Art and Writing from the Domestic Front by Rachel Barlow
Katie isn’t much of a watch dog. She isn’t much of a guard dog, and she’s a complete washout as a huntress. But I still call her the wonder dog, not because she seems struck with wonder every she watches the chipmunks munch my zucchini blossoms, but because when it counts – when I’m about to have a close encounter with a bear, for example – she can demonstrate incredible bravery (it could be stupidity, but I’m giving her the benefit here).
But for all her bravery, this little hound-mix gets no respect from the feline members of our family. They eat out of her bowl – sometimes elbowing her out of the way to get the first taste. They often torment her for sport. In short, they seem to regard her as a lovable, but moronic, escaped mental patient, and most of the time she seems to be okay with this.
But yesterday her laid back nature had an unexpected consequence.
Katie is the proverbial kid who will get in a stranger’s car for the promise of a little ice cream, only she doesn’t need the ice cream, just the car – any car – and a pat on the head. She loves people. And two days ago, after breaking out of the prison that is our house, she decided that a ride in a car was the perfect way to cap off a swim at the river.
When she got back from our neighbor’s house the next morning, she was very happy to see us again, but I was still a little strung out from worry. I ushered her in the door and ordered her to go lie down. Her tail literally between her legs, she slunk to her cushion.
Much to her consternation Chuck, the leaner, meaner of our two cats (as far as Katie is concerned), was already lying in the only spot in the house that she calls her own. She looked at me, nervously wagging her tail and then sniffed at Chuck. Completely unconcerned and unsympathetic, he lazily rolled onto his back, maintaining eye contact with her at all times. She whimpered and sidled up to me.
My sympathies were stirring, and I got up to referee, but Chuck just glanced at me before curling up in a ball and closing his eyes. Katie hung her head and walked under the kitchen table, nervously settling herself under my chair. She’s a great foot-warmer, but it was 85 degrees out so instead of resuming my spot at the table, I went over to Chuck and started petting him. He responded as any king would to a slave, angling his head and body to enhance the pleasure of being served, but I surprised him by scooping him up for a minute of what I like to call Kiddie-Kitten-cuddle (taught to me by my then-two-year-old, it involves hugging the stuffing out of an ordinarily dignified cat). I put him back down on the cushion. Clearly offended, he glared at me and sauntered to the couch for a quick claw and then found a new perch.
My meek little puppy instantly sensed what had happened and excitedly got up and went over to lick Chuck on the couch, then came back to lick my hand in homage. Then, tail wagging furiously, she scuttled to her cushion, turned thrice, and plopped down. She made a few short muffled sounds to get my attention, thumped her tail a few times and then, training her eyes cautiously on Chuck, put her head down between her paws.
Sometimes picking the right ally is as important as picking the right battle and Katie had apparently learned how to do both.
“La la la la la”
The pint-sized passenger in the backseat caught my eye in the rear-view mirror and, detecting a hint of smile, decided that at least one more chorus was in order.
It didn’t take too many refrains, however, before the La-La’s turned to LA-LA’s, and I knew the less eye contact made, the sooner he would grow bored with this tune. I tried focusing on the road and the farms we were passing, but what he lacked in pitch, he made up for in volume, and my head was beginning to spin.
So when we rounded a curve and I noticed a sign on the left. I began to wonder if I had left my sanity by the road a few miles back. Balanced on the rusting seat of an ancient horse-powered plow was a sign that said ‘Kids for Sale’. My foot left the accelerator, and the caterwauling behind me diminished slightly. I scratched my head. All I could think of was that scene in Oliver Twist with the guy singing, “Boy for sale!” A laugh stuck in my throat as I pondered who had put up the sign. Suddenly I remembered we had passed this farm on the way to the market, and I recalled seeing the livestock in the pasture behind the house.
“Oh,” I exclaimed, “They’re selling baby goats!”
The singing in the back was singing again, and my five-year-old didn’t miss a beat as he belted out a new song: “Let’s get a kid. Let’s get a kid.”
We spread out our blanket and our dinner, a picnic hastily harvested from the garden and the farmer’s market. We were facing west, but the sun had just dipped below the mountain at the end of the field, and a soft pink glow bathed the simple, temporary stage on the lawn before us.
It was a perfect swishing, summer night, for a quiet visit with friends before the play began, but the excitement of an evening out had already infected Thing2, our five-year-old, and threatened to spread to Thing1. We had danced/dragged him from the car to the lawn by the old church, and he was still dancing and singing as we started popping open tupperware. I gently reprimanded him only to be met with more singing. Daddy reprimanded him more forcefully, but even his baritone couldn’t dampen the sing-song cheerfulness.
The chirping diminished only slightly when we pointed out the food, and we noted with relief that a few other children were responding to the atmosphere. Still, I began to worry that one of us would be taking Thing2 home early – even outdoor theatre needs quiet to be enjoyed – but before I could execute a retreat with him, the Master of Ceremony trod out to the center of the amphitheater that had been formed by the gathered families and friends.
In a strong, deep voice he introduced the play and its history. Then he exhorted the assembled audience to put away their video cameras and cell phones and to unplug ourselves for the moment.
Thing2 instantly interpreted this last entreaty in his own way, and unplugged himself from the seemingly-cosmic source of energy that had buoyed his antics until this very moment. He grabbed his drink and a piece of tomato and wiggled onto my lap, wrapping my jacket and arms around him. The command seemed to have the same effect on the other small children, and, as the darkness grew and the play began they too snuggled into the closest parent.
We heard a few beeps of phones being powered-down, and then the hum of chatter ceased. The only sound was the rustle of the trees as a few gentle gusts of wind swirled through the valley to the mountain.
And, once they were satisfied that we had truly unplugged ourselves from our gadgets and our busy lives, the company of players sounded a soft drum beat to herald the play and, with it, utter peace.