By J. Wynn Rousuck
“Did you take Buster to my sister’s?” Pearl asks.
John uses the throttle to slow the Model T and raises his left foot on the pedal to change gears.
“John, did you hear me?”
“I’m trying to focus on driving, dear. You don’t appreciate the skill it takes to operate an automobile.”
“I do appreciate that, John, but I’m worried about Buster.”
“I know, John, but did you drop him off? Are you even listening to me?”
“Well, that’s a relief.”
Buster sits on a wicker chair in John and Pearl’s living room. He isn’t allowed on this chair. It’s his favorite perch.
The chair has comfy green-and-gold striped cushions. It is perfectly situated in a corner with an uninterrupted view out the window. Buster can spot John and Pearl the minute they step on the front path, in plenty of time to jump off the chair.
This morning, when John put Buster’s halter on, Buster did his usual pre-walk warm-up. He jumped up and down and up and down and wagged the back half of his compact, stocky body, as tail-challenged Boston Terriers like to do.
But just as John took the leash off the hook, he turned, headed back to the bedroom and emerged carrying a suitcase. Buster heard Pearl yell from outdoors, “Hurry up!” These words were often spoken to Buster, but he never quite understood what they meant.
This time, they meant that John rushed out the door, locked it, and forgot about the leash and the walk and Buster. Buster let out his most commanding bark, followed by a few more barks at various, insistent volumes¾all to no avail.
Buster wandered through the empty house. He found half a piece of buttered toast on the kitchen floor. This led to a thorough inspection of the kitchen trashcan, which yielded a baked potato skin, a broken pencil, a few pieces of boiled carrot, and some dark stuff that smelled like John’s pipe but tasted bitter and grainy. Buster spit it out.
He patrolled the house again before assuming his post on the wicker chair. John had left with the leash in his hand. Surely that meant he would be back soon. Until then, Buster, the ever-patient American Gentleman, would wait. And wait.
There’s a pause while John steers the Model T up to an imposing brick building. “Yes, Pearl?”
“What’s that in your jacket pocket? That’s not Buster’s leash is it?”
“For heaven’s sake, Pearl! Stop fussing about the dog. We’re at the hospital now.”
John touches his left hand to his pocket. He discovers the leash and gives an almost inaudible gasp, then hastily stuffs the leash under the pocket flap.
“You concentrate on having the baby, dear. Buster will be just fine.”
J. Wynn Rousuck is the former longtime theater critic of The Baltimore Sun and current critic at WYPR. She was a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellow and spent a year as a visiting student at Brown University, studying playwriting with Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel.