by David Kovacs
The stick had had its fill. The Basset Hound that came into its life two weeks before was supposed to be a temporary thing. A bridge dog between Milo, the Border Collie that had broken her heart and Buddy, a beach dog, who had piercing blue eyes and read Kerouac. The hound had gotten in, as most do, by lowered expectations and even lower resolve.
The canine had a name. Cooper.
Cooper wasn’t a bad dog, as below average dogs go. He would have made any mouldy boot or dirty rag a reasonable companion. Both being from the same station. With no need to explain to their friends and their family the how’s and why’s of their relationship. There’s a hierarchy when it comes to a dog and the things it carries in its mouth. Strays and mutts with soiled diapers and fish heads. Small to medium dogs (with some obedience training), gnawed bones to chew toys. Guards dogs, any creature with the misfortune to venture in their area of protection. Purebreds and kennel show winners, maces, scepters, and formal walking sticks.
The stick was somewhere in between. But by God, its place wasn’t meant to be in the slobbering mouth of a hound.
It came from a good tree, went to school, and spent a year in Europe. It had tried to learn French, and was a fan of Russian cinema. And had a charming tattoo in Sanskrit on its twig. None of this said, “Meet me for brewskies with my buds”. But, there it was. Another good stick “plus one-ing” with a dog well below its station.
They met on the beach. Just after sunrise. The new light of day is a potent thing. Making the dull, bright and the average, breathtaking. For those not well versed in dog, the morning beach walk is a robust setting for the animal. Freed of its lease, with no rules to obey. As liberating as it is for the animal, it’s the same for all those things that drifted in with the tide or fell off a tree. The promise of a new life, as they wait to be picked up and taken home. The few really lucky ones get picked up by a human and spend the rest of their lives as a prominent piece of art, or an oddity on a child’s shelf. The rest battle for attention of the four-legged kind.
The stick had picked out an empty spot. On top of a mound, presenting itself. Daybreak came, and the first rays of morning brought out the best. Two show dogs that shared a 3 bedroom plus den apartment just steps from the water. They strutted past. Not even giving the stick a look.
The solo humans started showing up. The ones that walk alone. Think deep thoughts and use those thoughts to come up with dating apps. Still no takers.
Two hours in and not one suitor. Except for the seagulls confusing the stick for food. Or the crabs trying to return the branch to the sea. Awful little things with their skeletons on the outside.
This is the time when the proud are the most susceptible. And this is how the stick and the Basset Hound hooked up. A passing glance at the dog’s profile followed by very little foreplay. Then a quick scoop up by the animal. The stick didn’t even bother with protection.
At first they were inseparable. Dog and stick. Always together. Though “always“ is a much shorter period for a dog than a piece of wood.
The first relationship bumps happened a few hours in. An eternity for dogs. Each hour like a day. And each day like a lifetime. In those hours they had had their first two dates and met each other’s friends. Date three was next.
Third dates are tough. And even tougher for mismatched partners. Dog and stick had run through all their small talk. Now both were dancing around touchier fare. The stick had a political bent and an intellectual lean. The dog did not. The dog was happy not discussing any news of the day. Such talk bored the animal to tears. Causing it to moan and howl. No matter if others were looking. He didn’t care. He was a creature of the now.
The stick remembered the hound’s dating profile from that morning
“Clearly, it didn’t match reality,” thought the stick. He wasn’t a world traveller or a “master in the kitchen”. The internet failed love again.
The stick couldn’t look past the obvious on-line exaggerations. “So you’re a fan of Maya Angelou…” she asked the dog.
An awkward pause. That too was a lie.
It should have ended then and there. But just that moment, Shelly showed up in the mouth of a Golden Lab, a goddamn Golden Lab. Shelly was a too good for anyone’s polished cane. And had been the stick’s “frenemy” since high school. Her and her family were always taking ski trips to Aspen, and sending family Christmas photos, all in matching sweaters.
“Why don’t we go to your house”, said the stick to the dog. That’ll show Shelly. So they did. And spent an unsatisfying night together.
Three days later.
“Explain this to me” said the stick.
The stick had a letter in its hand. It was from her gynecologist.
Cooper had spent most of dog life not reading anything he couldn’t smell.
“Sorry I don’t read. It’s a choice,” he said.
Any semblance of politeness between the two have been exhausted.
She read it out loud. “It says that I have stage one ticks.”
The stick paused, waiting for a response
“Well, who have you been with?” said the dog.
That was not the answer she wanted, but deep down had expected.
“No one, just you,” the stick said.
“Well I never said we were monogamous”. The dog went back to drinking his beer.
The romance officially died in their relationship then and there. Though the whole coupling wouldn’t end until the new week. At a family diner.
The stick’s mother and father were both academics. When they both weren’t chastising their students, they were pointing out the many flaws in their under achieving child branch. “Bitter disappointment” and “lost potential” were their “go-tos”. They weren’t fans of the stick’s choices in life. But by far this coupling between lower middle class Basset Hound and upper beach side stick was the most egregious.
The stick arrived at dinner alone. Having to explain yet again the absence of her companion. The excuses had become tiresome and exhausting. “Cooper was busy”. “Cooper was his own dog”. They all rang hallow. Her mother had a long term relationship with a show winning Poodle. Her father with a German Sheppard that had served in Iraq. His dog wore a distinguished service medal and had met Obama once. The best that could have been said about Cooper was that he once bit the leg of a Ronald Mcdonald.
There was a tense period of waiting until Cooper showed up. Which he did one hour later, with another branch in his mouth. The stick was mortified. The new branch was named Debbie. They had just met in a drain pipe. Another indiscretion in a long line of indiscretions. Like Fran, the arm of a discarded doll. Helen the piece of rope. Or Star, the yoga pant legging. Cooper had the sense to keep those dalliances private. But not now. There it was, right in front of the stick’s face. For all to see. Debbie was still hung over from the night before and Cooper smelt of garbage.
The fury boiled over in the stick. It stood up. And demanded that Cooper and Debbie leave. They were “over,” she said. She would return his personal belongings at a later date, sometime after her tears had dried. Cooper almost realised the hurt he had caused her. And left without a fight. Debbie threw up in the foyer as a parting gift.
The stick was just a stick again. A bit damaged. A little gnawed. A few tooth marks here and there. But it was free. It tried a few times, half heartedly, to be with a dog. It would never work again. Cooper had ruined that. It tried being with other sticks. That didn’t work either. It was just not her.
The stick decided to be alone. For the first time. It went back to the same sand where it had spent much of its time trying to be someone’s other, and thought of all that wasted effort. Calm, and with a half-smile, it started to dig. Dug herself right in. Deeper and deeper so that the crabs couldn’t get to her and the waves couldn’t pull her out to sea. Until the stick was completely under the sand. Then the stick fell asleep and dreamt of other things.
Four years later.
Cooper was old. He had not aged well. He was alone. He had spent the last three years trying to “find himself”. The only thing he found was that he wasn’t a cat. And that he hated yoga. “Downward dog that,” as he thought about his time at the ashram.
He walked the same beach that he had spent much of his youth on. It was empty now. The dogs had moved on to other beaches. All that was left were retired crabs and a few tourists. And one large tree. It wasn’t there before. Or at least he didn’t remember it. He went up to smell the tree, as one does. There was something familiar about it. He circled its trunk trying to jog a memory. Did he know this tree? But how?
A large limb crashed down on the head of the dog. Cracking Cooper’s skull neatly down the middle.
“Oh course, it’s you,” Cooper faintly said.
“Alors, c’est moi” said the tree.
“I see you learned French,” he answered. That was the last thing Cooper said. He went limp. And died on the spot. The crabs would eat tonight.
The tree looked off in the distance. Coming up was a Golden Labrador. In its mouth, a walking stick named Shelly . “Next,” thought the tree, as it wriggled one of its weakened branches. Readying it to break and fall on its’ next target. Today was about repaying debts. And this one was a long time coming.