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No dogs allowed.

No Dogs Allowed

"Look, Joe," pop said. He spoke very slowly and clearly, the way Miss Bush, our fifth-grade teacher, does when she is trying to get something across to a dumb kid. He dropped his paper and shook his head. "I hope I am saying this for the last time, Joe. I like dogs. If it would help, I would have 'Dog's Best Friend' printed on my calling cards. Someday, when and if I am no longer a slave to be sent hither and yon at the whim of the powers that be in the National Machinery Corporation, you will have a dog. But right now, Joe, it looks as if we may get that apartment in the Banner Arms before fall. A dog in the Banner Arms has the same standing as a snowball in Hades. Ergo, no dog. Sorry, Joe."

"That's right," mother said. "We are sorry, Joe--truly. When we settle permanently in one place, you can have all the dogs you want--well, one dog, anyway. In the meantime, we just have to get that Banner Arms apartment. This decayed rattrap is impossible. Your father has to spend most of his leisure time just trying to keep things working after a fashion. As for me----"

"O.K.," I said. "O.K."

It was the old story. I looked at mother, who is small and brown-haired. I looked at pop, who is tall and sort of skinny and very dark. They have a habit of smiling a great deal. But right now neither one was smiling.

"O.K.," I said. "I guess I'll go outside and look at other people's dogs, if nobody minds."

Pop brought his feet down off the stool with a bang. "Joe, I think I'm a reasonably patient man, but----"

"Hold your horses, George," mother said. "Easy does it."

I went outside. It was a nice warm spring day. I heard a dog bark, a long way off. I judged him to be a small-sized dog with a testy nature. When you have studied dogs as much as I have, you know about things like that.

I looked all around. There was no dog in sight, which was good. I felt bad enough now without having to see a dog.

I told myself I should not blame my parents. But the fact remained that the house we were renting wasn't really so bad. It was true that there were termites. It was also true that the plumbing kept getting out of whack and the fuses had a habit of blowing. Then there was that business about the leaks, and the mice in the attic. Mother made an awful lot of unnecessary fuss about the mice--they hardly came downstairs at all, and they couldn't do any harm just playing around among themselves up there. But generally speaking, the house was perfectly comfortable. And it was a house that was just made for a dog.

The trouble was that the owner wouldn't fix anything--if we didn't like it, he said, we could move out and he could rent it 20 times over the next morning. National Machinery, which pop works for as a production expert, had built a big new plant in this little town, and finding a place to live, as pop put it, was like finding an easy route out of Alcatraz.

We'd been lucky to find any place to live. Pop wouldn't build, for we'd probably be here only two or three years. There was but one good apartment house in town, the Banner Arms. Pop had been promised the next vacancy. So, no dog.

I sat on the stoop and thought about dogs. Big dogs, little dogs. Tight-skinned dogs and loose-skinned dogs. Short-haired dogs and woolly dogs. Dogs that laughed and dogs that looked sad.

Finally I went back inside. Mother was making cooking noises in the kitchen. Pop was starting in on a magazine.

"That sure must have been some dog you had when you were about my age," I said. "That dog you named Shep."

Pop sat up straight. He said, "I thought I told you----"

"I'm not asking for any old dog," I said. "I was just thinking about that dog named Shep, because you told me how good he was. I remember that picture of him you showed me one time."

Pop's eyes seemed to soften a little. He'd been awful fond of Shep. "Shep," he said, "was as fine and faithful and intelligent a dog as ever lived. They don't make 'em like Shep any more. He was the real old-type farm collie. I don't know how long it's been since I've seen a farm collie."

"Jack Rutherford's got a collie," I said. "With papers, too."

"Collie! Papers!" pop said. "You mean he's one of those so-called collies they have today, with a muzzle like a greyhound's and hardly enough skull room for a sparrow's brain. You were born too late, Joe."

I said, "You know, I'll bet if we looked around real good we might find one of those old-type farm collies like Shep. He wouldn't cost much, either. We could----"

"Joe!" Pop's eyes turned steely. "That's enough. Period."

"Yes, sir. But I wasn't----"

"George!" mother called. Her voice was high, as it always is when something goes wrong. "The pipe under the sink's leaking again."

Pop said a word. Just one. It is a word that people are not supposed to say. He went into the kitchen.

It was a good strong leak. Pop put a bucket under it, got his pipe wrench, and went to work. Mother began mopping up the water that had flowed across the floor. The leak got stronger. Pop said that word again. Mother didn't seem to hear it.

Pop went down to the basement to shut off the water line. Meanwhile, the water flowed over the bucket, and by the time I got it emptied and back in place, the job was too much for just a mop, so we started in with a bunch of towels.

Pop came back from the basement saying bad words of many kinds. He told us there was something wrong with the so-and-so shut-off thing and he couldn't budge it. He called Mr. Mount, the plumber.

Mr. Mount arrived in an hour. We spent the time emptying and replacing buckets and mopping. Mr. Mount had to tear quite a bit of wood out of the wall to get at the seat of the trouble. Maybe, pop said, this would weaken the house so that the whole works would fall in, and he hoped it would. Mr. Mount laughed and took time out to smoke most of a cigar, slowly.

Finally Mr. Mount was done. He said, "That'll hold her. That piece of her, I mean--you strengthen one part of an old beat-up system like this and you never know where she'll let go next. Can't guarantee nothing. You know what I'd do if I lived here?"

Pop did not answer, but that did not discourage Mr. Mount. "Why, I'd get me a shovel and dig me a well in the backyard and carry my water in buckets." Mr. Mount roared with laughter at his joke. He was the only one.

"Very funny," pop said. "What do I owe you?"

Mr. Mount stopped laughing. "Well, let's see. I never soak a guy--honest work for an honest price is my motto. But you called me away from dinner, and I been working like a horse all day. Well, we'll just call it 15 bucks."

Pop said. Mr. Mount left. I gathered up the torn bits of wood. Mother said dinner wouldn't be fit for the pigs now.

"It has taken me 35 years of living to learn that Elysium and the Banner Arms are one and the same place," pop said.

"Amen," mother said.

I said nothing. I was thinking about dogs. I needed a dog more than I'd ever needed anything. I felt really terrible.

I did a lot of planning. I thought about trying to talk Mr. Bannerman, who owns the Banner Arms, into letting us keep a nice quiet dog that no one would even know was around. But that was hopeless--everybody said Mr. Bannerman was as much against cats and dogs as he was against babies, which was as much as possible.

I thought about finding a nice modern house we could rent, in which everything would go like clockwork. But there wasn't so much as a vacant birdhouse in the whole town. I wondered why pop didn't talk to his boss and get himself a permanent location now instead of in a few years. I mentioned this to pop. I did not get anywhere.

Then one day I heard about the litter of pups on the farm outside of town a few miles. I ran into a kid I knew and he had this pup. As soon as I saw that pup I thought of the picture of pop's old-type farm collie, Shep. He had the same kind of head and feet and everything. You could tell just by looking at him he was going to grow up smart as a whip.

The kid told me about this farmer and where he lived. There had been ten pups, he said, and the farmer was giving them away.

This was a Saturday morning. For an hour I just rode around on my bike, going nowhere and back. I told myself I'd be crazy to go out to that farm--it would just make everything worse to see the pups and know they were going free to people who couldn't need a dog as much as I did. Then I started out that way. I couldn't help it.

I came to the farmer's place, and there were two fine big dogs that would be the pups' parents. They were old-type farm collies, like Shep, and no question about it.

I went down the farmer's road, feeling--well, the feeling was so mixed-up I couldn't describe it. I heard little barking and yapping sounds. Just past the gate there was a pen made of chicken wire. Inside the pen were eight pups.

Well, it was something. I pushed my fingers through the wire and they all tried to grab hold at once. I pulled my fingers back, and they all yelled at me to shove them in again. There was one that took my notice special. He was a trifle bigger than the rest, and he had a wonderful, thick coat and plenty of voice and nerve. When he took hold of a finger, he took hold and no fooling. And when he looked up at me with his big brown-and-gold eyes, he seemed to be saying that we belonged together and what were we waiting for?

I was having a wonderful time in one way. In another way I was hurting all over.

Back of me, a voice said, "Hello, son," and I looked around.

The farmer was a husky, pleasant-looking man. I said, "Hello, sir. I hope it's all right to look at your pups."

"Sure," he said. "Want one?"

"Well--" I said, "well, not exactly. That is----"

He laughed. "I see. You've got a problem."

"Yes, sir," I said.

"Well, look all you like," he said. "You can go inside the cage if you're careful not to let any of 'em out. They're heck to catch. And if you want one you can have one. That is, if you can give him a proper home."

He walked away. But I could still hear what he'd said: If you want one you can have one. If you want one you can have one. It was like a tune; it stuck the way a good tune does.

I went inside the cage. All the pups swarmed over me and grabbed at me. But that particular one grabbed harder and held on longer than the others. He's like pop's old Shep, I thought. I'd call him Shep. Shep the Second. Pop would like that. Only it was impossible because of the Banner Arms and all.

"Shep," I said. "Hi there, Shep." I sent him sprawling and he came charging right back, growling like a lion.

"No, you don't," I said and sent him sprawling again. But he took quite a bit of my pants pocket with him.

The farmer came back again, and just then I got the idea. There was no sense in it, I admit. But it was an idea.

"Look, mister," I said. "Would it be all right if I sort of borrowed him for a little while? Then, if I have to, I'll bring him back. I'd take awful good care of him."

"Let's have the story, son."

I told it to him, as straight as I could. He said, "You're in a fix, son. Doesn't look to me like you're in the market for a dog."

"I'd just like to borrow him," I said. "I----"

"O.K.," he said. "It's your funeral. Good luck."

It was wonderful riding home with Shep the Second, even though he was just borrowed. I put him inside my shirt and he liked it-- he didn't make any trouble, and the little skin he clawed off my chest did no harm. A couple of times things got damp, but that didn't do any harm, either, him being only a puppy and all.

I didn't feel quite so wonderful when I got home. I sat on the back stoop with Shep and wondered what to do.

I heard footsteps in the kitchen. The door opened. Pop said, "Where in God's green world--Joe, where did you get that dog?"

"This is Shep the Second," I said. "And he's a genuine old-type farm collie."

"That was not the question," pop said. "Whose dog is that?"

"Well," I said, "it's kind of mixed up. I mean----"

"You'd better start talking, Joe," pop said. "And fast."

So I explained how I'd just borrowed Shep, really, and no harm had been done at all, and how I'd known pop would want to see him because real, genuine old-type farm collies were so rare.

Before I was finished, mother came out too.

"O.K.," pop said. "I'll accept your explanation, stupid as it is. Now you can take him back."

Shep went over and smelled pop's pants. He looked up at pop and gave a friendly little bark. He looked up at mother and did the same thing. Then he sat back on his fat bottom and waved his front paws.

"I got an idea," I said. "I could keep him here, kind of like a boarder, till we move. Then I could take him back or find a fine home for him. Just till then."

"No," pop said. "No dice."

Shep was licking pop's shoe. Pop bent down and touched his head. "He's a farm collie at that," he said in that low, talking-to-yourself way. Then he straightened up quick. "Get going, Joe."

"Please," I said. "Just till we move. I'll get rid of him then and I won't kick at all. I promise."

Pop looked at mother. Mother made a little gesture with her hands. "Really now, Joe--oh, you decide, George," she said quickly.

"Honest," I said. "Cross my heart and hope to die and everything. Just till we move."

Shep was now working on pop's pants cuff. Pop stooped down and worked him loose. Pop picked him up and bounced him around and Shep laughed, plain as anything.

"I want this to be perfectly clear," pop said. "With no ifs, ands, or buts when the time comes. You may keep this dog--assuming, of course, that you take the full care of him--until our vacancy occurs at the Banner Arms. As of that moment you'll take him back to your farmer or find him a good home. And there'll be no squawk. Agreed?"

"Yes, sir!" I said.

"All right," pop said. "Don't forget it."

You'd hardly believe how Shep came along. He wasn't hardly any trouble to housebreak at all--even mother admitted that, after making quite an uproar about his few mistakes. And he grew like a shot.

School ended and the long vacation started. I had a dog--the best dog on earth. But time was going by and I had to wonder how I was going to keep my dog.

I don't want anyone to think I was planning to try to go back on the agreement. It wasn't that. It was just-- well, it's hard to explain. Anyhow, I was always worried. Especially after I heard what they said that evening when they didn't know I was around.

I'd just come inside with Shep. Pop and mother were in the kitchen. I heard pop say, "I ran into Bannerman today. He can't be positive, but there may be a vacancy in a month. Somebody there is expecting to get a transfer."

Mother said, "I'd gladly give up my hope of heaven for it. This sink, this linoleum, that bathroom--oh, George, moving day will be the happiest day of my life. One of the happiest, anyhow.

Pop laughed. "Glad you qualified it," he said. "We've had some mighty happy days. Well, keep your fingers crossed."

"It's going to be hard on Joe, George. He and Shep--we never should have let him keep Shep."

It was a long moment before pop spoke again. When he did, his voice was extra firm. "I made an agreement with him," he said. "There will be no misunderstandings. And I'm going to hold him to the letter of it or my name isn't George Bartlett. So don't let that trouble you."

I'd been listening so hard I'd forgotten to watch Shep. He was eating a corner of the rug. However, by just moving a chair a little, I covered it.

We went outside again. Shep wanted to play so I threw sticks for him to fetch--he was as good a retriever, practically, as any hunting dog. But I wasn't having much fun myself. Not with what I had to think about.

Pop came out and watched Shep retrieve. I gave pop the stick and he threw it and Shep brought it back to him nice as you please. Then all three of us sat down on the steps, with Shep in the middle.

Pop patted him and Shep rattled a step board with his tail; the boards were kind of loose, on account of the wood underneath being dry rotted.

"You know," I said, "this is a pretty nice house, at that. There's a lot of good things about it. For instance----"

"This house," pop interrupted, "should be used as a jail for the most vicious criminals imaginable. It would be a suitable punishment. And now we will not mention this house again."

"Yes, sir," I said. "I was only thinking----"

"Stop thinking," pop said. "And that's an order."

Shep put his head in pop's lap, yawned, and went to sleep.

"It's a funny thing," I said. "I mean, when we thought there weren't any real farm-type collies any more and then----"

"I don't want to hear about farm-type collies or any other kind of dog, either," pop said. He stood up. This made Shep roll over and down a step. But Shep didn't mind. He didn't even wake up. Pop stood there looking at him. "Joe, there's something you mustn't forget," he said. He stopped.

"What?" I said. As if I didn't know.

"Never mind," he said. "You'd better get cleaned up. It's close to dinner time." He went inside.

So there I was, alone with Shep. I touched him gentle-like with my toe, and he turned underside up with all his paws waving. You think you've got a home, I thought. You think you're all fixed up for good and all. You think there isn't a thing in the world to worry about. Well, if you knew what I know----

"Shep," I said aloud, and he opened his eyes. "Shep," I said again, and he stood up and stretched, and came to me, and put his head on my knee, and looked up into my face with his whole body wagging. "We got to do something quick. You and me, Shep."

I began to make a few repairs around the house. I planed down some of the doors so they'd close real easy. I also did some work on the leak in the spare room that nobody had been able to fix, though of course I couldn't be sure I had it licked until there was a rain. I glued down the linoleum around the edges of the kitchen floor, too, and maybe it wasn't an A-one job, but it was something.

When I showed pop what I'd done, he didn't say anything for a minute. Then he shook his head and said, "You're wasting your time, Joe. The only thing that could fix this dump properly is an atom bomb, and I'm not about to be persuaded otherwise. Sorry."

And time was passing, fast. Like in the movies, when they riffle a calendar and the days just go whoosh! and in a second it's next season or next year.

That should have been a fine summer. The weather was perfect, and I had Shep, and Shep had me, and the fishing in the river was the best I'd ever had. And we did have some good times, no question about it. But it was never what it ought to have been, with this thing always hanging over us.

This particular afternoon I was feeling extra sad. It had been just a month since I'd overheard their conversation in the kitchen. Shep and I were down by the river by ourselves. Once in a while I'd throw a stick into the water, and he'd go tearing in and fetch it. He was a good swimmer, though he hadn't had much experience.

We came to the place where the river enters a little canyon and narrows. The water really boils through there, and it geysers up and around some big sharp rocks. It's supposed to be the most dangerous spot on the whole stream. It's no place for swimming.

I did this crazy thing--I threw the stick in. Naturally, I wasn't thinking about it. My mind was on the Banner Arms and what would happen to Shep and all. I threw the stick just kind of automatically.

As soon as it was out of my hand, I realized what I'd done. Shep was streaking for the river. I yelled at him, trying to stop him. But I'd thrown the stick, and he knew he was supposed to get it, and that was that. He took off from the bank like his legs were springs. He hit the water with a big splash and started for the stick. Then the current caught him and spun him around and he was in trouble. Big bad trouble.

He tried to fight the current--there was no give-up in Shep--but he didn't have a chance. I was still yelling, and he made a little turn and tried to swim back. But that was no good, either. The current was carrying him out and down the stream, toward the rocks.

I don't want to make out I was feeling like a hero or anything. I wasn't. It was just a case where there was only one thing to do, so I had to do it. I ran down the bank maybe a hundred feet. There wasn't time to get rid of my clothes. I took a look upstream at Shep, gauged my distance, and dived in. I stayed underwater for a while, figuring it would be smoother going there than on the surface. I came up and found that the current was even stronger than I thought. I had a fight on my hands. I tried to spot Shep, but a wave broke around my head and blinded me. Then I saw him--three or four yards off and moving downstream terrible fast.

I caught him by a hind leg and pulled us together. I worked my hand up until I had an arm around his neck and my fingers laced about his collar. Then I made for shore, digging in with my free arm and kicking out with my legs.

Well, it was quite a time. You don't know how strong water can be unless you've been in a spot like that. The current took us five or six feet down-stream toward the worst of the rocks for every foot we made toward the land. I was scared, I'll admit it. Scared pink. A time or two I didn't know whether we'd ever get there or not. If Shep had kicked up a fuss, we never would have, that's for sure. But he knew the score as well as I did. He was swimming with all four legs and helping out all he could.

I couldn't see much of anything. I just swam, angled against that current. My hand touched something hard and I caught hold. It was a little tree. I yanked--the tree gave some, but it didn't come loose. We were on shore.

For a while I just lay there on the bank, getting my wind back. Shep shook himself and licked my face and rolled all over me. I stood up. It was late afternoon and turning cool. "Let's go, boy," I said, and started off at a trot for home, Shep beside me.

I figured I'd sneak up to my room and change my clothes before I was seen. But it didn't work. Pop was in the living room, in a chair that gave him a perfect view of the stairs. Mother was there, too, sitting on the sofa.

I had my foot on the third step when he saw me. "Hey," he said. "Wait a minute. Come here."

"I'm just going----"

"Come here, Joe," he said.

I walked into the living room, Shep with me. I'd dried out some, but not enough. Water oozed out of my sneakers. Even Shep was still a little wet.

Mother made a nervous sound. Pop eyed me up and down.

"All right," he said. "What happened?"

"Why, nothing," I said. "It wasn't anything. I just----"

"Let's have it, Joe," he said, in that tone of voice that meant he meant it.

All of a sudden this thought came to me, out of nowhere. "Well," I said, "I was walking down by the river, and I was thinking about some things, and I fell in. There where it's fast and narrow, below the bridge. That sure is a bad place. Worst I ever saw. And Shep--well, he came right into the water after me and grabbed hold of my arm and practically pulled me out. If it hadn't been for him-- well, I don't know what would have happened."

It didn't sound as good as I'd hoped it would. But it didn't sound so bad either.

"Yes, sir," I said. "If it hadn't been for Shep----"

"Hold it, Joe," pop said. Mother was standing beside his chair now, her face all serious. "Are you trying to tell me a six-month-old pup pulled you out of the river, as well as you swim?"

"It's an awful bad place," I said. "And Shep----"

"I want the truth, Joe. The plain truth."

I looked at him and at mother. Then I told them the truth, exactly as it happened.

He looked down at the floor. He rubbed his left arm with his right hand. He said, "So you took a chance like that, for Shep."

"Well, it was my fault," I said. "And then there wasn't any----"

"O.K., Joe," he said. "We understand."

For quite a while no one said anything. Shep rubbed against me. And then I began talking to him. Not with words, of course. I didn't speak to him. I didn't even touch him. I talked to him the way you can talk to a dog if--well, I can't quite explain it. It's just a fact.

Shep, I said, Shep, you do something to help out. "I've said everything I can think of. Come on, boy.

As I say, I didn't say a word or do a thing. But he heard me, and he understood.

He walked over to pop and put his head on pop's knee. He stayed like that, looking up into pop's face.

That was how it was when the phone rang. Mother answered. She said, "George, it's Mr. Bannerman."

Pop got out of his chair. It seemed to me he moved very slowly, but I was so worried I couldn't be sure. He took the phone and said, "Hello?" and listened for a moment. Then he said, "Will you hold the line, please, Mr. Bannerman?"

He put his hand over the part of the phone you talk into. He looked at mother. She looked back at him, smiled and nodded her head, and said, "All right, George; we've lost."

Pop talked into the phone again. "We've changed our plans, Mr. Bannerman. We won't be taking the apartment after all. Sorry to have been so much trouble. Yes, that's right--we won't be wanting it. Thanks. Goodby." Pop hung up the phone.

"Pop!" I said. "Mother! You mean----"

"Skip it," pop said. "We will now have a moment of unbroken silence while your mother and I wonder why this had to happen to us." But he was sort of grinning when he said it.

A little while later mother went into the kitchen to start dinner. I heard her turn on the water in the sink, and then she called, "George! It's leaking again. Worse than ever."

Pop got up. He opened his mouth as if to say something--like that word you aren't supposed to say. But he didn't say it. He just went into the kitchen. He wasn't gone hardly any time at all. He came back to the living room and phoned Mr. Mount, the plumber, to hurry over.

Photo: I had a fight on my hands. Shep was moving downstream terribly fast.

Photo: "O.K.," pop said. "I'll accept your explanation, stupid as it is. Now you can take him back."
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Title Annotation:short story
Author:Lull, Roderick
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Nov 1, 1987
Previous Article:Having a ball.
Next Article:Nothing less will do.

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