Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Trail of Pain

My first customer, which was actually two customers, nearly ended in disaster.
Both of them loitered by the sales counter. The man called, "Hello…hello?" The teenaged girl seemed to be in a hurry. She had a sequined taffeta dress tucked under her arm and her wallet open.
Virgil was in the bathroom. As usual, he was in there for a really long time. I could hear the pitter-patter of his uneven spray missing the toilet bowl. Who knew when he'd finish?
So I heaved my front paws up onto the sales counter, which wasn't easy. My one good rear leg wobbled and hopped around behind me as I tried to stay upright, and I did my best Virgil impression: "Five bucks," I barked to the girl, then glanced at her wallet.
She hesitated.
I said, "Come on, I can't stand like this forever."
The man behind her started to laugh, and the girl turned to him. "You think I should give my money to the dog?"
The man looked me over, mischief in his eyes. "The dog seems to think so."
"Woof," I said.
He burst out laughing.
"Well, I've gotta get back for trig class," said the girl. "She said five dollars, right?"
The man looked at the girl doubtfully. She laid a bill and a quarter "for tax" on the counter.
I wagged at her and winked.
She glanced back at the man and hurried out.
He reached to pet me, but changed his mind, lucky for him.
Just then, the bathroom door scraped open and Virgil appeared, shaking water from his fingers. I pawed the girl's five dollar bill off the counter and shoved it under my bed as Virgil approached.
"Your dog is quite the character," said the customer.
Virgil cut his glance toward me. "Thinks she runs the place, she does."
The man laughed.
I sat on the dog bed with the money under it and feigned disinterest.
"A young woman just walked out with a--" said the customer.
"I charged her five dollars," I interrupted.
Virgil glared at me until I pulled up the corner of my bed to show him the money.
Virgil snorted, "You going to keep that?"
"Excuse me?" said the customer.
"Nothing. What do you want?"
"There's a Japanese sword--"
"No!" I barked. It slipped out.
Virgil scowled.
"--in the case back there. I was hoping I could have a look at it."
"Sophie seems to think that's a bad idea."
"Are you kidding me?" said the man.
My neck fur stood up and so did I, and my tail stuck up like a giant middle finger, and inside my chest came the Silent Rumble from my days with Nelson. And while all of this happened, I could not have told you why. I mean, I had no reason to dislike him, other than his trying to pet me, but lots of people make that mistake.
"Why is that?" the man asked. His voice was calm. Matter-of-fact, even.
"Well, I, uh, don't know, really. But Sophie's sometimes right about these things..." Virgil trailed off, then rallied again under the other man's glare. "Some people, sometimes they get overstimulated, and if they have a weapon in the house, well...and then the police come asking me whether I sold it to you, and it could cause me some...inconvenience."
"Too much information," I said.
"Well, fine, Sophie, you talk to him then. Oh right, you can't, because you're a dog."
"Are you really arguing with the dog?" said the customer.
Virgil straightened up.
"I don't like him," I murmured.
"Don't bother me, young man. I'm busy." Virgil said.

And then, while I watched, the customer transformed. He shouted a curse and heaved over the doily case and threw the hat stand like a javelin, and it impaled the military surplus rack, and then he stomped out and as the cowbell clanked behind him, I felt a trail of pain spill after him like blood.

This is an excerpt from Junk Shop: A Dog Memoir