Since I’m loathe to simply slap up the “Writer At Work” sign and leave my poor readers with only the Sunday paper or less worthy blogs (blogs of dear friends excluded, of course,) I’m doing the next easiest thing: posting something I’ve already written. Frankie got a lot of love last week, so for all you Frankie fans out there — enjoy this excerpt from my book. And don’t hold it against me if the sign’s there next week.
Arguments with my mother can sound like Abbott and Costello routines. We are parked in the car and my mom is taking Frankie out to do his business.
“When we get back, we can eat!” she tells him.
“I thought you said you didn’t bring any cookies,” I say.
“I didn’t. You said you brought grapes.”
“I did. But those are for lunch.”
“But we always have a snack at the park.”
“Yes. We always have cookies. You’re welcome to the grapes. But they were for lunch.”
“Well, I didn’t bring cookies. I thought we could eat your grapes.”
“Again. We can. I’m just saying, they were for lunch.”
Frankie whimpers to remind us he needs to go out or this could go on forever. As the door shuts, she shoots me a look that says I’m a spoiled child, unwilling to share.
We are at the same park we stop at every Saturday in Woodbine, Georgia. It’s another 15 minutes to our destination — Palmetto Oaks Stable and my weekly therapeutic horseback riding session.
We’re definitely in rural Georgia. Before the park, there’s a sign that reads, “Dead Peoples Things For Sale.” Umm. Where I come from, we call that an estate sale.
When my mom and Frankie return to the car there is no mention of grapes. I’m relieved. I don’t like feeding Frankie people food. My mother will give him a bite of her steak and then wonder why he begs.
Of the two of us, I’m the disciplinarian. He’s much better than when I first started walking him with the power wheelchair. I use the word “come” now, instead of “snack.” I taught him all the basic commands. He even rolls over. Trouble is, now he rolls over at every command. “Sit,” “down,” “shake,” the words don’t matter to him. It’s his best trick and he knows it, so he throws it in whenever he can.
Frankie’s excitement is nearing legendary proportions as we drive through the gate. We roll down the windows so he can take in the scent and I hang on to him by his harness. He’s a fairly bright dog, but I think he’d jump right out if he could.
“Where’s Sassy? Where is she?” Mom and I ask him. He looks around wildly, hopping from the center console to my lap, to the window and back.
Sassy is the stable owner’s dog and Frankie’s buddy. They tear around the farm together until Frankie collapses somewhere. Her mix of Shitzu and Jack Russell Terrier means that Sassy will always outrun Frankie. His energy comes in short, quick bursts, while hers is more sustained. When she finally needs to cool off, she picks a stream, while Frankie, who hates water, prefers to wallow in a big pile of mud.
I call the place a farm, but the only animal aside from Sassy and the eight horses is Alice the goat. Alice is all black and the fattest goat I’ve ever seen. She looks the way a kid would draw any four-legged animal — a big oval atop little stick legs. Aside from whatever goats normally eat, Alice loves junk food. And there are plenty of children willing to share their Cheetos.
When we pull up and park, Frankie bounds from the car the minute the door opens. Alice takes one look at us and heads for the barn. Last week, she made the mistake of running when Frankie already had her in his sight. There is little he loves more than a good chase. Alice hoofed it clear across an arena and a large field and was heading for the woods before Frankie ran out of gas. I was a little worried as it unfolded, but Teresa just said, “I didn’t know Alice could run that fast.”
My mom pushes my wheelchair down a dirt path, struggling as we bump over tree roots, until Teresa comes to pull from the opposite end. Teresa is the owner and riding instructor. She’s slightly younger than my mom and has good strength and agility due to running the place. Her short reddish hair is shoved up under a ball cap. They make their way up a steep ramp until I am level with the horse’s back. Carrie, a 15 year-old volunteer, has brought out Thunder for me to ride. I stand up with my mom and Teresa holding either arm. Carrie holds the horse as I swing my right leg over, using my left hand to grab the saddle horn. I’m on.
I’ve been riding over a year now and I’ve graduated from two side-walkers (who walk along each holding a leg) to just Teresa on my right side. Carrie leads the horse and has moved from a short lead to a long lead, to often no lead, leaving me fully in charge of directing the horse.
Today, I work on standing up in the stirrups. This is good for me. I am weight-bearing. Something I am not, most of the time. I am returning to the saddle with quivering thighs when I hear Carrie.
“Eeew. That’s disgusting.”
I follow her gaze to where Frankie is sitting before a large pile of horse manure — scarfing it up. He throws his head back, choking it down, as if at any moment the magnificent delicacy might be taken away.
“Frankie!” I am mortified.
He stops. He looks at me briefly before returning to his meal. This is all the authority he deigns to grant me.
“Frankie! Come,” I command in as low a voice as I can manage. He ignores me, eating faster.
It’s futile. I’m stuck on a horse. Carrie and Teresa can’t leave me. And even if they could, they are laughing too hard to be of any assistance. Frankie can polish off the entire mound and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Then, it occurs to me. Where is my mother in all this?
I glance back across the ring and see her seated, reading a book.
She looks up. “What?”
“Can you get Frankie? He’s eating horse shit,” I whine.
She shrugs. She’s the picture of Zen. I turn back to Frankie to scream, “No!”
I hear her call feebly, “C’mere Frankie. Snack!” Frankie doesn’t even glance up.
Snack? She’s calling snack? He’s got a whole field full of snacks. He’s in line at the all you can eat buffet and not about to give up his place for some dry dog biscuit.
I turn back to her. Here I am, about to fall off the horse for yelling and she doesn’t even get up out of her chair.
“I can’t control him. There’s no use getting upset about it,” she says. She’s co-dependent no more. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m fairly certain that doesn’t apply here. You should be able to control a dog.
Later, we are in the car on our way home. Frankie finally returned to sit by my mom after having his fill. I take out the wet wipes and prepare for our lunch. Frankie is curled up on a towel in the backseat, too full and exhausted to beg. If this were the comics, there’d be squiggly fume lines coming from him like Pig Pen in the Charlie Brown cartoon. He stinks. He should be followed around by that dirty dust cloud too. My mom will put him straight in the tub when we get home. He only gets the professional treatment at the groomer’s once a month. A take off on Versace, Fursace even has designer dog sweaters. I imagine folks lined up around the block based on name alone.
I take out the ziplock bag of grapes and hold it out to my mom.
“You brought grapes?” she smirks. “Imagine that.”