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by Nanno Bienstock
SUNDA, MY BLACK Czechoslovakian Shepherd, disappeared the night of April 14th. Whenever I put her out late to pee, she always comes right back to get a biscuit. Sometimes she is so eager for the biscuit that she neglects to pee. This time she vanished. Perhaps a deer sprang up and she chased it across the river without knowing how to get back. In any case, I lost two days waiting for her to return.
Although she was not a particularly cute puppy, she has grown into a beautiful dog. She has shiny black fur, a pretty face, sharp white teeth, and a sausage tail. I have trained her to hand signals, and she has beautiful manners. The only thing she likes to do that I do not approve of is charging out to greet visitors. It scares them.
Over the last two months I have handed out over two hundred flyers with her picture and phone numbers and set up posters at all the local intersections. Sunda must be riddled with ticks by now and, worse, heart worms, for she has missed the last three doses of medication. Calls have come in from as far as Middletown and the Town of Rochester as well several from only two miles away, McKinstry Road and Burnt Meadow Road.
It is as though there are two parallel, identical worlds. I am now in one of them and Sunda is in the other. There is a transparent barrier like cellophane between these worlds which keeps us apart. Occasionally the cellophane creaks and glints. I want to smash it, but my hand slips through as though it were passing through water. Other people for whom the worlds coincide can see Sunda and they call me up.
TOWN OF ROCHESTER The one from Rochester was strange. A woman posted a photo on Lost Pets of the Hudson Valley, an internet site. I wrote back instantly, “That’s my dog!” She responded that now she regretted posting the picture as it turned out the dog belonged to her neighbor. But wouldn’t you know your neighbor’s dog? I was sure it was Sunda and suspected that the neighbor had decided to keep her. I looked up the woman’s address and headed west to a small house on a wooded road where a middle-aged man with a grey complexion answered the door reluctantly. His son, a large slack man with greasy hair, nodded rhythmically and stared at the ceiling. The man said the woman who had posted the picture was the caretaker of an estate in Sullivan County. Her neighbor was over there, not here. “I can take them over,” said the son slowly. “Don’t get involved,” his father said. Instead he recited confusing directions. “Oh, I’ll never find it,” I said in despair. I turned to the son. “If you could show us the way, I’d be incredibly grateful.” A rank smell came from him as he got to his feet. “Stay out of it,” the father said. “You don’t know these people. Why put wear on your car?” “But they need help,” said the son. He hovered over the chair, undecided, looking at his father. “Oh, please,” I said. “You can ride in my car.” “Yeah,” he said. “I can ride in their car.” The father shook his head and walked away.
We drove deep into the Town of Rochester on woodsy back roads. At times the son became uncertain. Once we had to go back when he said he had made a mistake. It turned out the woman who posted the dog was his mother, who no longer communicated with the father. “She’ll talk to me, though,” he said. When we got to the estate, he got out and pushed back a tall aluminum gate, which I would not have dared to do. We walked around the house, but his mother was not there, and there was no sign of Sunda.
“Where do the neighbors live?” I asked. He didn’t know. “Let’s try next door,” I said. On the far side of the property was a log house with a high porch. I climbed the steps with a leash in my hand and knocked on the door. Through the glass window I could see a woman approach and across the room a black shepherd jumped up and pressed past her. It was Sunda! As the woman opened the door a crack the dog shouldered through. I held out my hand, expecting her to leap into my arms, but instead her fur went up. The dog didn’t know me. It could have been a litter mate. The dog was identical to Sunda.
On the way back in the car the son apologized for not finding my dog. “But I’m so glad you took us there,” I insisted. “If we hadn’t gone, I would always think they were keeping my dog.” I handed him twenty dollars when we got back to his father’s house. Maybe the father would see that kindness could be profitable. When I got home, I washed a smudge off the back seat where the son had been sitting and left the windows open.
RUTSONVILLE A woman called to say a lost dog came to her yard that morning. She had fed him a pizza and set out a bowl of water. “That was kind of you,” I said. “Could you tell the sex? I’m looking for a female.” “Was I supposed to turn him over?” she said. “How’m I gonna do that?” I told her I would drive over immediately and bring a picture. “That’s not the dog,” she said as soon as she opened the door. “This dog had floppy ears.”
MIDDLETOWN A woman called to say she had seen my dog in a homeless camp along the railroad tracks outside Middletown. It was a swampy area. You had to walk in on the tracks. “Watch out,” she said. “The train comes up silently behind you. Then the guy leans on his horn, and you practically jump out of your skin.” She thought the people who camped there might be feeding the dog. A black dog with pointy ears.
On Sunday, my son and two of his kids accompanied me. The kids wore flip flops, which made walking along the edge of the tracks on chunks of shale difficult. The space along the tracks seemed to be a piece of another planet. Though owned by the Orange and Rockland Railroad, it was a no man’s land. Brash. Free of any plant life. Smacked by the sun. We could not find the dirt road that was supposed to lead to an old railroad depot where the homeless were living, and the kids’ feet were bruised and hurting, so we left. I would feel uncomfortable going back alone, but cannot ask my son to come again.
BURNT MEADOW Another woman called to say she had seen a black dog that looked like mine in a pen behind the second house on Burnt Meadow Road. She had seen it twice, but much of the time it wasn’t in the pen. “One of your signs is right at the intersection,” she said. “Those people must have seen it. I’m hoping nobody took your dog by accident. Or not accident.” It was dusk when I got to the house. Nevertheless, I parked down the road. I decided not to knock on the door, but just snap the leash on the dog if it was Sunda. The dog was there in the pen, wriggling with delight as I approached. It was smaller and younger than my dog. I walked back across the dark lawn.
MCKINSTRY ROAD Friends have a vineyard on McKinstry Road. At a party several weeks ago, the husband mentioned to other friends of mine that he thought he had seen my dog at the S curve in the road ten days ago. He had not called me, although there was a poster of Sunda in their tasting room that his wife let me put up. These are extremely busy people, but still I felt disappointed. I sent them an email asking that if he saw the dog again to please call me immediately. The wife called back to say her husband didn’t really think it was my dog and the supposed siting was much longer than ten days ago. She felt the story had been blown up out of proportion.
Nevertheless, I walked down to the river beyond the S curve in McKinstry Road. It is a rich riparian forest with huge trees and many little wetlands. A cool and leafy place for a dog on a hot day. The forest runs along the back of a series of properties on McKinstry Road, two of them horse farms. Sunda will eat horse poop, which her breeder says is not good for her, but since it is incompletely digested, it does have some nutrition in it.
HOAGBURG ROAD A neighbor called to see if I had found my dog yet. She said she had asked her prayer group to pray for me. “This woman needs closure,” she told them. “This poor woman has been searching for that dog for two months!”
MCKINSTRY ROAD AGAIN Another woman left a message on my phone -- Why is it always women? Why have I never gotten a call from a man? -- and she said an hour ago a big white dog was romping with a black dog that looked like mine at the junction of McKinstry and Burnt Meadow. She told me the white dog lived two houses down from the intersection. I drove over right away and looked around the area. I handed out flyers to four or five houses at the intersection and asked if they had seen my dog an hour ago. Then I went to the door where the white dog lived. He burst out of the back of the house and jumped on the door, barking. He was large, shaggy, and exuberant. Sunda would have hated him. She is somewhat timid and only likes one other dog and that one not all of the time. I gave the woman a flyer. The woman asked me to be sure to latch the gate to the picket fence securely. A minute later she let out the dog and he slammed against the gate.
When I walked back to the road, the woman who had called me pulled over in her car. I told her no one in the neighborhood had seen my dog, but I did meet the large white dog. I was sure my dog would have been scared of it. “Maybe they weren’t playing,” she said. “The white dog was chasing the other one. Maybe it was trying to get away.”
SOMETIMES I think Sunda left, because of a quiet little argument we had been having for a number of years. At least twice a day I would tell her she was a bunny rabbit. In fact, I called her Sunda Bunny.
“You are a such a bunny,” I would say. “You are the best bunny rabbit in the whole world.”
I’m a wolf.
“A few bunny rabbits do want to be wolves, but they almost never pull it off. They are too sweet,” I told her. “Wolves are fierce. You are definitely a bunny rabbit.”
I’m a wolf.
“Oh, Sunda. I love your fuzzy face. Your leather paws. Your sausage tail. Your flashing white teeth. And your sweet heart.”
Could you love a wolf?
“Of course I could love a wolf.”
I’m a wolf.
Nanno Bienstock is a writer and poet in Wallkill, New York. She last appeared here in Winter 2013-14 with a story, "A DIfficult Person."