Fiction

Predator, acrylic by Marcella Simon

Dog Wedding

Beryl wanted to marry her dog.
 
“I don’t know what for,” her friend Charlotte said, “when you’re doing so well living together.”

 

“He’s perfect,” Beryl said. “Look at him.”

The dog was a large, dignified, sable-and-white collie. He lay now at Beryl’s feet, gazing down his long nose at her running shoes with an expression that was almost self-deprecating.

“I thought the shelter had him fixed,” Charlotte said, laughing.

“This is spiritual,” Beryl said, “it’s a spiritual thing.  I know we had some really close connection in another life.”

She laid a hand on the dog’s head and looked tenderly down at him. “I’ve never felt this close to anyone.”

The dog’s name was Tristan, a name Beryl said had come to her out of the air the day she found him at the Wandering Paws Animal Shelter, a purebred collie up for adoption. The shelter didn’t know anything about him; he’d been found tied to a tree one morning when the volunteers came to open up. Everyone had fallen in love with his sweetness and gravity, the slow swish of his tail, his neat white paws. The volunteers vied to walk him.

Tristan went everywhere with Beryl. He started off in the back seat of the Toyota but soon moved up to the front. The last time Beryl had given Charlotte a ride, Charlotte had to sit in the back with the groceries.

“Tristan just loves the front seat,” Beryl said. “Don’t you, honey?”

Tristan gave a creaky yawn.

And Beryl didn’t like to go anywhere if Tristan couldn’t come too.

“He hates being left home alone,” she said fondly.

At first, Charlotte thought it was nice that Beryl had the dog. Beryl’s husband, George, had left her when the three children were young, and Beryl had been looking for something for a long time. She had thrown herself into causes: marching for everything in the ‘70s, walking for everything in the ‘80s. Since the last of her children had left home, she’d exhausted herself on a string of men she had met at weekend New Age conferences. Still, Charlotte, who was ten years younger, thought Beryl was getting awfully wrapped up in Tristan. Maybe it was menopause.

Charlotte’s husband didn’t even want to hear about it.

“Beryl’s marrying her dog. Fine. I don’t suppose he’s any weirder than that guy she found at the Vision Quest Weekend.”

“There’s nothing wrong,” Charlotte said, “with spiritual exploration.”

“Spare me,” her husband said.

When Beryl came by that evening, he went to bed with a book. Beryl, of course, had Tristan with her. The dog sat politely on command, and Charlotte had to admit that Beryl looked terrific. She was wearing an embroidered kimono over some kind of black jumpsuit; her blonde hair seemed to have been rinsed because the gray streaks were invisible. She was even wearing eye makeup.

The ceremony took place at Iris and Roger’s farm in New Hampshire, where all Iris and Roger’s friends came to bury pets that died.

“Some future archaeologist,” Iris was fond of saying, “is going to think that this was an important site of small animal sacrifice.”

Iris baked bread and filled the house with lilac branches. “We’ve never had an animal wedding before,” she said.

The vows took place in a clearing near the old sugarhouse. Tristan had been bathed and groomed, and Beryl wore her favorite peacock-blue Mexican dress. Iris, Charlotte, and Beryl stood in a semicircle with Tristan. Roger remained at the edge of the clearing, leaning against a tree. Beryl had compiled the text for the ceremony: St. Francis’s prayer for the animals, and a promise that she and Tristan would be together forever. Then Beryl leaned down to give Tristan a kiss on the nose; Tristan offered his paw.

This is insane, Charlotte thought. And yet, in the spring sunshine, Tristan, his dark honey-colored coat shining, had the majesty of an animal god. She thought of Beauty and the Beast and how disappointing it had always been to her when the beast became a bland-faced prince.

Anyway, Beryl hadn’t said dog and wife; she’d said companions forever.  That was a relief. And there wouldn’t be a honeymoon, just a trip over the border into Vermont to stay with Beryl’s son, Ralph, who had an alternative energy consulting business. They drove away in the Toyota with Tristan sitting in the front seat. Roger shook his head.

Two weeks later, Charlotte went to Beryl’s for dinner. Tristan met her at the door.  He stood looking at her, tail wagging gently.

“Um,” Charlotte said, “hi, Tristan.”

It didn’t seem right to say “hi, boy”—he looked much too dignified.

“Hi, Beryl,” she called.

“Hi,” Beryl called back from the depths of the house.

Tristan turned and looked over his shoulder at Charlotte. She felt she was meant to follow him. He led her towards the kitchen where Beryl was tossing salad. Charlotte started to go in, but Tristan blocked the door.  Beryl laughed.

“He wants you to go sit down in the living room,” she said. “There’s a bottle of wine out. I’ll be right there.”

Disconcerted, Charlotte followed Tristan into the living room, which looked, considering it was Beryl’s, remarkably tidy. She poured herself a glass of wine and sat down. Tristan sat down opposite her. There was an awkward silence. Tristan began to pant lightly, his face assuming an oddly social smile. When Beryl came in and sat down, he moved over and sat beside her, still smiling.

“It’s really wonderful,” Beryl said, patting the dog’s head, “to have a companion to do things with—hiking and climbing and staying in the country.”

“That’s nice,” Charlotte said, “but what about the Art Museum and the theater?  You used to like those too, and you can’t take Tristan there.”

“True – but what man did you ever know who liked to do all the things that you did?  You compromise.  When we go places, he never complains if I want to stop at yard sales and flea markets. And if I get halfway to Boston and I’ve forgotten my checkbook, I can just go back. He doesn’t call me an idiot. He likes the ride.”

They ate in the kitchen, which smelled richly of both cheese and braising meat.

“What are we having?”  Charlotte asked.

“Cheese soufflé.”

Beryl lifted the lid of the pot simmering on the stove and poured in some red wine.

“What’s that?”

“That’s Tristan’s dinner. I just stew up some beef, but he does like a little red wine in it.”

Beryl poured the contents into what Charlotte recognized as Beryl’s favorite faience bowl.

“It’ll cool while the soufflé cooks,” she said.

The soufflé was golden and crusty, releasing burst of steam as Beryl cut into it.  Tristan’s dinner had been set out on a plastic place mat in a corner of the room, beef in the faience bowl, water in a crystal compote dish. Tristan lay down with his paws on either side of the bowl. He did not bolt his food as most dogs Charlotte knew did.

Beryl smiled in his direction. “Always such a gentleman,” she said fondly.

As Tristan continued to eat, Charlotte turned back to her soufflé and the exquisite fennel, prune, and onion salad.

Beryl was full of plans. She was going to sell the house, move into an apartment, and, with the money she saved, she would get a degree in environmental studies and really do good.

She leaned forward, her bright, myopic blue eyes fixed on Charlotte’s face. “The human race is moving into a new phase in which we will be less separated from each other and from the other creatures of the earth.”

Tristan got up and came to sit beside her.

“I’m really going to be able to do something now,” Beryl said, “something really useful, not all that knickknackery about finding your crystal or your totem animal.”  She paused. “I’m not putting that down. It helps some people.”

Tristan nudged Beryl’s knee.

“Oh Tristan,” Beryl said. “I didn’t mean to ignore you.”

In the end, Beryl didn’t sell the house. No apartment she saw had space enough for Tristan. Although she was careful only to look at garden apartments, the gardens were, as she explained to Charlotte, mere handkerchiefs of ground, little bits of grass landscaped with gravel or bricks.

“He just looked so dejected,” Beryl said.

“You took him with you?”

“Of course. It’s the two of us, after all.”

Beryl continued with her job at New Dawn Books. But the free incense, one of the job’s few perks, no longer did her any good. It made Tristan sneeze. He also put a crimp in her social life: she couldn’t go to most people’s houses for dinner because she insisted on bringing him.

“I can’t leave him,” she told Charlotte.  “Last time I did, he went into my closet, pulled a dress off the hanger, and chewed it to bits.”

Other places became off-limits because Tristan didn’t get along with other dogs or cats. He went after Matilda, Charlotte’s tabby, because Beryl absent-mindedly stroked her. Charlotte also noticed that Tristan had taken to standing between Beryl and anyone she was talking to.  Plus, she found his stare intimidating.

Moreover, now, when she visited Beryl’s, Tristan answered the doorbell with a loud flurry of barking. When Beryl came to the door, he stood in front of her, blocking Charlotte’s way. Beryl tried coaxing him, but eventually she would have to take his collar and pull him back. Once he even growled.

One day, Iris telephoned Charlotte. “That dog Beryl’s married to,” she said, “is completely insane.”

“He does seem . . . well, changed” Charlotte began.

“Changed! She brought him up here last Sunday. I had to shut my dogs in the barn. He chased the cats up a tree, and he peed all over my living room. Can you believe it?  He just went around lifting his leg on all the furniture. Roger was just furious. And then, when Beryl was leaving, she gave me a hug, and the dog—thank God he was shut in the car at that point—went crazy. He threw himself at the windows, snarling and barking. What’s going on?”

“I really don’t know, except maybe she spoils him?”

“It’s nuts,” Iris said. “The whole thing.  What were we thinking?  Marrying a dog.  She’s not welcome here anymore until she gets rid of that animal.”

“Divorces him,” Charlotte murmured, but Iris didn’t laugh.

Not long after that, Tristan bit the UPS man.

“He was protecting me,” Beryl said, “you can’t really blame him.  He’s very protective.”

“But,” Charlotte said, “how can you keep him if he’s going to start biting people?  I don’t even like the looks he gives me. He certainly doesn’t want you to spend any time with me. He always gets in between us and puts his head in your lap.”

Beryl laughed nervously. “That’s just his way.”

They were talking in a corner of New Dawn Books between the crystals and the meditation tapes. Beryl seemed shaky. Her hands twitched and she fussed at her hair, which Charlotte noticed, looked grayer. Beryl had sunk into drabness: an old black turtleneck dress and a shapeless sweater. 

“Beryl“ Charlotte began.

The door chimed.

“Can’t talk,” Beryl said. “It’s a customer.”

Beryl never could talk. Tristan allowed her five minutes on the phone and then began growling so loudly that Charlotte could hear it on her end. If Beryl brought him over in the car, he refused to get out; but if he was left in the car for more than ten minutes, he began to chew the upholstery.

“He accepts my working,” Beryl said. “He never chews anything while I’m at the bookstore. But the minute I get home, he expects me to give him all my attention.”

Charlotte and Beryl were sitting in Beryl’s garden on a breathless, sticky August afternoon. They spoke in low voices. Tristan lay at some distance from then in a hole he had dug beneath the rhododendrons. The heat had sent him to sleep.

“I don’t know what to do,” Beryl said, gazing at the lower branches of the rhododendron through which the russet-and-white of Tristan’s coat was just visible.  “I really love him.”

“What about obedience school?” Charlotte asked.

“I tried. He behaved beautifully, so gentle and cooperative. The instructor thought I was crazy. When I was talking to him, Tristan just sat there, the soul of patience. And when somebody’s Airedale went for him, he just turned away. The instructor put us in the advanced class.”

“But he’s only a dog, Beryl,” Charlotte said, “he can’t have learned how to do everything right away.”

“He did—in one lesson: the heel off leash, the long stay, hand signals. The guy said Tristan must have been obedience trained already. He offered to give me my money back. I tried to explain, but what could I say that he would have believed?  He said that I must be too tentative – if I let the dog know exactly what I wanted, he would do it. He said I must be giving him mixed signals, that it was my fault.”

Underneath the lilac bushes, Tristan groaned and stretched one white paw into the light.

“What went wrong?” Beryl said. “What have I done to make him behave this way. We were so happy.”

“Maybe he just was this way,” Charlotte said. “I mean, you two don’t go far back. You got him from the shelter. What do you know about his past?”

Beryl sighed. “I just wish he could talk.”

“Maybe not,” said Charlotte.

The consensus was that Beryl should get rid of the dog. Charlotte’s husband said it was too obvious even to discuss. Iris was worried that the dog might turn on Beryl.

Jacaranda Tree, Beryl’s employer at New Dawn Books, actually called Charlotte. “I don’t like it,” she said. “On Thursday I got one of my headaches. When I get those, I see auras, and Beryl’s was real muddy. You’re her friend, I thought you might know something.”

“She won’t do anything until she’s ready to do it,” Charlotte said, recognizing this as the mantra she intoned through all her friends’ divorces.

“She seems real attached to that dog,” Jacaranda Tree said.

“She is,” said Charlotte.

There was a pause.

“Not good. Dogs eat up your soul. Cats give you space. My cats respect my autonomy.”

Charlotte called Beryl, but of course they could only talk for five minutes. “At least get a muzzle,” Charlotte said. “Even Jacaranda is worried. What if he seriously hurts somebody?”

“He wouldn’t do that,” Beryl said “He doesn’t want to hurt anybody. He’s only protecting me. He thinks I’m in danger.”

“Beryl,” Charlotte said, “he’s jealous. He doesn’t want you even to talk to anyone else.”

At that moment, she heard a low growl in the background. Beryl put her hand over the receiver, but Charlotte could hear her muffled soothing noises.

“I’ve really got to go,” Beryl said.

The line went dead.

Beryl stopped calling Charlotte. When Charlotte called her, she was brief and evasive. She recounted telephone calls from her children and described the bulbs she was planning to order for the garden. Later, after she didn’t answer her telephone for two days, Charlotte called New Dawn Books.

“She called in sick yesterday,” Jacaranda said.

The next morning, when Beryl didn’t answer her phone at 6:30 a.m., Charlotte went over to Beryl’s house. Beryl’s Toyota stood in the driveway, and several days’ worth of mail and newspapers were jammed inside the screen door. With horror, Charlotte remembered a newspaper story from her childhood: two Doberman Pinschers had turned on their owner on a New Jersey beach and torn her to pieces. Her fingers closed over the key in her pocket; she and Beryl kept keys to each other’s houses. She knew she had to go in.  Turning the key in the lock, she opened the door with a sharp push. The piled-up mail fell across the sill into the hall. Charlotte stepped over it. The house was silent.

“Beryl?” she called.  Her throat was so dry that her voice cracked. “Beryl?”

She imagined Tristan waiting, crouched, like another dog she’d seen in a horror movie, one possessed by the soul of an ancient Ninja warrior.

Each of the first-floor rooms was empty. She went upstairs.

The sunny landing was silent. She faced a wall of pictures of Beryl and her children over the years: a young Beryl with a baby in a backpack holding one side of a banner that read U.S. OUT OF VIETNAM; Beryl with more babies in strollers, with older children; Beryl walking under banners for civil rights, abortion, and the environment, against hunger, nuclear power, and animal experimentation.

Beryl’s bedroom was empty, the bed neatly made.  She went through the other bedrooms, even the ones on the third floor which housed the children’s detritus, cardboard boxes labeled with their names in huge capitals and inscribed, DO NOT TOUCH – THIS MEANS YOU, MOM.

The whole house was silent. It appeared that Tristan had not dispatched Beryl, rather that they had gone somewhere together. Charlotte stood at a bedroom window, looking down at the driveway when she saw a car pull up behind the Toyota. Beryl got out. Strangely, she did not hold the car door open for Tristan. She slammed it and came up the steps of the house.

Charlotte tried to open the window but it wouldn’t budge, so she ran downstairs shouting Beryl’s name.

Beryl stood in the hallway in her old baseball jacket and jeans. When she saw Charlotte, she didn’t seem surprised. Her face crumpled and she began to cry.

“What is it?” Charlotte said. “Has something happened to Tristan?”

“I had to do it,” she sobbed. “I had to.” Wailing, Beryl threw herself into Charlotte’s arms.

“Of course you had to,” Charlotte murmured, confused.

“I rented the car,” Beryl hiccupped, “so it would be harder to trace —I mean if anyone saw me. I drove to New Jersey

“New Jersey?”

“Somewhere in the northern part of it, somewhere near where that guy who wrote all the books about collies lived. Albert Payson Terhune. “Beryl took several ragged gulps of air. “I just drove around until I found the right place. Sunnybank Animal Shelter. It looked really nice and there was a collie statue outside. Lad of Sunnybank, I think.”

“We spent a night in a motel and today, at dawn, I took him there. I think he knew.  I tied him to a tree. He didn’t try to get away. Just sat down like a gentleman and  held up his paw.  Oh, Charlotte,” Beryl sobbed, “what went wrong with us?  Do you think he’ll be all right?”

Relieved, Charlotte nodded. “I’m sure he will. Maybe he’ll find a family, you know, kids, something not quite so – well, one-on-one intense.”

Beryl sniffled. “I still can’t believe it. When I looked in the rear-view mirror after I left him, he was just sitting there. The way he used to. Like a perfect gentleman.”

The Carousel Carver
by Perdita Buchan

Arriving in Philadelphia from Trieste, Italy in 1912, Giacinto, a young carver of church icons, becomes a carousel carver during the golden age of that craft in America. He works hard to build a life for himself and Anna, the fiancee he left behind. When she writes to say that she is marrying the gypsy violinist who played each day in the plaza of Trieste, he is left with only the magical animals he carves. In 1939, with war looming, few new carousels are being built. Giacinto moves from Philadelphia to the New Jersey shore to maintain its many carousels. Another letter arrives from Anna: she is sending Rosa, her orphaned granddaughter, to him. Rosa’s gypsy heritage has put her in danger from the Nazi round ups, and her grandmother knows no other way to save her. Eight-year-old Rosa upends Giacinto’s solitary, predictable middle-aged existence. Discovery, adventure and danger are all met: youthful imagination brings carved stallions to life and love blossoms in unexpected places. "Overall, The Carousel Carver is a beautiful little book about carving a niche for oneself in the world and finding love in unexpected places. Recommended." --American Historical Novel Society Review
Available from Amazon.

Bios

Perdita Buchan was born in England and came to America as a child. She has since lived in England, Italy, and, for many years, in New England. She has published four novels and a nonfiction work, Utopia New Jersey, a 2008 New Jersey Council for the Humanities Honor Book. Her short fiction and articles have appeared in The New Yorker, Ladies Home Journal, Family Circle, Harvard Magazine, House Beautiful, New Jersey Monthly, The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor. Her recent novel, The Carousel Carver, won a 2020 Independent Publishers award. Another novel, Florilla: A Pinelands Romance came out recently. She lives in Ocean Grove NJ.

Marcella Peralta Simon is a retired Latinx grandmother, splitting her time between Cambridge UK and Kissimmee FL. She has been a diplomat, university professor, and instructional designer. She writes poetry and short fiction. Her artwork has been featured in Smoky Blue Literary and Arts MagazineBeyond Words Literary MagazineTofu Ink Arts PressPersimmon Tree, and The Acentos Review.

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