Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Nick of Donnick Cottage

Black, oily smoke creeps from under the shingle-less roof. Roughly sawn cedar entries catch fire, their tiny, torn slivers first, then the boards themselves. The double dog house, with its twin sleeping quarters, shaded veranda and mini mailbox is slow to ignite. But eventually the diesel fuel does its work, spreading mayhem throughout the now pointless structure. Another day, another death.

Nicky was the first dog to grace my adultness. A champion lineage Samoyed, the most beautiful animal I'd ever seen. Sparkling white, perfect head, smallish build and spotless black nose he was a breeders dream...or at least would be in Britain.

American judges though wanted larger specimens, all things USA needing to be bigger and better I imagine; and so poor, sweet Nicholas became a family pet, discharged from stud service, no longer the master of the harem.

Once Joker had smoothed his way into the hearts of my friend Kelly’s three bitches, life was over for Nick. Not only was he solitary and shamelessly neutered, but now the young upstart with the silly name challenged him at every turn, forcing him into exile to avoid the possibility of bloodshed.

I was recently divorced and as is my constitution during tragedy, sad and lonely; and thus a perfect target for a doggie handoff. Convincing me it was for my own good and Nicky's only recourse against annihilation, Kelly eliminated the pound from his alternative solutions. Nick jumped into my Camero for the ride to his new home. His paw banged on the window until I wound it down a bit, then the white, flowing head of hair extended into the street to the ooos and ahhs of children and adults alike.

He was more a cat than a dog really, at least in his attitude toward humans. Each morning, the moment he spied my slightest movement he'd run to me, offering his face for stroking, bending his ears hoping to hear "doggy talk" from his master. That would last 30 seconds and if it were not obvious that I was about to take him for a walk, he be off to inspect elsewhere, barking at all comers, driving my neighbors insane.

Over time we grew accustomed to each other; never friends as he had no compulsion to get that close to another animal, but partners of a sort instead. We had our relationship places; I was the feeder and the poop picker upper, he looked cute. That’s fair, he thought.

Linda and I met and married, and for a few years the three of us lived in the big city, spending pretty much all our free time “walking the dog”. It was around the lakes during the day and off-leash and through the city park near midnight when the smart people were fast asleep and the gunshots rang out from miles away.

Then we moved to Moorsby Watch and doggy was in hog heaven, constantly disappearing for hours and nearly every time returning with blood on his face and a stomach full of burrs and swamp water. It was impossible to keep up with grooming; luckily I was making some real money at the time and could bribe a dog stylist to keep up for us.   

Coons, muskrat and friendly neighborhood coyotes were his targets and most he dealt with quickly and playfully as only animals can do without raining down the forces of good upon their inhumane heads. He was a master hunter, not the usual hobby for his breed.   

The only truly annoying thing about pretty boy was his bark, not only high pitched and ear splitting, but constant. He was a talker and perhaps too much like his master, had far too much to say.   

In that though he served as a fine driveway alarm, announcing all visitation, parading in front of any poor fool that had come to see us. He'd not move faster than a mile per, and yelp all the way to the house, cars and trucks in slow mode barely able to keep their engines above idle without hitting the dummy. Then one day, someone did.   

Nick was getting old, 12 years as I remember and was slowing down a bit. He seemed to always be searching for others of his kind to pal with, dragging them off to mischief and getting them in dutch with their owners. So I’d found him a playmate, Ylena.   

She, like he was an incredible looker. An agouty colored Husky with silver, white and tan strands of hair making her shimmer in the light, and a face that rivaled old Nick's. Nick hated her and she was relentless in punishing him for his crotchetyness. She'd bark and growl and dance and bite and jump on him when he wasn't looking, and he'd simply turn and open his jaws, fitting her little head inside his maw, growling as if to warn her of impending doom. She'd just sit and quietly wait for him to become impatient and back off, then start the leaping routine all over.   

Ronnie’s plan foiled, buddy's these guys would never be; but no matter. Soon Nick would meet his maker in the form of a propane truck.   

A snowier than normal winter created a 600 foot driveway with walls, one that Nick patrolled with more frequency now that he was too old to dig himself out, once cracking through deep snow. It was the only snowless path for him until the road so it was his lifeline to the world.

New Year’s Eve day a truck rumbled down the drive, presumably hoping to make a sale. We'd already signed on to the program that disallowed random fills, we'd call when we were low and at that moment our tank was damn near full, yet the driver was angry about having to work on a damn near a holiday, and he was gonna make some commission goddamn it or die trying.

Nick did his usual thing, ran to the front of the truck to play Drum Major to the parade, turning back occasionally to see if his charge was following at the proper speed. The driver was having none of that, in a hurry to dispense his load of fuel in time to attend some drunken bash later that afternoon.


I was in the basement as I heard Linda's screams. Blasting up the stairs and grabbing my coat, I flew down to the drive to meet the now weeping driver standing beside his idling death machine. His gaze directed mine to far down the drive where a white patch lay, seeping red into the snow. Nick had gotten out of the way but was not able to leap the ice walls that were now wall to wall tire and axle.

Linda was in shock having watched the whole affair and I ran to the poor dog trying to cradle it for transport to a vet. Not to be, he was flat as a pancake. I carried him back to the house crying uncontrollably and set him on our stoop, my jacket now soaked in his blood.

Not wanting to turn him over for cremation and knowing that this was his home alive or dead, I found a spot where the soil was still pliable under the snow, a rose bed we'd dug and composted during the fall. And there I buried him deep enough to keep scavengers at bay, covering his grave with soil and layers of ice pack snow.

We named our house after him, silly as that may be. A plaque bearing the capital letter of my surname, below which the Olde English script spelling "Donnick Cottage" was mounted beside our front door, "Donnick" being a loose translation of “dog Nicholas”.

We’ve long since moved from that home, but I have occasion to pass closeby at least once a week, and every so often I’ll take the little detour to slowly drive past my one and only slice of heaven. I marvel at the hundreds of trees and shrubs there, planted by mine and my wife’s hand, at the druid circle of oaks, and the yardarm flagpole. and the trio of pin oak bearing my three mothers’ names. I always wave to Nick, his soul barking and dancing across the skinny, deep plot of grass and garden, in search of a living playtoy and bushels full of burrs for his shiny white, silky smooth fur. Turned out he and I were not only friends, but kindred; and part of me is buried right there beside him.

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