A faint crackling sound and the smoky smell of fish makes my nose twitch. I lift my head slowly. Same boots come into view, now attached to the legs of a salty old man turning his catch on a stick.
"hullumph cla skel tlaticus dog," he says.
WTF? I don't have a clue, but he pinches his nose and I wag my tail in recognition. Yep, I smell of skunk and he's tolerating me which is saying something.
He gives me some fish which I'm glad to have though he needn't have bothered to cook it up all fancy and such. He wipes his hands on his pants and gets up, stretching. I do the same and follow him as he ambles toward the blue house.
We get to the back door and the man turns to me.
"Heleep in ulf unf and git." He laughs softly to himself, shaking his finger at me and closing the door in my face, smiling all the while.
I take it I'm not an indoor guest and curl up to rest on the mat by the door. I can see him peeling off his cap, jacket, waders and all, down to long underwear, before he moves from the mudroom to the house proper. In about five seconds the door from the house to the mudroom and then the door from the mudroom to the mat where I'm sleeping fly open with a "bang! bang!" and a ball of fury in the form of a handsome older woman blows out onto the mat where I am no longer sleeping but balling up in a panic on the wet lawn, shrinking, head down, expecting a full-on attack.
"Gleeb! Inix fumei trijania??!!"
"Auulunnn. comtra chunia..."
"Fleek! Blirn! Fnknitness, gake!"
The Craggy Man has greatly displeased the Handsome Woman and I get the inkling I'm the itch she's scratching at. Maybe I still smell. He's laughing hard and doubled over as she continues to swirl word sounds at him and wring her hands on her apron.
"No!" she shoots and slam, slam, go both doors leaving him and me scratching ourselves in different places and looking each other over. His face drops, he kicks a small stone shoving his hands deeper in his pockets. It appears I have to go.
I spend a few sunny days and dark starless nights sleeping on the mat while my scent fades. I follow the man and woman into the field as they tend a small patch of vegetables and flowers. Every few days they'd load a small truck and head out, probably to market as they returned with an empty truck at day's end. I was never invited to go. They fed me well and even the woman scratched behind me ears once when I chased a rabbit out of the patch, though I didn't catch it which I thought was weird.
It seemed a good match through the summer months - I kept rabbits and deer away and even caught a gopher digging in the carrot patch. But then, as the fall rains began, I spent more time outside, alone and unnoticed. When the man would walk by on his way to the shed or some other chore, he would give me a sad look and shove his hands in his pockets. It was a signal. I just didn't know what the signal meant.
One day the man patted me on the head and turned on his heels toward the large barn. I'd never been in the large barn before so I followed him at a respectful distance but with growing excitement. Maybe it was full of rabbits or smelly things to roll on. Maybe there was a horse. I liked chasing horses and barking at their prancy ways, dodging kicks at the last minute. He unlatched and rolled open two large doors one by one revealing what appeared to be a huge vehicle of some sort but it was confusing. It was too large to be a car and not open like a truck. He cranked over the engine and rolled the beast out onto the grass. It was a whale of a contraption, almost the size of a house, gleaming in the sun. I was excited because it was moving but I couldn't really see how to put my head out the window. I jumped around and barked anyway, hoping for a ride and sure I'd figure out the window thing once I got inside. He opened a door on the side and whistled for me.
I poked my head through the door and jumped back. It was too weird. Outside it was a swollen, overgrown car. Inside it was a house! Living room, bedroom, toilet to drink from - but up front was a steering wheel like a car. WTF?? I did not get it at all. So, I got outta there as fast as I could.
The man brought a hose and some rags and a bucket. I hid behind the wheel because a hose usually smells like a bath to me. He pulled out a rickety ladder and over the course of the afternoon he managed to clean every inch of the odd vessel, stem to stern. He was just buffing the last of the chrome in the gathering twilight when the crunch of gravel signaled the arrival of a truck in the driveway.
I swiveled and barked as it came to a stop in a small cloud of road dust. The crew door flew open and a tiny speck of girl with blonde ringlets bubbled out. She smiled at me and said something in a sing-song ending in "dog" so I took that as an invitation to bound over and check her out. She smelled like gum.
As I got closer, I could see that she and I would be pretty much eye to eye so I'd no longer be lowest in the pack if I showed her the business right of front. I heard other feet hitting the gravel as a tall boy and another man and woman climbed out of the truck. I had no time to lose.
I got nose to nose with the busy girl and it only took one paw square to her chest to lay her out flat on the dirt. I came in close to her face and her stunned eyes softened. She grabbed my ears and started to laugh in a choppy giggle. I licked her face all over, laying claim to her as my pup in this pack.
"Huil git! Tenni off!" I heard the old man shout, running toward us while the tall boy pulled at my collar. I stepped off her and the tall boy grabbed her hand to pull her up. She brushed off the butt of her jeans and wiped her face with the back of her hand, smiling broadly.
"Eiy lub uh!" she said, then lunged for my neck, hugging me tight. And, so it was that I went home with the wine man, wine wife, tall boy and busy girl. Home to Styring Vineyards.
I am now Molly the Wine Dog.