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  • Jo

Dog With A Bone





 

The marriage was supposed to last. Arty met Frankie at a photography exhibit in Kennebunkport, Maine, and was immediately, almost magnetically drawn to the woman in the green velvet duster coat. He tried to watch her discretely from across the room, holding his plastic cup of room-temperature Chardonnay in his right hand while adjusting his glasses with his left hand to try for a second, longer look.

She’d walk up to each piece, squint at the photo from a bit too close-up, and then, exactly fifteen seconds later, spin on her heel and make her way to the next picture. The execution of her decision-making was something that Arty admired in all people especially women. He lived according to a very different metronome: Arty was someone who took his time. This made it difficult to start a conversation with Frankie. She just didn’t stay in one place for very long. He usually did. 


Arty scooched his way over to the section of the exhibit boasting landscapes of their Northern state with snow-capped mountains jutting up from rocky beaches. He stood a room’s length away from this fairy-tale-looking woman, summoning the balls just to stand next to her and will his mouth to start talking. But each time Arty convinced his body and brain to make a literal and metaphorical move, his fifteen seconds were up and Frankie had gone to look at something else. So he followed her from one picture to the next, from wildlife photography to grainy black-and-whites of shopkeepers and fishermen to landscapes of sunset-colored trees in October. After he had trailed her coat to at least six different artists’ work, she spent an extra six seconds in front of a large format image of a lighthouse and asked, without turning her sharply-featured head,


“Is this the nice kind of following or the creepy kind?” She paused for maybe an entire breath, “WELL?”


Arty liked to take a moment or two before he spoke to people. He preferred to carefully select his words from his life’s dictionary. Frankie did not have time for this kind of cerebral retrieval.


“The nice kind,” he sputtered even though he had a mental thesaurus with a much more impressive vocabulary. See, Arty had lived. He wasn’t what his mother, Gertrude would have called a ‘spring chicken.’  He’d gone to school in the 60s to become a dentist which was a profession Gertrude had decided for him decades earlier when young Arty had been fascinated by the loss of his first tooth. At five years old, his career destiny had been decided. And he wasn’t mad about the choice of profession. Even though she’d been gone for a decade, he still admired his mother for her decision-making skills. 


His mother wasn’t wrong about his fit with the world of dental arts. He’d liked dental school. He’d liked the idea of opening his own practice. He’d met his first wife, Sam, during his final year and they’d gotten married and had two children. They were never happy. Arty got the idea that Sam loved their dental hygienist more than she loved him and their relationship fizzled by the time their kids were in high school. That was when Arty realized that he hated the thought of reaching his hands into anyone’s mouth ever again and started an online business selling medical equipment where no one had the opportunity to cough on him.


It was a good setup. He worked from home (before that was a whole Thing,) where his entire day was under his control. He didn’t have to talk to anyone. He made his own coffee and his own hours and communicated to anyone that he needed to by email in a completely germ-free world. Some days, he realized, that if one of his kids didn’t call to say hi or ask for the 400th time the digits of their social security number, he didn’t speak a single word out loud to anyone. Earlier that day, he’d cut his finger opening a can of tuna and had been startled by the person who snapped, “OH SHIT.”  He didn’t remember the sound of his own voice. This was not a good sign for his golden years.


Arty may have lived to a more adagio-tempo-ed symphony, but he was nothing if not a proactive man. He’d gotten a bandaid from the kitchen first-aid kit, finished making his lunch, and opened up the local paper. He flipped to the Arts section and decided rather quickly (for him) upon this specific photography gallery opening, for no other reason than to get out of his house to speak to other humans in real life on that very day. He hadn’t had any romantic aspirations for the night, hadn’t thought twice when he pulled out his cotton LL Bean sweater in case the night got cool, looking unintentionally put-together. He wasn’t planning on meeting a woman. And he’d certainly never met a woman like Frankie before.


He spent the remainder of the evening following her to the exhibit entitled, “Local Heros,” where stark close-up photographs of nurses and fishing guides and the town’s local ice cream parlor owners were printed with such extreme detail that they looked as if they could start talking to you without any additional help from the artist. Arty learned that Frankie was also divorced, a practicing lawyer, and had a daughter living in The City.


Frankie spoke passionately about the law and the art at the gallery and her present hankering for some ice cream after seeing those photos. And, that night, Arty was on. He immediately looked up the hours of Sam Hill’s Sweet Shop, saw that it was open for another twenty-two minutes, and insisted upon whisking Frankie across the bridge for some butter pecan in a waffle cone. 


As they sat on the aging picnic table, they ate their ice cream and laughed about the life circumstances that brought them to this moment. Arty put his arm around her as they listened to the tide splash against the hulls of the boats resting in the harbor. The next night, they went to the little Italian joint off of Maine Street and shared the lasagna that was made with someone’s Nona’s secret recipe.


The courtship, or whatever people of that generation would have called it, didn’t last long. Soon enough, Frankie had moved her clothes and art and books, and old dog, Martha, into Arty’s post-modern cabin by the water. It was cozy, it was happy, and the two fit together as if they’d known each other forever but hadn’t packed any painful baggage along the way. Thus is the allure of second marriages. In the other, they each found a fresh start, a new beginning, a clean slate, if you will. Which is why, after a small ceremony out on the dock, Frankie announced over a dinner of homemade bouillabaisse, that she was going to quit her work as a lawyer and become (yes, of course, obviously) a dog trainer. Both Martha and Arty cocked an eyebrow.


Apparently, this had always been Frankie’s dream but her financial and civic-minded ambitions had pushed her into the legal profession. Dog training was her passion. And now that she had a second chance at a meaningful relationship, she wanted a second chance with her work, too. 


Frankie threw herself into canine training with the same intensity that she devoted to everything else in her life. When Arty would open the door to his home office for a bathroom break or a glass of seltzer, his wife would be standing in the living room, a fanny-pack full of dog treats at her waist, and poor old Martha lying down and getting up and barely lifting her front leg an inch off the ground when Frankie instructed, “Paw.”


“Do you really think that Martha should have to go through all of this?” Arty asked, holding a full glass with a lime wedge as he crossed through the hallway to go back to his office.


Frankie looked at her eleven-year-old mutt with focused concentration.


“No,”


“That’s what I thought,” Arty offered a sincere smile and reached down to scratch Martha behind the ear. Martha immediately collapsed onto the top of his feet, clearly exhausted from having to move so much in a single morning. Arty had never been a devoted animal lover but he’d found a soft spot for this wire-haired Schnauzer-mix presently snoozing on his shoelaces. Frankie snapped her fingers. Only Arty was trained well enough to look at her.


“We need another dog.” Frankie immediately swooshed into the kitchen where she picked up the house phone and dialed her instructor. And that is how Frankie and Arty and Martha got Barry.


Now, Barry had potential, which is what Frankie and everyone in Frankie’s class insisted upon. Arty wasn’t so sure. The dog seemed to have a problem. The problem being where to put his teeth. Yeah, Barry was a biter. He was also a barker and a pee-er on the bathroom floor but Arty was able to ignore the latter since he was so afraid of Barry’s mouth attaching itself to his thigh or arm or jugular.


 Arty would jump when the dog would growl at him in the middle of the night when he got up to use the toilet or for some water. He found himself sneaking around the house, avoiding rooms where the labrador/ satanic mix was sleeping. And he really, really didn’t like it when, that Saturday, Frankie suggested that they all go on a walk together. Martha obviously agreed. 


“It’s a walk. We can all take a walk. We have to walk. Barry and I both feel confined.”


Arty nodded. It’s hard to argue with a walk. Especially on a nice day. Especially with a dog. (Or, a wannabe dog trainer in this specific case.)


“You need to eat before we go. I made you a sandwich.” Frankie placed two plates on the kitchen counter boasting toppling turkey sandwiches and a pickle on the side of each. Arty wasn’t hungry. He didn’t like turkey sandwiches. He also didn’t know why his wife of six months didn’t know this. But it was rare that she made him lunch so he choked down more than half of it and listened to Barry’s training progress. 


Frankie insisted that walks were bonding opportunities for Arty and Barry. When outdoors and on a leash, both males could feel free but with a clear boundary of who was in charge. Arty wasn’t sure about any of this. But, he loaded up the car like Frankie demanded, remembering the collaspable water bowl since he never liked to see Martha thirsty. He also remembered sunscreen and leashes and a backpack. What he forgot, was Barry’s collar.


Now, why Barry wasn’t wearing a collar in the first place has something to do with the particular (and, it should be added, expensive) training method that Frankie was studying. It doesn’t matter now but the collar was hanging on a hook in the mudroom when the family packed up their Subaru hatchback and drove out to one of the most popular hiking trails in the area. No one noticed the oversight until they unpacked the car.


“Shit,” was Arty’s helpful response.


“It doesn’t matter,” Frankie moved with the same mixture of decisiveness and exasperation that she gave everything she did. “All we have to do is put the clasp through the handle and it actually makes its own training collar. It might even be better this way.”


In retrospect, Arty, Martha, and possibly even Barry thought that this was a terrible idea. But, having no other choice, they listened to Frankie. Martha didn’t need a collar or a leash for that matter, she simply followed the family until she needed to nap under a tree and would do so and wait for them to come back. The irony of this situation is that Martha was an impeccably trained dog who had never received any dog training. Now, Barry was another story.


Barry did not like the lack of collar or the new leash contraption or Arty for that matter but Frankie insisted that her new man walk her newer man.


“You have to show him dominance,” She insisted, thrusting the end of the leash to her cynical husband who wasn’t sure that he’d ever dominated anything in his life but a root canal. But Arty did as he was told. He knew how to take direction. That’s why he’d become so successful in his new sales company, he understood what people wanted and he went to great lengths to make sure that he was the only one who could get it for them. So Arty took the end of the leash – even though he really, really didn’t want to.


The trail was steady that day; lots of very serious hikers sporting lots of very serious gear and also lots of regular people in regular Birkenstocks walking the exact same path. Arty placed himself squarely in the middle of these two groups as he wore running shoes with dress socks and cargo shorts and a backpack from the late 90s. You get the picture. Frankie looked like she’d googled “Professional Dog Trainer” and had bought all the clothes that the first person on a Pinterest board was wearing. Other dog owners sensed her energy and nodded to her with deference. Or, at least, that’s what Frankie saw. Arty saw normal people with normal pups looking terrified at the panting beast attached to the end of their leash.


“Keep him close to you. If he’s looking at you, he’s focusing on you. If he’s focusing on you, he’s not thinking about biting anyone,” Frankie whisper-yelled this last instruction since all dog trainers worth their salt know that you never label a dog as a biter. It would take until the end of this story for Arty to find out why that was considered a cardinal sin.


They took the upper path through the birch trees, crunching on the leaves below, breathing in the perfectly woodsy smell of a decomposing yet thriving forest. They passed young couples with puppies, and single women jogging with athletic dogs who did, indeed, look a bit like their owners. They passed old people, determined to get their arthritic Pomeranian out into the ‘wilderness’ and a young family trying their best to “exhaust” their new golden retriever or, worse, a blue heeler. But it wasn’t until they saw a literal toy poodle in a little girl's arms, that Arty’s hackles went up: Barry did NOT like the poodle.


The girl had stopped to take a selfie at the overlook, past the switchback, and Barry was having none of it. That poodle was his nemesis.  Maybe the lap dog had killed one of his ancestors and Barry’s anger was rearing its ugly head through some kind of canine generational trauma. Or maybe Barry was just a dick. Whatever the reason, the giant, drooling, un-collared Barry lept at the unsuspecting eight-year-old. This was a good time for Arty to be uncharacteristically swift. He pulled on Barry’s leash with everything he had, turning the dog’s angry mouth away from the little girl and the little pup right into his… crotch. Yes, that’s right, Barry’s bite was redirected and without hesitation, he chomped down on Arty’s man parts. If the blood that quickly seeped through Arty’s tan cargo shorts was any indication, this was not a great outcome. Of course, it was better than the animal swallowing a third-grader whole, but still, not exactly awesome for Arty, here.


Frankie came running, hollering, ignoring the freshly traumatized child, and ran right to the overlook to take control of the situation


“Are you ok? Tell me, tell me what happened!” Frankie shrieked. Arty was slowly seeing little cartoon tweety birds circling his head. The shooting pain mixed with the adrenaline rush of knowing he just saved someone’s life was a sensation his body had never felt before.


“Well, he was going after this girl who-” Arty was unceremoniously interrupted-


“Tell me what happened!” Frankie demanded.


“I am!”  Arty, who was quickly losing blood, shot back. And that was when he realized that his wife was not talking to him. She had brought her look of deep concern onto her knees. Because, of course, she was talking to the dog. 


“That pup was not a threat. You are safe. You are SAFE. You are SAFE.” She repeated like a cult leader to his hungry followers. She barely clocked Arty’s blood-soaked lap.


“Well, I guess we have to go back now.”


These were not the words of a concerned and loving significant other that Arty was expecting. He silently followed Frankie back down the trail, coaxed Martha out from under a soft shrub, and made their way back into the car.


“I think I need to go to the hospital,” were the last words that Arty remembers saying before being woken up by an orderly outside the front door of the emergency room. 


“Are you going to be alright?” Frankie asked as though he’d gotten a mild papercut, “I need to get back to the house to do my level three exam with Barry.”


Arty threw up his hands and shrugged his shoulders as the nurse guided him into the wheelchair and Frankie drove off with her visor and aviator sunglasses and a dangerous canine in the backseat.


Now, this day doesn’t get any better for Arty. There was a tear in his, yeah, and the attending surgeon would not operate until the “contents of his stomach cleared.” Which meant poor Arty had to sit in the hospital bed for six hours until he could pass that stupid turkey sandwich that he never wanted in the first place. 


When he got out of the operating room he was sore, exhausted, and very surprised to find two people in his room that he’d never met before.


Officers Chuck and Samantha from Animal Control. Arty lifted his heavy head, again shrugging his shoulders as words were now an impossibility.


“Dog bites resulting in a visit to the ER are reported immediately to animal control. We need to get some information from you.”


Arty heard his voice for the first time since he’d been in the car, surprising him like the tuna can cut. He told them with the last shred of energy that he could muster about Frankie and Barry and dog training and the marriage that was not turning out to be what it had promised. Chuck and Samantha didn’t seem to care about the last bit of information but wrote it down in their notepads anyway, in a gesture of respect to the man who had just undergone surgery on his penis. Then, Arty passed out for the second time that day.


He awoke hours later to fourteen angry calls and texts from Frankie. Apparently, the Animal Control Officers had conveyed all of Arty’s thoughts to her, about the incident, the dog, and the status of their marriage. Frankie was unhappy. This wasn’t the fresh start she wanted. This wasn’t the Arty she wanted.  She was taking her things and moving out. Arty felt sad thinking of Martha no longer living with him.


Over the next month and a half, Arty healed, both physically and emotionally. He spent his evenings on the phone with his new divorce attorney and went back to life as it had been the previous year. But now, he didn’t judge being alone in a negative light. He appreciated the quiet. He found the time to call up his kids a bit more often. And, eventually, he rescued a middle-aged mutt from the shelter who reminded him so much of Martha. And that’s when Poetic Justice tipped her hat to him.


One sunny morning when he was out for a walk with his wire-haired Beagle mix, his cell phone rang. It was his lawyer. Arty wanted to send the call to voicemail but knew he should probably deal with whatever it was right now.


“So this is kind of funny,” his attorney began, “Frankie just asked for a check, which I categorically refused on your behalf.”


“A check for what?” Arty was done hearing the words “Frankie” and “check” in the same sentence. He cradled the phone on his chin while unclipping the leash from his new rescue to let her frolic in the dog park.


“Apparently, Barry has been labeled as a dangerous dog which adds to a hefty charge on Frankie’s new homeowner’s insurance. You will not be paying for this.”


Arty pressed his lips together and hung up the phone. He appreciated this karmic payback. He imagined Frankie and her dangerous dog and her never-ending quest for happiness. He looked up at the New England-blue sky, and listened to the birds and the wind ruffling the leaves on the trees. He figured that he was good with quiet for a while.  That was when he heard a shrieking from a man sitting on the bench, throwing a ball for his husky.


“You are NOT allowed in here!” he yelled over the fence. A woman with her corgi jumped straight up into the air,


“You know this! We WILL call the cops,” 


Arty craned his neck to see who this offensive dog owner could be. A tall woman with serious biceps held onto her Great Dane and squinted her eyes at the figure on the other side of the fence.

“You heard them! Get out of here, Frankie!” Arty should not have been so surprised to see the figure in the wide-brimmed hat, aviator sunglasses, and a fanny pack full of treats, but, well, he was.


He watched her turn around, pulling Barry with all her weight, and slump off to her Subaru. 


And that, my friends, is the story of Arty and Frankie and Martha and Barry and Arty’s new dog and Barry’s lawyer. Be careful who you take out for ice cream.


And, at the end of this story’s submission, Arty took the time to note that “everything now works just fine,” 


So if you’re a single gal of a certain age and looking for a very chill man living up in Maine, well, see if you can find him in our comments section.


This podcast would crush all our expectations if we turned into a successful matchmaking service.


For the record, Jo has never set two people up who actually liked each other. Morgan has and brags about it and it’s annoying. 


Jo would like a win, here. So good luck out there.


Xxo and sweet dreams.




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