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Betsy and the Boxer
Roxi was a Boxer dog, a breed known for its squared muzzle, droopy lips, docked tail, and characteristic brown and white markings. He spent his days in the yard of his home, peacefully gnawing on rawhide bones in the shade of a massive oak tree. His master and mistress had deemed him a good boy long ago and treated him as such. Life was good for a four-year-old dog in a Virginian suburb, until the winter break arrived, and his family sent themselves packing for an island bound vacation. The people next door offered to take care of him for the week, and that is how Roxi first became involved with a little girl called Betsy.
Betsy was absolutely thrilled with the arrangement, for there were no pets in her house at all. It would be a dream come true to have a dog for her very own, but seeing as the Starflier family was vacationing, borrowing Roxi would be just as good. Based upon her findings from the Biscuit and Friends storybook, Betsy discovered that most dogs enjoy eating food, making friends, and staying up late. That sounded a whole lot like her own motives, so Betsy thought her and the Boxer from next door would get along just fine.
The morning prior to Roxi’s deliverance to her home, she tore up a section of grass beneath the cherry tree for the visiting canine to recline in upon his arrival. Her brothers secured a strong length of wire to the tree, for Roxi to be tied to. After being transferred from his yard to the Hellen’s, the Boxer immediately settled down in the patch of bare dirt the little girl had prepared for him- a dry, dirty, bald spot on the beautiful spread of well-trimmed grass. Betsy’s father took much pride in his landscaping and would be outraged to discover such a blight upon his lawn. Luckily, the dog’s appearance presented another source of blame, as opposed to Betsy, the guilty party. Betsy’s brothers, Bernard and Benjamin, hefted a large, high density dry-cast metal crate through the back gate while Betsy stroked Roxi’s ears and initiated a four-leaf clover search with the animal. The Boxer’s water bowl was put out and positioned under the cherry tree, where the resident was hitched. He lapped it up gratefully, as though it was 87 degrees out instead of 66. They set the crate on the back deck, and the food dish by the back door, which each child promised to fill at breakfast and dinner times. Lunch was not advised by Mr. Starflier, although Betsy thought this unfair. After all, Bernard had remarked that the dog weighed more than she did. Shouldn’t the larger creature be fed more frequently? When Betsy saw how large the dish was however, she changed her mind.
Betsy’s mother was uncomfortable around a pet as big as Roxi. Only Betsy’s father was permitted to walk him in the evenings, as she fretted the beast would take off, dragging one of her children behind him. She didn’t want her daughter to stay in the yard for too long, because the way the dog chewed so fiercely on his bone frightened her. What if he ran out of marrow to gnaw and turned his attention to the five-year-old’s sweet face? Unfortunately, Betsy was insistent on staying in the backyard with Roxi, despite her mother’s concerns.
“But Mommy!!! He hasn’t even kissed me yet!”
“EW, Betsy, you wouldn’t want a dog to kiss you. Come on inside and practice the alphabet.”
It was a proud fact that Betsy was now learning her letters and doing so at a rate much faster than her classmates. Betsy’s mother had purchased a small chalkboard easel, and Betsy enjoyed practicing her letters upon its dark green surface. Even this, she refused.
“Please, Betsy!? Leave the dog alone for a minute!” Begged Betsy’s mother.
The boys had trooped in a half hour ago, to complete a pirate themed indoor activity and have a snack. They were all about pirate puzzles and potato chips.
“Go help your brothers with their puzzle.” She tried, attempting to demand instead of ask.
“No.” Said Betsy simply.
Why on earth would she leave Roxi out in the yard all by himself? What if they became the best of friends over the next nine days and the Boxer forgot all about the Starfliers to follow the far-superior Betsy about for the rest of their lives? It was a far-flung hope, but anything was possible, and Betsy tried to initiate an understanding with the neighbor’s dog. She started a-new, once her mother had given up and gone inside, letting the back door slam shut.
“Do you wanna play a game with me Roxi?!” She asked enthusiastically. Dogs in picture books loved playing games.
Roxi paused for a moment, glanced at the curly haired kid in the pink sweater, and then resumed chewing his bone. All he seemed to love was rawhide. Betsy sat down in the grass and began to fondle his ears.
“You have a strange name for a boy dog. Maybe you would like a new name?” This was a good step. Renaming the pet would be like making him her own. She thought long and hard, mostly about the other dogs she knew, and what they were called. Her friend Daisy had two dogs; her hound-dog’s name was Rex, which meant ‘King,’ in Latin, and her golden retriever’s name was Jacob, which didn’t mean much of anything. Johnny Whiskers down the street had a dog called Rudy, but Rudy only ever played with Johnny or the older boys. Maya Bonyardi had a little dog called Kitty, but that seemed more like an insult than anything else. The harder Betsy thought about a good name, the antsier she became. Thinking was never her strong suit. Betsy liked to do things.
“Hey Roxi, maybe I could just call you Rox instead. That sounds better. Hey- let’s play with your bone!” At the word, ‘bone,’ Roxi firmly clamped his jaws around his possession, and went around the tree, where Betsy would be less likely to annoy him. Unfortunately, he trotted smack into the wooden edge of a backyard swing, which he had failed to recognize. It bonked him on the nose, which caused him to drop the bone. The spry Betsy snatched it up, and Roxi cried pitifully. Who would dare take a good dog’s bone?! He sat stock still in the finely clipped grass, and was aware of nothing but his bone, just as Betsy was aware of nothing but him.
“Good boy, Rox!” Exclaimed the little girl, her brown curls bouncing as she went to tousle his ears. Roxi growled menacingly. He had enough sense not to take a chomp at her, but his patience was threatened by anxiety. Betsy stepped back, frightened but not deterred.
“Wanna play fetch?!” She babbled joyously, and proceeded to untie the animal from his post in the tree. Grateful, but apprehensive, the Boxer bounded to his feet.
“Okay, Rox, you ready?” Betsy warned, stepping back a few feet, and positioning herself to throw the bone in any random direction. Her eyes were trained on the dog.
“GO FETCH!” Screamed Betsy, throwing the well-chewed bone. It sailed through the air, towards the left side of Betsy’s yard, over the pristinely manicured grass, the flowerbeds, and far above the barrier hedge that separated Betsy’s lawn from that of their other neighbors.
The Tulane family was quite well off, and they expressed their wealth with a beautifully designed rose garden. Roxi, of course, had no way of knowing this, and simply bounded after his prized possession, leaping over the green divider of the two backyards. Betsy watched him for a moment, the way his muscles unfurled as he went from a crouched, mid-run position into a canine-style arabesque. It was quite impressive, really, and she had never seen anything jump that high before. He cleared the bushes and disappeared over the boundary hedge.
Snapping out of her delusion, Betsy ran to the edge of her yard and stood on tiptoe in the empty flower bed, peering over the ledge. There was the Boxer, snuffling about the neighbor’s yard, inspecting each rosebush. She watched in horror as he 1) discovered his bone and 2) sprawled out in the mulch and resumed chewing. This was a terrible situation. If only she hadn’t unhitched that dog! There was no one who could help her. Bernard and Benjamin were lost in the land of pirate themed puzzles, and her mother would only get mad at her. Betsy couldn’t ring the doorbell and tell Mrs. Tulane or Josephine (their housekeeper), that there was a large dog loose in their lovely rose arbor, and that she, Betsy Maria Hellen, was responsible for it. She feared the repercussions. There was only one course of action to take. Betsy would have to convince Roxi to leave the premises. This would take some doing, but she deemed herself up to the challenge.
Crawling through the bushes on her side of the hedge was impossible, for the Tulane’s had a fearsome looking wrought iron fence put up on the opposite side, and the hedge was thick and sturdy. The only way in would be to leave her own yard, and enter the Tulane’s by way of back gate. Instead of simply pushing through it, Betsy thought it would be more fun to climb. To her dismay, the gate swung open as she straddled it, and she lost her balance, plummeting to the grass. Picking herself up and attempting to brush the grass stains off her sweater and overalls, Betsy looked around for Roxi. She spotted him in the rose arbor, chowing down on his bone in the exact same place she’d spotted him from peeking over the hedge.
“Come, Roxi!” She commanded, crossing her arms like her mother did when Betsy was being uncooperative. Roxi remained where he sat but glanced up at the girl. His expression soured instantly, and if he had had a tail to wag it would have fallen flat unto the mulch. Betsy shook her fist at the dog when he turned his head, like she knew her mother did when describing how difficult she was to other people. She tried a different tactic.
“Please, Rox? Come on, doggie. Time to come home now!”
The Boxer’s ears pricked up at the word ‘home.’
“Home?” Betsy repeated, “Wanna go home?!” She patted her thighs and crept forth across the lawn, crooning, “Here doggie! Come on, little dog! Let’s go home. Please!?”
Roxi resumed business concerning his bone. He liked the way the cool mulch felt on his stomach- so much more comfortable than the grassless patch under the cherry tree in Betsy’s backyard. In fact, he felt a little bit like getting on a more personal level with the mulch. Bounding to his feet, the Starflier’s dog began to scratch and roll, the way that dogs do.
“No!” Shouted Betsy, who raced over to stop him, “You’ll can’t do that! You’ll ruin the roses!”
Seeing as it was March, there was not a blossom to be seen on any of the thorny, stick-like bushes in the yard. To any unassuming individual, the garden might have looked like a cultivation of thorns. Mrs. Tulane, however, looked upon her yard with the pride of any top notch gardener, and despised all trespassers in every season. She was known to chase squirrels about with brooms, and often chastised the man she hired to cut the grass for mowing too close to the flower beds.
“Rox! Roxi Starflier! You can’t dig there! You’ll be chased with a broom!” The girl began to tug at his collar, but the pet simply shrugged her off and shot across the grass to the wrought iron picket fence on the opposite side, bone clenched in his jaws. He had a comical expression on his face, as if daring Betsy to give chase. Well, Betsy was certain the dumb dog from next door was no match for the might of Betsy Maria Hellen.
“Come back here, you dirty dog!”
Then the real fun began. Around and around the yard they went, kicking up mulch and grass in their wakes. The bone never left Roxi’s mouth as he tore about, skirting the fence, the hedge, the scraggly plants, and the Tulane’s back gate. He was enjoying himself very much, especially when Betsy gained on him, and he jumped away at the last second. Minutes wore on, and fatigue weighed upon him, but there is no greater urge to run than the threat of a bone-thieving five year old. Roxi felt shelter was needed. He looked around and spotted the Tulane’s back door, which had been left slightly ajar. Without a second thought, the large dog was through that door and inside the Tulane’s dining room.
“NO!” Hollered Betsy, and she dashed after her escaped charge. The devil on her shoulder laughed whole-heartedly, while the angel on her other shoulder wept piteously. Unhitching Roxi had been the worst mistake ever made in the history of Egypt Street, she was sure of it! What would her mother say when she went back home?!
“Roxi!” She exclaimed, breaching the threshold of her neighbor’s house, just as the dog’s curiosity led him atop the table. He kicked the lacey tablecloth into a crocheted lump, and looked at Betsy as if she was gate crashing his party.
“Oh no, Rox! What have you done?! She’ll probably go after both of us with a vacuum now!” Was Betsy’s flustered response. The Starflier’s dog turned his head at the word ‘vacuum,’ his age old enemy since puppyhood. He started to shake, and little clumps of fur shed unto the polished tabletop.
“Oh, Rox. I’m sorry I yelled. But you must get off that table and come home, before something really bad happens!” Implored the little girl.
Roxi however, was thinking more along the lines of the word, ‘vacuum.’ The very notion set his teeth on edge. And so the Boxer gave way to instinct, letting his nerves release a steady stream of urine atop the Tulane’s dining room table. In that exact moment, Josephine, the Tulane’s hired women, entered the room. Her eyes flicked from the enormous dog, to the puddle of pee on the table, to Betsy Hellen in her pink sweater. Her mouth became an ‘O,’ and to Roxi’s great dismay, the housekeeper toted a vacuum. He promptly leapt from the table, nearly squashing poor Betsy, and fled the house, no doubt retreating to the Hellen’s backyard. In his frightened state, the Boxer dropped his bone, which Betsy picked up with thumb and forefinger. It was wet and slimy with canine saliva, and chewed up so badly it looked more like a regurgitated animal than a bone.
“Well,” Betsy said cautiously to the bewildered maid, “I think I’d best be going. Good bye, Josephine! Thank you for your hospitality!” She wasted no time in vacating the property.
Betsy was quite pleased with herself, having remembered to say exactly what her mother always told her to say when leaving a person’s house. Now there would be no reason for her mother to be mad at her. That is, until Mrs. Tulane rang the doorbell later that evening. The women talked for a few minutes, and Mrs. Hellen offered many sincere apologies, her face the color of Betsy’s sweater. She grabbed Betsy sharply and dug her fingernails into the soft part of her upper arm. Betsy’s complaint regarding this pain was met with a chilling, ‘say you’re sorry,’ and when she did, Mrs. Tulane’s thin hand extended for Betsy to shake. Mrs. Tulane’s eyes were small and dark, she wore many shiny rings of gold on her fingers, and her too-blonde hair was swept up into a shape that might have been more attractive on somebody else. Betsy might have been afraid of her, but she was five, much too old for shyness in her opinion. When the door finally closed, Betsy’s mother shook her head, eyes blazing like green embers. Her collar bone sharpened, and her shoulder’s squared, and the color in her face became like the devil’s.
It was then that Betsy knew she was in real trouble.