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Grey Sparrow Journal and Press, as of January 31, 2018 will move to

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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We Always Trust Each Other,
Except For When We Don’t


by Joseph Michael Owens

When Brock came inside today, I thought his foot looked a little weird.  I think he thought so too since he walked with a slight limp.  We both stood there in the kitchen looking at each other.  He considered his weird looking foot for a second or two before returning his attention to me and asking without asking: so what now, chief?


Brock is a 6-year-old Hungarian Vizsla and probably 50 pounds, give or take, which makes him a little undersized for a pointer, but I’d be a liar if I said he isn’t the scrappiest little sonofagun I've ever seen.  A lady I know who does Vizslas for a living always says: They certainly got a little edge to em, that’s for sure.


Well, Brock has a lot of edge to him but he still relies on me to have an answer in circumstances such as this one.


So what now, chief?


So now here we are, buddy.  He sits down over there in the sun right by the door that leads out on to the back porch, watching me.  I stand across the kitchen floor, by the old refrigerator nearer to the hallway, watching him watch me.  It’s pretty clear we are both intensely evaluating the situation we have here.


The first problem I can see now is that his odd little limp is due to the fact he’s somehow managed to crack—but not completely sever—one of his longer rear toenails, halfway down from the look of it,  leaving the nail cocked inward and sort of knurled crazily.  It looks more like a monster’s claw out of a horror movie, to tell the truth.


The second problem I can see is that Brock absolutely, positively hates having his feet touched by anyone or anything, with the sole exceptions being grass and himself.


I walk over his way so that I can get a closer look at that foot, and then kneel down so I can be on his level.  He draws his ears back and, to me, he looks sheepish and all Chiroptera-like — that means he kind of looks like a bat when he does that thing with his ears.  I can tell he’s almost apologizing to me, like he’s saying: you know I love you, chief.  But if you touch that nail, we’re gonna have a problem.


Brock sucks in a deep breath and sort of half snorts it back out through his nose, all the while never taking his eyes off of me.  Jenni, my wife, says that Brock’s got little boy eyes.


I tell him he probably isn’t going to like this much, but it’s not going to hurt and I promise him that—though I can see the reservation he has about this whole ordeal in general.  I tell him I just want to assess the damage, that’s all.  There’s no trace of blood on the floor, so that’s a plus, right off the bat.


I slide my left hand under his collar and gently clutch at the fur around the scruff of his neck and then release it, just to test the waters before I do much of anything else—itching real hard behind his ears and jaws like he likes.  He’s not stupid; he knows all this vigorous itching is only me bribing him.


He trusts me, and I trust him, but Christ Almighty does he just really hate his feet being touched.  He and I have simply come to a fundamental and overall understanding about this.


After another few seconds of him and me sizing up the situation, with respect to the whole change in proximity to each other thing, I firmly—though not roughly, just firmly—take hold of his collar.


He snorts at me again—his little boy eyes fixed, unblinking.


With his collar secured in my left hand, I reach my right hand down and gently touch his funky nail, probing around to see what all we’re potentially dealing with here.  Brock lets me know he’s only gonna tell me once to mind my Ps and Qs with a real deep, guttural growl that’s not too loud because we understand one another that way.  No need to go getting too loud about it.  But he’s not really in the business of repeating himself either.


I’m just tellin you I’m not really all that keen on this, chief, that growl of his says.


I cinch up a little bit on his collar and his growl turns up a couple notches on the volume knob.  But as I said, we trust each other.  We trust each other as much as a man and a dog can when faced with a situation that calls for addressing the reality of what’s happening or what needs to happen.


We always trust each other—that is—until the time comes when we don’t.


The toenail/claw’s definitely in a predicament.  That much is certain.  Brock’s somehow managed to crack it, twist it all up six ways from Sunday but, of course, not enough to where that little sucker shows even an inkling of separating.  It’s still firmly attached somehow, almost as if it’d grown that way on its own. Gnarly.


The instant I take my hand away from his foot, he starts licking all over my hand.  Water under the bridge, he says.  I shift my weight to my haunches and he more or less does the same thing I do—rearing up on his own little haunches—putting his front paws on my chest and licking my face.


No hard feelings, right, chief?


I scratch his head and reassure him we’re five-by-five and good to go.  When I stand up, he stretches big, wagging his stumpy Vizsla tail and yawns before he returns to that perfect sit he’s got.  What now? his expression asks me.  Good question, I say.


I should probably admit here that the reason Brock hates his feet being touched is just about all my fault. 


When he was young, just a pup, I’d trimmed his toenails a little too short on more than one occasion, and let me just say this: Brock was a little bleeder if I’ve ever seen one.  The bleeding that’d usually result meant Brock and his bloody nail, cut to the quick, got to spend some time confined to the shower so he didn’t get blood all over the light-colored carpet, while I went to fetch some stypic powder for his mangled paw.


Thus, he and I’s overall understanding about his feet and my relation to them.


So now we just wait.  We’re back to where we started, he and I looking at each other: him looking at me for instructions and me needlessly scratching my head while I try to think.


And then I finally say to him—because the look he’s giving me convinces me that he knows what I'm saying—I say to him: OK, you have about two hours till your mom gets home.  You can take care of this yourself or she and I are gonna take care of it later.


Two hours pass and Brock has, by default, decided his time would be best spent curled up on the couch letting the sun bathe him in the warm and lazy glow of afternoon light while he nods off, rather than us addressing his crazy toenail.  I peaceably acquiesce to his decision; it’s his toenail.


The sound of the garage door jounces him awake, at which exact point in time he also gives me a look that says—in no certain terms, of course—Oh crap…  He and I both understand that it’s time to deal with things.


And neither one of us is looking forward to this.


Jenni comes inside and we say hi and I break down the situation for her, just giving her the essential bullet points leading up to this specific minute.


Brock never leaves his corner of the couch.  The paralyzing effect the warm sunlight has on him proves too much to overcome, even in the face of arguably his worst fear and so he simply lies there, waiting for whatever fate has in store for him.  He’s accepted it.


I hand Jenni the canine toenail clippers before walking over to Brock, who’s resorted to showcasing his bat-ears again.  And like earlier, his gaze stays locked on me, unfaltering.  He’s, of course, long-since revoked all toenail clipping authority and privileges where I’m concerned.


OK buddy, I say, let’s do this.


His expression is inscrutable, stolid.


I sit down beside him and scratch his batty ears.  This has become a ritual, one he’s totally stopped buying into.  I apologize to him and then easily rotate his smallish 50-some-pound body to where he’s ostensibly sitting in my lap—his back to my chest like he’s a child—his hind legs sticking straight out.


His deep growl returns briefly but this time it’s all for show.  What he’s doing is saving face.


In half the time it took me to examine his paw, initially, Jenni has the hangnail clipped, trimmed and normal looking.


Just like that, and it’s all over.


Brock springs from the couch and gives his pedicured toenail a few customary licks, shakes his entire body as though he’s soaked in a layer of imaginary dampness and off he goes bounding up the stairs.


No hard feelings.  He’ll probably have forgotten all about it in ten minutes.  Unconditional love.


Except for the next time I try to touch his feet.



* * *


 [Nominated for Best of the Web, 2011]

Photographs by Joseph Michael Owens