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“Dad, can we please have a dog? Please?”
“But why not?
“Because we don’t need a dog right now.”
“You ALWAYS say that!”
This was the kind of conversation my dad and I would have at the tender age of eleven—with me always pleading ‘please?’ and him always grunting ‘no!’
And my siblings and I really wanted a dog. You know, one of those golden, shaggy cuddlers that would be your best friend until you were eighty. But that’s not what my old man had in mind.
When I thought of ‘dog,’ I thought ‘cute fuzzy best friend that would curl up on my bed and keep me toasty at night.’ When my dad thought of ‘dog,’ he thought ‘pee on the brand new carpet he had just paid $1,000 to install.’
The one thing was, there were four of us and one of him. So, we utilized our competitive advantage and complained day and night. His rock-hard persistence eventually shattered.
“Fine!” he yelled one day. “I’ll get you something. Are you happy now?”
“YES!” we squealed.
“But if you don’t walk it, feed it, and pick up its stinkies…it’ll be gone like that!” my dad said sternly, snapping his fingers for emphasis.
“We will we will we will we will!” we shrieked, totally transported with glee.
“Okay. I’ll bring it home tomorrow.”
My dad finally got some peace.
I lay in bed that night and couldn’t fall asleep. I just gazed up at the old canopy hanging over my head, grinning as I imagined myself running in slow motion through a field as the jealous neighbor kids gawked at me from their windows. I would throw my head back, laughing as my dog barked at the girls across the street—you know, the ones with the adorable little rottweiler. Those mean girls were always announcing regretfully that they couldn’t play with me because *sigh* …they had to walk their dog.
Humph. I saw right through their little act. I knew they were just throwing it in my face that they had a pet and I didn’t. Well, I couldn’t wait to see their faces the next day when my dad bounded out of his car holding a cute pudgy golden retriever puppy.
Friday rolled around. Five minutes before the bell rang, I was already clutching the handles of my backpack, ready to spring out the door.
Tick…tock…tick…the second hand hopped like a lazy frog past each minute line on the dial.
I flew out of my seat and was out the door before the other kids had even put their pencils away. I ripped the door of our battered old car open and shoved my backpack inside.
“Hey there, honey! Nice day at school?” my mom asked, smiling at me.
“DRIVE!” I screeched, grabbing her wrist and slapping her hand on the wheel.
My seven-year-old sister Cameron was hyperventilating with excitement in the backseat.
“We need to get home ASAP!” she shrieked. “We have to clean the house before dad gets home from work!” Hands trembling with anticipation, Cameron ripped a sketch of the house out of her backpack and waved it in my mother’s face. It had black circles on the areas she was cleaning and red circles on the areas I was supposed to clean. Of course I had toilet duty.
My mom chuckled.
“I thought I just heard you say you wanted to “clean the house”. You meant “eat on the couch,” right?”
“No! We’re getting Samuel today, remember?”
“Samuel? We are not naming our dog Samuel!” I squawked. “That’s the name of an old Jewish priest!”
“Yes we are, I’ve already decided,” Cameron said firmly.
“Well, I’ve already decided we aren’t. Personally, I think ‘Rico’ is a much more suitable name for our adorable new golden retriever.”
“Dad’s getting a PUG!”
“Huh?” my mom inquired from the front seat. She obviously didn’t know that we were getting a dog.
“Whatever, Cameron. Just wait and see. Rico is definitely a golden retriever. But I’m not going to argue anymore because I’m just more mature than that,” I said, turning my head abruptly to the window.
“Fine, MaCall,” harrumphed Cameron, suddenly extremely fascinated by whatever was outside her window.
We pulled into the driveway as mom slowly put down her coffee and turned the music down.
“Hurry, mom!” I screamed.
“Yeah, the dog is waiting! We don’t have time for this,” wailed Cameron, blasting out of the car and slamming the door behind her. I was already in the kitchen trying to find my apron.
“Don’t you guys want your backpacks?” my mom inquired.
We didn’t even hear her as we were already spreading the housekeeping blueprints Cameron had drawn on the kitchen table.
“Okay, MaCall—you can plunge the toilet, pick up all the dirty clothes off the floor, and wipe the toothpaste out of the sinks in the bathroom. I’ll dust the furniture, put roses on the tables, and possibly vacuum,” Cameron bossed.
“No. That’s not fair. I don’t want all the dirty work! I’ll wipe the toothpaste out of the sinks, and you can plunge the toilet. That way the jobs are equal. And we can both dust furniture and put roses on the tables,” I added reasonably.
“Fine. Let’s get to work!” Cameron squealed.
When we were finished, the tables were sparkling clean, our rooms looked like bedrooms plucked from a fairy tale, and the bathrooms looked like they had just been scrubbed by Mr. Oxy-Clean. Even our toilet water glowed with a sparkling sheen.
Cameron and I curled our hair and put on our Sunday best. Then, we skipped downstairs and plopped on the couch with two pre-artificially battered copies of Moby Dick and War and Peace. We wanted to look like we were doing something productive when my dad came home. That way, he wouldn’t regret getting us a dog.
Tick tock tick tock tick tock…
A rattling sound shattered the silence.
Cameron and I looked at each other, then nodded.
“Act I begins,” Cameron whispered.
I nodded, then opened War and Peace to a spot appropriately near the end. Cameron opened Moby Dick and squinted at the tiny print.
My dad walked in with a sparkle in his eye and set down his briefcase. I slammed War and Peace shut with a triumphant humph! and looked up at Cameron, trying to make my eyes exude wisdom beyond my years.
“Great book,” I sighed, lovingly patting the tattered pages.
“Reading War and Peace?” asked my dad, his eyebrows jiggling up and down with amusement.
“Finished War and Peace. But hold on, Dad, I was just about to discuss my literary insights with Cameron,” I announced.
“MaCall, why don’t you give me a general summary of the book. That way I know where to begin,” said Cameron, making her rehearsed line sound like a sudden insight.
“Well, it started with a lubricant feeling when the Roman troops were immobilized by the Austrian Empire,” I said, raising my eyebrow in what I hoped was an intellectual look.
Cameron nodded sympathetically in her best Barbara Walters impression.
“And how did that make you feel?”
“What about Pierre Tsar?”
“I thought he was a little disillusioned by married life, and it was definitely intoxicating when he became involved in the spiritual practice of Gallumphing. But that was just an aspect of my perspective.”
“So you think that Pierre was…justified in his actions?”
“Can you expound upon that notion?”
“From my conjugations—”
“I am very proud of you girls!” my dad interrupted, trying not to laugh. “I’m so glad I got the new pet. Let me go get him… he’s in the car.”
“Oh…we weren’t expecting this. We are so shockified we are speechless. But do hurry, we don’t want him to get cold.”
My dad nodded in agreement, his eyes going wide.
“You’re right! An animal of his size…why, he could catch a cold very quickly.”
My dad skipped outside. Cameron and I just smiled. We must be getting a chihuahua!
When my dad returned to the living room, he was holding something behind his back. My stomach jolted into my throat and my nose went cold. This was the moment I had been waiting for since the womb.
“1…2…3!” shouted my dad happily, whipping something out from behind his back.
It was a clear plastic box the size of my little brother’s toy truck. And it was filled with grass.
“Um, dad…why did you bring the dog in a Critter Carter?”
“He’s just joking—the chihuahua is still in the car,” I said, laughing.
Only the chirp of crickets could be heard as we stared at the plastic box. Nervously, I slapped my knee.
“Haha, very funny, dad. You can get the real dog now!”
My dad started laughing. He was laughing so hard that he was actually about to pee. Then, his face went all red as his cheeks bulged.
“Dog?! (laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh) Dog?!” he cried, tears streaming down his cheeks.
“YES, DOG! WE’VE WORKED ALL AFTERNOON AND SCRUBBED THE TOILETS FOR THIS DAD!” Cameron screamed. “I even made a housekeeping blueprint and memorized the themes of War and Peace on Sparknotes!”
Dad only laughed harder.
“If it’s not a dog, then what is it?!” I asked in horror, my voice trembling and my eyes welling up with tears.
“It’s…an…ANT!” my dad managed to choke out between guffaws.
Cameron and I just looked at him, a cold gray fog of depression sweeping over us. Then came rage.
“…an…ANT?!” she screeched.
My dad was practically having seizures on the floor with his laughter now.
“WHAT IS SO FUNNY?!” I yelled, my fists balling up like balloons of insanity.
Cameron and I sat down and glared at him in silence.
After a few centuries, my dad stood up and dusted himself off the floor. He was finished with his fit, and he looked like a tomato—a tomato I wanted to hurl against a wall or dice into bite-sized bits. That’s how mad I was.
Cameron walked over and picked up the little box. We squinted into it, but all we could see were little bits of grass and a few leaves.
“There’s not even an ant in here,” she moaned.
“I hate you,” I said to my dad.
“Oh, give me a break. It took me so long to get an ant in there. I kept accidentally squishing them with my fingers, and I couldn’t make them crawl in…I mean, what do you expect from an ant? So finally I had to—”
“Ugh! There he is,” Cameron squealed, pointing to a microscopic dot crawling up the inside of the plastic box.
“See?! There you have it…his name is Mo,” said my dad. “And remember…if you don’t walk it, feed it, and pick up its stinkies…it’ll be gone like that!” my dad announced sternly, snapping his fingers.
Mo died later that day. We found out on the internet that an ant’s lifespan lasts about one day. Fortunately, there were millions more marching into my mother’s kitchen…because someone left their coffee cake sitting on the counter. (It wasn’t me.) But what we did with those ants…is another story.