There is a reason the Dog thinks I love her. It is my overactive sense of responsibility.
If Dog thinks, that is, which frankly I doubt. Is too happy to.
And I don't believe the Dog loves me in return. Is incapable of it probably. But she comes when I call when she won't come to anyone else.
Usually. If she's not too interested in whatever smelly smell she's chasing. If there aren't interesting visitors she'd rather jump up on. But that's because, unlike the rest of the household, I have read the dog-training books and so make my voice sound delighted and full of promise. And I always have a doggy cookie for her. And then she goes to her place when I tell her, especially if I walk her over there, pointing and saying "Place. Place." Simple words being best for a simple mind like hers. Sometimes she even sits and stays. For a while. For as long as her scattered doggy mind can remember that's what she's doing. Then she comes over and puts her damp nose softly on my ankle and prostrates herself at my feet.
I think she thinks she's obedient, if she thinks at all. But then I'm not much of a dog-person. Sometimes though I worry that Someone Else may think she thinks not much worse than I do. Or maybe thinks she thinks somewhat better.
"Getting ready for the big day?" the check-out lady at the Dollar Store asks me, running my doilies and pink paper over her scanner. All day she's breathing the sad familiar smell of cheap plastic but still she smiles up at me with her tired face and her unnaturally lustrous hair. "What do you usually do to celebrate?"
I don't usually celebrate really. And besides today I feel oppressed by the ugliness of everything. Also I am tired and embarrassed suddenly. So I mumble how my friend and I are making anonymous valentines. On a whim that seemed a good idea when we first thought it. Because who says you have to have little children to give you permission for this kind of thing. It is an idea that delights the lady at the check-out.
"Do you know May Day?" she asks, as if by logical extension. I do. Her face is like a flower opening suddenly, "Dancing around the maypole with the streamers. I was even May Queen. My mom said, 'You know what that's all about, don't you?' Do you know?"
"What?" I ask, because though I do know the roots of most holidays, often in embarrassing detail, one whole subsection of those useless bits of information I have such a natural affinity for, I have also an uncontrollable, almost unforgivable curiosity always about what goes on inside other people's view-finders. I settle in, preparing myself to hear someone's mother's phallic and/or neo-pagan etymology of the flowery first of May.
"Well, my mom said it's all about putting little baskets of flowers on people's front steps. Without them knowing. Have you heard of May baskets?" I have. She barely stops for breath, "I'm going to do that this year. But I'm putting them in little flower planters. So they don't die. Because no one is home during the day, of course, and they would just wilt before anyone got back from work."
This is kind of a sad thought. All the empty streets of empty houses in all our towns across the nation. So I don't know why I feel so much more hopeful walking back out to my car.
I will tell my friend about May Day in the Dollar Store later that evening when we sit together and make our valentines for people whose names we don't know, people we call The Gray House that Paints White Ankles on Their Trees, or The Stone Mossy Place, or The Halloween People, or The Little Falling Down Place with the Big Electric Wire What's With That?, people whose houses we've been walking past most Saturdays for more years than we care to say.
I will tell my friend how when I got back into the car the radio was up in arms about some bulldozed wetland habitat somewhere in California, a scrubby marshy woodland razed down by the Corps of Engineers for flood control and also to discourage drug deals and other "lewd behavior." The radio reporter is walking through the bare moonscape, where no lewdness now can hide itself, with a couple from the Audubon who say usually there would be the mating call of the California thrasher belling from every direction. In the absence of any bird call they activate instead an app on one of their phones. The mating call of the California thrasher. "Imagine hundreds of birds all calling this time of year."
Not only the California Thrasher pairing up.
Also the Spotted Owl coupling.
Also another bird whose name I have already forgotten, as all birds' names may be forgotten someday if we keep things up.
But NPR does not leave us comfortless. There is, it appears, a fecund albatross called Wisdom, 62 years old, twice as old as the average bird of her kind, the oldest free-flying banded bird. She has just hatched a healthy chick. The plummy voice of NPR weighs in, "So many of us were introduced to the albatross by the Rime of the Ancient Mariner and think of it figuratively as the thing that hangs around your neck. Tell us something wonderful about albatrosses."
"Well," says the researcher who is from the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and begins and ends by saying Aloha! (a word my daughter in Hawaii has taught me means more than hello, means breath and presence, compassion, mercy, affection, peace and love. Though knowing etymologies like I do I could make a case that Hello also means more, or did once, or maybe could once more.) "Well," says the researcher, "they are pretty amazing and interesting," because in addition to mating for life, coming back each year together to the same nest, "they take care of their chicks, the male and the female both take turns feeding it."
As if that were enough to be considered wonderful.
I have read the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, of course, having an affinity for things like this, and I can tell you that before the albatross was something hung around our necks, it was a bird of good omen, a sign of hope that the ship would come home to land at last. And even shot and killed and carried like a penance-cross, the albatross is meant to function as a call to love, a warning of what we stand to lose.
"Wisdom's latest offspring," NPR calls the new-hatched chick. And when I turn off the radio my mind keeps pecking at the echoes. Refuge. Midway. Maypole. Flood control. Bird call. Lewd behavior. Wisdom's baby chick.
He prayeth well, who loveth well Both man and bird and beast. He prayeth best, who loveth best All things both great and small; For the dear God who loveth us He made and loveth all.
How Dog answers my call.
More times than not.