost like automatic writing, channeling Fleegle’s higher source, and if Fleegle heard me say that he’d be searching the sky for a winged dog that looked like him.

Then when I’m done writing, it’s as if Fleegle has finished what he has to say for the session, shuts up and leaves, and I sit there sensing a mental emptiness similar to loneliness. I wonder where the imagination comes from. In a dream, just because we wake up doesn’t mean the characters in our dream don’t continue on, waiting for our return, ready to catch us up once we get back.