The family dachshund sat on Rory’s lap hoping for a bite of hamburger. They always grilled on the deck once the weather got nice. It was a hot May evening and the boy’s limbs were tired from swimming in the pond and playing in the mud with Myrtle, who was the greatest dog that he had ever laid eyes on. That weekend he would put her in the basket of his bike and they would go to the town park. She would sit and watch as he played baseball with his friends. Sometimes she would run after a foul ball and come back proudly with it. Scotty the pitcher claimed that Myrtle was the best outfielder that the major leagues had ever seen. After playing baseball Rory and Myrtle would let the time pass by getting ice cream or watching for squirrels in the trees. They returned home with Rory’s red hair sticking out of his baseball hat and Myrtle ready for a long nap.
Dad sipped his wine and talked about the novel that he had been working on for ten years. Mom talked about her shift at the hospital. She didn’t talk as much as Dad since she had worked a double shift that day and he had slept in then spent a few hours working on the story.
For a few moments Rory could hear the trees that were filled with ripe leaves and the soft breathing of Myrtle who had fallen asleep.
Dad cleared his throat, “Guys I have a bit of news. It is all good and your Mother and I think that it will be a good change for us.”
Rory exchanged a nervous glance with Helen, his older sister.
Dad grasped Mom’s hand and said, “My writing friend made a recommendation on my behalf and his old boarding school has offered me employment as an English teacher.”
Rory’s eyes widened and Myrtle woke up.
Mom said, “We are so proud of you honey.”
“But...that’s in New Hampshire,” Rory mumbled.
Dad grinned, “So, it is. If they keep me on after a year and offer a permanent contract you kids can go to the school for pennies on the dollar. You are both smart and get good scores.”
Helen asked, “Where will we live?”
Dad smiled again, “The first year won’t be as spacious as one might like.”
Dad ran a hand through his thick brown hair and winked at his wife, “The first year we will be living in an apartment in the boy’s dormitory. Then if they extend the contract, we can either get a house in town or they give nice houses to permanent faculty.”
Rory grimaced. If Dad kept the job. His Dad liked to drink and he hadn’t had a paying job in five years. Rory picked up Myrtle, “What will Myrtle do for a yard if we are living in some small apartment in a dorm?”
Dad locked eyes with Rory and then turned to his wife, “That is where the bit of bad news comes in son.”
Rory stared at him.
Dad grimaced, “We are going to have to find Myrtle a new home. They don’t allow dogs in apartment housing at the school.”
Rory gasped. Then he mumbled, “What? What?”
He looked down at Myrtle who stared at him with adoration.
“That’s not possible! That’s impossible! I am not going if we can’t bring Myrtle. I won’t go!”
Dad clasped his hands together. “That is just how it is son. I told your Mom before she got the dog that it wasn’t the right time. You have had a few great years of happiness with her. But, a pure breed like Myrtle will be easy to rehome. Besides, I am the one who cares for her all day while you guys are at school. That isn’t really fair is it?”
Rory started to cry. “That isn’t true! You don’t do anything while we are at school! Mom is the one who takes her to the vet! You don’t even feed her breakfast and dinner! Helen and I do. She has accidents because you don’t let her out enough!”
Mom turned to him and said, “Rory, don’t disrespect your father.”
Dad turned to Mom and smiled gratefully.
“I am sorry son. It is just a timing thing. You must not disrespect me...I have sacrificed a lot for you. You spend a lot of time playing outside to point fingers at me. I have pressures as an adult. Pressures that you are too young and carefree to understand.”
Rory shouted. “I won’t leave! I won’t! I love Myrtle more than anything else!”
Rory picked up Myrtle and ran into his room. His Mother called for him to come back. He heard Dad say, “just leave him.” Rory burst into tears the moment that he closed his bedroom door. Myrtle frantically licked his salty cheeks which made him cry even more.
“I am sorry Myrtle.” He whimpered.
Rory looked sick one week later. He hadn’t slept well and he hadn’t contributed at all in the search for Myrtle’s new home. After two days of moping Helen had taken it upon herself to begin the search. She made a detailed post on a social media page for rehoming dogs. She included pictures of Myrtle and a thorough description of her personality.
A few hours after posting she yelled for her brother. Rory hesitantly walked over and sat next to his sister.
“Look at this woman’s profile. She asked if we would call her. Apparently, she is very interested.”
They scrolled over the social media profile of the woman named Mrs. Adams. Rory did not know that much about fashion, but this woman was dressed like a rich person. There were pictures of her with all sorts of animals. A horse, a goat and in the background there was a beautiful garden and a large barn.
Rory bit his lip. He had decided a few weeks ago that he wouldn’t cry anymore. What was the use anyway? He didn’t want to be sad and making his dad feel guilty was never going to happen and it wasn’t Helen’s job to worry about him. There just wasn’t anything that he could do.
“Rory, I think that this would be a wonderful home for Myrtle.”
The next day Helen drove their station wagon to the fancy town where Mrs. Adams lived.
Rory clutched Myrtle to his chest in the passenger seat and tried very hard to be brave and not to cry.
“This is it!” said Helen pointing to a dirt road.
They turned onto a road with a beautiful stone wall that enclosed a dark green field. A handsome, old stone house rested down a long driveway lined with large oak trees. Myrtle pressed her nose against the window and wagged her tail. Soon they pulled up in front of the house and an elegant older lady with short grey hair and a pearl necklace greeted them.
“Hello! Hello!” she crooned in an accent that wasn’t entirely American or British.
Rory looked up at Mrs. Adams. “Myrtle sometimes gets shy if she hasn’t met someone before.”
Mrs. Adams smiled and her face crinkled. “That is a wise inclination for Myrtle to have. She must be very smart and well trained.” Rory put Myrtle on the gravel, and she stood by his dusty sneakers. Tentatively Mrs. Adams reached out and Myrtle sniffed her hand then licked it.
“She likes you,” Rory said with a quavering voice. The boy realized that this was the happiest place that he could imagine for a dog. The house was large and comfortable, and a friendly orange cat sat in a flowerpot purring its greeting to Myrtle. Chickens grazed by the barn and there was an enormous pond behind it.
Mrs. Adams smiled and spoke softly to the dog. “What an inquisitive face you have Myrtle. Oh, has there ever been a dog so beautiful? Rory and Helen your Myrtle is just magic!”
Rory looked away.
Mrs. Adams stood up and looked at the children.
“I know that this must be an awful day for you dears.”
She said wistfully. “When I was your age my brother got very sick and we had to give our dog away. It was the worst thing. The worst thing.”Mrs. Adams continued. “But, if you grant me permission, I promise that I will take wonderful care, the best that I can of your dear Myrtle. You can come and see her whenever you would like. I will look after her.”
Rory went into the trunk and grabbed the large paper bag with Myrtle’s food and toys and her favorite blanket. He didn’t hold the bottom properly and it ripped, causing the contents of Myrtle’s two year old life to fall onto the gravel driveway.
Mrs. Adams reached down and picked up a green collar.
“What a beautiful collar!” the old woman stared at the collar that had been hand-painted with the dog’s name and little Christmas trees.
Rory said hesitantly, “I made it for her in art class.”
Mrs. Adams took the fancy leather collar that Dad had bought for Myrtle and put the cheap green one on her. Mrs. Adams placed her hand on Rory’s shoulder, “It is perfect.”
Helen hugged Myrtle good- bye. Rory did not. He could not bring himself to say good -bye. He turned around and got in the car. They drove down the long driveway past the ancient oak trees.
Rory and Helen both made something of themselves. Helen worked for a tech start up and before she hit her thirtieth year she owned a clean, modern condo within commuting distance to New York City. The covid years had enabled more senior people such as herself to work remotely some of the time, but when she did need to go to the office a couple of times a week it was a quick train ride away.
Rory wasn’t quite as successful as Helen, but he was a well -respected junior associate in an engineering firm in southern Westchester. He was never late, he was always prepared and everyone at the office could rely on him to show up every day bright-eyed, crisply attired and ready to go. He rented a room from his sister. They enjoyed their modest backyard where they could have healthy cookouts and cold beers.
Years ago, when the family had been forced to move to New Hampshire, Rory decided that he was going to be disciplined and hard-working. Dad had lasted three years at the boarding school. Helen had been able to attend for one year. Right before Rory had started his freshman year at the prestigious school, Dad had been fired for coming to class drunk. Mom and Dad had divorced and Helen and Rory stayed with Mom in her apartment.
Rory had a few solid friends, fellow engineers and people who pursued serious scientific professions. Often, he would go and get beers and dinner with Helen and her friends when they went into New York. One of them made the comment that Rory was the most serious person she had ever seen and wondered if he had ever lived a fun day in his life.
“Of course he has,” Helen said with a touch of defense in her voice. She remembered him as a young boy, spending all day by the pond and sledding all day in the winter and not starting his homework till after bedtime. How he had played all day with his beloved dachshund.
Rory busied himself in his work and was soon promoted. He got up every day at 6am to hit the gym and prepare himself for the workday. Then after work he would review material and spend exactly an hour catching a game or reading something.
When Helen came home from work one day she announced that she would be gone for the weekend.
“Where are you going?” Rory asked. He was worried that she would get back together with her college boyfriend who was a bit of a dreamer and did little to support his sister.
Helen said evasively, “Oh I just want to see an old friend. They have some of my old things that they forgot about and they want to give them back.”
Rory raised his eyebrows. Well, he didn’t need to worry. His sister was smart and it would be nice for her to see an old friend. He spent the weekend with his boss and his wife. They went to a college football game. Derek (his boss) a handsome middle-aged guy was bright pink from the cold. He rubbed his hands together and asked Rory, “Doesn’t this make you feel alive?”
Rory replied automatically “Yes.”
Derek’s wife Sandra jumped up and down, her dark hair shining with health,“I just love the fall!! We should do this every week!”
After the game Sandra drove them back and chattered away excitedly.
“Did my husband tell you the big news?”
Rory looked at his boss nervously.
Sandra demanded, “Come on sweety! Show him the picture.”
Derek grabbed his phone and after a few seconds showed Rory a picture.
It was of a young spaniel puppy.
Rory tried to smile.
Sandra said, “We pick her up in a month. Rory you and your sister need a dog…with that yard and your flexible schedule. I could see you with a big dog.”
Derek explained, “I don’t get the vibe that Rory is much of a dog person. Have you seen how clean their condo is? What happens if dirt was brought in?”
To his own surprise Rory blurted out, “I wouldn’t mind.”
He continued uncertainly. “It is just a big responsibility, and I would want to make sure that I could take care of it. For its whole life.”
Derek smiled, “Well, if you ever need one. This breeder is well known for fine spaniels.”
Rory smiled weakly, “I will remember that.”
Rory spent his Sunday catching up on work. He vacuumed the house, cleaned the bathrooms and picked up his clothes from the dry cleaner. The late Autumn light filtered through the trees and the smell of damp earth reminded him of something forgotten. Tomorrow he would rake the leaves in the yard so that it looked nice and tidy. He settled down to watch an hour of his favorite tv show. His sister called his phone and he picked it up.
“I’m back! I didn’t hit any traffic! Would you mind coming down to the car? I need your help carrying some stuff up.”
Rory pulled on his coat and trotted down the steps and went to his sister’s SUV. She sat in the front and texted something into her phone.
“Just grab some things out of the back seat.”
Rory opened the door and saw that there was a small brown dog in the back. His eyes widened with surprise. Then noticing the presence of another soul, the long-backed dog turned around and faced Rory. The snout was covered in grey and the large eyes were fogged by cataracts.
Rory’s hands dropped to his side and he stared in disbelief. The dog wore a green collar that had her name painted on in white. It was worn from years of use and was a much lighter color than when he had made it as a boy.
Myrtle inched towards him hesitantly, then looked up and sniffed his hands. She wagged her tail and then Rory picked her up and hugged her against his heart.
“How…how did you…?” Rory stammered.
Helen said, “It is cold. Let me tell you about everything inside.”
With Myrtle in his lap Rory listened as his sister described a few significant events.
One week ago, the son of Mrs. Adams had written Helen a message. Mrs. Adams had passed away and her son and his family had taken over the house and the care of all of her animals including Myrtle. Of course, they had plenty of room at the house for her, but they could tell that having young children was stressful for the old dog. The son and his wife decided that it couldn’t hurt to reach out and see if Myrtle’s original owners wanted the dachshund returned to them.
“I immediately said yes,” Helen said as she reached over and scratched behind Myrtle’s ears.
Helen looked outside. “It is getting dark, we should take her outside and let her get her exercise before it gets too cold.”
Rory placed her on the grass and she trotted around in a circle and let out an excited bark. When she saw the pile of leaves she jumped in and rolled. Rory kneeled in his khakis and felt the cold damp ground on his knees.
Helen watched as her brother played with Myrtle. His khakis were stained with grass and dirt. She went back into the house and had a cup of tea. When she woke up the next day, she heard her brother speaking to Myrtle and asking her what she wanted to do that weekend. There was an important meeting at the office, so she quickly got ready and grabbed her keys. In the backyard her brother was playing with the dachshund. He threw the tennis ball to the far corner and Myrtle slowly trotted after it. She wasn’t as fast as she once was. Rory was not going to be the first person to arrive at the office that day and Helen believed that for the first time in his adult life he might be late. Helen smiled as she closed the door to their home and drove to work.