|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Gets A Boyfriend, Part 8|
Rowena padded out to the dumpster, set down her garbage, lifted the dumpster's lid—and saw a puppy inside.
Rowena froze. She looked closer. It looked like a puppy. It was nighttime; it was dark, but she thought she could see it breathing; dark tummy moving against a white background. As she stared, the puppy rolled its eye at her.
The puppy was lying on a paper towel. Rowena scooped it up very carefully. The puppy squirmed feebly; Rowena tried speaking softly to soothe it, but her voice did not sound calm.
She did not know what to do.
Rowena took the puppy back to her apartment, looking furtively around, hoping no one would see her with it. Dogs were not allowed in the building. She had left the trash on the pavement; she needed both hands to hoist it into the dumpster, and she couldn't bear to put the puppy on the cold ground.
No one saw her. She went in, locked the door, and stood in her living room, holding the puppy and wondering where to put it.
The puppy was brown and had a shortish tail. It seemed to be cold. Rowena got a shoebox, put a dishtowel in it, nestled the puppy in, and, after a moment's hesitation, put the shoebox on her heating pad, set on low. The puppy looked at her with bluish eyes. Rowena stroked it gingerly, tickled its tummy. It looked like a boy. She named him Stanley.
Rowena went into the kitchen and heated up some milk. She had heard that cow's milk was not very good for puppies but it was after ten o'clock; for the moment, cow's milk would have to do. She didn't have a bottle either; when the milk was warm (she tested it on her wrist) she tried to feed it to Stanley with a teaspoon. Milk dribbled down his chin, ran down his chest, and dampened his towel. Rowena lifted Stanley and towel out of the box so as to keep it dry, and tried feeding him again. She got the spoon just in his mouth, saw his throat make gulping motions, watched in distress as he sputtered and sneezed.
Feeding him took a long time. Eventually he seemed to lose interest, and Rowena thought his tummy was a bit rounder. She got him a clean towel, lined his box with plastic wrap, and put him back in. Stanley stirred, made a small puppy noise, and shat on his clean towel. Rowena shifted him over, waited a bit, then changed the towel once more.
There was a knock on the door, and the sound of a key in the lock. And Mrs. Masters, the landlady, bustled in.
“I saw your light on, dear, and I thought this would be a good time to tell you something Mr. Masters and I—is this a good time, dear?”
Rowena moved quickly towards her, away from Stanley. She hoped she was blocking Mrs. Masters' view. “Mrs. Masters, it's very alarming having your front door burst open in the middle of the night.”
“I'm sorry if I frightened you, dear. I'll call out, ‘Mrs. Masters!’ next time so you'll know it's just me.”
Rowena thought about deadbolts. She couldn't remember anything in her lease that said she couldn't put one in.
“We'll be shutting off the water tomorrow morning about eight, dear. We waited for the weekend so it wouldn't interfere with anybody's morning, but I thought you should know anyway. Mrs. Webster says that every time she—what's that?” She bustled around Rowena, over to Stanley. “A puppy!” she cried.
Rowena started talking fast. “Somebody abandoned him outside tonight, so I thought I'd just try and keep him warm and fed and alive and all that until tomorrow morning, when I can try—”
“He's a cute little thing,” said Mrs. Masters. “Mr. Masters and I were just thinking of letting dogs into the building.”
“Mr. Phipps was burglarized a couple weeks ago; did you know that? I told Mr. Masters we'd be safer with a dog.”
Rowena tried to sound indifferent. “Sounds reasonable.”
Mrs. Masters looked back down at Stanley in his box. “Cute little thing. What I figure I'll do, I'll just get a cute little puppy like that—only older—and bring him home. Mr. Masters, he's not really crazy about dogs but he couldn't say no to a puppy.”
“That's good,” Rowena said. Mrs. Masters shook her head, still looking at Stanley.
“Who would abandon a little thing like that?” she asked. “I tell you, the world is going straight to hell. Just now I went through the parking lot, and would you believe, one of our own tenants here left a big bag of garbage on the ground next to the dumpster, even though there was plenty of room for it inside.”
“Some people,” said Rowena.
Rowena went to bed soon after Mrs. Masters left. She set her alarm clock to wake her up in four hours. She didn't know how often a tiny puppy had to eat, but four hours seemed reasonable. Stanley seemed to be asleep already. Rowena turned out the light and crept to her bedroom.
When the alarm went off, it took Rowena a while to figure out why. She stumbled groggily to the kitchen, poured some milk into a pan, set the heat on low, and went to the living room to look at Stanley.
He was cold.
And getting stiff.
Rowena stood there for a long time. She told herself it was silly to cry over a puppy she had hardly known, a puppy that must have been dying when she met it.
She didn't move until she smelled scalded milk.
Rowena washed the pot and fixed herself a cup of tea. She sat holding the tea and wondering what to do about Stanley. When she finished her tea she went and got a trowel she'd bought with her window box. She put the lid on Stanley's shoebox and carried him outside. She buried him outside her door, without the box so she could keep the grave small. She scattered leaves over the fresh earth and hoped no one would disturb him.
She went back inside and didn't go to bed for a long time.
Rowena wasn't quite sure what to do the next day. She couldn't sit around and mope. Sammy was supposed to pick her up, but she wasn't entirely sure she wanted to see him. She didn't want to not-tell him and spend the day acting cheerful, but she wasn't sure she wanted to tell him either, even if he didn't laugh at her.
He came. She let him in. She stood before him, confused, still undecided, and gently he brushed some hair from her face, peered at her in concern.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
She took a breath. “It's just—there was a puppy in the dumpster, and I—” And she began crying again despite herself, and he gathered her up and drew her near, and she thought with dread, this is it, this is when he turns into Neil and starts pawing at me under pretext—
But he just held her and listened to her; just recently he had begun to let his hands wander over her, but he did not do it now.
“I'm sorry,” she said. “I shouldn't be getting this upset. I don't know what's the matter with me.”
“I think it's very sad,” said Sammy. “He was very small and helpless, and instead of looking after him or just leaving him with his mother, somebody went and discarded him. With the trash, even.” Rowena gave a small gasp of realization, but Sammy went on talking, gently. “And you tried to save him, and started to get attached to him, and he died almost right in front of you. What is it?”
“It's my Aunt Glad. In the nursing home. It's her birthday tomorrow. I've been afraid to go see her, but . . .”
“But now you know you have to,” Sammy said. “That you can't abandon her either.” He put a kiss somewhere in her hair. “You'll do fine,” he said.
They were silent a long time. Finally Rowena said, “It looked like Fate for a while. The landlady changing her mind about dogs and everything.”
He moved his hand up, rubbed her shoulder blades lightly. “Have you ever had a dog?”
“Not for a long time. A cousin of mine went to Europe a while back, though, and I looked after hers. I got reimbursed for the dog food I bought them, but not for the rug shampooer I ended up renting when one of them took out his frustrations all over the carpet.”
Sammy laughed. “Come on,” he said. “Let's go somewhere.”
Rowena didn't pay too much attention to where Sammy was taking her until he pulled up in front of the animal shelter.
“Oh, Sammy.” Rowena wasn't sure she was pleased.
“If you want to save a puppy,” Sammy said, “this is the place to go.”
“I got my cat here.”
“About fifteen pounds and umpteen hairballs ago.” He smiled at her. “But he's a good cat.”
Rowena looked out at the shelter. She could hear barking even from inside the car.
“Let's just go look around, okay?” Sammy said. “If you don't see anything—anybody—you like, we'll just go get some ice cream or something. Okay?”
Rowena was still looking out the window. The dogs' yipping had a desperate quality, as if the barkers knew what happened to dogs there.
Rowena took a breath. “Okay.”
Rows and rows of dogs. The dog runs were bare and cheerless; cold wire, cold concrete. Rowena walked past, her heart low. There were so many; so many! How many would . . .
Sammy walked a respectful distance behind.
A huge black-and-brown mutt flung itself against the wire at her; something that looked vaguely like a corgi looked at her indifferently. Rowena walked on.
A small puppyish creature something like a terrier cocked its head at her, watched her with bright eyes. It pranced a few steps up to the wire fencing, then ran the rest of the way. He was brown, with a white ear, a white forepaw, and a white tip on his tail. He gave a little pounce up at her, and stood with his front paws through the fence. He wagged his tail and gave a hopeful yip.
Rowena bent down. The puppy wagged furiously, yipped again, thrust his nose against the wire at her.
Rowena held out her hand for him to sniff. “Hello,” she said. “Hello, puppy.” The puppy sniffed, was beside himself. He extracted his front paws from the fencing, ran around in front of her, jumped back up. She tried to pet him through the fence and he licked her fingers with a small pink tongue.
“Oh,” Rowena said. “Oh . . .”
She played with the puppy as best she could. From somewhere off to the side she heard Sammy's voice. “So. Should I go get someone?”
The puppy pounced at her, his back end up and his eyes not at all fierce. “Please,” Rowena said. She looked at Sammy for just a moment, as he stood watching and smiling with fond amusement. She smiled back, briefly, before returning her attention to the puppy. She was only dimly aware of Sammy's departure.
“Hi there,” said Rowena to the puppy. “Hello.”
Volume I: Rowena Gets A Life.
Book 2: Rowena Gets A Boyfriend.
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