Copyright is held by the author.
“THUNDER! Sit down boy!”
Up and down, back and forth, the Collie paced non-stop. He’d practically worn a hole in Marcia’s overpriced Surya handmade area rug. Puke green with an obnoxious purple border, the rug was one of the few things of value he’d kept in the divorce. That, along with Thunder the wonder Collie and Lightning, one very large and very unamused orange tabby cat. Leland hated the hideous rug, but he hated the idea of Marcia and her new man enjoying it even more, so on the floor it stayed. It was the point of the thing.
Leland Davis sighed and reluctantly got up to let Thunder out. Again. He’d spent weeks in his chair working from home. Up every day by seven-thirty, Leland tried to stick to a routine. He read somewhere that it was important to keep some sort of normalcy while stuck inside for days on end. Shower, check. Make the bed, check. Pants without elastic, well, there were only so many rules a guy could abide by. As a computer programmer, it didn’t matter if he sat around buck naked, just as long as he wore a decent button-up shirt for the company Zoom meetings.
Leland sat, firmly ensconced in his well-worn easy chair, feet up, with two laptops and a cell phone at his command as he went about his work. Except for Thunder. Leland would be perfectly content to stay right where he was all day, other than the occasional bathroom break, but his Collie had other plans for him.
It was only 9:30 and Thunder had already been out four times. Lately, Leland thought he spent more time letting him in and out of the house than actually working. Rough Collies were notoriously needy, always wanting to be in on everything. When not tormenting Leland for attention, Thunder used his long, aerodynamic nose to try to herd Lightning into some semblance of order. Off they would go on a tear through the living room, a true animal storm, barking and hissing with fur flying, usually right as he was dialling into his daily conference call. Leland assumed the past three weeks of confinement was making Thunder restless; he and the dog tripping over each other while Lightning looked down in complete indifference from her perch on the couch, just out of the Collie’s reach.
Thunder was a rescue dog. They’d found him at the Dubuque Farmers Market in Iowa on one of their many long trips across the country to visit Marcia’s mother. The local animal shelter put up a tent right there in the middle of the market. Lazy shoppers milled around in the stultifying Midwestern heat, the humidity of a late July day taking its toll on humans and canines alike.
Leland remembered Marcia cooing over a tiny white ankle-biter dog as he found his wife at the tent, totally drawn in. He had a thousand objections. Not the least of which was the two of them driving a barking pup over twelve hours on the trip home.
He began to shepherd his wife away, knowing how fast she’d get attached. Sadly, they’d not been blessed with children after nearly two decades of marriage. Marcia agonized about it as her thirties morphed into her forties, finally resigning herself to their childless state. Leland never really felt any kind of paternal pull, tried not to think of it. Life was life and you played the hand you were dealt. It was that simple. But it wasn’t that simple for his wife and he knew their family situation was painful for her. It was why they got the blasted cat in the first place.
They’d taken in a feral cat from his mother-in-law’s farm two years before. As much as Leland tried to resist that decision, he couldn’t say no to his wife. She doted over the tiny orange kitten. They named the tabby Lightning, the bright gold of her eyes and turbulent nature reminding Leland of a sudden summer storm. The cat had a wild streak, eating every single meal like it was her very last, growling and slurping away in feline ecstasy. She was a real character, although a much larger one after a couple years of fine, indoor dining at the Davis household. Now Marcia apparently wanted to add a dog into the mix. Leland would need to be loving, but firm. There was no way they were bringing a dog home. None.
He gathered up his bags of vegetables, planning to fill the cooler up to the brim for the long trip back to Colorado. Gently nudging Marcia away from the white dog, a sharp bark caught his attention. There, laying on the pavement, was the strangest looking puppy he’d ever seen. His chest immediately tightened, unbidden memories flooding his mind.
Lassie. It’s a baby Lassie dog! My mother had a Lassie dog as a girl, she talked about it all the time. Everyone had a Lassie in those days, it was quite the fashion. She loved dogs but Dad was allergic. When Dad died, she felt she was too old to get one. And then she passed away just one year after him…
“Lee, honey? Are we going?”
“Hang on a sec, hon. Excuse me ma’am, what kind of dog is that?”
“It’s a Rough Collie, sir. We believe he’s about three months old. He appears to be pure bred, our vet says his teeth are slightly off kilter and that’s probably why he came to us. He wouldn’t make a proper show dog.”
“He sure is something! Weird teeth, huh?’
The puppy looked just like a fox. Big, upright ears and long gangly legs with random tufts of fluff growing every which way in anticipation of the long, silky coat he’d eventually grow. He had dark brown, almond shaped eyes set in the longest nose Leland had ever seen on a dog. Like an anteater and a red fox decided to mate. The pup was unique and strange and stuck in an overheated tent on a blistering hot day. Kind of like Leland himself–a defiant nerd in a sea of normal.
Leland decided he had to have him. It was that simple.
He laughed as he remembered how Marcia tried out dozens of different names for their new puppy on the drive home when they both knew it was pointless. When you already had a pet named Lightning, there was only ever going to be one option.
Thunder barked again, jolting him out of his thoughts. It was just past six-thirty on Friday night and Leland decided he was officially off the clock. The dog paced by the back door as Leland grabbed the bottle of Jack and a single shot glass, ready for his nightly ritual.
Lightning was sprawled out at her usual spot on top of the couch as Leland made his way to the back door. He kissed the cat lightly on the head, grateful that Marcia allowed him to keep her for the time being. His ex-wife was five months pregnant, a happy surprise for her at the age of forty-six. Marcia was too busy with her fiancée, nesting and nurseries to give Lightning much of a thought, a lucky break for Leland. Or was it? Some days he wasn’t so sure. He fought back the familiar pull of loneliness and regret, tamping it down as he pet Lightning’s soft golden fur.
Thunder barked again, pushing the screen door open with his nose and running out. Leland laughed, that damned dog was always in such a hurry. There was a large family of squirrels in the neighbour’s tree that loved torturing Thunder on a nightly basis. Leland stepped out onto his back deck and took in a deep breath of cool Rocky Mountain air. He guessed if it wasn’t for his over-active dog, he might not go outside of the house for days. It was one of the many reasons he and Thunder were kindred spirits. With everything going on, at least they had each other.
He poured a healthy shot and threw it back, enjoying the feel of the elements on his sun-starved skin. Leland poured another one as he walked around to the side of the house, stopping in front of a well-tended flower bed. Leland made sure there were no errant weeds, kneeling down to make sure all was in order. A small marker sat in the midst of the flowers, lovingly hand painted. Thunder gave a final bark as Leland raised his glass high in tribute.
“To Thunder, my good boy!”
The sun set as Leland finished his toast, heading back into the house alone. Thunder had always been restless, escaping through the front door and right into traffic a few months back. Leland still teared up at the thought of it. At least he had Lightning, she would still be there. Or would she? He decided not to dwell too long on it, things were as they were.
As he locked them in for the night, Leland knew that for him, even without a global pandemic, time would continue to go on and on, ad nauseum, in an endless dull line. He would need his best friend, it was the only way to keep him sane. Whatever else, in whatever form, Thunder would be there.
It was that simple.