by Karen S. Bennett
Published in Writers and Words
Vol. 3, Ed. 1
I swung my plaid, wool coat with patch pockets to the coat tree inside my New England bricked, front entrance. I called over my shoulder, “Throw your coats on the bench or use the coat tree by the door. I have to kick-up the thermostat.” With no time for my philosophic ruminations I admitted to myself that my pitiful coat was more the pauper’s wrap hanging near Tallulah’s luxurious soft, fur coat. I left my guests to make themselves at home while I hurried to the back door to call Jack that we were home and to hurry up so we could get on with our standing Friday night dinner out
Tallulah and Bill Ramsey, or T. and B., as we call them, were our friends and colleagues for the past eight years. They’d followed me through the vestibule, rubbing their arms against the cool of the living room. I bent to turn on the gas logs in the fireplace and apologized, “Jack’s giving the dogs a little run before we go out.”
I leaned out the back door and called, “Jaaack, the Ramseys are here. Hurry up.”
When I returned, Tallulah had wrapped herself in the afghan from the back of the couch and had thrown herself into the armchair by the fireplace. Bill rocked on his shined, expensive looking loafers while viewing Connecticut’s darkening purple-pink sky and our back yard of windswept heaps of leaves circling the bare trees. Bill waved to Jack who was coming up the path with Pip and Kizzy, Jack’s two overly rambunctious Irish Setters.
I was in and out of the living room for a few minutes seeing to the Ramsey’s comfort. I shot back to the kitchen, poured our wine and prettily displayed the scones, nuts, and dried fruit on a tray.
The clinking dogs’ chain collars and their heavy panting preceded Jack’s entrance. “Here we are. Good dogs. Settle down, Pip.” His voice louder, “I said to settle DOWN!”
I halted in my presentation of the drinks as Kizzy and Pip had not obeyed the “settle” order. Rather they showed-off for the company by grabbing at Bill’s heels.
Bill forced a thin smile. He good humoredly danced his feet around. “No, no. No, no.” He touched his ankles as if in a jumping rope game. He necessarily turned from the autumnal scene out back and dashed to the couch, holding my throw pillows at his feet. He wiped saliva from one of his shiny shoes with my damask, throw pillow’s blue ruffle.
The rebuffed hounds moved from Bill and bounced, golden ears flapping and tongues lolling, to interview Tallulah. She squealed, pulling her knees to her chest, and quickly tucked the afghan under her feet to avoid any unbidden moisture. “Down, Doggie. Bad Doggie.”
With as much congeniality as I could fake for my company, I called a musical, “Jack, get your children out of here.”
Jack, still red-cheeked from the cold, bent down to Pip’s face, and roughing the dog’s ears, nose to nose said, “Boo-jee, boo-jee, boo-jee. Beautiful boy.” His dog joyfully wagged his whole body. I tapped my foot. As the resident animal trainer, I quickly put the tray on the side table and grabbed Kizzy’s collar and pulled her through the kitchen. “Come on, let’s get you out of here. Pip, you too.” A polite rictus was my cover.
Jack laughed a benevolent remark to T. and B. about how excitable the dogs were and apologized because I wasn’t on the same page, his, when it came to Pip and Kizzy. As Jack leaned back against the couch’s armrest, and was not helping, I scooped the heel of the pumpkin bread from the kitchen counter, held it up to interest the devil dogs, and in desperation, pitched the confection down the basement stairs for their eating enjoyment and slammed the door behind their barking, clomping retreat.
I finally joined the adults by the now warming fireplace, exhaled and claimed my wine. Victory in civility, so far absent from this hell-hound get together. I flopped into Jack’s new wing chair, noticing its lack of welcoming comfort. Oh, how we’d argued over the burnt orange, nubby fabric versus the smooth, purple floral print. Burnt orange won. The darned thing reminded me of an over-baked pumpkin pie and was as hard as a stack of telephone books on a chair to boost a kid to the dinner table. The bottom line was, he loved this chair and I hated it. Same applied to his dogs.
My cup of jasmine tea in the shallow teacup glistened a pale golden hue. A delicate floral fragrance twisted up with the steam. I brought the gold rimmed cup to my lips, enjoying the internal glow of the china cup, but tasted little more than hot water. How disappointing. The insipid taste was unequal to the beautiful visual and aromatic experience. Bill loaded his tea with sugar, and ping-ping-pinged his spoon around the little cup. Tallulah took one sip, and surreptitiously ditched her cup and saucer behind the philodendron. Jack undoubtedly tipped-in something from his hip flask. The scones and dried apricot and cranberries were both colorful and delicious. Oh well, batting fifty percent.
Over the years, we’d had fun with T and B. We were all within four years of each other in age, all from west coast cities, and landed in this Connecticut town because we were all university employees. Our real children were all into their own marriages, although so far, neither the Ramseys nor we had grandchildren. T. and B. also had two dogs, but theirs were small, well behaved Scottish Terriers. Cute, and not requiring a circus trainer.
As the evening darkened, we agreed on where to go for dinner. Bill preceded us into the front hall to retrieve our coats. He cried that comic book expletive, “Aaarrggghhh.”
Both Kizzy and Pip had escaped from the basement and were quietly ripping at T.’s fur coat. Shards of the doubly dead animal were strewn on the Oriental carpet, looking as if a litter of foxes had exploded there. T. brought her hands to her mouth and cried. No one comforted her as Bill, Jack and I actively pulled Jack’s darlings from the slaughter.
When bedtime came, I grabbed my nighty and closed myself in the guest bedroom. I called from behind the closed door, “How often have I complained about the smell of DOG in the house, the smeared-up low windows, the meaty dog food in little clumps on the kitchen floor, their shed fur on the new bedspread and blankets, the tumble weed of fur under the bureau and the table, the cost for boarding when we travel?” I took a breath but wasn’t finished. “…and that little bill we had to pay when Kizzy nipped the UPS man, and the fragrance of doggie flatulence? I’m done!”
Jack stood in his pajamas, barefooted by the door and waved his hands in the air. I know this because I’ve seen this behavior many times when he starts his plea with, “Sweetheart.”
“Sweetheart, the problem was you simply didn’t close the basement door properly. What healthy setter can resist a fox coat lying on a chair? They’re good dogs, and no, I won’t consider getting rid of them. They’re more comfort to me than… . Well, they’re always happy to see me. They’re even happy to see you when you come home,” and whispered, “although I’m beginning to wonder why.” Back to his fighting-through-a-door voice he continued, “They have five ribbons, three of them blue. Come on, be reasonable, they’re my kids. I can’t get rid of them.”
I heard a definite deep inhale from him knowing he was about to take a step into the wild side. “Your real problem is that you never really liked the Ramseys, admit it. She’s the blond you never were, and he beat you out for department chairman. Face it.”
Okay, those were fighting words. I whipped the door open and faced him, the wolf in striped pajamas. “You want to know what this really, REALLY is? When we lived in Oregon, there was a plethora of very affordable fur coats, and I begged for that beautiful, little gray fox jacket. Remember how we laughed that the mannequin in the store’s window modeled a fur coat and had her hand out as if begging for a donation?” Jack stood with a slack expression, as I fired on. I knew the truth. “Your answer was that you couldn’t buy a fur, killing animals, member of PETA. You know, on and on. And Honey, you are NO a member of PETA.”
Jack croaked, “I simply couldn’t buy a fur.” A silence followed. He shook his head. “Too, too expensive.”
“Well, that was then and now you have to replace Tallulah’s coat. And, Honey, she’s not interested in a conscientious, kitschy imitation fur. You, the penny-pinching animal lover, have to buy a genuine red fox fur coat, full length and expensive.”
Jack was beaten. We both knew it. The end of the story; we did not go out to dinner that night with our friends, no longer called by the familiar T. and B. We called them nothing up to the present as we all squared-off with anger, embarrassment, and the issue of appropriate reimbursement in a timely manner. Since Jack weighed-in on the necessity of keeping his two dogs, he bought two full length fur coats, a real fur for Tallulah and a beee-autiful, kitschy, forest green imitation fur for me. And I happen to know Tallulah’s blond is from a bottle.