The dogs ran away the other night.
I was late getting home (from the meeting out of town where the speaker thought I was German). Shawna and the kids were out of town visiting Papa and Grandma, so I was home alone. I read for a bit, cleaned up the house (it's true, I tell ya), and then settled down sometime around 1 AM to go to sleep.
I closed my eyes, and the cool, peaceful night began to overtake me. I started to drift off into the that quiet oblivion...
My eyes shot open! My heart began to beat triple time:
I jumped out of bed, ran to the sliding glass door, and yanked the door open
"Rowy! Chloe! C'mere girls!" I called
I ran to the garage and grabbed a container full of food. I'd forgotten to feed them for a day (or two); perhaps they were passed out over on the side of the house. I ran around, food in hand, and stopped short. Nothing.
There was, though, a nice sized hole under the fence. Flashbacks of Shawshank Redemption: maps drawn on the backs of cat posters inside the dog house; holes dug in the dead of night, the dogs alternating--one digging, the other as a lookout; dog bones and spare food stored away under the dog house.
They were gone.
I ran inside, put on a pair of jeans, a shirt and some slippers (shaved and put some gel in my hair), grabbed my keys and cell phone, and ran to the car. I called Shawna as I started the car.
"Shawna: It's PJ!"
"Shawna: It's me! Are you awake?"
"Shawna: They're arresting me!"
"Shawna: Please! Wake up!"
"Shawna: The dogs ran away!"
"What?!?! Oh my goodness! What happened?!?!"
"They're gone Shawna! I don't know what happened! I'm going to go out and see if I can find them right now, but they're gone! They got out under the fence! What are we going to do?" By this time I'm almost crying, if for no other reason than I know the kids absolutely love the dogs, and I can't bear the thought of being the guy who was on watch when they escaped.
"PJ! Calm down! It's OK!"
I'm driving up and down the dark streets, windows down, sobbing out the windows at the top of my lungs: "ROWY!!! CHLOE!!! C'MERE DOGGIES!! LEX AND GENTRY ARE HOME!! COME SEE 'EM!!"
"PJ!" Shawna's yelling at me by now. "Pull yourself together! Calm down! Listen: turn around, go home, get some rest, and we'll call the pound in the morning! You've got to calm down though!"
I pull to the side of the road, put the car in park, dig around in the back and find a plastic Target bag. I try inhaling and exhaling into it, but it just gets all slobbery and sticks to my mouth.
When I get done coughing the plastic out of my tonsils, Shawna convinces me to go home and get some rest. We hang up at a little before 2 AM, and I go back into the house, tuck myself back in, and cry myself to sleep.
It was a restless sleep (fueled, I now think, by the two energy drinks I had on the way home from my dinner). I dreamt.
I dreamt of waking early the next morning. Of rising, full of hope that I'd be able to track down the prodigal canines of the family. Of rushing through a shower and shave, throwing on an un-ironed shirt, grabbing my keys and rushing out to the animal shelter.
Of arriving before they opened, and waiting at the front door as an elderly woman walked to the door from somewhere deep inside the shelter and unlocked the glass door with a skeleton key she selected from a key ring the size of a spare tire.
Of rushing into the shelter, and up to the tall desk, raised on the other side, so that when the dour woman finally shuffled her way from the front door back around to the business side of the counter, she was able to look down over her horn-rimmed spectacles, and give you that cold look that, coming from one like her, chilled you to the bone (because it reminds you of that horrid dream you used to have when you were a kid; the one where the woman who looks just like this one started cackling and chasing you, and as she chased, she grew, until by the end of the dream, just before you woke, the you/her ratio was the rough equivalent to the ratio of James to the giant peach, and you woke sweaty and whimpering, certain that in the next instant she would simply stop running and just roll right over you).
And this dream, of me standing there in the animal shelter, is suddenly as real as real can be. And I'm trying my best to explain to the woman what has happened, and how my kids really need their dogs, and I just can't seem to get the story right, and it's getting worse because the woman who I'm afraid is going to, any minute, start growing, just stands and looks at me, not saying a word.
And then she does.
"What makes you think, Sir, that you DESERVE these dogs," she asks, disdain dripping from every word.
"They're...um...they're my dogs, Ma'am," I reply, meekly.
"You don't DESERVE dogs, Sir!" she says, voice booming about in the dark cinder block room. "You let YOUR dogs run away!"
"I didn't 'let' them run away, Ma'am; they got out."
"What do you MEAN, you didn't 'let' them run away? They ran away, didn't they--SIR?"
Now she's emphasizing the "sir", as if guys who let their dogs run away don't even deserve to be called Sir.
"Um...yes, I guess they did. But I didn't LET them run away. I even checked the gate before--"
"THAT'S WHAT THEY ALL SAY!" she bellowed. "YOU LEFT YOUR GATE OPEN, AND NOW YOU WANT ME TO GIVE YOU THE DOGS BACK? YOU, SIR, ARE AN UNFIT PET OWNER!"
I'm on my knees in front of the raised bench, and suddenly she's got a curly gray wig and a long black robe on, and she's holding a wooden gavel in her hand. Her voices booms out loud and long as she bellows: "FOR THE CRIME OF LEAVING YOUR GATE OPEN, I NOW SENTENCE YOU, MR. GREEN, TO LIFE WITH NO PETS! GUARDS, TAKE HIM AWAY"
BANG! BANG! BANG!
"NO! NO! I DIDN'T leave the gate open, I didn't..." I'm still thrashing around, and fighting the guards, when the sun wakes me, and I realize that I've got the sheets wrapped around my left wrist, and I'm beating at the pillow with my right hand.
I lay there for a moment and catch my breath, letting the morning sun beat on my face. Thinking that I've got to cut back on those energy drinks.