I’ve lived by the side of this road for … I don’t know how long. It’s always kind of breezy when the cars go whizzing by, and sometimes very noisy with those huge vehicles, but I always stand back and I never get hit. The dirt pouring out of those things will sometimes make my nose hurt and my eyes hurt, but I’m used to it.
The days start pretty slowly — just like today. I can usually find something to eat, but it’s not very good. And sometimes one of the neighbors stops by and gives me some food. I’ve known those folks for as long as I can remember, and I think it’s very good of them to help out, but I can never get really close to them.
The road is getting crowded now, and I just know that Mommy and Daddy and Mindy will be coming back soon. When they left, I heard them say that they were going to someplace called “California”. Of course they said it very quietly to each other, but my hearing is so good that I heard everything they said about how the cold times were ending and this warmer time was the time to go. Before that, they had spoken for a long time about how they had less and less money, and Daddy had to find a better job. But I thought that their life here was very pleasant, and they were always able to give me everything I wanted.
Before they left, Mindy hugged me very tight and she was crying more than she ever had, but Mindy and I grew up together so I guess she was just being my little sister. Daddy told her “He’ll be all right,” but she didn’t stop crying.
When I was younger I would follow her everywhere, and I would always wait by the side of this very road until she came back from school; and sometimes the three of them would go away together, so that’s why I’m sure that Mommy and Daddy and Mindy will come back just as they always did.
At first, when the days went by and I waited here, I thought that maybe they didn’t want me anymore, and that thought made me very sad. But then I knew that it couldn’t be right, because we are all part of the same pack, and I knew we would always be together. So it was up to me to be here until they returned, and here I stayed.
And then there was that terrible day when a group of men representing what they called the Animal Rescue League came to arrest me and take me away. They kept jabbering about how they were going to “help” me and “save” me, but I wanted to have nothing to do with them. So I ran away and tried to hide in a gully far away from the road, but these evil people followed me, and one of them actually fell into the gully, which I thought was pretty funny. But eventually they caught me in a net, and pushed me into their truck and carried me away. I didn’t know what they would do with me, and I was really afraid that when Mommy and Daddy and Mindy returned, I wouldn’t be there for them.
These people who said they were going to help me and save me put me in a cage — the tiniest space I’ve ever lived in — and then they forgot me and they only came around to serve me some gruel that I wanted no part of. I became thinner and thinner and mainly I just slept.
But one day an old gentleman came along and spent some time whispering to them, and finally they let me out of the cage and this man said he was taking me home. That idea wasn’t very appealing, but it was better than the cage, so I went along. He had a home not far from the house where my pack and I lived, and I could even see our home in the distance. The old gentleman treated me pretty well, but all I wanted was to go back home.
The guy also had a dreadful Persian cat, and he seemed to think that the cat and I would be friends, but the cat wouldn’t have anything to do with that and neither would I. So the two of us just sat on opposite sides of the room, glowering at each other. It was all pretty disgusting.
The days became hotter and hotter and I kept checking out my home as best I could, and one day I saw a pack entering the house — but they were not my pack, and they eventually came over and introduced themselves to the old gentleman and said that they now “owned” the house. That really shocked me: my pack and I wouldn’t even have a home. So I knew that I would have to escape from the old gentleman and run back to the side of the road, because I was certain that Mommy and Daddy and Mindy would now have to return and pick me up and we would all go to this California place together.
As soon as I could, I ran out of the house and almost leapt across the gully, and when I got to the side of the road, I stayed there with my most fervent hopes. At one point the old gentleman came looking for me, but after asking me to “come home,” he shouted something like “You ungrateful cur — go to hell!” and then he left. I’m sure his stupid cat didn’t mind that I was gone.
Now I was absolutely determined to stay put until my pack arrived, and the people in the town actually got used to my being there. That was when they started to bring me food, which was very nice; but though one or two of them tried to take me home, they didn’t try to grab me or hurt me. I guess they knew that I was there for an important reason, and maybe they even remembered my pack and felt that my devotion was all that mattered.
As the days went by, the cold times returned. I remembered how unpleasant those times had been when I was young and how Mindy would take me inside and wipe the snow off of me and make me feel warm. Now, all I could do is find a spot under a bush or against a plot of earth on the side of a hillock and try to sleep until I could once again watch for their car.
Once a car did pass by me. There was a little girl inside who looked a little like Mindy and when she saw me, she smiled. So I ran after the car as fast as I could and I ran and ran, but the car didn’t stop, and finally I went back to my usual place. If it was Mindy, why didn’t the car stop and why didn’t she take me with her? A policeman who saw me once said : “I wish that everyone had half the loyalty that you have.” But there is nothing unusual about it: we all have it inside ourselves, don’t we?
It is getting dark and very, very cold, and my head hurts a lot. So now l guess I’ll just try to sleep — and dream, as I always do, of Mommy and Daddy and Mindy, and everything that once made my life worth living.
A longtime Princeton resident, Cheiten is the author of numerous short stories and poems, several plays, and the Princeton-based novella “The Hidden Ally.”