Grace Kuikman: Free to a Good Home
Free to a good home - mixed breed dog, unknown age, friendly with old men and young children. Dog bed, bowl, leash and what's left of the Milkbones included. Call . . . .
Diana started to dial. Each number she hit underscored the many reasons she thought answering this classified was a good idea:
The kids need a pet to teach them responsibility.
My Dad needs company during the day.
A dog would protect the house and kids.
I can use someone warm to share the bed now that Pete left me.
The kids missed the dog that Pete took with him.
The kids missed Pete.
The dog is free.
The Milkbones are free, too.
Voicemail answered. “I’m sorry I missed your call, especially if you’re calling about adopting Rex,” said the feminine, somewhat melancholy voice. Diana tucked the phone closer to her ear. “He’s a niiiice dog, but I just can’t keep him. I hope you’re a serious dog person. Rex deserves that. If you want to meet him, please leave a message and I’ll call you back as soon as I can. Really. He’s a good dog. Leave a message. Please.”
At the sound of the beep, Diana began to ramble: “Yes, I am calling about the free dog. I mean, Rex – it’s nice to know his name. Rex is a good name for a dog. Well, I don’t have much money, so the free bowl and bed and Milkbones and all sound really great.
"My husband left me and took the dog – he’s a jerk – so the kids would really like a dog, but no one has time to train a puppy – that’s so much trouble, and I’ve already done that once and I don’t even have the dog anymore, which sucks. Anyway, my dad moved in to help me out financially but he’s retired, and it also sucks that he’s alone all day. So you can see that I’m really interested in the .…”
“What?” her dad called from the living room, thumbing the TV controller to reduce the volume. “You talkin’ to me, Di?”
“No, Dad. Just talkin’ to myself, I guess.”
“I’m a much better conversationalist,” her dad called back. “And ‘Jeopardy’ is over so I’ve got time.”
Diana walked into the living room and plopped down on the sofa. “I just called to answer this stupid classified about a free dog, but I talked too much and the voicemail ended so I didn’t get a chance to leave my number. But maybe that’s good. Maybe I shouldn’t get a dog. I’m working so many extra hours now, and the kids are busy with their homework and chores. And what about you, Dad? You don’t want to be bothered with a dog do you? A dog is a lot of work.”
“I love dogs,” her dad said. “Have I ever told you about my dog, Prince? Now there was a good dog. I miss having a dog, even that poor excuse for a dog your ex took with him.”
Diana handed over the newspaper. “Free leash and bowls. You can’t beat that,” her dad said. “You got nothin’ to lose by asking.”
Diana punched the numbers into the phone a second time and waited for the message to finish.
“Yeah, hi. It’s me again – the one whose husband walked out and took the dog. Well, my Dad thinks this is a good idea, so if you could call me, I’d like to bring my kids and my dad over to meet Rex. Okay. Thanks.”
“How do pork chops sound for dinner, Dad?”
“Arf, arf,” he replied.
“Swell. I’ll start cooking while you pick up Jamie and Beth from the park.”
Diana laid four thick pork chops in a hot frying pan and imagined how life could change with a dog in the house again. Dogs are such good company, and they appreciate everything you do. The dog bed could go in Jamie and Beth’s bedroom. The kids would have so much fun playing fetch with Rex in the back yard and using him as a pillow when they watched TV. She could almost see Beth shaking kibble into the food bowl and Jamie filling the water bowl then setting it carefully on the floor. For the first time since Pete left, Diana felt almost hopeful.
The phone rang just as Diana finished flipping the pork chops. “Hi, I’m calling about Rex. He’s a real good dog,” the woman said. “You have kids, he loves kids, loves ‘em. And he loves old men – my Uncle Stuart raised him from a pup and they were constant companions until the old man died a few weeks ago. Then I got him. Not Uncle Stuart –– Rex. I got Rex. But I can’t keep him and it’s a crying shame. I live in an apartment and they don’t allow dogs. So, you want to come meet him?”
“Sure,” Diana said. “When?”
“How about now?”
Diana walked over to the stove, put the lid on the pork chop pan and turned off the burner. “What’s the address?”
Diana waited at the end of the drive and jumped into the car as soon as her dad pulled up with Jamie and Beth. “We’re going to meet Rex,” Diana announced, reading the address aloud and buckling her seat belt.
The apartment complex was one of those fancy places. “Easy to understand why management doesn’t want dogs wrecking it up,” Diana reasoned.
‘There he is!” Jamie shouted, pointing to a young woman and a dog sitting side by side on a bench.
The kids ran to Rex, who immediately began wagging his tail and happily accepting their hugs and pets.
“Looks like a nice mutt,” Diana’s dad said.
“He does, doesn’t he?” Diana answered.
“Do you believe in love at first sight?” the woman said, rising from the bench and smiling. “I do.”
Diana watched her dad roughly rub the dog’s neck and forehead. “Does he have all his shots?” she asked. “Is he house trained? Does he run away?”
“Yes, yes and no. As I said on the phone, he’s a nice dog. And yours is a nice family – a perfect family for Rex.”
Diana bit her thumb.
“The other people who want him?” the young woman said, “They are not a good family. I can just tell, y’know. You can spot dog people. I’m gonna have to give Rex to them if you guys don’t take him. I can’t bring him back to my apartment. The manager is watching me like a hawk. That’s why I brought all the stuff out with me.” She nodded to a black garbage bag on the grass.
Jamie and Beth were all smiles. “Can we keep him, Mommy?”
The young woman held the leash out to Diana. “It looks like we’ve got ourselves a dog.”
“Rex never even acknowledged that woman when we walked away with him,” Diana told her dad, and not for the first time. “That bitch. ‘You can spot dog people.’ ‘I’m going to have to give him to that BAAAD family if you don’t take him.’ I wish I never saw that damn ad. ‘Free to a good home’ my ass.”
Starting the moment he jumped out of the back seat at their back door, it was clear that Rex did not like Diana. He growled if she came within two feet of him – four feet if he was with the kids or her dad, all of whom he adored with boundless canine passion.
When Diana set down his food, Rex lunged at the bowl, barking for her to get out of his way. She thought Rex would get over that stuff once he got to know her, but after a nerve-wracking week, Diana had had enough. She sat the kids down and said, “I’m going to have to call Rex’s owner. We just can’t keep him.”
Jamie and Beth cried themselves to sleep. Her dad, though moody, admitted that he could see Diana’s point. But when Diana placed the call, no one answered. Not even voicemail.
“Let it go, Di,” her dad said. “You got taken. The kids and I got a dog. He’s an old dog, so how long can he last? Three, four years?”
“I can’t believe you just said that, Dad.” Diana shook her head. “Oh, just go watch ‘Jeopardy.’”
Diana sat down at the kitchen table, giving Rex a wide berth. She looked at the leash hanging by the door, the dog bowl sitting on the floor, the three-quarters empty box of Milkbones on the counter. And suddenly, her mood brightened.
Diana dialed the phone and spoke confidently when her call was answered: “I’d like to place a classified ad. I want it to say ‘Free to a good home . . .’” DSS
Grace Kuikman of Chicago, IL edits the Beverly Area Planning Association's monthly publication 'The Villager,' where she is Assistant Director and Communications Coordinator for the organization. She is also a freelance writer and editor, the author of many short stories and poems, and a founder of the Longwood Writers Guild. She teaches workshops at Chicago Writers Studio, and edits literary magazines.
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