This is my story about another story. If I get the two stories and their dogs confused, I hope you will forgive me. I’m getting along in years. Maybe there are more than two stories, too, which could be a problem when trying to tell which is which. Perhaps you can help me. I’m not even sure how many dogs are involved.
Rusty, the Story of a Dog. That’s the title I remember. I know the book was hard-bound, and its cloth cover was green. Or maybe it was red. If not, it must have been blue or mustard-colored. Oh, it was so long ago.
Still, I remember that book. It was in the second room of the town library which had a great name, as I’ve always said: King’s Daughters. Nobody ever talked about King, but he must have been very important locally. Whatever its color, the book in question was on the left, at about shoulder level (I was short then, and still am). I saw it by accident while browsing the fiction section. I did a lot of browsing in the library and came up with some good reading material using that method.
Oh, I adored reading fiction, mostly novels. Poetry was all right, but I wasn’t good at finding things I liked. That would come later. It felt very different when you opened a book with poems that had short lines and odd spacing. A novel felt like it weighed more, because there were a lot more words on the pages.
I don’t think anybody else in the whole world who has read the Rusty book is still around. Probably nobody after me felt drawn to it, and between its publication and my discovery of it, I have no way of knowing now because I don’t recall the card for signing it out. Was my name the only one on that card?
That’s scary, when you think of it.
As to rereading the Rusty novel, I’m convinced I will never find it again, and that strikes me as quite tragic. I have two copies of another book I loved back then, which was Dorothy Simpson’s The Honest Dollar. I did find a second copy when I came to Maine to live. You can still find them in rare book sections of used book stores.That book I can describe clearly, know its publication date, and always say it’s why I ended up coming to Maine to live. Still, this is not about that novel but instead is about Rusty.
I didn’t even remember the title correctly, because now that I really think about it, it’s more like Rusty, the Story of a Dog. Neither title is especially creative, hence my confusion, right? As for the author, I had to look that up on the internet as well. I couldn’t even recall if the author was male or female. On the internet I saw that my book was written by Elmer Sherwood and had been published in 1916. It was news to me. What an old book, even back then.
Now I am wondering if there’s yet another book about a dog named Rusty, because as I’ve just said that’s a pretty old book - from 1916 - and it would have been odd for it to be in the literature section after so many years. Except that in my small town the library was pretty small and had a rather limited budget. It could very well have been on the shelf for decades. Elmer Sherwood wasn’t all that famous, though. I didn’t even know he wrote about Rusty until I looked it up.
Something is definitely off in this story. You may not have noticed it, but I have. All this remembering of a vague story, but no details, no story. Just the object, with covers, pages, and a spine.
Why is this book so important, anyway? Why, year after year, do I see my child self walking over the threshold into that room and taking the book off the shelf? Why do I hear the creaky hardwood floors, well-varnished and sagging in a few spots, even now? I am beginning to feel concerned that I am obsessed. That is not a good thing for an older person. A person who also has images of the two multi-paned windows that faced the wall where one particular shelf was. There were a couple of pine trees hugging the windows.
Why do I see the scowling librarians at the desk with pencils poised to sign out books to patrons, while looking like they were loathe to do so? Why do I still see the device on the end of the librarians’ pencils, clipped there. The device was extremely clever and I always used to stare at it. It was a stamp with the date, which could be changed. The patrons had their names written on the card (the librarians never had to ask, because they knew who everybody was) with the pencil, then the tip was dipped down to the stamp pad and the due date recorded.
It’s something even my current librarian friends cannot name. Oh, the town library was definitely behind the times, even then. Still, I was intrigued by the inventiveness of something intended to make the lives of librarians around the world easier. Perhaps five to ten seconds easier, which could add up.
Prudence was one of the stampers. The other might have been Sophie, but perhaps I’m making that up. They might have been sisters, but that would be hard to say, especially after so many years.
Those cards in jackets on the back cover of the books. Why can’t we still have them? They told us so much about the books that we can no longer learn because those jackets are no longer needed. Did they go out of fashion when books started wearing thin metal strips on an inside page? It was kind of thrilling if you discovered a book with a long list of persons who had checked it out. You formed part of its readership, its community.
Why now should an old woman remember Rusty? Apparently, the story written by Sherwood is told by the dog (I think I read that online) but it is very hard to recall that part. In fact, I can barely recall whether the story’s ending is happy or sad, although it must have been happy for me to like the book.
I can’t recall a single thing more than I have just told you. Don’t ask, please.
Back to the plot that is completely fuzzy now. I really hate it when somebody dies in a story, and that includes animals, so it must be that Rusty was a very happy dog. I don’t dare go back and read the book to find out that wasn’t so. Rusty needs to remain immortal.
Maybe Rusty reminded me of my dog Tippy, who was also a red spaniel. Does that sound logical to you? I’m still trying to find some logic in this story, and still have the sense that something is off. You haven’t been all that helpful, either, even though I’ve been counting on you.
Spaniels are the most beautiful dogs in the world, you know. Nobody try to convince me otherwise, because I will get cranky. Cranky and old are a bad combination. You don’t want to see what can happen.
I must have confused Tippy and Rusty, and thought Elmer Sherwood had written a novel about my dog. My dog, who was supposed to live forever, but only lived to be twenty-one. That’s all the sense I can make of it: my dog with her own story, her own book. I made her the main character because she was so adorable and deserved that.
And yet I can only remember where it was located, on what shelf in the library. Since I cannot find the book now, either to read it online or to acquire the actual volume, there is no way to fill in the missing text. It is simply the story of a dog who looked like my dog. Tippy was never in the library, though.
Or is it possible that I have written a story about her without the help of Rusty? Maybe it was some other book I pulled off the shelf, one without a dog in it.
I think maybe it felt like the fiction in the book was real, that Tippy was in it, running parallel to Rusty. A sort of double dog. My eyes saw two of them who were the same in appearance. Rusty had appeared in 1916, however, and could not have been alive four or five decades later, so Tippy took his place? One or two dogs?
I had some very ‘original’ ideas back then. Still do.
Maybe, just maybe, the kind author of the kind book about a dog who looked just like my dog did something very simple: he lured me into its pages, forcing me to confuse or fuse fact with fiction. It was one of my first experiences of feeling a book as something that glowed and rustled, speaking and holding my hand as I turned the pages. Standing by the shelf, gulping it down.
I was a reader. That is a powerful feeling for a child in elementary school, don’t you think? Considering that being a reader has fallen by the wayside to a large degree, what with video games and movies. People don’t read now. Even academic administrators don’t believe in libraries and think all the knowledge you need can be googled. (This is a true example, but I can’t reveal my source.)
Rusty seems to have come up out of his pages to play with me, then returned to them, looking like my Tippy. I had to follow, prancing about the farm and its meadows - there definitely were stretches of green in his novel - looking forward to the next chapter, and the next... I followed, entranced, aware that the little town and its little library had grown. There was a big farm with lots of animals and activity. A place a child go to and spend lots of time.
Everything had grown into Rusty’s world at some point. My town was bigger because he was in that book and I had found that book all by myself, signed it out, taken it home. Because I was a reader, I would have finished the book quickly, skipping lunch to do so. I could read it again before returning it, or could return it then wait a bit to sign it out all over again, as if it were the first time. Keeping the thrill alive. Racing through meadows and petting Rusty. I did that and still want to do that. I miss doing that, but I refuse to get another dog.
I have only ever had one dog. Rusty or Tippy, it doesn’t matter. They looked alike. They both made me happy.
I have only ever read one book about a dog. Rusty’s story. I feel guilty about that, but just like there’s never been another Tippy, another dog in my life, there’s never been another book because there hasn’t been room in my little girl’s heart, you might say.
I am incapable of letting sleeping dogs lie. I need them to be alive and running, chasing butterflies.
You could help me with that, you know. I’m getting too old to go to the library by myself.