Stormy and Grandma Rose
by Mimi Rosen
part 1 of 2
I burst through the front door and into the yard then stop to sniff the morning air. I detect a familiar scent. The image of a bird’s nest pops in my head. I scan the yard and locate the odor’s source. I’m on it. Hacking as my harness presses into my chest, I rush towards the chain-link fence, where tree branches that extend from a neighbor’s yard cast shadows on the crisp grass. That’s where I find the nest. I shove my snout into the prickly thing.
“Jeez, Stormy.” Pat Taylor Speaking tugs on my leash.
I go with her to the sidewalk and watch her face stiffen.
“You need to walk next to me.”
Walk! I’m on it. I do a little dance, waiting for her shoe to move. One step and I’m out in front. My harness digs into my chest again. I hack and pant, rushing to where cars speed along the busy highway.
“Stop pulling me!”
Pigeons waddle across a vacant lot. I imagine them scattering across the sidewalk and into the neighbor’s yard. I lunge towards the flock.
Buzzzzz. Pat Taylor Speaking yanks me back. My nails scrape the cement. I twist, bump and stop.
I sit, watching her nostrils flare.
She exhales, pressing the buzzing phone to her ear. “Pat Taylor speaking. Hi Barry, I’m out of town this week — a family emergency...”
Pigeons! I bark and lunge.
I’m through the gate and in the yard. Pigeons scatter. I squirm under the broken part of the fence, then dash across yards littered with rusty bicycles and broken bottles. Pigeons land and fly and land and fly. I’m on it, charging into them again and again.
A screen door slams. A big man steps onto the porch of a house that smells of cats. He steps into my path. I dart around him.
Twist, bump, stop. I stand, panting, watching the man. He kneels, tugging on my leash. His eyes smile at me. He shows me his palm.
Sniff. An image of bacon spilling out of a garbage can flashes in my head.
“Jeez Stormy.” Pat Taylor Speaking huffs. “Sorry about that,” she says to the man.
The man elevates. “Patricia Harding?”
“Oh my god! Are you Ricky Berman?”
He laughs. “Nobody’s called me Ricky in years.”
I lean into him. He strokes the underside of my chin. My ears relax.
“I can’t believe you remember me?” Pat Taylor Speaking steps closer.
“Are you kidding? You used to walk your dog past my house twice a day.” He hands her the leash. “I guess it’s been a few years, huh?”
She nods. Her eyes shift towards me. “Actually, Stormy’s my mother’s dog.”
“Oh um.” He clears his throat. “Did your mom move out?”
Pat Taylor Speaking squeezes the back of her neck, tilting her head from side to side. “Who knows?”
“’Cause I saw her ’bout a month ago lugging suitcases to a cab with that boyfriend of hers. What’s his name again?”
She curls her lip. “Frank.”
“I have to tell you, Patricia, there was something going on in that house. Your dog used to bark like crazy, night and day. I knocked on the door once or twice asking about Grandma Rose. You know, all the neighborhood kids used to call her that? Anyway, someone said she was out in Cali. I knew you were out there, but it still didn’t sound right.”
“You’re the one who called the police?”
Ricky Berman nods. “I just needed to know she was all right. So, when I knocked and no one answered... knowing your grandma’s not well, I walked ’round back. Surprised me, you know? Back door wide open, that dog chained up, barking like crazy. I walked in and phew, the smell... liquor bottles, food wrappers and... well... I guess you heard about the drugs. Anyway, I found your grandma sitting in the dark by that big window.” He squints. “Seemed confused, you know?”
“Thank you. I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t called.”
“She all right, now?”
Buzzzz. Pat Taylor Speaking glances at the phone, then back at Ricky Berman. “Thank you.” She puts the phone to her ear and turns towards Grandma Rose’s house.
* * *
I burst through the kitchen door, sniff and locate the garbage can. Gracie drops an eggshell into it. I imagine the contents of the can scattered across the kitchen floor. I insert my head inside, until the whole thing topples over.
“Stormy, no,” Pat Taylor Speaking says.
I look up, open my mouth and release a wad of mushy paper onto the moist heap. Warm, sour smells fill my nose. Froth, oozing from my jowls, plops onto Gracie’s shoe.
“That’s okay, Patricia,” Gracie says. “I’ll pick up.”
“No, please. That dog...”
“He’s not a bad dog. Just needs some time with people, is all. You know, your grandmother used to fuss over him. She took good care of him after you left. I mean... before... you know.” Gracie’s gaze sinks.
“Where is she?”
“In the parlor. She likes looking out that picture window.” Gracie spoons eggs onto a plate. “You hungry?”
“I’ll get something.” Pat Taylor Speaking shovels a newspaper full of chicken bones back into the garbage can. “It was really nice of you to come help us.”
“Oh well, I’ve been living ’cross the street from Grandma Rose for forty some-odd years. Your mother was only ten when I moved in.” Gracie chuckles. “I was nothing but a little thing myself back then.”
“Was my mother a handful when she was young? I mean, were there signs back then?” She’s washing her hands, rubbing them together fast — front and back, front and back, front and back. Her eyes widen, watching her hands move under the rushing water.
Gracie’s smile disappears. “Oh... hmm.” She puts down the frying pan and steps close to Pat Taylor Speaking. The wrinkles in her forehead deepen. “She was a little wild, but never mean-spirited.”
Buzzzzzz. Pat Taylor Speaking sighs, dries her hands on a dishtowel and looks at her phone. “I have to take this.” She walks into the parlor.
Gracie’s looking down at me, her cheeks sagging. The kitchen chair scrapes against the floor. Gracie sits. She puts her hand in front of my nose. I smell eggs. The slobber-inducing vision of egg crusted on the inside of a garbage can comes to mind. I snort, pushing my snout into Gracie’s soft hands. She removes my medicine from her pocket, lifts my head and rubs it into the tender part of my neck. “That’s healing nicely.”
My floppy ear bobs as she scratches behind it.
“If you could only talk, I bet you’d have some story to tell.”
* * *
A car door slams. I bark and dash to the picture window. Gracie’s across the street, standing on her front porch. She waves to Mike, who’s lumbering around the car parked in front of Grandma Rose’s house. Sue’s standing on the sidewalk. She looks in the back seat through the window then opens the rear door. Felicia and Brandon slide out.
Grandma Rose is watching them too. Her eyes shift towards me. Then her gaze sinks.
I’m in charge. I hard-stare at the front door.
Sue’s family barges into the house. “We’re here,” someone says.
I bark and lunge.
The children shriek. Felicia climbs up Mike. Brandon hides behind Sue.
“Stormy no!” Pat Taylor Speaking says.
I land on my two front paws. The fighting stare on Pat Taylor Speaking’s face comes at me fast. I wince and sink back.
“Sit, Stormy! Sit!”
Pat Taylor Speaking breathes through her nose. She closes her eyes, opens them slowly then smiles at Sue.
“Yoga breaths, big sister.” Sue squeezes her tight.
“I’m afraid of Stormy,” Felicia whines.
“Stormy’s a good dog,” Mike says, setting Felicia down.
“I’m so grateful that you all could come,” Pat Taylor Speaking says.
“I just wish we had known what was going on sooner,” Sue says, brushing off her blouse. “Any word from Mom?”
“She could be in jail for all I care.”
I smell peanut butter and lean over to sniff Felicia. An image of her wiggling on the floor as I stand over her, licking her face and hands, forms in my head. I look at Pat Taylor Speaking, who is talking with Sue. She glances at me. I relax the impulse.
“Can’t we put Stormy outside?” Felicia whines.
“That would make him sad,” Mike says, moving close. His eyes smile at me.
“Grandma Annabelle used to keep him outside,” Felicia says.
Mike pats my head.
I wince every time his hand comes down.
Sue gnaws on the side of her thumb then walks into the parlor. I move into position between her and Grandma Rose.
“Move over, Stormy.” Sue nudges me with a folding chair.
Grandma Rose’s eyes shift. “Who... who... who are you?” she asks, bouncing her balled-up hand in the air.
“Grandma, it’s me, Sue.”
“Sue?” Grandma Rose shakes her head. “Noooo.”
“She’s gotten worse,” Sue says, straightening her sleeves.
Copyright © 2010 by Mimi Rosen