The first indication that this was not an ordinary day came when Dad called me to ‘come here’, lead and harness jingling in his hand. The harness means ‘car’, but ‘car’ can mean many things. Some are good, like ‘beach’, and ‘park’, and ‘home’. Some are not good, like ‘vet’, and ‘bath’, and… ‘vet’. But ‘vet’ is not all bad, they give treato’s for the goodest doggos. I’m always the goodest doggo. I’ve never bitten the vet lady, even when she sticks the coldest thing up my… well, never mind!
However, today we do not go to the vet lady, nor do we go to the bathing-wash place with the stinky bubbles. Today we take a longer car ride to a place I’ve never been. For the entire journey, I stick my head out the window and revel in the wind rushing toward me, pressing my ears back and whipping at my tongue. Such freedom, such simple pleasure. Don’t knock it till you try it. Next time you go on a trip, stick your head out of the window! You will see what I mean.
I used to go on trips with my Laura. She would lean her head out the window with me. We would howl together, she with laughter, and me, well I can’t laugh but I can howl. She would play her songs really loud, the beat always in time with my excited panting and wagging tail. Thump, thump, thump. It was living, I tell you, being alive and free and wild. Laura was wild, and she loved me with a fierce love, the kind that squishes you with squeezing arms and a face that’s mashed into fur. And kisses. She liked kisses. I would kiss her with wet, sloppy, loving kisses and she’d laugh and holler “Gross!” But she’d give them right back to me. Dozens of kisses every day.
Then she was gone. Lost. All those kisses lost and gone. All that was left was Mom and Dad. They love me too. But it isn’t the squishing kind of love. It’s the soft, gentle scratching kind of love. The treats on command kind of love. The quiet love of place and security. I learned to appreciate the gentleness, the calm and quiet. I learned to not miss Laura so much every day.
When Dad stops the car, I am less than sure of our destination. It is smellier here than anywhere I have ever been. The sharp pinch of burnt air in my nostrils makes me cough. It is also loud here, not just loud with noise, but with things and people and legs and wheeled trolleys. I jump and bark as one squeaking trolley rolls past me, surrounded by tired-smelling legs.
After I recover my composure, I have to take another sniff. Yes, the legs smell tired. The human attached to the legs giggles and calls me a sweetheart and a good boy. How is it that all the humans know about me and how good I am?
Being a dog in a human world is quite strange. I snuffle along, investigating as many scents as possible. I can smell the trace of another canine and my whole body wags with delight. I love meeting new friends! Around the corner, the new friend is busy with sniffing. Their sniffing is so intense that they don’t notice me, not at first. I woof, and the friend turns his head.
“Busy,” he says. That’s it, just one word and he snuffles along sniffing out the luggage that the human people have carted about with them. I admire the vest he wears, I wouldn’t mind wearing a vest like that.
My Laura used to dress me in vests. She used to tell me how smart and handsome I looked. She would say, “Rusty, you are the beautiful-est, handsome-est baby boy ever!” Then she would kiss my face and scratch my ears. How did she always know just where the itchy spot was? Her fingers were just magic.
My friend ignores me and barks twice at his owner, who rewards him with a treato, as he discovers the contents of the luggage my friend had sniffed. If only I could get treatos for barking. I try it, a nice loud bark, and I’m quickly shushed by Dad, who pulls me close to him. I continue with my sniffing. It’s an art form identifying all the myriad of smells. So many of them I have never smelled before.
We stop in a large open room where so many humans are waiting. I can smell them from here. Some smell nervous, others have that spiky tang of excitement which kind of makes me feel like bouncing around. I don’t, though. Dad has said sit, so I sit, perched on my rump like a coiled spring. If he were to let the leash go, I would run everywhere, go speak with everyone. I like them all. They are all my friends—except that man over there! He is wearing big boots. We all know the one and only person who wears boots like that. My nemesis, the postman. I growl. I can’t help it. Those boots make me nervous.
“Shh, Rusty, boy!” Dad says. But he doesn’t know how hard that is. I fix my eyes on the boots. If they come closer, I will not be held responsible for the consequences. That’s right, you stay well over there boots man.
“Rusty!” My name is a long, slow warning growl from Dad’s lips, so I settle back down. I hadn’t realized I was growling under my breath, but obviously Dad heard it.
There is a shift in the air, a change in the smell. Excitement smells like summer days, happy and warm, and it fills my nose. The humans about me begin to shuffle towards the big glass doors. Every now and then the doors slide open, and a human or two walks through, pulling trollies piled high with luggage and met with hugs and kisses. I too like hugs and kisses, so I stand up and pull on the leash. Surely some of those kisses could be sent my way!
“Sit, Rusty!” I humph and sit back down. Waiting is the worst. Especially when there are friends to be made. They would love me if only I could get closer to them.
Finally Dad stands and we move toward the door. I can smell the excitement wafting from him and something else too. It’s kind of sad. I don’t like it when Dad is sad. He was sad a lot when my Laura left. We would huddle together on the couch, his arms about me just stroking my fur, while I rested my head on his lap. I’d never smelled him so sad, so alone, like the smell of a rainy day. Mom was sad then too, but she smiled through it. But I could still smell her sadness, and some kind of fear or worry, sharp like the prickles in the lawn that attach themselves to my coat and get in between my paws. Mom doesn’t smell like that now though, it’s not the same kind of sad, and I’m puzzled.
Mom says something, I heard my name and I look at her. She is smiling with all her teeth. I know that means good things in human language, but sometimes it can be bad too. Human language is so confusing sometimes. She is pointing and her eyes are leaking.
I look to where she is pointing, maybe she has thrown a ball. Sometimes she does that. The first thing I see are the boots. More heavy postman boots are coming toward me and so I growl.
“Rusty!” I hear my name again, but I’m not sure who spoke. I see the boots are attached to legs, but they seem to be very strange. I wish I could see colors properly because the legs are covered in a weird brownish gray pattern that seems to blend with the background. It’s like a ghost is moving towards me and I rush at it in an attempt to frighten it away from Mom and Dad, I know my job is to protect, and I do take that very seriously. As the ghost reaches for me, I scamper away, tail tucked tight between my legs.
“Rusty!” My name again, and I recognize the voice from somewhere. It’s not Mom or Dad. Who is speaking? I’m not sure, it’s been so long. I sniff. The scent is weird. It smells like tired, like sunsets and sandy, strange, faraway lands. But underneath… there is something… a note… a hint? I sniff again cautiously, avoiding hands that are trying to reach for me. It’s a tactic that I use when I’m not sure, run in close, sniff and retreat quickly. I do this two or three times, while all about there is laughter. It’s the laughter that triggers my memory. Wind in my face, howling with laughter.
With a cautious wag of my tail, I scamper a bit closer and look up into a face. It’s older, darker, more weathered and there are shadows in the eyes that were never there before, but I’m nearly sure, or possibly sure, or it just might be…
“Rusty, baby boy!” Arms are open wide, and I am drawn in by the smell of joy, pure joy, like flowers opening in spring. I sneeze. Joy does that to me every time.
Fingers trace my head and ears, familiar fingers. That’s all it takes. The sensation of joy ripples all over me and I can not contain it. My whole body begins to wag and I bounce and prance like a puppy. It’s Laura, I’m sure of it. Yes? No? Yes, it is. I lick her face. It tastes like Laura! Oh my goodness, oh my goodness! I cry and bounce and pounce. She is crouched on the floor with me and we end up rolling on the ground together, and I lick her precious face while she gives me the squishy hug I have been missing. I can barely stay still long enough to receive it. I have to tell everybody! Laura is here, she’s back! Oh my gosh, oh my! She laughs. I love her laugh. I wish I could laugh too, but all I can do is make those little sounds, the ones that explode from my throat without control.
“Oh Rusty, boy. I have missed you too!”
My Laura picks herself up from the floor, but I won’t let her leave me again. I jump. I know not to jump, but I just have to put my paws on her, to claim her as mine, and get my sloppy kisses to her face. She doesn’t tell me off. I can taste the salty sting on her cheeks, but she is laughing. I sniff just to check. Yep, no sadness, only joy. I sneeze, right in her face.
“Oh, Rusty! Gross!”
She gathers my lead and I prance about my whole body wagging, the happiness is uncontrollable. She hugs Mom and Dad, and then hugs me again. We begin to walk, or at least they walk. I bounce. I just can’t control it.
A strange man stops to say, “Thank you for your service, Ma’am.” I don’t even notice his boots. I’m too caught up in my joy. Sneeze. I found my lost Laura, and that is the only thing that matters.