God Has One, Too
by Edna C. Horning
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3,
4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Cricket, age 17, lives with her Aunt Lucy and Uncle Sulo to finish high school while her parents are on an extended trip abroad. Cricket is devastated when she learns that her aunt and uncle intend to do away with her beloved dog, Smidge. She and Smidge set out on foot to seek refuge with her Aunt Vera, who lives a hundred miles away. Smidge will have an influence and effect that no one could have expected.
For the first night since their precipitate departure, the two travelers lived comfortably, almost normally. Cricket filled a large pan with cool water and, after soaking Smidge’s feet to soothe his paws, she gently massaged them as she did every night. Using dishwashing liquid, she shampooed her hair and took a sponge bath in the restroom sink, awkward but thoroughly refreshing, and dried herself with towels also borrowed from the kitchen.
That night they slept on the sweet softness of a sofa. Lying there, Cricket reviewed her circumstances. Having taken what did not belong to her from the church and from her aunt and uncle, she was, by definition, a thief and, for the moment, was at leisure to contemplate the practical, moral and statutory implications of such.
Aware of how little cash and how few valuables she herself possessed, she had, while preparing to flee, toyed for a few desperate moments with the idea of supplementing her meager assets with pieces of her aunt and uncle’s sterling flatware. They kept most of it in a two-tiered mahogany chest in the dining room where each velvet-lined drawer held stacks of neatly nested teaspoons, soup spoons, salad forks, dinner forks, and all the rest of their elegant kin. If she filched one piece from each stack, thereby keeping their levels the same, perhaps the disappearance wouldn’t be noticed, at least not right away.
But she had desisted and settled instead for the easily and cheaply replaceable such as food and toiletries, trifles whose loss, unlike that of family heirlooms, would probably not fuel some fierce determination to track her down no matter what.
And, of course, there was Smidge. She’d stolen him also. But wait a minute: if her aunt and uncle’s intention had been to discard Smidge, didn’t that make him what the law deemed “abandoned property”? And abandoned property virtually by definition is up for grabs. She had read that reporters didn’t hesitate to claw through mounds of rotting, stinking garbage in hopes of ferreting out juicy bits of information for their purposes and that the courts of the nation had upheld their constitutional right to do so.
So, arguably, Smidge didn’t belong on the list, even if she had skipped one or two steps in the due process. Pleased with her reasoning, she said aloud, “Perhaps I’m ripe for the legal profession, Smidge. If I am, keep all eighteen toes crossed that it’ll be as attorney and not as a defendant.”
Tearing herself and Smidge away from the fleshpots of St. Matthias’ Episcopal Church was hard but imperative. Were it not for the real and growing danger of discovery, they would have stayed another night, but Sunday was approaching.
Though leaving in immaculate condition everything she and Smidge had touched, figuring it was the very least she owed the membership, Cricket knew she was compounding her criminal status by relieving the parish larder of hot dog and hamburger buns, dried soup, boxed macaroni and cheese, cookies, more nuts, potato chips, ten oatmeal cream pies, and a package of frozen wieners. Yes, they would thaw, but she and Smidge, mainly Smidge, could still down them one by one as they defrosted; they couldn’t go bad that fast.
* * *
It was now Saturday. In spite of the sun block she smeared on herself and the floppy hat she had exchanged for the baseball cap, the church’s bathroom mirror had revealed how brown and derelict she was looking. Yet the thought that the two of them could be in Dunavant in one more day, two tops, spurred her to proceed faster and sack down later than their standard practice.
Smidge, who initially would have none of it whenever Cricket tried to persuade him to ride, had long since grasped the wisdom of allowing her to rearrange their belongings in the stroller so that he could fit and, thusly settled, they continued their journey until darkness.
Since departing her aunt and uncle’s house, Cricket’s stamina had, in general, been equal to the exertions her purpose demanded, but that day’s faster pace and extra hours had left her not merely tired but enervated. For that night’s lodging Cricket chose a house under construction not far from a meadow. No interior walls yet, but the roof was on. In her growing store of picaresque knowledge, she had observed that building crews arrived early, often unconscionably early, to begin their work, but the next day was Sunday, and she and Smidge would be safe.
When Cricket awoke, she stirred but did not rise. Lulled by the sound of her own breathing, she decided to rest a little longer. Although half-asleep, she immediately perceived that it was warmer, much warmer, than at this hour yesterday.
“Gonna be hotter today, Smidge,” she admonished in a drowsy voice. “That could cost us.” She reached out, eyes still half-shut, to stroke him and was instantly brought to full consciousness by the realization that he was not there. Cricket leapt to her feet and scrutinized the landscape in every direction. No Smidge.
“Smidge!” she screamed in the loudest voice at her command. “Smidge!!!”
Abandoning her belongings, she began running inland, wildly darting now here, now there while mentally chanting a mantra of trite reassurances: he will turn up; he couldn’t have gone far; if I keep calling, those all-but-supernatural dog ears will pick it up.
But her frantic calling and whistling were to no avail until finally her vocal chords seized and the clenched pain in her stomach threatened to bend her double. How much longer could she search? Hours? Days? She didn’t have days. They didn’t have days. And what if he wasn’t responding because he no longer could? What if, instead of running from the interstate, he had loped towards it and was lying there now, dead or dying, blood and entrails everywhere?
Weary in mind and body from days of plodding, this image drained Cricket’s last reserves of hope and energy. She slowed to a labored gait before stopping altogether, her chest heaving, her breathing uproarious. She surveyed her surroundings once more, barely bothering to shade her eyes from the sun. She had no idea where she was or how far she had strayed from the highway, and she didn’t care.
It was over. Grief and rage reached a critical mass, and Cricket collapsed to the ground.
“We were so close, Smidge. So close!!” she wailed. Having never hated anyone before, she now hated everyone. Her parents for leaving. Her aunt and uncle for their cruel intention. Even Smidge for running off. Eventually the sobbing tapered into silent weeping that left her half blind.
Her face, thoroughly wet, had come to rest on a substantial clump of field grass, and she broke off a handful for use as a crude handkerchief. She rubbed it across her face and blew her nose into it, the raw, weedy fragrance mildly soothing. She absorbed the sensation for a moment and was about to repeat the action when she heard — or thought she heard — a yelp. Raising herself to a sitting position, she searched the distances for the slightest movement. Was the yelp real or wishful thinking?
Her uncertainty was resolved by a second yelp, faint but real, repeated by a third. Back on her feet, she resumed yelling and but was stopped by the thought that it might impair her own ability to track the sound. Sound could be maddeningly deceptive, seeming to emanate from everywhere in general and nowhere in particular; so the less interference, the better.
She strained her ears for every intonation, however remote, and as the yelps became clearer she felt a stab of despair upon realizing that they were far too high-pitched and yippy to be Smidge’s. But interspersed with those there soon resonated deeper, chestier bays.
By now her respiration was beginning to return to normal, and the pain in her flanks had fallen to a bearable level. She corrected her course more to the north and found herself at the edge of a small, partially fenced orchard where, at the opposite perimeter, Smidge and a puppy were chasing each other, brown and white streaks dashing now this way and that among the blossoming apples and pears.
Smidge’s still-attached leash trailed behind with a tenacious coating of grass and leaves, and whenever the puppy got close enough to sink her teeth into it, this apparently was the signal for Smidge to break into a rapid sprint and tow her around.
The scene was so inherently funny — power train versus pull toy — that Cricket broke into healing laughter and was almost reluctant to interrupt their play. She remained an observer for a few seconds more while continuing her approach at a steady pace. When Smidge still gave no sign of seeing her, she cupped her hands around her mouth and called.
Instantly, his head swiveled towards her, and he momentarily assumed the stock-still, ears-pricked-and-one-paw-raised stance favored by artists of alfresco life. Cricket rounded the end of the fence and lowered herself onto one knee as he trotted into her outstretched arms. She hugged and kissed him for a full minute before remembering the puppy, but when she looked for her, the little dog was nowhere to be seen.
* * *
For days, Cricket and Smidge had been constrained by opposing goals; to press on but get sufficient rest; to cross occasionally parlous territory but avoid injury; to eat enough for strength but not run out of food; to keep hidden as much as possible but not become lost. And now they had arrived. It was noon, and the soil of Dunavant was beneath their feet.
Cricket scooped up a generous handful and tied it into her one remaining empty plastic bag while editing and re-editing what to say. Like any sensible suppliant, she wanted to tailor her appeal to her potential benefactor’s likes and dislikes, except that she really did not know of that many.
Aunt Vera was the hardy, rawboned sort of woman who in the earlier days of the Republic single-handedly plowed fields, built log cabins and fought off Indians, a sort universally loved by children and looked down on by their social-climbing adult betters.
Technically she was an in-law and not a biological relative and, as a very young child, Cricket had heard murmured disapproval at the news that middle-aged, widowed Uncle Ank had taken Vera DeShazo to wife and, while Cricket was obliged to agree no one could ever mistake Aunt Vera for a superannuated debutante, she nonetheless retained a child’s viewpoint.
The marriage being Vera’s first, her previous decades of spinsterhood had served to reinforce her innate independence and toughness of fiber, and after Ank’s untimely death, she had resumed her rather rough rural existence.
In her enormous garden she raised corn, pole beans, melons and much more. In one of her fenced yards, she kept Orpingtons, white leghorns, and Rhode Island reds, and she regularly fished in Palmer’s pond, she and Palmer having an agreement of long standing.
Hours later she would return with a string of hapless bream and catfish, and while she certainly may have had jolly fun, it still was not, strictly speaking, fun fishing. What she caught she cleaned, cooked and ate. Cricket had accompanied her once or twice, and she had clear visual recall of Aunt Vera donning her gingham hat and setting forth with bamboo pole and bait pail alongside the railroad track which led to the water.
Had it not been for perhaps three or four perfunctory, guilt-generated visits paid by her parents to Vera in recent years, Cricket might have had to ask directions of local residents, an unwise drawing of attention to herself she sought to avoid to the very end. But partial though they might be, her geographical memories were reliable. After one or two false starts — or, as she wryly decided they should be called, false endings — she pushed Smidge far enough along the unpaved country lane to arrive within sight of the house.
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Edna C. Horning