Joy Riding

Lavender No. 19Mom always said she married Dad because she knew she wouldn’t be bored. She was right. Chaos followed him wherever he went.

Today, chaos was wearing a bright red collar attached to a leash. Dad had hold of the other end. His coat was white, shiny, with black spots all different sizes. He looked just like the fire truck dog in my book.

“Can I pet him? Can I? Can I?”

“Yes, but he likes to jump. Let me hold him still, first. He’s still a puppy,” Dad said.

I let him smell my hand, then petted his ears. He didn’t stay still long. He jumped up on me and Dad jerked the leash, pulled him off me.

“His name’s Clancy,” Dad said. “He’s a surprise, so don’t tell your Mother yet. Where is she?”

“On the phone.”

There was only one phone, in the family room on the back side of the house. Dad took Clancy around the side. We crept up together to the patio, where Mom might see us through the sliding glass door panels. Dad knocked on the sliding glass door.

Clancy was all puppy. He saw dirt. Next to the house, between the patio and the brick wall of the house.

Just as Mom turned to look at us, the phone still stuck to her ear, Clancy took his right paw and raked out a huge clump of dirt. It flew past us and landed in the middle of the patio. He went at it with his other paw, like there was a steak in the dirt. Fresh green sprouts from Mom’s radish garden lay on the patio, wilting in the hot Carolina sun. He wiped the whole garden out before Dad could stop him.

Mom opened the door.

“What is that? It just dug up the radish garden. Are you keeping this for a friend? Why do you have a dog? We talked about this. She’s not old enough to keep up with a dog,” Mom said. Her face was tight. She looked like she did when she threatened to spank me. I think she wanted to spank Dad right then. Or slap him. Or both.

“Aw, it’ll be alright. We’ll keep him away from this part of the yard. I’ll buy you radishes from the grocery store, okay?” he said. “Or we can replant them.”

“They won’t grow now. It’s too hot and too late in the season,” she snapped. She closed the sliding glass door.

“Are we keeping him?” I asked. “Can we keep him? Is he my dog? Do we have to call him Clancy? What if I want to give him a new name? Will he still come when we call him?”

“Let me talk to your mother. Go see what Deanna’s doing next door, okay honey?”

Clancy stayed. He was the dumbest dog on earth. He stayed in the back yard, on a chain connected to a tree. He would circle the tree once, then again. He kept going in the same direction until there was no chain left and his snout was snug with the tree bark. We’d take him off the leash, unwind the chain. He never learned. He’d do it again. His big puppy paws never seemed to mature and neither did his brain.

Kickball was one of our favorite ways to pass time. There was always a ball hanging out in someone’s yard, waiting for kids. Clancy found the neighbor’s blue-and-white-K-Mart-special kickball one day.

That dog was so dumb that he bit the ball. The air popped out in his face with a loud whoosh. He yelped, jerked as far as he could on his chain and whelped again. He slunkered down, his belly flat on the grass.

I couldn’t even feel sorry for him. He was one dumb dog.

When we moved away, Dad found him a new home on a farm, where there were no kick balls and the gardens had fences to keep dogs out.

Dad didn’t call ahead the next time he brought chaos home with him. Any similarities you are drawing between the dog and Dad are purely coincidental.

This time chaos was green, sleek and its roof popped off. Fiat X-19. He bought it from an uncle of mine, Uncle Rinaldo.

Mom was not bored, she was furious. She didn’t talk to him for three days. Normally our parents hid their fights from me and my brother, but this one was no secret. When she did finally break down and talk to him, it wasn’t all lovey-dovey like they were going to go joy-riding in the sports car and make up, either.

“What? You didn’t think to call me from North Carolina to let me know you were thinking about buying a car? We don’t need another car. We can’t keep the cars we have already working right. Did Rinaldo bamboozle you on the price, too?” She asked question after question.

Dad put the Pall Mall cigarette to his lips. He pulled his matchbook out, lit a match, lit the cigarette and inhaled deep. When he pulled the cigarette away, a little bit of white paper stuck to his bottom lip. He didn’t answer.

She walked out of the room. Nope, she wasn’t bored.


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