A battered pick-up truck rattles up to the curb of a neglected house. The vacant property’s lawn is infused with crab-grass, clover and dandelions. Wispy white puffs of dandelion tufts drift above the yard resembling tiny wayward ghosts.
From the truck exits a man with well-worn boots and face to match. A realtor, he seeks opportunity in this abandoned house now owned by a bank.
At age forty, this man has had his share of “second chances”, so many in fact, he’s lost count. But his friends and relations haven’t. Rehabs, bad investments, poor life choices – all have led him to start over again, once more, miles from home.
It’s been a lonely struggle.
The man’s assets are few; his old truck, a thousand bucks in the bank, and a rented studio apartment. With no property of his own, becoming a realtor has been a dicey proposition. While his well-dressed colleagues escort clients in luxury cars to fancy open-houses in gated communities, he’s found some success fixing and selling run-down properties in run down neighborhoods. This house presents his first Foreclosure, so recent, there is not yet “A for Sale” sign sprouting from the house’s overgrown front yard.
He wonders what’s become of the home’s former residents; their circumstance somehow resonates with him. He blocks this thought, moving along the side of the house to the back. Rusting gardening tools and a plastic watering can rest near a tangled mass of drooping stems and browning leaves that have overtaken an area that looks like it was once a garden.
He quickly punches a code on the home’s lock box. He is cautious. Warned that some foreclosed houses contain squatters, meth labs, or infestations of wild critters, he’s prepared for unpleasant surprises. The door creaks open to stillness, but within moments, the empty room is overcome with a plaintive cry; the saddest sound the man has ever heard. It draws him to the kitchen where beyond a safety gate, a small brown and white dog stands amid overturned bowls. All traces of food and water are gone.
The dog fixes its amber eyes on the man’s face. They speak of loneliness and despair. Spooked by the sudden appearance of a stranger, however, the dog hangs back.
“Good dog,” the man whispers.
Loathing and sympathy consume him. He feels hatred for those who have abandoned such a helpless soul. But his anger mingles with sadness. These people were forced to give up their home and pet – believing this was the best they could do for this dog. Hoping for someone, even someone like him, to come to the rescue.
The man removes the gate and sits on the kitchen floor. The dog settles at his side, licking at the man’s face, wiping away the tears that trickle from his eyes.
The man stands and walks around the kitchen. Plastered on the refrigerator door are photos of the dog surrounded by his former care-givers in happier times. Next to one photo is a handwritten note. “Please take care of our dog. He is a good boy but we can’t take him with us.”
He recalls the bumper stick on the back of a car that he’d seen the day before – the image of a dog’s paw with the words, “Who Rescued Who”. Now those words take on new meaning.
The man removes one photo in which the dog sits alone, staring up and into the camera. The rest of the photos he leaves. He crumples the pleading note. He wants to track these people down and rage at them, and then report them to the police for being so negligent. But what good would come of it? They are already cloaked in their own brand of desperation; it lingers in the walls and floors of this home.
According to his information, the family has vacated the home just days earlier. It is fate that has brought him here in time to be useful. The choice is clear. He will make a new home and life with this fellow cast-off. The thought of this lifts a weariness that he’s carried for a long time.
The man leads the dog out of the house toward the truck. He’ll pass on trying to make any money on this empty shell. Let the bank seek the money owed them; he’s collected his commission.
Out on the front lawn, the dog pauses and with his nose pokes at a fluffy orb at the end of a dandelion stem. In the afternoon breeze, tiny white dandelion seeds float up in the air. One follows the dog as he heads toward the truck.
The man recalls a boyhood habit of wishes made on dandelion fluff. He laughs. “Did you make a wish boy?” he asks.
As if on cue, the dog walks to the passenger side of the truck, sits and waits. The door swings open and the dog hops in. The man goes round and settles into the driver’s seat. Both stare straight ahead as the car pulls away from this empty place, forming an alliance forged in second chances.
This story was inspired by true stories related by realtors and a haunting, single blog post, of a down on his luck man who was trying to start a career as a realtor despite his age and string of unsuccessful attempts to make a new start. So many people, having no one to turn to, become desperate. Afraid of “Kill Shelters” they truly believe that their pets have a better chance staying behind in abandoned homes. I’ve spoken to a heartbroken man (a fellow author) in the military whose family had to leave his beloved cat behind when they lost their home while he was stationed in Afghanistan.
Although I often write works of Non-Fiction, I believe Fiction can truly engage the minds and emotions of readers and can be an effective way to start a dialogue that may benefit man and animal.
Lisa Begin-Kruysman is the author of Something’s Lost and Must Be Found a short story collection that celebrates the dog-human bond and Dog’s Best Friend: Will Judy, Founder of National Dog Week and Dog World Publisher, the true story of one man’s mission to let every dog have its day…and week! To learn more about the author and her work please visit: www.lisabegin-author.com