James T. Chadbourne III woke with a smile, his large brown eyes popping open to reveal another glorious day. It had been a good night, with some solid sleep, some snoring, dreams of digging up a chattering gopher, and a torrid encounter with the inimitable Suzette Mickleroy, the love of his life. Yawning, he noticed a stiffness in his lower spine, and tried to stretch it away. Now fully awake, his mind turned again to Suzette, who had lately shown signs that her interest in him wasn’t as non-existent as previously indicated. Perhaps she would –
“James T. Chadbourne! Are you sleeping in?” came a voice from the kitchen, and the gent in question snapped to attention. Giving his bristly mustache a quick lick, James shook his head as if to dislodge thoughts of Suzette and trotted into the kitchen, where he was kissed on the nose by a plush blonde wearing a pink housedress and frilly white apron.
“Good morning my darling,” she said in a voice that could only serve to entrance and delight. James acknowledged her greeting and gave her his biggest smile, eyes sparkling. “Are you ready for your breakfast?” Her pale eyebrows rose in the prettiest little rainbows he’d ever seen.
Soon, he was dining on a delicious repast of leftovers: boiled kidneys, mutton stew, and even some steamed spinach, carrots, and field peas tossed in for good measure. As he wolfed down each succulent bite, James reveled in the joy of the moment: warm, loving company, fascinating scents, happy domestic sounds, and delicious food. Life—was good.
When breakfast was over and his beloved turned aside to take care of the clean-up, James was drawn to the sunlight flooding in through her lacy sheer curtains. He realized that nothing would be so good as a brisk walk in the fresh air.
Letting himself out the backdoor, he paused to take in his surroundings. His nose told him that the local deer had bedded in her lawn the night before, and that the fox had followed them, at a distance. He didn’t particularly mind the interlopers, but they did leave behind deer ticks and they ate his beloved’s petunias, which upset her greatly. He’d offered to stay out in the garden at night, and in fact, was quite taken with the idea, but she would have none of it.
“You need to be in the house at night, so that I’ll feel safe,” she said when he indicated his desire to spend the night in the garden. “And I’d hate to think of something happening to you out there, too,” she’d said before giving him a kiss and tickling his mustache. “What if the wolves got you?” she said, as if this were wild America and not Cornwall.
As he surveyed the garden, he noticed that the tortoise had crossed from one side to the other – “after my darling’s green leaf lettuce again,” he thought. By the sound of it, the robins’ eggs were hatching. He considered the work they had in front of them, weeks of ceaseless predation on worms, insects, caterpillars, grubs – whatever protein they could find for the greedy young. He preferred to eat the eggs before they became ugly chicks, although realistically, how much nutrition could anyone get out of a few tiny blue eggs? Why bother?
Content that all was well with the garden, he walked out to the farthest corner, where he squatted and emptied his bowels with a most satisfying grunt. His beloved would have preferred for him to defecate in the house as she did, but he could not accustom himself to the idea. He went in the fresh air, as Goddess intended. The neighbors didn’t complain, so he assumed that all was well.
After finishing that task, he began a circuit of the garden, gathering information on who else had passed during the night. Many clues were at his disposal: footprints and the scent left by foot pads, bits of urine and blood, a stray feather and sometimes, an entire leg. He knew there was an owl in the sycamore tree – he’d detected it sleeping up there many times during the day. There’s something about the smell of an owl – imagine a large bird that smells like a mouse! There’d been a time in his younger life when he thought owl pellets might be edible, but he was quickly disabused of that notion. There was a hawk, too, which hunted there in the daytime, and sometimes left squirrel tails behind, which, James supposed, lacked enough meat to make the effort of pulling out the inedible hair worthwhile.
Satisfied that nothing too unusual had happened in the garden the night before, James – never “Jim” – decided that it was time to take his morning constitutional. This was one of the favorite parts of his day. Heading to the garden gate, he stopped to take a piss on the wall before proceeding out into the neighborhood. His beloved didn’t approve of this habit, either, but she was kind-hearted and did not try hard to deprive him of his small pleasures if they were outdoor pleasures, and not indoor ones.
Moving off down the block, James listened as the birds announced his passing, as if he were a major predator and not merely a country squire. Walking briskly, he greeted the children waiting for the bus, their shoulders sagging under heavy book bags. Mrs. Stanhope’s cat Twinkles was out front, which was unusual for this time of day. When he saw James, he hissed and blew up his hair, so that James would believe him to be a lynx, and not a lazy Scottish Fold. James supposed that any cat with such an undignified name would be anti-social, but he thought Twinkles took it to the extreme. He’d even overheard his beloved commenting that Twinkles sprayed in the house. Apparently, Mrs. Stanhope, realizing the insult of the name, had decided to leave the cat intact in order not to insult him further.
“Big mistake,” thought James, although in another instant, he’d completely forgotten Twinkles because he’d come to the fenced yard of Foster McGowan, a retired police sergeant with a penchant for Alsatians. Sure enough, just as he got to the corner of Sergeant McGowan’s property, here came an enormous black canine. Satan must’ve weighed 6 stone if he weighed an ounce, and he absolutely hated James T. Chadbourne III. His pink and purple tongue sluiced around the biggest teeth James had ever seen, and it was all he could do not to run away, like a frightened pup.
James walked down the sidewalk looking neither left nor right, pretending not to hear the enraged growls or to smell the fiery breath only inches away. Finally, Sergeant McGowan came out and grabbed his slavering dog by the collar and dragged him away from the fence. “I don’t know why you can’t walk on the other side of the bloody street, James!” the sergeant shouted at him before dragging Satan into the house. James chose not to reply, seeing nothing to be gained by doing so.
And then, as quickly as they had started, all thoughts of the snarling, foamy-mouth Satan were dismissed as he crossed into the territory of Maximillian and Sophie, a pair of geriatric dachshunds who were quite fond of James, and always greeted him with halitotic kisses. Unfortunately, today they were nowhere to be seen, so he continued on his walk, sneezing as the smoking school bus went by, pausing to look into the bramble where he’d seen an eyass a couple of weeks ago, its piercing gold eyes meeting his as its parents shrieked above. He’d thought of dispatching it with a quick snap of the neck, but “live and let live,” he’d decided, and gone on his merry way. There was nothing in the bramble today but an empty candy wrapper and tossed-out soda can.
And then, the hawk, candy wrapper, and soda can were all forgotten, because he’d reached the home of Suzette Mickleroy. Pausing, he cocked his head and peered about, wondering if anyone was up and out. “Surely it isn’t all that early,” he thought. Making himself comfortable, he wondered if he should wait, and hope that she noticed him, or if, perhaps, he should go to the door. What if his dream had been just that – a dream? What if, in harsh reality, Suzette spurned him like she usually did? How many humiliations had Suzette subjected him to over the years, yet still he returned, awestruck by the power she wielded over him without a care.
Not able to make up his mind, James paced up and down the sidewalk in front of Suzette’s home. Should he stay or should he go? Should he call out to her? Go to the door? Walk around to the alley and see if she was in the garden? There were multiple options, and his mind wasn’t accustomed to processing so many possibilities all at once.
And then, there she was – a vision! He had no idea how she’d managed to appear without making a sound. All he knew was that his nose suddenly picked up the scent of something so tantalizing and alluring that his whole body quivered.
Suzette stood on the other side of the fence, gazing at him contemptuously, her dark almond eyes daring him to say a word. Her luxuriant mane was piled high on top of her head, and her glorious bouffant sported three tiny pink bows. The scent wafting from her was a heady mix of shampoo, perfume, hair spray, and – well, not to be indelicate, but all James could think was “bitch in heat.”
Roused to a fury, James trotted back and forth in front of the fence, Suzette following him step for step. Whenever he tried to get close to her, she sneered and showed him her brilliant white incisors. Sensing that his heart might burst of unrequited passion, he decided to do something he’d never done. Retreating a few paces to get a running start, he turned and came zooming back, jumping the fence. Oh, what a leap! How many years had passed since he’d been so bold, jumping fences, running wherever he liked? Today he’d done it as if he were a raw youngster, and not a dignified alpha male.
And now, here he was, face-to-face with the magnificent, dreaded Suzette. And she wanted to – play. Picking up a ball, she tossed it to him as if this were merely another day on the playground. Oh, joy! Grabbing the ball, he ran feints for a second or two, to demonstrate his manly prowess, and then invited her to chase him, which she did, growling under her breath. She was far stronger than he, and her legs were longer, too, so it was only a moment before she caught up with him and ripped the ball away.
But James didn’t mind. After all, wasn’t he there with her, awed in the mighty presence of Suzette? He hardly noticed that one of her pink bows was now askew, and he completely missed the pink polish on her nails. Instead, he moved closer and closer as she gazed at him with a challenging look. Licking his lips, he drank in the scent of her, and slowed, trying to hypnotize her the way male spiders try to entrance their less-than-eager paramours.
Suzette remained where she was, neither snarling nor smiling, and certainly not hypnotized. Instead, she looked him over, and her eyes could’ve been those of an accountant, so calculating were they.
Still, she did not move, and for James, time crept to a standstill. And then, there they were, nose to nose, tongue to tongue, breath to breath. James’s heart pounded so furiously that, if he were the worrying kind, he might’ve stopped to call the cardiologist. But he never worried, that would’ve been out of character for him, and so instead, he licked his mustache and then thought of licking Suzette, who at that moment, decided to bound away, grabbing the ball once again, and frolicking around the yard.
James realized he was panting, saliva dripping off his tongue like a small pink Niagara. How humiliating, huffing and puffing like a country bumpkin. He watched as Suzette ran hither and yon, bouncing the ball. He had never seen such a gorgeous behind, and he had seen many. She was so graceful, so strong, so –
And, forgetting his dignity and pounding heart, James gave chase, determined to take the ball and then, if all were right in the heavens and Suzette would simply stand still – then, he would take Suzette! He felt the ache in his back disappear as his legs pumped mightily in pursuit. Suzette, instead of looking at him with contempt, now gave him a lingering glance, and James’s heart turned somersaults.
Catching up with Suzette, who, admittedly, had slowed down in order, James was sure, to be caught, he decided to give her a little love bite and was baring his teeth to do so when the front door opened and Mrs. Francis Mickleroy came dashing out of the house with a broom, shouting, “Get out of my yard, you filthy cur!” And the next thing James knew, the woman was running at him, waving the broom this way and that.
Suzette took this opportunity to bound away, ball grasped firmly in her sharp, white teeth. James looked frantically from his escaping love to her attacking mistress, and it’s a good thing that he did look because she was just that moment going to whack him with the broom, and he needed to scoot out of the way quickly, in order to avoid harm.
Casting one last, longing look in Suzette’s direction, James turned and scrabbled back over the fence. It was harder to clear this time, all that running around having cost him more than he realized. But he didn’t want to be hit with the broom, and he could see that Mrs. Mickleroy was in a dangerous state of arousal.
As Suzette sneezed delicately and curled her lip, James looked again at the great love of his life. Unfortunately, Mrs. Mickleroy was having none of it, and she opened the gate and scooted out on the sidewalk, preparing to whack James but good should he give her the opportunity.
Swishing his thickly feathered tail—which was normally carried at a jaunty angle above his back—James tucked it neatly between his legs to protect the throbbing orbs which were still so excited by Suzette’s nearness and set off down the block, ears turned to hear what might be coming up behind him. He trotted with as much dignity as one can muster, considering the circumstances, and tried not to think of the look in Suzette’s eyes as she watched her mistress drive him away.
Then, spying one of his favorite bushes ahead, he stopped for a good pee and to catch his breath. Once again, he’d been foiled by Suzette. But what a merry chase it had been. The thought of her was so vivid that it made him sneeze, which he did with gusto. Then, shaking his head until his ears flapped audibly, he lifted his tail into jaunty flag position and set off towards home, looking forward to a long, sun-drenched nap in his special place on the back porch.