By Jenny Kalahar
“You’re turning nine next week, Weegee,” I reminded my black and white Terrier on our long afternoon walk. The strong, hot sun was getting to be too much for both of us, so we paused in the shade of an oak tree, panting in unison for a while. I closed my eyes to more thoroughly enjoy a gentle breeze that shook the still-green leaves of late summer.
When I opened them again, Weegee was on her back in the short weeds at the base of the large tree, wiggling with her legs dancing in the air.
“What? No comment?” I asked.
She rolled onto her side, one eye gazing at me. “I was waiting to hear what that meant to you.”
I started walking again, thinking. We passed the back yard of a family who had recently adopted three puppies from the new shelter in town. One pup was black, one mostly white, and one was black with a white neck and spots. I had a flashback to the day Patrick and I took Weegee home from a shelter one town over. She had instantly attached to us as much as we had to her.
“You’re smiling,” Weeg said, “but you’re still not saying anything. How do you feel about me turning nine?”
I avoided a nearly-evaporated mud puddle in the gravelly road, and Weegee went around the far side of the wet smudge. “I guess I don’t have any new feelings one way or the other. I was smiling because I remembered seeing you for the first time so long ago. You were so tiny! Your name was Diamond then. Pat and I were going to change it to Asta. Nope. Didn’t stick. Then Browser. And Bandit. None of those seemed to suit you.”
“Those sound like boy dog names, anyway.”
“Really? Well, anyway … I finally wrote out a long list of names I’d thought up and brought them to Pat. As soon as he saw ‘Weegee,’ he said, ‘That’s it!’”
“You could have just asked me, you know. I could have told you my real name.”
I laughed. “We weren’t talking then. Not like we do now.” I avoided another muddy spot and then suddenly stopped walking. “Wait, wait, wait! You had a name before Diamond?”
Weegee sat to scratch her ear. “Sure. Mom gave it to me.”
I didn’t move. “Well? What is it?”
She inhaled, and then emitted a sound that was a combination of a woof and a gurgle.
“Oh,” I said, understanding. “I guess it’s all right that I never knew that name for you. I’m just terrible at foreign pronunciations.”
Weegee rolled over in the grass of a neighbor’s yard, laughing hysterically. I giggled, too.
We walked the rest of the way home, smiling and happy. In the house, Weegee said, “You guys don’t have a birthday party planned or anything, do you? I’m still not over the embarrassment of the last one.”
Patrick lowered his book. “We should have warned you. Sorry. But how were we supposed to know you had eaten grass right before we all yelled ‘surprise!’?”
Our dog shook her head. “Zoey must have teased me about my green party vomit for a month afterwards.”
“Still, that ended up being a very nice evening,” I said soothingly. “Want to try again this year? I can make my stewed chicken pie. Or liver cake. We can invite your friends over and they can all put on those cone-type birthday hats. Maybe Blackie will even come. He shouldn’t still be wearing his own cone anymore after his surgery. What do you say?”
Weegee climbed up next to me on the sofa and put her muzzle on my lap. She let out a long, drawn-out sigh and then shifted so that she was sprawled out onton her side. I petted her neck and ears and she closed her eyes contentedly. “I dunno. You and Pat surprise me. One way or the other.”
I looked down at her face. Now, where her fur used to be pure black, are flecks of white. When Weegee was a pup, she had to be up and out for a walk at the first hint of dawn. Now, she is as much of a late-morning sleeper as we allow. She still loves to run, and to fetch her squeaky ball, but now there’s a hitch in one leg, and she tires easier. She’s a pickier eater. She needs an ottoman to jump onto first so she can then get up onto our bed. We’re all getting older together.
Yesterday was her birthday and mine. We celebrate on the same day since we were told only an approximate date for her birth. All of the neighborhood dogs and their people came over. I made stewed chicken pie and liver cake. Oh, and a people-type cake, too, with fresh berries on top. Blackie was there, even though he still had a plastic cone on around his neck so he wouldn’t lick his stitches. His dad played a few songs on a ukulele on the steps of the back porch, and I strummed along on my autoharp. I had to promise Weeg that I wouldn’t encourage Blackie’s dad to play “How Much is that Doggie in the Window” again this year. He’d played a five-minute version with improvised lyrics last time.
“Did you have fun?” I asked Weegee as Pat and I walked with her this morning.
Pat answered for her, “I’d say so. No green vomit or anything!”
Weegee moped along, her red leash dragging in the dirt and pebbles of the alley. Pat and I looked at each other, wondering what the matter could be.
All three of us paused at our turn-around spot near the far end of the fragrant cow pasture. “It was fun,” Weegee finally said, “but … I didn’t get you anything for your birthday, Jenny.”
Weegee always gave us homemade cards for the holidays and birthdays. This was the first time she hadn’t. Sometimes she would even write a poem, or share a story she’d made up. Her eyes were nearly closed, and her mouth turned down at the ends in misery.
“Aw, that’s okay, Weeg,” said Patrick. He bent to pat her head.
I knew her paws weren’t as quick on her modified doggy computer keyboard as they used to be. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard its distinctive clack clack clack from her basement office.
“Weeg, you know that today is my actual birthday, right?” I asked enthusiastically.
She eyed me skeptically.
“Yep. Our party was yesterday since it was a weekend night. Today is really our birthday.”
She perked up. “Honest?”
“Honest,” I answered, linking my arm through Pat’s as we headed back along the alley. “How about this? When we get home, go to my office with Pat. He’ll type up whatever you tell him to—a poem, a story, or anything you’d like. And then you can use the printer and make me a real, personal birthday card. How does that sound?”
She didn’t answer. With so many pauses lately, I was starting to wonder if she was getting hard of hearing. After another minute I asked again, “Doesn’t that sound like a good idea?”
“Shh!” she pleaded. “I’m thinking up your birthday poem.”
Jenny Kalahar, her husband Patrick, and their pets live in Indiana where she sells used and rare books and writes novels and poetry. She is the author of a fantasy novel about teens stuck with the worst-ever magical power, This Peculiar Magic. Her two novels about fostering cats are Shelve Under C: A Tale of Used Books and Cats, and The Find of a Lifetime. Her collection of nostalgic and humorous poetry is One Mile North of Normal and Other Poems. For more, visit her blog.
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