Harry had taught me patience. He had instilled empathy in me. He had made me slow down, take my time, collect my bearings along life’s winding path. He had gotten me up on quiet, beautiful mornings that I would never have seen and taken me out in invigorating night air that I would never have felt. He had introduced me to dozens of people, very good people, I would never have met.
Tears rolled from my face onto his, despite my best effort, and he looked up at me from the corner of his eye, knowingly, it seemed, though that might just have been me. I nodded to Dr. Bendock, and soon I could see the fluid flow slowly through a tube and into his leg. Harry closed his eyes. I stroked his face. Dr. Bendock cried softly. A moment later, he was gone.
We didn’t talk much in the minutes after, Dr. Bendock and I. Hours of consultations and conversations in the weeks and months before, and now there was nothing left to say. Her cheeks were glistening as she collected her things.
I thought about his paws slapping the water the first time he swam. I thought about playing in the Public Garden, just the two of us, in a late-night blizzard. I thought about our first nights alone when my marriage had ended, the drive to Washington to cover the White House. I thought about the thousands of miles we had walked together, the tens of thousands of throws he had fetched. I wished I could remember every minute, every step, every toss. As Frank Skeffington asked in the classic Boston novel The Last Hurrah, how in the world do you thank someone for a million laughs?
As I sat on the floor with Harry that day, I thought only of what had been, not of what might come. I didn’t realize, couldn’t realize, that Harry, even in death, would lead me to a wife, and that wife would come with a family, and that family would include — there’s no subtle transition to this, in print as in life — a rooster named Buddy.
SIX YEARS LATER, I found myself living in a new house in a distant suburban town with Harry’s veterinarian, Pam Bendock. We were engaged, living with her two daughters, and their two cats and four rabbits and our two dogs. And yes, I was also living with Buddy, who had free run of the yard, constantly pecked at the doors, and slept in an outsize rooster house with transom windows in the side yard. He hated my guts.
Buddy developed numerous ways to attack me, like an all-star pitcher expert at changing his speeds. He was so slick, so seemingly knowledgeable about my movements around the yard — where he might trap me, how I’d react, when he would thrust, whether he should parry — it wouldn’t have surprised me if he’d sat in his rooster house in the dark of the night studying film.
Interesting that when he’s with the dogs, he never looks behind him. And when he’s reading the paper, he’s essentially blocking his own view of anything in front of him. Look at how he’s lamenting the condition of his lawn in the far corner, basically trapping himself in an area with no escape.
There was, of course, the blitz. I’m out in the yard, Buddy says, “Screw it,” and charges like a linebacker jacked up on every imaginable steroid. There was no finesse involved with it, no fakery, no mild chicanery. No, it was just Buddy sprinting in my direction, usually while ca-caw-ing in as menacing a voice as he could muster, his beady little eyes bulging out of the sides of his furious, puffed-out face. Unless and until you’ve had a 20-pound rooster racing at your legs and midsection at a speed you didn’t think possible for him to achieve, it’s hard to imagine the gamut of emotions involved — white shock, abject fear, a hazy sense of regret that you may never partake in sexual relations again.
Then there was the “Wouldn’t it be nice to be friends” approach, where Buddy gradually, casually pecked at the lawn as I threw the tennis ball for the dogs, slowly coming closer, closer still, don’t-mind-me-I’m-just-finding-all-kinds-of-interesting-bugs, until, Bam! he’s on me, euphorically going after my legs, the expression on his face scarily similar to Jack Nicholson’s in The Shining. The dogs give me a look like You didn’t fall for that again, did you? What a waste of thumbs.
Finally there was the stand and peck. It basically involved him picking the door he thought I was coming out of next, positioning himself near it, often just out of sight, and lunging in my direction the moment he had a clear view.
All of which required me to develop my own defensive strategies. On the blitz, I would simply turn and run, but I quickly realized that a man being pursued by a frantic rooster around the front and side yards of his house caused quite a stir among passing drivers. That’s not to say that fleeing isn’t still a fallback. Sometimes it’s just reflex, and the good news is that Buddy generally tires out after a minute or two of running. The bad news is that so do I.Continued...