The skies were blue, the air crisp, and the fluffy, red-haired dog I was babysitting had an idea. I shall bolt, she said through her innocent eyes. The out-of-doors beckons.
This was not new to me. The first time Ginger came to visit, she tore out the front door as soon as I let one of my tutoring students out. I panicked as I watched her head straight for the street, then swing around and run in the other direction—toward the coyotes’ hiding places. So of course, I chased her. Back, forth, back, forth. This was a game to her. She would not be caught.
I finally learned that if I didn’t pursue her, she would eventually find her mother’s house in the neighborhood, and sit and wait.
Until I approached, that is. Then she’d dart again, taunting me in her “neener-neener” way. So I had to creep up gingerly with her leash behind my back.
And that’s what happened this day.
The dog had bolted, and I was coolly waiting for her to take her place at the gate of her real home across the alley. It was a long wait. There was much to explore, much to smell, much independence to flaunt.
But finally, she turned into the alley, right around the same time my friend Jim walked out of his garage.
“Jim! Can you grab Ginger?” I pleaded, hoping to avoid another escape.
“Just open the gate and let her go into the yard,” he suggested. “You can leash her there.”
Good idea. I opened the gate and in sped Ginger ahead of me. As I closed the gate behind me, I watched in horror as she ran across the patio—and into the doggie door.
I say “horror” because I had no key to my neighbor’s house.
“Jim!!!!!!!” I hollered over the back fence, across the alley, and into his garage. His hammering stopped, and soon he was at my side, staring at the doggie door. “You don’t by any chance have a key to JoAnn’s place, do you?” I asked, my voice dripping with desperation. I was picturing Ginger spending the next week all alone in her house and JoAnn coming home to an emaciated pet crawling to greet her before collapsing at her feet if I didn’t rescue her dog pretty quickly.
“No… I can’t say as I do,” Jim responded, his voice dripping with detachment.
A memory came to mind of JoAnn months earlier, herself in a panic, knocking at my back door. “I’m locked out. Can you come over and watch while I crawl through the doggie door? I need someone to pull me out if I get stuck.” It was the most comical sight I’d ever seen, this woman who looked a lot like Ginger, diminutive and topped with fluffy red hair, wriggling through the tiny door carved into her side wall.
I looked at Jim. “We have no choice but to crawl through the doggie door,” I said. “And by ‘we’ I mean ‘you.’”
I held out my hands to measure my hips, then moved them towards his. He gulped. Probably the first time Jim regretted being so fit.
“You win,” I said jubilantly.
He looked down at the little door, then scratched his head.
“You know, I think I might have her key after all. Let me go check,” he said, his voice dripping with relief.
We’re a neighborhood that looks out for one another, ten houses that share an alley. We have each other’s phone numbers, email addresses, backs. We gather regularly in our homes, send birthday greetings through cyberspace, check in on each other. We keep an eye on things when someone takes a trip.
But we didn’t have each other’s keys. Why would we need to?
Well, we do now. A row of keys, labeled and color-coded, all lined up under the telephone like French Cancan dancers. Waiting for the next drama.
Maggie McCann Pike
- NOW COMES THE HARD PART