Twenty-seven years ago I took a noncredit creative writing class. I can’t remember if I stayed for the duration of the class. I don’t believe I did as I only have one story from the course.
Bettie was my mother and Blue was her dog. Blue is the dog from The Daily Blue post.
Could be any day during the summer of 94′, it could be any day, I say, because for Bettie and Blue they were all the same. You see, while the rest of America went to ballgames, picknicked at a park, swam in the neighbor’s pool, and in general tried to enjoy the longer days and warmer weather afforded during summer, Bettie and Blue were trying to kill each other. The war that raged wasn’t large scale enough to warrant Governor Casey calling in the National Guard of Bridgeville Chief of Police Maggy Quinn to stop tying up traffic long enough to send over a cruiser but it was serious enough to almost send a middle-aged woman named Bettie to the nuthouse, and a six month old puppy named Blue to the poorhouse. Territorial disputes, religious differences, assasination of leaders; those are some of the normal reasons why people go to watr. Bettie and Blue are waging a mini-war of their own for a reason millions of people have killed and died for: freedom. For Blue, it’s the freedom to run all over Bridgeville eating garbage and going to the bathroom on other people’s lawns. For Bettie, it’s the freedom to not be fined forrty dollars two or three times a week by the Animal Control officer. Wht are thery waging a war aainst each other? What causes these two beings to battle wits with each other? What causes man and beast, instewad of enjoying the happiness a pet and a good home bring, to drive each other crazy?
That’s right, a fence. A fence Bettie erected around her backyard to give her three dogs the space to run around while also ridding the need to tie all three dogs up on chains. This arrangement was to make it easier on all parties involved. For two parties, it did. Sparky, a black Lab, and Princess, a terrior/collie mix, picked up on the idea of being able to roam to all four corners of the yeard. The yalso understood that because of the fence, they wouldn’t be able to leave the yard, a fact completely lost on Blue.
Blue is a beautiful mix of Husky and German Shephard. I fact, Blue is so beautiful, people have been overheard saying, “Gee Bettie, that’s a really beautifiol dog eating your carpet.” she’s an energetic (needing ionly 16 hours of rest per day, compared to the standard 20 hours taken by dogs), happy (she lives a dog’s life, wouldn’t you be?), obedient (“Come her eBlue, Come here, Come on Blue, Come here…Blue…Blue…COME HERE BLUE! GODDAMNIT BLUE I SAID COME HERE!!!”) dog with enough curiosity to kill two cats. But what she isn’t is a suburban dog. You see, for the first four motnhs of her life, Blue lived in a rural area where, freee from the restraints of responsible owners, she ran loose through the surrounging fields and woods, livign off of cat food and rain water. Free to roam and raise herself, Blue fully developed the characterisitics of playfulness and intelligence inherent in Huskies and Shepards. What Blue didn’t develop was an affinity for watching “The Price is Right” and reading the obituaries, so the idea of being cooped up inside a fence with tw oold dogs did not seem liek a good way to spend her formative years. She began thiniking of ways to GET OUT.
Bettie is a middle-aged, divorced mother of three who by day is a nurse’s aide, and by night is tired. So the last thing she wants is to have her Jeopardy-Wheel of Fortune hour disrupted by caLLS FROM HER NIGHBORS telling her to come and pick up her blasted (or soon to be blasted dog). So night after night Bettie walks down the street,up the hill, or across the tracks to pick up the equivalent of a fifty-pound two-year-old with four legs. Finding it hard to believe that Blue is lookign out for her health by making her take an evening walk everyday, Bettie wonders what she did to deserve this.
But, before going any further I’d like to tell you about Bettie’s flowers. Having practiced on, the nfinally ridding herself of, two husbands and three kids, Bettie has been agle to devote her remaingin time and energy to her favorite pasttime, bitching. Bitching about what you ask? Not bitching about being over-worked (she’s just happy to have work). Not bitching about two mortgage payments due each month. (Having to choose between having a husband or a mortgage payment, you see which direction Bettie went.) No. those are the standard complaints most peopel have. What Bettie is bitching abpout is being unappreciated. Being unapprecited by dogs, neighbors, andTh offspring alike. At the heart of Bettie’s unhappiness is that nobody apprecites the pain bettie is feeling. The sense of unappreciation she feels fro mthos eclosest to her. you, see. Bettie’s backyard used to be a thing of beauty. That was in the PB ’76-’93 period, or for those of you not living at — —— —, Pre Blue 1976-1993. Yep. as an amateur landscaper/groundskeeper Bettie was abpoe to decorate her yard beautifully with an assortment of flowers and bushes that made her really proud. She has a small yeard, abpout 20X40, but it wasn’t all that f;at and that helped accentuate the look of her flower garden. Coming down off the back porch steps, one steps across the sidewalk onto a ten footfairly deep slope, a slope just deep enough tto be a pain in the ass to run a lawn mower up and down, but just the right angle so the pine trees across the tracks can have something pretty to look at. The yeard then flatens out for about forty feet, taking a much shaprer angle down 15 feet to a little stream that runs alongside the railroad tracks. This slope was much too steep to run a lawn mower on, but not steep enough to support severa ltrees growing among barbed wiring masquerading as rose bushes. These rose bushes, like all rose bushes, were pretty to look at, but with a million and one thorns on thenm seemed mroe suitable for a basic training infantry exercise on how to inflict great pain upon yourself while learnign nothin.
As noted beofre, the first hillside, coming down off the back porch, is a great place for a flower garden and Bettie made the most of it. Bettie has an eye for decorating (the other she uses for seeing, kinda explaing her tendency to walk in circles to the left) and was able to have her flowers varied in such a wat that there was a mix of colors, shapes, sizes, and kinds of flowers. OPn the outside edges of the garden were phloxes that once planted spread rapidily, looking very much like a shrub, but out of its many green leaves grow fronds which bear tiny purple blossoms, giving the flower a full, bushy look sprinkled with many beautiful smelling flowers. Filling out the inside part of the square formed by the phloxes are many different flowers, each lending their own aesthetic qualities. There are the yellow-faced, white-petaled shasta daisies, a very hardy, disease-free (that sigh you may have heard came from Bettie) flower standing about two-and-a-half-feet tall, making them bigger than their wild counterparts. Another member of the daisy family, the black-eyed susan, is also present. Black-eyed susans are tall flowers, three-and-a-half-feet tall, that love the sun and ghet to be so tall because they are constantly stretching themselves for more and more sunlight. These flowers are especially nice t have, for (if left untrampled by dogs) they bloom from summer to frost, outlasting the other flowers and adding a nice touch of summer beauty to the green/red/brown mix thta signifies the changing from summer to fall. Another flower reaching over three feet high, the hostas lend its white and green vareigated leaves and a stem fom out of the center grows a nicely contrasting light purple. The one disappointment to the flower garden are the Mrs. Bradshaw’s, with leaves that stay close to the ground but spawn flowers that grow too tall for their stems and eventually fall over and lay on the ground. Mixed all through the taller flowers, Bettie added two kinds of shorter flowers that stay close to the ground and give her garden a full, complete look. These are the pin cushion flowers that are very delicate and dainty with lavender colored flowers with heads shaped like miniature pin cushions. The world-renowned “Now what the piss are those things called?” Japanese toad lillies round out her garden with their deep emerald green leaves that give off the appearance of hung silk and lots of teeny whote flowers that lend a nice contrast to the mostly taller flowers in the garden.
Now, around this yard is a fence, which will turn out to be the focus of the conflict of this story. It’s your typical four-foot high cyclone fence installed by a nice man who only drinks diet pop, and his helper who should drink diet pop. This fence has been on Bettie’s mind for the several years she has had Sparky and Princess, but only with the addition of Blue did having one installed became a top priority. Having three dogs to take care of added to a physically and mentally difficult job as a home health aide, plus having a house to take care of, bowling night every Thursday in addition to normal aggravation to being a middle-aged woman was too much to ask, so Bettie, in a well-thought out decision taking less time than a Charles Manson parole hearing, had the fence put in. The great financial expense of this fence was supposed to be, in theory, offset with being able to open the door and let the dogs out and not have to worry about them getting loose. Also, at the recommendation Mr. Borelli, the fence guy, Bettie had a tension wire installed to keep any would-be tunnel diggers in place.
The yard enclosed by the fence was not all barren. There was the row of Rose of Sharons, whihc formerly served as a divider between Bettie’s and Babe’s yards, which still could serve that purpose if the fence didn’t give enough of an indication, but now serve as urinals. There is also a tree stump that’s ten feet around and four feet high, that used to be ten feet around and two hundred and fifty feet high. There’s the picnic table which is now a hiding spot for small dogs trying to hide from big and stupid dogs. On the far side of the fence at the end of the yard is a row of daylilies blanketing the fence with its dozens of one-day blooming, trumpet-shaped bright yellow flowers making a very pretty picture standing above the full redness of the rose bushes.
A fenced in yard, two flower gardens, rose bushes, brick patio, empty house with only one mortgage and no husband…What more could Bettie ask for? To age peacefully in human years and not dog years for one. To have her full head of thick, naturally-frosted blond hair stay on her head would be another. Not having to make like a human backhoe filling in holes would be nice also. But, when you can’t stand to see lazy people put their unwanted but adorable puppy to sleep, you’re asking too much.
Which brings us back to the day which could’ve been any day during the last ninety-day period of scorching heat and lousy pilot episodes on the three major network television stations (I exclude Fox because it would possible open this story up to being year round). Sparky is in his usual position, lying in a brick path, hoping Blue doesn’t see him, and Princess is in the opposite corner under a picnic table wondering to herself, “If only this grass was a little higher, Blue wouldn’t be able to see me.” Blue is in her usual position also, pacing back and forth in a six foot square area in the backyard pretending to be sniffing something but in reality looking muck like Steve McQueen’s character in “The Great Escape,” pretending to be doing something while keeping a close eye on the guards waiting for chance escape. Bettie is also doing the usual afternoon or evening routine, cooking, cleaning, talking on the phone; all the while watching (and waiting) for her little Steve McQueen wannabe dog to make her move.
So there’s Blue, watching and waiting, paying no regard to the tension wire designed to keep coal miner’s daughters, like Blue, inside the yard, not outside the yard once the escape has been made. Perhaps, thinks Blue, this tension wire would work if it hadn’t been installed by a fenceman’s helper who looked like he would rather be crushing beer cans off his forehead. Regardless, there’s Blue in the middle of the yard looking form the fence to the house, to the fence, to Sparky (who’s pretending to be sleeping), to the fence, to Princess (still trying to hide behind a blade of grass) and back to the fence again. Having already made her escape several times before, Blue knows which areas of the fence to go for. They’re the ones that don’t have two-by-eights pegged into the ground behind them with the flower pots and wheel barrows and aluminum siding and lawn furniture on its side all covering previous holes, dug by and then crawled through by Blue and into the mediocre (this is Bridgeville) unknown.
Bettie is in the house also watching and waiting. she is waiting because she knows Blue won’t be content to stay in the yard and play with a couple of tired old dogs like Sparky and Princess. Would any of us? Bettie is trying to cook and clean and keep herself and her house in good condition, but finding it hard to do while carrying a missile (in the shape of an old tennis shoe half eaten by Blue) in her hand already prepared to fire at the slightest false move on anybody’s part.