Devotion

Devotion

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

Devotion

To your dog, you are the greatest, the smartest, the nicest human being who was ever born.

Louis Sabin

The truck chugged into the parking space beside me in front of the supermarket and shuddered to a stop. Its rusty hinges protested as the man leaned his shoulder against the door to force it open. The truck was old, its red paint so faded and oxidized, six coats of wax could not have coaxed a shine from its ancient hide. The man, too, was old, stooped and faded like his truck. His washed-out red and black checkered flannel shirt and colorless trousers were a perfect match for the aura of age surrounding him and his truck. A farmer, I thought, judging by the leathery, tanned skin of his heavily lined face and gnarled, dirt-encrusted hands. The creases radiating from the corners of his eyes bore witness to years of squinting against the sun. As he stepped out of the truck, he turned to address the only youthful thing in the whole picture, a lively young springer spaniel attempting to follow him.

“No, Lady,” he said. “You stay here and guard our truck. I won’t be long.” He didn’t roll up the window, apparently secure the dog would hold her post.

As he entered the grocery store, the dog moved over to assume a position behind the steering wheel, her eyes following the man’s progress. As the door closed behind him, she settled back on her haunches, staring almost unblinking at the closed door.

The minutes passed. The dog did not move, and I began to feel her anxiety.

“Don’t worry, girl,” I said. “He’ll be back soon.”

I knew she heard me by the way her long brown ears perked up and by the sound of her tail as it thumped a tattoo on the seat beside her. Her nose twitched and the brown freckled fur covering her muzzle shivered in response, but her eyes never wavered from their scrutiny of the door through which the old man had disappeared.

No Buckingham Palace guard could have maintained a more steadfast devotion to duty. Each time the market door opened, the dog stiffened in anticipation, settling back when the emerging figure was not the one for whom she waited.

At last he appeared, carrying a laden plastic bag. The sedate little lady on guard duty erupted into a brown and white flurry of pure joy. She yipped a series of sounds that could only have been interpreted as laughter. She chased her tail in a tight circle, sending up a cloud of dust from the dirt-encrusted seats. When he finally wrested the protesting door open, she launched herself at him, standing with her front paws on his shoulders, licking his face with great swipes of her pink tongue. The spray of white lines at the corners of the man’s eyes disappeared as his face crinkled in response to her pleasure. His broad smile revealed strong, slightly stained teeth, probably the result of years of smoking the scarred old pipe peeking out of his shirt pocket.

“Move over, Lady, I’ll drive now,” he said as he gently pushed the dog to the other side and slipped behind the wheel. That did not end her display of affection. She jumped on him again, her tongue washing his face and ears, knocking off the old misshapen hat protecting his head. From her throat rolled a garbled stream of sound, a language only he understood. Taking her face in his hands, he ruffled the hair at the base of her ears and looking into her eyes said, “I know, I know. I took longer than I expected. But guess what I brought you.”

Her hips stopped their frantic swinging as she sat back, alert, watching his every move as he pretended to search his pockets and then the plastic bag, finally producing a package of beef jerky. The dog licked her lips as he slowly tore open the package, removing at last a strip of the hard, dried beef. Gripping it in his strong teeth, he let it protrude from the corner of his mouth as if it were a cigar. Her eyes never left the promised treat. She sat beside him, quivering with anticipation until he nodded. Then she stretched her neck and using only her front teeth, pulled the blackened meat from his mouth. She didn’t eat it immediately. Instead, she sat back, watching and waiting, drooling, as the jerky protruded from her mouth in the same way as it had from his.

A smile twitched the corners of theman’s lips as he took another piece, placing it into his mouth as he had before. They looked like two old cronies settling back to enjoy a quiet cigar. I felt a smile spread over my own face. He nodded again and the dog flopped down to begin enjoying her treat. He glanced over, seeing me for the first time.

We both grinned sheepishly. I, for having been caught eavesdropping on a private display of a man’s affection for his dog. He, for having been caught in the foolish little game he played with her. He snatched the beef strip from his mouth.

As he coaxed his old truck into protesting life, I remarked, “That’s a fine dog you have there.”

He bobbed his head and replied, “She’s a real champion, all right.”

Giving me a parting smile, he backed out of the parking space, the old truck resenting every demand being made of it. I watched them as they drove away and noticed the jerky was back in the man’s mouth. The dog, having wolfed down her prize, was sitting erect again, eyeing his share, too. I was willing to bet she’d get the last bite of it before they reached their destination.

Marjie Lyvers

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