Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Chapter 3: This Conversation is for the Dogs

This is the third chapter of "Your Pal Al", my first novel. It is still under construction. Chapters one and two have been  published here previously. I'd love to hear what you think. Please comment.

The walk home was excruciating. It had been two days since Mr. Sam had first mentioned the Shadow and he still had no idea of what it was or why it was important. And it being important made him itch all the more to get at that story.

Albert stopped walking for a minute to think and the huge gray dog at his side just plopped right down at his feet.

“So Belvedere. I’ve been thinking a lot on this and I just can’t keep it up any longer. If you are going to come with me everyday — and I certainly welcome your company — we just have to do something about that name of yours. It just don’t fit your personality at all. Is that al’right with you?”

The dog just continued panting and sucked up a long string of drool.

“Good boy. So I know Belvedere is the name Papa Jack gave you but it sure does sound more like something Grandmother would have done. And it ain’t right. So from now one, I’m gonna call you…” Albert paused and thought and scratched his head.

“This naming business is right hard Belve… er, ol’boy, and I want to get it right. You don’t mind waitin’ just a bit so I can think on it, do ya?”

Belvedere was a Neapolitan Mastiff and easily outweighed Albert by fifty pounds or more. And he was all Papa Jack’s dog. Bringing that pup home had caused quite a stir with Grandmother. Normally she got her way, but he put his foot down on this. It was only a few weeks old when he just showed up on the porch. Papa Jack found him there and because they lived so far from town and there weren’t any dogs like him living nearby — let alone any mastiffs — he just figured that the dog was something special – ‘a gift from heaven‘ was what he had told Albert.

 “What do you say I think more on it while we walk? Hmm?” Belvedere wagged hius nub. “That’s a good boy.”

The two of them headed off down the old road. The shortcut would get them home far too quickly for Albert’s mind. There might be chores to do and he needed time think. There were just so many unanswered questions.

“So, how in the world am I gonna get Mr. Sam to tell me more about this shadow thing? And why its so important? Now, I don’t think Miss Lottie is gonna let him tell me much. Do you? Seems every time we men get to talkin’ about it she storms across the porch. What d’ya think I should do?”

The two made their way slowly home in the hot afternoon. Dappled light from a few ancient live oaks now their only escape from the sun. The road ran by farms mostly, a few reclaimed by nature – choked by tall weeds – but most were huge fields of green made up by sugar cane, corn, tobacco and cotton. Albert didn’t like the corn fields much, especially when the the stalks were dried up and left to rot after harvest. He imagined all kinds of things in there – things that would try to get him — things with scythes and pitch forks. Sometimes, he would cut through the fields, but never the corn.

From time to time Albert would stop to think about something important only to a nine-year-old and continue on. “So, we still need a name for you. I always did like the names Striker and Ranger but you don’t seem much like a Ranger. What do you think about Brutus?” He looked hard at the dog and for such a big, slow moving creature he perked up quite quickly and cocked his head to the side, the way dogs do when they almost seem to understand what you are saying. “You really like that one, do ya boy?” His head rolled to the other side and wobbled just a bit and then, just for a minute, Albert thought he was actually going to get a real answer. He leaned in real close just in case he didn’t want to speak too loudly. Afterall, dogs weren’t supposed to be talking. Belvedere wrinkled up his nose and sneezed. And then shook his head violently coating Albert with long, gooey tendrils. “Yuck. Dog germs!” But he laughed and reached out and scratched him behind his ears — his favorite place. “You’re right. That’s no good. He’s a bad guy… always after Popeye.” With that he took off running.

“Catch me if you can! Catch me if you can!” The laughter trailing behind just like the dog. Belvedere wasn’t known for being energetic and was content to let the boy run. Then Albert picked up a stick from the road and tossed it. “Get the stick. Get the stick, boy!” And he just couldn’t help himself. He was a dog after all and so he was off… huffing and puffing… “You sure are fast!” Albert lied.

“That Mr. Sam sure is something, ain’t he? I’ll bet he killed a bunch of them Jerries. Ratta-atta-atta-atta-tat!” And he drove in the tall grass at the side of the road. Belvedere dove in after him.

“Geez Louise! Whatta ya tryin’ to do? Kill me? You are some kind of bruiser. I don’t think the Americans or the French would have taken you in… too big and too dumb…” He laughed it out. Belvedere looked offended. Albert jumped up and took off again. “Big ol’bruiser dumb as a brick… Big ol’bruiser can’t do a trick…” Albert turned and wagged his backside at the dog. For a minute Belvedere just sat there then Albert spanked himself and the dog pounced… all 153 pounds of him. He knocked Albert to the ground and held him there. The wrinkles on his head slid forward as he moved his head down towards Alberts face. Albert shrieked. And was rewarded with a very sloppy mastiff kiss… but he didn’t let him up.

Even though they hadn’t been friends for long and Belvedere towered over him. Albert was’t scared.

“I give. I give. Uncle! Uncle!” He started gigling and reached up, started tickling the dog. He was certain that it was one of Belvedere’s favorite games and to sweeten the pot he would always throw a liitle scratching into the mix.

It didn’t last long. Soon they were back on the road heading for home. “Boy, ain’t that Grandmother a tough one? How ever do you manage to live with her? Now, don’t go tellin’ her I said anything, but she seems somehow… harder than she used to be. Does that make any sense?”

Albert grew quiet then and the two continued their walk. Every so often Albert would look over at the dog and almost say something, but Belvedere didn’t look back as he normally would have.

“I’m sorry I called you dumb. I know you ain’t no meathead” Albert finally managed. Then they walked together for a while in silence. But silence was not one of Albert’s friends and soon enough he was back to questions.  “Why do you suppose Mr. Sam lives all the way out there in the woods by himself? Do you think he ever gets up out of that rocking chair? Why won’t you ever come up on the porch with us? You seem to like Mr. Sam well enough. Is it that Miss Lottie? She doesn’t much like either one of us, does she? Luckily she mostly keeps to her ironing.”

And so it went for the rest of the walk back to his Grandparents house.

Papa Jack was sitting in his rocker on the front porch as usual. Albert figured that all old men spent their most of their days in a rocking chair on a porch. He figured that one day he would have to ask his grandfather about this.

Albert had just turned down to drive when Papa Jack boomed, “Hi there, kiddo!”

There was still quite some distance from the road to the house and when Papa Jack spied Albert and called out and Albert couldn’t help but head to him running. Of course, Belvedere trailed after him.

“Lookee here! It’s my favorite Grandson!”

“I’m your ONLY grandson, Papa Jack.”

“Still my favorite” he said with a smile.

“Well, your my favorite Grandfather and I got two of them!” The two laughed as they always did when this particular conversation came up — and it did come up often. Albert noticed that old people had a way about coming back to the same stories time and time again, but this was one of the ones that Albert loved so he did not mind so much.

“So, Albert, tell me about your day. What is it that you and Belvedere all day.”

“You know Papa, a little of this and a little of that…”

“…but mostly that!” The two finished together and laughed.

“You really like Belvedere don’t you, Albert?”

“I do. We get along great mostly. Why today, we just barely survived a German ambush.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes sir. It is. When the bullets started flying we took cover in the tall grass. “

“I see. Then what happened?”

“We walked home.”

“All the way from France?”

“Yes sir.”

“My, that must have been some walk.”

“It sure was.” Albert liked these games with Papa Jack but figured that he had better get right to it. “So walking home I figured that I’d call him Uncle Bruiser.”

“Uncle Bruiser?” Papa Jack was downright close to busting a gut but somehow managed to stifle the laughter. He knew Albert was serious. “Why Uncle?”

“Well, he’s far too big and old to be just Bruiser and he watches over me kinda like you or my Daddy. And, well… I already got ya’ll. And since I got an Uncle Toomey and Uncle Hank who ain’t really my uncles…” Albert fell silent. His gaze lost in the distance.

“I suppose that’ll be just fine… it’s a mouthful, but if you can handle it…”

“Maybe you’re right, Papa. It is a bit of a mouthful. Maybe it should just be Bruiser. I suspect I’ll have to ask him if it’d be OK.”

“You do that.”

“I will.”

End of Chapter

© 2014 Michael O’Connell. All rights reserved.