Cutter is pushing his nose into the side of Miss Carol’s boob, trying to squirm his way into her lap from the back seat.
C’mon, he says, let me get up front with you, it smells all doggy back here, he says.
From the back seat I hear Tug howling- hooowwwww much lonnngggggeeeeerrrrrrrr????
Miss Carol pushes Cutter back into the back seat screaming at him to sit down.
It’s Thursday and we’re twenty minutes into a four and a half hour drive to visit our families for the holidays. It’s our annual trek and something I look forward to each year with as much anticipation as a root canal or a colonoscopy sans anesthesia.
On the seat behind me Cutter and Tug are tussling with one another, growling and snapping and yelping, the truck swaying with their wrestling. I clench my teeth and grip the wheel tighter. It’s gonna be a long ass trip.
Suddenly, there’s silence and Cutter is standing with one paw on the center console and the other resting on my arm, his nails gripping my shoulder. He stares out the windshield watching me drive for a moment and then he leans down and rests his head on my shoulder and gently licks the side of my face, his breath hot in my ear. Boss, he says, you know I love you. My heart melts a little, but then he’s pushing and squirming and trying to get into MY lap.
You wouldn’t believe all the dog hair back here, he grunts.
I push Cutter back into the back with my elbow, swerving into the other lane as I do so and Miss Carol screams at him again. Both dogs are quiet for a coupla minutes and then Tug starts barking.
This sucks, he barks.
I hate you, he barks.
Cutter joins in, yelling, When are we gonna get there- and- I gotta go to the bathroom. And Miss Carol’s screeching at both of them to shut the fuck up so she can hear the person she’s talking to on her cell phone.
I close my eyes briefly and try to tune them all out.
Four and half days later we get to the sadness that is Miss Carol’s folks’ house. Miss Carol’s father (we’ll call him Mr. Carol) had to put Miss Carol’s mother (Mrs. Carol) into an assisted living facility a couple of months ago and neither one of them is very happy about it.
We had originally planned to visit Mrs. Carol in her new digs and have dinner with her there but at the last minute Mr. Carol had called Miss Carol and told her that he’d bring her moms home for dinner saying he’d “found” a roast beef in the freezer that Miss Carol could cook.
We get there after four and half weeks and while Cutter and Tug are tearing around the house and Miss Carol is visiting with Mr. Carol, I’m carrying the baggage and the presents and the dog food and stuff into the house. I carry the dog bowls into the kitchen and see a teeny-tiny little flank steak thawing on a cutting board next to the sink.
I look at it and I think, it can’t be.
So I finish with my chores and grab a beer and I’m leaning up against the kitchen counter when Miss Carol comes in to make herself a cocktail. She looks at the little mound of thawing meat and sighs.
Tell me that’s not dinner, I say.
She sips her drink and says, it’ll be fine. They don’t eat much anymore and I’m not very hungry, she says. And shrugs.
To give Miss Carol her due, she really tried. Once the little lump of flank steak had thawed she pounded it flat to make it look bigger and marinated it and grilled it and then sliced it really, really thin.
But it just wasn’t enough.
We’d been driving for four and half months and hadn’t eaten anything. Even with the potatoes and green beans, it just wasn’t enough so finally, after I’d licked my plate clean, I distracted Mr. Carol by saying, What’s that?
And while he looked away, I stole a scrap of his steak and jammed it into my mouth.
Miss Carol saw me do it and hesitated and then she said to her moms, Wow, look over there.
And stole a scrap of HER steak.
This went on, back and forth, until Mr. Carol’s and Mrs. Carol’s steak was gone. They gazed down at their plates, looking a little puzzled and perplexed until I convinced them that they’d eaten a TON of food and gosh, golly, they must be full.
The next day, after I’d carted everything back out to MR.GREENE. again and loaded it up, I left the back door of the truck open and went to fetch Cutter and Tug. They burst out of the house dragging me from bush to bush smelling everything and peeing wildly until we got down the steps to the sidewalk and they saw the open door and they both stopped, stunned.
You’re kiddin’ me, right? Cutter said.