by: Steven Keiths © 11-2008
Billy clutched his mother’s hand tightly, their fingers intertwined, as they approached Pete Petrinos’s Puppies and Pets. The bells on the door jangled when they entered and they were assailed with the animal odors that permeated the shop. Upon their entrance, all manner of yapping, meowing and chirping broke out. A bearded man came through a curtain separating the back of the store where the kennels were, from the sales area in front. Wiping his hands on his trousers and brushing a few crumbs from his moustache, he asked if he could help. Billy’s mother pointed to her son who was standing a little behind her with his head hanging. She said he was looking for a puppy.
The man, trying to put the boy at ease, crouched down and smiled at him before speaking. “Well, young man, do you have a particular sort of puppy in mind?”
The seven-year-old Billy, reluctantly responding to the man’s efforts at cheerfulness, nodded his head yes. After a few moments of silence, the smiling pet storeowner asked, “You do? Why don’t you tell me about it? Do you want a small dog or a big dog?”
“A yellow dog, about this big,” Billy replied, holding his hands about three feet apart. He looked up, but his eyes weren’t hopeful.
“Well, why don’t we go in back and I’ll show you what I have. Okay?”
Billy again nodded his head and grabbed onto his mother’s hand as they headed back through the curtain to the kennel area. Amid the cacophony of animal greetings, Billy remembered the reason they were here.
On a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon, Billy and Goldie were playing fetch. Billy tossed the ball and turned when he heard his mother call his name. There was a loud screech of tires and a thud seconds after Goldie ran unto the street to fetch the ball that Billy had thrown. Billy let out a scream and ran toward the street. There lying motionless was Goldie. Billy, at a loss as to what to do, threw his arms around his pet and screamed for his mother. There was nothing that could be done for the Golden Retriever.
Billy moped around for two months, blaming himself for Goldie’s death. His parents many times held him in their arms trying to console him. Goldie had been Billy’s companion for the past two and a half years. He had fed her. He’d brushed her daily. With the help of his dad, he’d bathed her and taken her for walks. And of course, they’d played together. At night, Goldie had slept on Billy’s bed, his arm wrapped around her soft furry golden body.
Billy’s reverie was broken by the voice of the storeowner.
“Let’s see, what did you say your name was young man?” asked the pet storeowner.
“Well, Billy, you said yellow? Right?” Walking down the aisle toward the back of the indoor kennel, passing the yapping, whining and barking dogs, each catching Billy’s attention, they stopped before a cage that had a yellow Labrador puppy. The little puppy jumped up on the side of the cage, excitedly wagging his tail. Billy could almost hear the pup begging, “Take me, take me!” He stuck his fingers through the cage wires and the little puppy licked them, then danced around the cage. Billy smiled at the dog, but then shook his head no. It wasn’t Goldie. Billy dropped his head and they walked on. The rejected little Lab lay on his stomach, his head nestled between his outstretched front paws; he whimpered.
Billy glanced back.
While Billy was greeting the rambunctious pup, his mother explained to Mr. Petrino what had happened to Goldie. Mr. Petrino expressed his condolences. Shaking his head, he said that he didn’t have any Golden Retrievers in the shop at this time. He did have two eight-month old black retrievers.
Billy’s mother told him what Mr. Petrino had said, and then asked, “Would you like to look at those other dogs?”
Billy shrugging his shoulders but then nodding his head, let his mother lead him forward. Billy had been hoping to find a dog that looked like Goldie, and hearing that the pet store didn’t have one just reinforced his melancholy. Even the puppies and kittens trying to catch his attention with their yapping and meowing and excited antics couldn’t raise Billy’s spirits.
His sadness was not abated once they came to the wire-caged kennel of two lethargic black retrievers. They barely paid any attention to the sad little boy. Neither came to the side of the cage to even sniff him—they just lay still, without a single wag of a tail.
The seven-year-old looked at his mother and said, “They don’t like me.”
Rubbing his shoulder his mother replied, “Well, honey, maybe they’re just tired.”
Billy was not convinced. He just shrugged his shoulders and hung his head, then said, “Maybe.”
As they were returning to the show room, and were passing the cage containing the yellow Lab, the little pup jumped up on the cage and yipped as Billy went by. Going through the curtain, Billy looking back, saw the pup’s paws stretched high over his head, tail wagging—Billy, waved and muttered, “Goodbye.” He watched the little dog slowly slide his paws down the cage and amble into the corner and curl into a ball. It softly whined.
Billy mindlessly fingered some leashes hanging near the cash register as Mr. Petrino took down their phone number saying he’d call if he received any Golden Retrievers. While his mom and Mr. Petrino continued to chat, Billy wandered about the store. He kept stealing glances toward the curtain at the rear of the shop.
“Billy?” his mother said.
“Billy?” she said louder.
She then heard a voice from behind the curtain. “ Back here, Mommy.”
Returning to the kennel area, she saw Billy kneeling by the Lab puppy’s cage with his fingers sticking through the wire. The pup was licking his fingers, and all the while, his butt and tail were wagging uncontrollably. Billy was smiling.
“Mom, can we get Slim?”