Christmas Eve (an excerpt from a novel in progress – Ollie & Spuds)

Spuds the cat and Ollie the dog watch from the hearth rug as Aunt Joan rolls out the dough with her grandmother’s rolling pin. She smooths butter on the dough, sprinkles it generously with cinnamon and brown sugar, rolls it up, and pops it into the stove. Outside it’s dusk. Snow is falling.

Tori comes into the kitchen, inhaling deeply. “Umm. What’s cooking?”

“Mouse. Your great-grandmother used to make it from the leftover dough from her pies. Did your mom make it?”

“I don’t think so. I don’t remember. Come on, Ollie. Let’s go feed the barn animals.” She motions for him to follow her.

Ollie sighs, reticent to leave the warmth of the kitchen, and rises. He follows Tori out the door, squinting his eyes to a gust of snow that swirls off the roof. They walk toward the barn. In the hills there glimmers the twinkling of lights of other farms. Tori looks up at the sky and sticks out her tongue to catch snowflakes.

They walk to the barn through the mounting snow. The donkey, Frank Sinatra, shakes his mane and the horse, Fred, whinnies in greeting. Tori pats them, gives them fresh water and hay and some extra grain, because it’s Christmas Eve. The chickens, which roam in the relative warmth of the barn, come over to them, clucking softly. Ollie noses them gently. Tori stoops down and runs her palm over their feathers, murmuring to them. She gives them extra feed and adds more hay to their nest for warmth.

They listen to the soft munching of the horse and donkey, the gentle clucking of the chickens. Tori closes the door and they step out into the snow, which has covered their footsteps leading to the barn. Stars have started to emerge, little pinpricks of light in the dark blue sky. The farmhouse roof is draped with snow, and each window is aglow with candles. Through the steamy kitchen window, Aunt Joan takes cookies from the oven. Through the living room window, Uncle Jon lights candles nestled in pine boughs on the mantle. Spuds follows Aunt Joan into the living room and sits beneath the Christmas tree. Uncle Jon turns toward Aunt Joan, laughing at something she says.

Ollie looks up at Tori beside him, who reaches down and scratches him behind his ear. Then they trudge through the snow together. At the doorway she dusts the snow off of Ollie’s back and kicks the snow off of her boots. They enter the house, which smells of pine and baking, and join the family.

Part IV – I Came from the Deep South

continued from Part III  –  “I hadn’t wanted a puppy,” I heard her say, “I planned on adopting an older dog, but Lucy’s my dog and I’m hers.  It felt like the choice was less of a choice and more of a fait accompli.”  From my perspective, I’d applied those puppy-dog eyes to many people, but she’s the only one who got it.  At this juncture, those reasons didn’t matter.  What did was that I had a home.  Recollections of my fractured past began to fade from my mind, except for one repetitive memory: my sister’s eyes as she watched me be carried away from her.

My new life kept me busy.  There was the woman and two teenagers, various family and friends who came and went, and two cats: Gracie and Mr. Bean.  Gracie was a decent being.  She walked around the house and screened porch minding her own business, occasionally greeting me by touching my nose with her nose.  Mr. Bean, however, well, suffice it to say that we had our differences.Gracie (left) Mr Bean (right)

Mr. Bean was an odd fellow.  He’d been rescued from an Amish farm, and by 6 weeks of age the small chunk removed from his ear had already healed, he was starving, and he had worms.  His personality was, shall we say, edgy.  You can tell by the look in his eyes.  He’s the one on the right.

When I met Mr. Bean, he puffed up like a dandelion puff ball and screeched.  This hurt my ears and annoyed me.  Our relationship went downhill from there.  When Mr. Bean walked by henceforth, he narrowed his eyes at me.  Sometimes my eyes got a prey-drive glint, of which the woman extremely disapproved.  Apparently among my hound mix background was greyhound, a magnificent sight hound, one of the oldest of breeds used by early man for hunting on the plains.  This ancient instinct in me was not triggered by Gracie, who was, to my mind, a reasonable being and more like a dog than a cat, but it was, intermittently, by Mr. Bean.

The woman spent a great deal of time intervening between us.  She hired a trainer to soften this edge of my otherwise beautiful behavior.  This was only partially successfully.  I did enjoy the treats she offered when she diverted my attention away from Mr. Bean.

I knew the game, and I really did want to please her, but my instinct sometimes got the better of me.  I never actually touched Mr. Bean, though he increasingly became afraid of me.

to be continued…  Part I