The Beagle in 212B
One summer a few years back, a beagle named Fred had an experience you might call a “dream come true.” To understand how this experience was his dream you had to understand Fred.
Fred, an eight year old brown beagle, was hidden under the bed of his owner and caretaker, stretching his paws forward into the bedspread, continuing his daily duty of ripping it in yet another spot. Behind the threadbare flower design and shabby fringes, the culprit sat contemplating the notion of getting up. Molly, the owner of Fred and the apartment, was in the shower readying herself for another Monday at Brantville’s only flower shop, the Flowerama.
Brantville was a small suburb with only 3,000 year-round residents. In the winter, hordes of people crammed into town, ski racks on top of their cars, ready to experience the best skiing in Upper Michigan. Today was May 12, so the streets were quiet.
The sound of gushing water from the shower travelled into Molly’s room, where Fred had begun the process of adjustment from asleep to awake. Now, in the middle of the warm, sunny room, he gave each leg a long stretch, his eight-year old joints creaking.
He thinks of what he might do today. Probably just sit in the window seat like all last week and the week before. It was really boring, almost as bad as that time he was sitting in the front of the building watching a squirrel in a tree. Those stupid things just sit up there forever, causing even the most patient dog to give in and walk away, trying to look like he doesn’t care when in reality he would give steak scraps from Chuck’s steak house to get the chance at even chasing a squirrel, making it run in terror, chattering obscenities.
Fred did not like waiting and sitting, and that was all he could think of doing today. As he was about to drown himself in pity, Molly walked into the room, a trail of steam following her from the shower across the hall. Drowning in her big, red, fluffy robe, she arranged herself and her attire neatly on the bedroom floor and began her systematic scratching of Fred. Fred was a very emotional dog. He loved to hear himself bark, so he did it often, barking excitedly at any chance. He loved to run his tongue lapping happily in the breeze. Right now he was slowly losing control, something he did every day at 7 a.m. After Molly finished his ears, back and stomach, she shooed him out of the room so she could get ready for work.
Fred decided to eat a little breakfast. He jogged off to his dish, hairs whirling everywhere because he was always shedding. One corner of the kitchen was his, where stainless steel bowls containing Lucky Dog and clean water awaited him. After he crunched through a few mouthfuls (Molly bought it because it was good for his teeth, but there was no food in the world that Fred hated more) he took about eighteen gulps of water and settled himself in the living room.
With his Velcro-like tongue he combed his hair and then he relaxed a little from all the strenuous activity of the morning. The living room was the only room of the house he wasn’t allowed to get comfortable in: the leather couches, rocking chair and Lazy Boy were all forbidden. The only place where he was comfortable was in the window seat. Located on the west end of the apartment, it faced the street, probably the busiest one in Brantville. That meant every hour or so someone might go by, and that was enough for Fred. About 12” wide, the sill was just big enough for him to stretch out on, his back legs hanging like lifeless sticks of wood near the edge. Here everything that was worth seeing in town was visible. Since they were two floors up there wasn’t much he could do if anything ever happened, but he felt it was important to be informed. That’s not even mentioning the fact that he and the jade plant could catch some warm, relaxing sunshine.
Fred was just dozing off and starting to dream about Mona, the poodle down the hall, when a crunching noise sounded out side. The garbage men had arrived and Fred sprang into motion. He ran the length of the windowsill at least 50 times. Every minute or so he would stop running and jump wildly, barking enough to fog up the window. He really looked as if he would break through the glass and kill one of the garbage men if he could.
None of the men noticed him, but the tenants next door pounded on the wall and Molly yelled at him from her room. Fred didn’t care. He jumped off the sill and got a drink of water for his parched throat. Molly appeared in the hallway, pressed, dressed and shaking her keys from her purse. “Take care of the house Fred.” Molly sternly looked at him. Fred sat up straight and gave a sample growl he would use if anyone even tried to break in.
Molly laughed. “I’m having steak tonight so if you do well you’ll have gravy with your food, ok?”
Fred knew “gravy” and wagged excitedly. Molly hugged his furry neck, kissed his wet nose and shut the door. Fred ran to the window and jumped up to catch a last glimpse of Molly. She waved up at him as she drove away. It was 8:30 and having no definite plan for the next few hours (he needed to be free at noon for the postman) Fred fell into a deep sleep. He was eight years old, and since everything took a lot out of him, he took life pretty easy.
Fred didn’t know it yet, but right outside the apartment building was a man walking down the street, seemingly jut taking in the sights. The real reason he was in Brantville was something very different. His name was Dennis Williams and he was an employee of the Ralston Purina company. His employer had sent him there to look for the most All-American dog he could find. He was just beginning to wonder if anyone even lived in the town when the postman walked by. He figured that if anyone knew of an All-American dog in this small town, the postman should.
“Excuse me sir. Would you mind telling me if there are any dogs in this building?” Dennis shook the postman’s hand and introduced himself and his business.
“There sure is. One ferocious one in 212B. You can follow me if you want.”
The postman slowly wobbled up the stairs. He was an older man and had a distinctive walk that Fred could pick out in a crowd just by listening. Fred knew it was mail time, and was ready for both people, since he did notice that other man’s sharp heels walking with the postman. He took his post at the front door, right in front of the mail slot, and just as the postman reached his hand in to drop the mail, Fred started barking violently and snapped at the quickly with drawn hand.
“Lord, how I hate this dog! He must know.” The postman checked his hand for wounds, but only found a handful of brown hair.
Dennis was impressed. Whenever he thought of an All American dog the number one characteristic was biting, barking at, or at least lunging for the postman. This dog exhibited all the qualities necessary for Dennis’ first round of tests for the perfect “All-American dog”, so he asked the postman for the name of the owner and ran to call his boss.
Fred sniffed at the paper by the door but knew better than to bite or chew them. He was reprimanded as a puppy and never forgot. Feeling good about protecting Molly’s home once again, Fred went into her room to relax until the school kids were due at 3pm.
He tried to sleep but the phone kept ringing, which really annoyed him. For lack of something better to do, Fred jumped up on the windowsill to wait for something to happen. Soon the school children were bounding down the street. All of them looked like they were having fun and Fred gleefully jumped and barked in the window, hoping someone would notice him. Once again, everyone walked by without a glance. Fred began to dream of one day having people to walk with and pet him and talk to him all day.
When Molly came home they had dinner immediately. Fred checked his bowl to see if anything like cake or a steak had mysteriously fallen into it. Molly gave him steak gravy as promised, so Fred was pleased.
After dinner, the phone rang. Molly talked for quite awhile, and she seemed very excited. Fred was relaxing in front of the stereo, listening to some Mozart Molly had turned on. As soon as Molly hung up the phone she began cleaning the apartment and brushing her hair, along with Fred’s. Fred began to wonder if her parents were coming over, since this was the only time he was brushed and the apartment was cleaned on the same day, even week.
Not fifteen minutes later, there was a knock on the door. Fred began barking wildly, jumping and clawing at the door. Molly made him sit quietly, which Fred hated, and let the strange man in. It was Dennis, and he was pleased with the show Fred had put on. Molly and the man shook hands, so Fred felt it was okay to relax and he went to sleep under the bed. To his surprise, Molly called him back into the room. As he slowly sauntered back in, the man came up to him with a Milk Bone. Fred was not one to avoid or refuse food, so after looking at Molly to make sure it wasn’t poisoned, he happily crunched away at the tasty morsel. Dennis seemed like a nice man to Fred. He smelled of heavy cologne, which made Fred sneeze occasionally, but he had a “manner” Fred liked. He was almost as good at scratching as Molly, doing Fred’s ears so they waved back and forth.
He didn’t talk at Fred, but with Molly, and they seemed to be discussing a serious matter. Dennis arranged Fred in a sitting, standing, and laying position of the floor. Fred was good at this. Molly had trained him to do many tricks. Dennis was impressed once again. Fred had exhibited two important qualities, excitability and training history. Most dogs were either too well- bred and didn’t get excited, or too out of control and not trainable. Any dog that could have these qualities and control them as Fred had was the perfect kind of dog for Dennis’ All-American Dog campaign.
Dennis took some pictures of Fred in some of his poses. Then he and Molly discussed when the layouts would be shot and then Dennis was on his way. Molly congratulated Fred as they both celebrated with a slice of cheese cake each, Molly at the table and Fred by his bowl.
In the next few weeks everyone on the floor came to give Fred gifts, to take his picture, or even to just sit on the floor and pet him. Fred couldn’t understand why he was suddenly the center of attention. He didn’t fight it though. Every time someone came in he licked their hand or face, whichever was closer and then immediately sprawled on the floor to be scratched. The smell of steak bones wafted toward his nose as Chuck Jones from Chuck’s Steak house came to congratulate him. This was almost too much for Fred, the attention, the bones. He was really getting worked up, jumping, barking, just All-Around happy. He was finally being noticed and he hadn’t even tried. It was mysterious to Fred. He couldn’t figure out why everyone was so nice to him, but now was not the time to dwell on particulars. He enjoyed himself more than he had in his whole eight years that day.
One day two weeks later he finally figured out the mystery. He was having breakfast just like every other day. As he was grinding the Lucky Dog into his teeth, he happened to look up into the open cabinet at floor level. ON his box of Milk Bones biscuits was a picture of Fred sitting in the living room. That man had taken his picture for a reason. Now every dog in American and abroad would see his picture and wish they could be as popular as him. He would no longer have to hope that someone would notice him, now every person in the town would come to see him, the first celebrity in Brantville.
As he thought over this new development, he slowly walked into Molly’s bedroom where he settled in for a quick nap. Tucking his tail and legs under his body, he noted the time (just after breakfast) and planned to be up by noon, for the mailman.