Our first West Villages Short Story contest concluded at the end of June and it proved what we suspected: West Villages residents adore their pets and many of you are great writers, too. All are worthy of recognition. Please enjoy this story by Grand Palm resident Kate Nixon, who earned a very honorable mention.
Freddy, My Reward for a Good Deed
By Kate Nixon
(when age nine)
I heard my neighbor Mr. Franklin say “very special,” “smart,” “very own dog.” It was hard to catch every word because my heart beat so fast in my ears. I was so scared of Mr. Franklin for several reasons. He had this big yard next door. His mower always quit close to our front porch. Mom said I wasn’t to listen to Mr. Franklin cuss when he pulled on the little rope to get the mower started again. But he knew a lot more cuss words than even Grandpa. Mr. Franklin blankityed this and blankityed that. To top it off, he swore that he was going to be buried right between those blankity pine trees in his front yard. He was looking forward to coming back and haunting the neighborhood. From the first time I heard him say that, I included him in my bedtime prayers so he wouldn’t die overnight.
Mom usually stopped his blue streak with an invite to come in for a cup of coffee and cookies. Telling myself to be brave, I rushed to sit on his left side. When Mom’s back was turned to pour his coffee and open the Tupperware cookie container, Mr. Franklin lit a cigarette and winked at me. Then he made his hula girl tattoo dance on his arm. I wasn’t supposed to look at it. But he was the only man in town with his own hula dancer.
On that wonderful puppy day, I had drug the large Purina Dog Chow up to his dog pens. I crouched and went dog to dog. I slipped handfuls of food through the dog pens to his five hunting dogs. I made sure each got their fair share. The mother beagle and her six hungry puppies got extra special attention because I knew they needed it. The mother dog took her share like a real lady. Her puppies were not so polite. They jumped up and down over the ones closest to the wire fencing and tried to push each other out of the way. The excited puppies licked my hand even when it was empty. Their sandpaper tongues made me so happy.
I smelled the cigarette smoke before I heard Mr. Franklin walk up. He called me by name in his low smoky voice and coughed. He was home early from work. Inside my heart I prayed for him to please not be there. But he was when I looked up. I realized he had seen enough to know what I had done.
I returned the hello and fought back tears. When he asked me what I was doing, I stood. I couldn’t look at him. I kept my head down and explained that I had been out feeding the pet crows when I saw his puppies running around in the pen.
And then what happened he asked.
I said I checked on them and saw they were real hungry. They wanted to lick Mom’s dish, the one with the food for the crows. I couldn’t let them lick the scraps out of Mom’s bowl, could I? She would’ve had a fit. I chanced a glance at him.
He nodded he understood that moms didn’t like dogs eating out of people dishes.
I went on to say how I had told them that I’d bring them some food. But all I had was our dog’s food. I promised him that I gave them just a little food. I knew they would still want to hunt.
Mr. Franklin gave another slow nod and walked to the gate of the puppy pen. He reached in and picked up the smallest and cutest one in the group by the neck. That’s when he looked me right in the eye and said I needed my own dog. He put the squirming puppy in my arms. She fit just right, especially when she put her head on my shoulder. I held my new puppy close and inhaled. She smelled just right too. When she licked my nose, that lovely sour milk puppy breath floated my way. Puppy breath always made me feel good. The name Fredricka, Freddy for short, popped into my head. A queen’s name for sure.
But even the little dog’s smell couldn’t keep the truth away. I was in big trouble. No way around it. Even bigger trouble than listening to him cuss or watching his hula girl. I shouldn’t have been up at his house with dog food.
Freddy was all settled in for the trip to her new home. Through my red t-shirt I felt her heart beating against mine. Mr. Franklin gave me another nod and lit a new cigarette. I waited a bit. He didn’t say anything so I started down the hill.
I had gone just a few steps when Mr. Franklin called me back. He said he had some last words. I had to make some promises. I returned to him thinking I would have to clean out cages or wash his truck. But he surprised me. Number one was I had to take very good care of my new puppy. She was all my responsibility. Did I feel grown up enough to do all I needed to do? I swore and used my Girl Scout sign to seal the deal. He also said she was real smart and came from good rabbit stock. Number two was to teach her tricks. That was easy. Number three was never feed his dogs again. He doubted I would have time since I would be so busy training the dog.
I agreed to everything and took Freddy home. When I stood on the back step and held the new puppy up for Mom’s approval, she didn’t smile or say how adorable the beagle was. Instead her mouth went straight. Mom looked like she was going to say no. But after a few moments she shrugged, nodded, and said the dog was all my responsibility. I half-listened and thought to myself what was it with adults and that word responsibility. Mom said I had to clean up after all the new dog’s messes, both inside and outside. I also heard Mom say that Freddy would have to sleep outside in the old aluminum dog house. Gretchen was the only dog allowed in the house. I nodded and hoped Freddy didn’t have her feelings hurt. But I started planning how I could get Freddy into my bedroom at night. Mom broke through my plans with saying she hoped I had thanked Mr. Franklin.
A queasy feeling hit me. I’d forgotten my manners. That was really horrible. Mom always went on and on about thanking people for what they did for you, especially if they gave you something as valuable as a puppy. There had to be a thank-you note. Looking right at Mom, I fudged a bit on the truth. I told her I had thanked him. I promised I was going to write Mr. Franklin a big thank-you note that evening after my other chores were done.
The dog food sack! The picture of it flashed in my mind. I had left evidence by the dog pens. Perry Mason had taught me that was bad. Now I’d have to go back up the hill and sneak it home before Mom noticed it was gone. Another white lie came quickly. I said I was going to show Freddy her new house right away. I took her into the backyard to introduce her to the crows and Gretchen. When I thought Mom was no longer looking out the kitchen window, I went back up the hill. I hugged Freddy under one arm and drug the dog food down the hill with my other.
I couldn’t believe it. I got away with feeding Mr. Franklin’s dogs and got a new puppy out of it. But my plans to make Freddy a house dog never happened. Freddy was every bit the rabbit dog Mr. Franklin said. Day and night she ran rabbits. She came back for meals and to sleep in the hole she dug under the shrubbery for the hot days. Freddy never stayed inside longer than one TV show in the evening. She’d go scratch the door, and I’d have to let her out. It didn’t seem fair. Gretchen watched TV with us all night.