"Zephyr - a playful dog"
By Peter Stone
©Peter Stone 2014
Zephyr meets the Woof
“You’re a woof, right?”
“A woof. You’re a woof, right,” asks the little dog. He’s a terrier breed with rough, shaggy, white fur. Across his back is a bright orange vest that reads “Adopt-a-dog”. He doesn’t read words, but he knows that it means something special. That’s right, he thinks to himself. He’s a special dog. That’s why all the children stop to pet him and he gets to lick their hands and faces.
There’s a light, spidery rain falling, making the sidewalk dark and wet. They sit under a giant umbrella kind of thing. It’s like an orange roof, except without the walls of a house. And there are lots of other dogs here. Some old, some young. Some fat and happy, some thin and shaky. Zephyr tried to talk to some of them, but the humans don’t like all that barking. Well, he thinks, it’s better than being in those cages inside where all you smell is the other dogs. And cats. He hates cats. With their fur and their claws and their sneaky little eyes and the way that they reach out of their cages and swipe at you. Yikes, he thinks, they’re a creepy bunch of animals. And they hate dogs for some reason. Maybe cause dogs hate them too.
There are three or four humans with those bright orange vests, trying to talk to other humans as they walk by. Sometimes the humans stop and look into the cages or pat the dogs. Every once in a while, a cat is taken out of a cage. See, Zephyr thinks, you can’t put a cat on a leash. They don’t react well to that AT ALL. In fact, it’s one of the funniest things he’s ever seen. They lie down and have to be dragged down the street. Why would they do that, he wonders. What’s so bad about a leash? You get to go to the park, smell stuff, scarf up a few bits of food on the ground, see your friends or guys that might be friends or just new guys you haven’t met yet. Then there’s the squirrels and those little furry things that live in the park…rats…and maybe, just maybe, if you’re really smooth, you can get close to a bird. Zephyr really wonders what they might taste like, but he can’t get close enough to snatch one. And they’re so fast. And they fly. And he can’t stop barking when he gets close. So why wouldn’t you want to do all that stuff? It’s great. Better than lying on the ground and being dragged. Cats are crazy, that’s for sure.
Humans seem to like them, though. Especially the older women. And the young girls. Something about being cute. Zephyr’s cute. At least he thinks he is. No, wait. He knows he is. Everyone loves him. After a while, of course. At first they don’t understand why he’s always moving and jumping and barking. He’s just always excited to be with humans. And other dogs. And maybe he’d be friends with a cat if they weren’t so cranky all the time.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. What’s a woof,” asks the big dog. He’s a long, beautiful German Shepherd. His back legs angle backwards but are obviously strong. There is a quiet danger in his eyes, a feral quality that keeps all but the most confident people away. He moves slowly, but carefully, sniffing the humans that walk by.
“You know. A woof. You eat dears and antelopes and elks and moose.”
“Dears,” asks the big dog, cocking his head. One ear flips up like a question mark. A little boy in a stroller cries two blocks away, the sound ringing in the Shepard’s ears.
“You run in packs. And you hunt. In packs,” says the little dog, panting anxiously.
“Packs?” The big dog scrunches one eye closed.
“Yeah. A whole bunch of you woofs hunt the weak dears. Then you bite their legs and bring them down, And eat them.” The little dog almost bounces with excitement. “I saw it on the Discovery Channel.”
“You watch television?”
“Of course. Don’t you?”
“No. I’m a dog.”
“But I watch tons of television. It’s always on. Especially the nature stuff. I see lots of stuff about woofs. They hunt all sorts of dears and stuff. And you sure look like a woof.” The little dog sniffs around wildly. There’s a wonderful scent just by the curb. It smells like dog and food. Then he returns to the big dog.
“It’s wolf,” says the big dog.
“Wolf. Not woof.” The Shepherd looks away, watching a family across the street.
The Terrier scratches his ear frantically then look up at the Shepherd. “That’s not what I heard,” the little dog says.
“Then you’re not listening very carefully.” The Shepherd raises his head and sniffs the air casually. Someone is eating pizza nearby and it makes his tongue wet. He hasn’t had pizza in a long time. Since when he and his old partner Frank went on that trip to the ocean.
The Terrier considers chewing on his paw but decides not to.
“I’m not a wolf.” The big dog turns away and settles to the ground. His head nestles into his outstretched paws and his tail stops wagging.
“So what happened to your back? Was it a fight? Did you fight other woofs,” asks the Terrier, sniffing anxiously at the Shepherd’s shoulder. There’s a long, stretch of bare skin with a twisted, darkened scar running along it. The fur stops growing a good inch away from it. It looks painful to the Terrier, even though it healed a long time ago. “You were fighting to be the leader of the pack, right? Was that it? Were you the pack leader? Huh? Were you?”
“So you WANTED to be the pack leader, right? Did you want to be the Alpha-Dog? I’ll bet you did. I bet you were a big woof fighter. That’s what I bet.”
“I’m not a wolf,” mutters the Shepherd slowly ending with a long sigh through his nose.
“So how did you get the scar, you liar. It had to be a fight. It had to be a big bad fight with another woof.” The Terrier barks wildly in a circle, more excited with every turn. A fight, thinks the big dog. It was a fight, all right. But not with another dog. Or a “woof”.
The Shepherd turns slowly to the Terrier, his dark brown eyes narrowing and his right lip turning up to reveal a long, white canine tooth. “What’s you name, pup?”
“My name? My name is Zephyr. You know, like the wind. A playful wind, that’s what my owner called me. A playful wind. Because I was always moving like the wind. I thought it was a good name. A playful name. But I always wanted to have a tough name. Like Butch. Or Spike. Or Tuffie,” rambles the Terrier, barely looking at the Shepherd. His tail whips back and forth faster than an electric fan and his whole body shakes with excitement. “What’s your name? Probably a woof name, right? Something dangerous and scary. Like Marc Anthony. Or maybe Sharp tooth. Oh. Or Sparky.”
“Sparky?” The Shepherd asks with a raised eyebrow. “Sparky is a tough name?”
“Sure. Better than Zephyr,” sputters the little dog. “A playful wind? Ha. That’s stupid. Doesn’t scare anyone. But Sparky, now that’s a real name.”
“Is there something wrong with you,” growls the Shepherd.
“What do you mean?”
“With your brain. Is there something wrong with your brain?”
“I,” the terrier starts. “I don’t think so. I’m just excited. That’s what they say about me. Humans I mean. They say I have to go for lots of walks.”
“I can imagine,” the Shepherd rumbles in his dark throat.
“What do you imagine? I imagine sausages and bacon and,” he starts.
The Terrier stops talking and wags his tail anxiously as a little girl hops out of her stroller suddenly and approaches him. His leash, tied to a chain link fence, holds him back but he strains against it anyway. The little girl’s parents rush forward and grab her before she gets to Zephyr, but he smells the cookie in her hand and the hotdog on her breath. He shakes even more, knowing he could lick the cookie and she’d drop it. Then it would be his. Humans seem don’t like dog-licked cookies. Dogs, however, don’t mind human-licked cookies. Or parts of cookies. Or crumbs of cookies on the kitchen floor. Or just the smell of cookies when they’re sleeping. They make for good dreams. Zephyr has had many of those. Cookie-dreams. Mmmmmm, he says to himself. Those are the best. Except the rabbit dreams. And the steak dreams. Maybe those are the best. Cookies. Rabbits. Steak. So hard to choose.
The parents let the little girl pet Zephyr’s head, but they watch very carefully. She laughs in that high-pitched child way and that makes Zephyr so happy he bounces off his paws to lick her face. The parents decide that’s enough and carry her away. Zephyr remembers when he was a pup and his mother carried him away from a nasty cat by his neck. He was really small back then and he doesn’t really remember what happened after that. He doesn’t remember why he was barking at the cat. Maybe it was food. Or he was hungry. Or the cat had food. And that little girl had food, which he can still smell. At least she dropped a couple of crumbs when she crumbled her cookie. Zephyr scarfs them up with a few licks of the concrete. Then he settles back under the umbrella and takes a lick or two at the bowl of water they put out for him. No ice cubes left, but it’s still a little cool so that’s all right. He wonders what he was thinking about before the little girl –
“Justin,” says a voice next to him.
“What,” asks Zephyr. He turns and remembers the woof next to him.
“That’s my name. Justin,” says the Shepherd. His head lies heavily on his paws, his body looking heavy and tired.
“Oh. Well, that’s not a very woofy name,” says Zephyr.
“It’s better than Sparky.” Justin’s eyes close slowly.
“Hmm. Justin. Okay, Justin the woof.”
“Wolf,” mutters Justin.
“Whatever,” says Zephyr.
“And I’m not a wolf.”
“If you’re not a woof, then what are you?”
“I’m a dog. A German Shepherd.”
“What’s a Shepherd? Do you do that thing with sheep?”
“What thing,” asks Justin.
“That thing where you move them around like cows.”
Justin opens one eye and looks over at the little dog who seems to be ready to vibrate into a different dimension. “Herding,” he asks. “You think I’m a herding dog?”
“Yeah, yeah. I bet you’re a herding dog.”
Justin sighs again. “No. I’m not a herding dog. You are. I’ve seen enough breeds in my life. You’re part of the herding dogs.”
“Me? What do you mean? I don’t herd anything.”
“But you could. That’s your nature. To run around. Control things. Bark and nip.”
“I can bark a lot. That’s what everyone says. I bark a lot.”
Justin closes his eyes again, enjoying the darkness for the moment. Any second now that little dog will start barking again. Sure enough…
“I like to bark. Barking is great. I like to bark at all sorts of stuff. Cats, other dogs, humans, squirrels, birds, cats. I don’t know why I like to bark at cats, really,” Zephyr says. “Hey, have you ever been to that big field where all the other dogs go to? Where you get to chase balls and sticks and frizbees and you don’t have to wear a leash. I love that field. I LOVE that field. But it’s in the morning. Like before the sun gets hot. I love going there. There’s no deers there though. You might not like it. I love it.”
Justin doesn’t open his eyes. He enjoys the darkness. “How did you get here?”
“Here,” asks Zephyr. “I walked. Well, I trotted really. I wanted to run, but I didn’t know where we were going, so I had to stay on the leash. Cause sometimes I get carried away and go too far. Once, when I chewed through my leash, I ran like a long, long way. I chased squirrels and other dogs and barked and barked and barked. My humans had to put up those signs, you know the ones with a picture of me, up in the windows of those places that give you food so that I knew I was getting close to home. But I knew where I lived so they didn’t have to do that, really. Then this human who had those crunchy biscuits went home with me. He gave me lots of those crunchy biscuits. So I stayed with him. It was a great day.”
“I expect it was,” mumbles Justin. “But what happened to your humans?”
Zephyr bounces this way and that, smelling people and food. “I don’t know, really. They said something about me being better off here. You know, in the big house where we live. I think they were wrong, though. I liked living with them. Good food, lots of stuff to chew on. “
“I see. They couldn’t stand you.”
Zephyr scrambles up to Justin’s face. He barks angrily, “No! They loved me! They just thought I’d be happier here!”
“Okay, little guy. Just relax.”
“So, what happened to you, woof! I bet you got shot! By a gun! Were you going to eat someone? Huh? Were you hunting? I bet you were,” he growls, then turns away walking as far away as his leash allows. Justin doesn’t respond. He just sighs heavily through his nose and settles lower into the concrete.
The little dog looks back, hoping that the woof is looking at him. But he isn’t. He’s sleeping. Or pretending to. He wonders what really happened to the woof. Why does he have that horrible scar? Will his fur ever grow back? It looks painful. Zephyr loses interest in this line of thought, when he hears the bunch of children scramble past. They play with the cats and pet the dogs, but move on like a wave in the ocean. Zephyr settles to the ground and thinks about taking a nap.