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Moose


Linda A. Lavid

At the wedding reception Marcy & Dale Forever had been written across the cocktail napkins, but forever fell a tad short, and they split before their tenth anniversary. It was a civilized break- up, no recriminations of who left the toilet seat up or down, no blaming of who forgot whose birthday. They simply lounged on Adirondack chairs one summer evening on their deck, not a season old, and discussed the situation. Dale began with what most errant husbands tell their soon-to-be ex-wives. "I love you, but I'm not in love with you."

Marcy took the news better than most. She sipped her vodka tonic, popped a few olives in her mouth and said, "Will you be taking Moose?" He answered probably not since he was downsizing to an apartment, hers, the woman he was in love with. And it was at this defining  moment that Marcy stood up and sternly said, with no room for debate, "You wanted him, he's yours," leaving Dale to ponder, in the elongated shadows of a setting sun, a serious dilemma -  Laurene, the woman he was in love with, was a cat person. Moose wasn't.

Moose, a 150 lb., four-year-old Newfoundland had soulful eyes, deeply rich and chocolate brown, that belied the animal's true nature. While the dog appeared oafish and good humored (he rarely barked, or jumped, or bared his teeth), unlike most dogs his breed, he had a singularly narcissistic nature, complemented by a slew of bad habits. And so, before Dale called Laurene to tell her the good news, he telephoned Kareem's Dog Obedience School and enrolled Moose in an intensive three-week behavior modification program that cost six hundred dollars, which according to the proprietor, was one-hundred percent guaranteed.

The class at Kareem's was small, only two other dogs with their owners. A Doberman with a sleek coat, the color of wet pavement at night, was muzzled and restless, as he pulled and twisted his lead, tangling up his master's legs. A Chihuahua yapped incessantly in the crook of an older woman's arm. Moose dropped to the floor and yawned. Disclosure followed.

The Chihuahua, Buffy, terribly bloated, with buggy, protruding eyes, teetered on legs as scrawny as popsicle sticks. Not only was the animal hugely disproportionate, but as Dale learned, it had a nasty habit of snapping at small children, specifically bolting upright and lunging for their noses.

Ruben, the 9-month-old, skittish Doberman, came from a pedigree line of insomniacs prone to  suspected hallucinations (he stalked and growled for reasons unknown). Dale deduced generations of inbreeding probably caused a proliferation of recessive genes that left the animal incapable of dealing with stimuli. It was as if his nervous system were tightly strung with an inordinate amount of neurons, like an overloaded plug in a rented room, which flooded his brain with near lethal doses of electrical current. What else could explain the flash in his eyes, his constant vigilance?

Dale was encouraged. Even though Moose was gangly, he was otherwise proportional, calm and, from all appearances, a concrete thinker. Clearly a prince whose problems paled to these two. Dale, like a proud father in a child's waiting room, reached down and patted Moose's head. "Good boy." Moose acknowledged his master's gesture by passing gas, a silent bomb that filled the room.

When Dale was asked what brought him and Moose to class, the other owners looked at him expectantly, solemnly, as if they all were on a sinking ship. Dale's mind locked. He wanted to be discrete, tasteful. "Moose is really quite good. A tad lazy perhaps but . . . well, he can be a bit stubborn when it comes to . . . ah . . . personal hygiene."

Eyebrows rose.

The trainer, a woman in overalls and a ponytail, asked, "Could you be more specific?"

"He has accidents."

Commiserative nods followed.

"And how old is Moose?"

Dale lied. "Around a year."

"That old? How have you been managing?"

Dale wondered that himself. But of course he wasn't the one doing the managing.   He thought about the steps Marcy had taken.

"He's in a restricted area during the day. You know, where there are hard surfaces like the basement, garage."

"And at night?"

"Stays mostly in the kitchen."

"I see," said the trainer. "Are there any other concerns?"

Concerns? What was this, group therapy? Dogs Anonymous? Dale refused to go into further detail. "That's about it."

"Has Moose ever been crated?"

"I'm not sure what you mean."

"Kept in a cage, "said Buffy's mother.

"No, of course not," Dale answered.

"Well then, that's where we'll start," said the trainer.

An hour and one hundred and ten dollars later, Dale and Moose headed home with very specific directions and a very large crate. Moose's lifestyle was about to change. At a stop light, Dale reached over and scratched Moose behind his ears. "Times are a'changin buddy." He then thought about Laurene and her silky thighs.

The weeks following Dale and Moose's trek to Kareem's were emotionally trying but productive.  Since Dale had to postpone his move into Laurene's until Moose's behavior was more under control, he relocated into the spare room. Marcy, when home, slammed around in the kitchen and left sticky notes on those things she intended to keep, which pretty much included everything but the rowing machine, vaporizer, and of course Moose. Dale wasn't about to argue.

On the upside, Moose progressed beautifully. That very night after class, he slept in the crate and woke up clean and dry. Dale wanted to tell Marcy, it was just a matter of scheduling, consistency and showing who's boss. Moose ate one meal per day and was taken out once in the morning and twice in the evening. The rest of the time, he was confined. Within weeks, Moose morphed into a model pet, and all systems were go.
 
Laurene lived in a second floor apartment with vaulted ceilings and sky lights. Throughout the day and depending on the angle of the sun, diffused light would cast soft shadows onto the walls and upholstered furniture, all buff-colored. Often following an afternoon romp, Dale, reluctant to leave, had  lingered while Laurene prepared dinner amid the classical strains of Bach and the sweet scent of vanilla candles. As Dale now climbed the carpeted stairs with the new and improved Moose (recently bathed in aromatics at Kareem's), he was ebullient. The months of wrangling two women were now over and he could finally be immersed in the sex and serenity of Laurene.

At the door to her apartment, Dale knocked then squared his shoulders.

"Be there in a sec," Laurene called out.

Dale pulled Moose's leash to have him sit. Once on his haunches, Moose looked at Dale expectantly, waiting for a treat. Dale put his fingers to his lips and shh-ed.
A moment later, Laurene, in a tight, white T-shirt and faded jeans, opened the door. As her glance fell to the dog, her wide, bright smile froze. "So this is Moose."

At hearing his voice, Moose stood on all fours and pitched forward, aiming his nose inches from her crotch. She reared back. "My, he's big."

Dale shortened the leash by looping it around his wrist. He then tugged discretely. "Yeah, this is my baby."

Laurene opened the door wide, allowing enough room for a three-man moving crew and refrigerator.

Dale and Moose crossed the threshold and entered. Halfway into the living room, Moose stopped dead. Asleep on the couch in the folds of a tapestry throw were Curly and Moe, Laurene's two Persian cats.

Dale tightened his grip. "Be good, Moose."

Moe, a fat ball of tan fur, lazily lifted her lids. Upon seeing Moose, her eyes popped open. Immediately, she catapulted from her spot and dove beneath the couch. Curly, having been jostled by Moe's movement, raised her head, pulled her ears back and screeched. Laurene rushed to the couch.

Dale pushed hard on Moose's back. "Down, boy," he said sternly. In response, Moose collapsed to a prone position and panted. Saliva dripped from his mouth.

Laurene gathered Curly in her arms.  "Pretty kitty, don't be afraid," she cooed. The cat flailed at her chest, trying to escape.

Dale reached over to pat Curly's head. The little czarina hissed. He backed off and said, "I know Moose is big and a bit intimidating but he wouldn't hurt a fly. Pet him.  You'll see."

"I have my hands full," she said with a hint of irritation.

"Darn kids," Dale said sheepishly.

Laurene didn't seem amused and began pacing, holding the cat as if it were a crying baby.

"Honey, with time they'll get along. Besides, once the house is sold, we can start looking for a bigger place."

Laurene's shoulder's loosened. She walked around the room keeping a watchful eye on Moose then settled into the couch. "But what are we going to do till then?"

Dale had it figured out. "I'll set the crate up in the spare bedroom. It'll be out of the way and the cats can still have the run of the house, and maybe (he wanted to sound tentative, but it was hardly negotiable) after I get home from work, we can let him out and have them get acclimated to one another."

As Dale spoke, Laurene stroked the underside of Curly's chin. "When will we be able to move into a house?"

"I don't know, maybe six months."

"Six months!"

"Well, it's hard to say. But, heck, if you like, we could start looking now and buy on contingency."

Her face seemed to soften, the downward corners of her lips relaxed and she made eye contact.     

He continued, "In fact there's no reason why we can't start looking this weekend. Maybe take a drive and see what's available."

Stroking Curly's fur, she asked, "Really? We could do that?"  

"Sure. Why not? Where would you like to live?"

"The suburbs, of course. But which one? And I suppose we should consider the schools."

"Schools?"

"Just in case," she said in a teasing tone.
                                    
Dale smiled. They hadn't discussed children, but then they never did too much talking.

Curly's eyes were half-closed. In less than ten minutes, familial bliss seemed well within reach. Dale relaxed his grip on the lease and Moose's head dropped to the floor.

"There's a beautiful development off Route 75. How much do you think we'll be able to afford?" she asked.

"I'd have to figure that out."

"They're around two fifty."

Two hundred and fifty thousand! Had houses gone up that much?

Laurene continued. "Of course, a house is an investment. When you think of what you get, three baths, a two-car garage with everything brand-new, it's really quite reasonable. And guess what else? Instead of electric street lights, there are gas lanterns and the roads have French names. Dale, it's so quaint."

"French, huh?"

"Yeah, like Arc de Triumph and Champs de something-or-other."

Laurene's eyes were shining now, full of life.

"Sounds elegant," Dale commented, even though he thought the la-de-dah names were a marketing ploy for frustrated Francophiles, who, like most Americans, preferred the knock-off to the original.

"No harm in looking. Right?"

She beamed. "Right."

"So when would you like to go?"

"Tomorrow after breakfast?"

"Works for me."

She glanced down at Moose, whose head rested on his paws. "He really is quite tame, isn't he? Not like a bear at all."

"Yeah, he's terrific, You'll see. So, do you think Moe will be all right?" he asked, more out of reciprocal kindness than true concern.

"Don't worry.  She's timid with everyone. And look at Curly, why she's already fallen asleep. Can't be that upset."

"It's official then, we're a blended family," Dale said, feeling relieved.

"Yes, I suppose you're right. But then you always are," she said in a velvety, throaty voice. "Oh, I almost forgot. I have a cheesecake in the oven. I'll put Curly in my bedroom for now. Would you like something to drink?"

"Sure."

Laurene got up from the couch with Curly in her arms. On the way out, she bent down and pecked Dale on the cheek. The scent of her body wash reminded him of the foamy showers they had taken and how the suds had clung and ran down her slick body.

Alone with Moose, Dale nudged his foot into the animal's fleshy side. Moose raised his head.

"What up, dawg?" Dale said.

Moose's tail thumped on the rug.

"Nice crib, huh?"

Moose stared expectantly into Dale's eyes.

"I take that as a yes," Dale responded.

In the background, Laurene could be heard in the kitchen. The oven door closed and water ran from the tap.

"Need any help?" he yelled.

"No everything's under control."

Looking around, Dale noticed that the dinette table was set with linens, fresh flowers and tapered candles.

"Pretty fancy table. Are you expecting company?" he called out.

"I'm making a special dinner for us. All your favorites," she said as she entered the room with a glass of red wine.

Sitting on the arm of the chair, she handed him the drink.

After he took a sip, she reached out. "Can I have a taste?"

He handed her the glass, but she set it on the coffee table. Bending toward him, she said,  "This kind of taste." She then nibbled his lip and explored his mouth with her tongue. "Mmm," she said, then whispered in his ear. "I'm feeling naughty."
"Naughty is good," Dale murmured.

Laurene ran her hand over his chest, then unbuckled his belt and slipped her hand beneath. With each stroke, he swelled harder. Distracted, Dale let go of the leash.

For so many months, sandwiched between stolen moments, Dale's sexuality had been programmed to respond quickly. Not yet accustomed to the limitless span of hours, days, he wanted to take her fast. Grabbing her wrist, he pulled her hand away. "Straddle me," he said.
    
Fully dressed, she complied and faced him on the chair. He yanked her T-shirt off and fumbled with her bra. Topless, she arched her back and he took a nipple into his mouth. She moaned. Fiddling with her jeans, she suddenly lurched forward, ramming into his face. "Oh my god! Something's crawling on me."

Dale half-stunned, craned his neck to see. "What the-" he said and began to laugh. Moose had gotten up and was standing directly behind Laurene. Had he poked his nose into her back? "He must like you."

"That's not funny, Dale."

Putting his arms around her, she collapsed into him.  

"You're right. Sorry. Maybe he thinks you're attacking me."

She shivered. "Why is he staring? Get him away."

"Down, Moose," Dale said firmly.

Immediately, the dog fell to the floor.

"See, there's nothing to worry about," he said as he nuzzled into her, wanting to pick up where he left off.

Laurene hoisted herself off him. "I can't do this. You've got to put him in his crate."

"It's in the trunk," he said lamely, hoping for few moments to thrust and finish up. But she already was slipping into her T-shirt.  

"All right. It shouldn't take long. Bookmark our spot." He stood and zipped his pants. "Where can I leave Moose?"

She looked askance at the animal. "Will he be okay where he is?"
"Yeah, this is probably the best spot. If I put him in the bedroom, he may scratch the door. You can keep an eye on him and he won't get lonely. Can you manage?"

"I suppose. You won't be long, will you?"

"Heck, no. A couple of minutes. Tops."

"Will he stay lying down?"

Dale scanned the room, then considered his chair. "Here, I'll secure the leash to the bottom of the chair leg. As long as he's tied up, he won't move."

"You sure?"

"Scouts honor thanks to Kareem's Obedience School. Moose is a graduate, you know."

A small smile creased her lips. "Bachelor's?"

"Master's, actually."

"That's reassuring. While you're doing that, I'll get the room ready."

On his way out, Dale stopped, wrapped his arms around Laurene's waist and kissed her neck. She swayed into him and whispered, "Hurry."

Taking two steps at a time, Dale jettisoned down the flight of stairs, flew out the front door and ran to the car. The metal mesh crate, partially disassembled and folded, needed wrangling before  freeing it from the trunk. He then grabbed the metal floor insert and jostled each item under his arms. Climbing the porch stairs, he had to stop, not once but twice, the cumbersome load kept slipping. At the front entry, with his arms full, he kicked the door open. Banging through the doorway, knocking and scraping the door jamb, he froze. Moe, Laurene's cat, cowered in a dark corner of the vestibule, suddenly bolted between his legs and bounded off the porch. "Damn," Dale said under his breath. Had he left the upstairs door opened? The crate clattered to the floor as he dropped everything and sprung after the cat.

For a lazy ball of fur, the darn thing was on fire. After barreling down the steps, she hair-pinned deep into a cavernous overhang of bushes. Dale hit the ground and peered through brambles and spider webs. Hunched along the concrete foundation, Moe looked at him with dark saucers-like eyes and hissed. Dale inched toward the cat, digging his elbows into the gritty dirt. Branches poked and scraped his face as he crawled. Within reach, he said, "Nice kitty." The cat's glance parried left and right as Dale dove forward with a grasping hand. A fleeting tail slipped through his fingers. From his perspective on the ground, he saw the cat bound into the open and spring across the side lawn. Dale retreated from the tangle of brush. Slapping off the dirt from his knees and elbows, Dale vowed to catch the pisser and wring its neck. But as he turned the corner of the house, the search and destroy mission was over. Twenty feet above in a sugar maple, Moe was continuing her ascent.

Climbing the stairs, wrangling the crate, Dale considered his apology. Yes, he probably left the door ajar, and yes, he was sorry. The next step was to call 911, which he would do. As far as continuing their romantic interlude. Well, that would take some diplomacy and a few drinks.

At the landing to her apartment, the door was wide open. Had he been that absent-minded?  Entering the hall and passing into the living room, an uneasy feeling overcame him - the chair that pinned down Moose's leash was toppled over. Quickly scanning the area, his stomach sank.  Puddled on the floor was the tablecloth amid a tangled mess of broken dishes and scattered flowers. Moose! He must have been chasing Moe.

 "Laurene?" Dale called out.

A whimpering came from the kitchen. He rushed to the doorway and stopped dead.

Moose was humping wildly to something prone on the floor. Beneath his tail, were Laurene's slippered feet. "My God," he exhaled. "Moose, heel," he screamed. But the dog was on automatic pilot.

Reeling across the floor, he lunged for the animal's neck. The dog's strength was yeoman. Dale head-locked Moose and twisted his head to the side forcing the animal down. With the dog hauled off, Dale got a glimpse of Laurene. Her face was dazed and contorted.

"You all right?" he said with Moose still clutched in a bear hug.

She sat up and took a deep breath. Looking over at Moose, she rumbled, seething with anger, "Get him out of here."

Dale scurried to his feet and retrieved Moose's lead. "I'll take him into the bedroom."

"Like hell! Get him out of this apartment."

"Out of the apartment? But- "

"There's no way I'm living with that . . . that animal!"

"But we agreed to-"

"Listen, he not only attacked Moe and trashed my house, but he fucking molested me, Dale."

"Molested you. Well, isn't that sort of, umm . . ."

"Of umm what?"

"An exaggeration."

She was standing now, pointing to a wet spot on her jeans. "This is no exaggeration!"

"It's just that we never got around to having him fixed. He gets frisky sometimes. Listen, I'll call the vet and make an appointment."

"That dog is demented. It's either him or me, Dale. Your call."

"You're upset. I realize that. Now let me get him in his cr- "

"Get Out!" she bellowed.

"Okay, settle down. Now about Moe."

"What about Moe?"

"She's up a tree."

With no warning, Laurene grabbed a kitchen knife and lunged for Moose. "You mother fu-"

Plunging to meet her advance, mild-mannered Moose, bared his teeth and snapped at the knife. Dale gripped the lead with two hands and yanked hard. "Laurene, you're being unreasonable."

Her face tightened. Suddenly she was an old hag, thin-lipped and spitting mean. "How dare you!"

"Fine, we're going," Dale said, grasping Moose's collar to haul him away.

As the two sprung from the kitchen, a pot careened past Dale's ear and smashed into a wall. Fearing bodily harm if he were to make another trip, Moose's crate was left behind.

Several hours later, Dale and Moose registered in a motel thirty miles east of the city off the interstate. They had tried to return home, but Marcy had the locks changed. Sleepy Tyme wasn't a bad place, a bit musty, but there was plenty of land (an abandoned railroad track ran the length of the property)to take walks. The owner was amenable to Moose as long as he didn't bark. The room had three double beds, cable and a complimentary single pack of instant coffee.

The first night they picked up a pizza and stopped for beer. In the supermarket, Dale considered buying dog food but decided against it - cans would require an opener, a dish, spoon, and the dry stuff would stink up the room. It was then that Dale figured that they'd both eat take-out until either Laurene or Marcy returned his calls.  

After three weeks, neither did. Faced with unwanted, unintended bachelorhood, Dale stopped shaving and wore wrinkled clothes to work - the beginning of his downward spiral. Weeks of drinking too much, eating garbage, and slamming the ham followed. But a few days before Thanksgiving, Dale had an epiphany. It wasn't about him specifically, or Laurene, or Marcy. It was about Moose.

The realization came on a Saturday afternoon during a Notre Dame football game. He and Moose were lying on the double bed closest to the television, eating potato chips (his were regular, Moose's were barbecue) when Dale said something about needing a drink. Moose lumbered off to the bathroom where a pack of ice was melting in the tub, and retrieved what was left of a six pack. Crawling back onto the bed, the dog dropped the two cans that were still connected to the plastic web. Dale forgot about the impending field goal, grabbed Moose's face and looked deeply into the animal's eyes. "What's up with you?" he said. "Not only are you not crapping or humping or passing gas, but you're getting my beer?" Moose, of course, hadn't yet learned to talk but he did wag his tail. It was then the epiphany occurred. It had to do with being restricted and living in a crate.

The next day, Dale and Moose moved into an apartment.  

© 2003 Linda A. Lavid

Linda A. Lavid wrangles a writing life amid the detritus of making a living and keeping a home that is, on rare occasions, totally clean. Besides being consumed, beguiled and utterly frustrated with the craft of writing, she also marvels how a family can survive on frozen dinners and the occasional stalk of broccoli. She is currently hawking a manuscript titled, "Crippling Conditions", A Collection of Short Fiction. To read more of her work search "Linda A Lavid" at www.google.com. She has also published stories in SCR

 lindalavid@juno.com