Wendell passed the tattered piece of paper on the community board outside the market, “Woodley, what a pompous name,” he thought to himself. The raggedy-eared, cock-eyed mutt looked content but vacuous in the REWARD: MISSING DOG photo. Gertie loved animals, especially dogs, but after she died, Damsel the dachshund soon followed. Wendell thought he would get used to the silence, but he didn’t. How he used to savor their Sundays––walking the property, collecting eggs from the henhouse, making a big brunch just for the two of them. He heaved the sundries into his old sedan and headed back home.
Opening the door to his little ranch home, the dog rushed to Wendell, leaping up––hugs and kisses––softly barking, following the old man to his chair. “Aww Birdie, how did you do? Keeping the goldfish company? I was only at the market old boy.” The two old fellas had a proper supper then fell asleep. The dog rested his head on Wendell’s lap.
The barely audible television beamed Central Oregon’s Nightly Eleven O’Clock News. The lady in full fuschia with the red hair stood in front of a brand new construction twenty-first century bungalow home, “We’re standing here with the Stanton family, but one family member is missing, Woodley the dog.” The bright woman turns to two children. “How long has Woodley been missing?”
Birdie stirs and Wendell wakes, glancing at the screen and turning to his furred companion. “Only in LaPine would a missing dog make the news,” Wendell ruffles the mutt’s fur and beckons him to retire for the night.
Now he cries himself to sleep only a few nights a week. Wendell noticed how much the sobbing upset Birdie so he started to tell Birdie about her instead. “She never wasted anything. It’s because of her I have that heap of decomposing shite behind the barn. Composting, upcycling, repurposing… all Gertie. She would play Dolly Parton and French cafe music so loud and sing and dance by herself. I should have joined her.“ Birdie’s paw rested on Wendell’s arm. “You’re a good listener fella, goodnight.” Something about the gaze of the loyal, gentle creature was both calming and reassuring. The two drifted off.
Every morning but Sunday was tolerable. Wendell embraced his new routine as one half of a man and dog duo growing old together. His grandkids called him old school, he wasn’t sure if it was critical or sentimental or both, but they were on the East Coast after the divorce and he barely saw them.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK.
“One day I’ll fix that doorbell,” Wendell muttered. Gertie wouldn’t let things slide like this, he chastised himself.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK.
“Just a minute!” he yelled down the corridor. “I’m getting decent.” He led Birdie into the mudroom, grabbed a rawhide, and closed the door behind him. He answered the door, it was a couple kids and a spindly female adult resembling his ex-daughter-in-law.
“Hello Mister. We’re going from door to door with flyers about our lost dog, Woodley.” The earnest boy handed Wendell a flyer, the same one he saw at Kincaid’s Market.
The woman quickly added, “The dog is all they have left of their Dad, he brought the puppy home after working overseas for months, then he died unexpectedly… I mean their Dad, then Woodley disappeared.”
Wendell accepted the flyer and nodded, “I’m sorry, Miss. I’ll keep an eye out.”
“Thank you, tell your neighbors across the street too, they weren’t home,” the young girl said. “Bye.”
“Will do,” replied Wendell and shut the door. He wondered what the overseas work entailed. He and Gertie used to go to San Miguel and visit her sister. Gertie loved it. The bold colors in Mexico were genuine, not like the magenta lady reporter on the evening news. His thoughts drifted to their last trip.
The scratching sounds from across the house snapped Wendell out of the dreamscape of mariachi bands and the oversized puppet people dancing in the streets. He shuffled in haste to the mudroom to release Birdie. Opening the door he reached for the pegboard and grabbed the keys to the old Accord. BOOM. BANG. The pegboard crashed to the floor. Birdie circled the mess and yawned. Wendell yawned and began to pick up assorted keys and miscellany. The toolshed key. Gertie’s old LOVE keyring from one of their many museum trips. Boat keys with the little floaty foam doo-dad.
Wendell turned to Birdie, patting and petting him, enlivened by the idea of fun. “Do you want to go to the lake, Birdie?” He scooped up one last item, a pet tag. He glanced at the shiny metal and the letters: WOODLEY STANTON. “I bet you’re as good a swimmer as you are a best friend,” he continued his thought train.