R. Harlan Smith
On the night Frank Pearls died, he gathered his little congregation around his chair and gave each of them a little snack like a priest giving Holy Communion. They received their snacks gleefully and smacked their lips to show their appreciation. Then he settled back in his chair, swallowed another glass of whiskey, filled the glass again, and in his calm, pleasant voice, proceeded – sometimes he would read to them from Joyce, or Kierkegaard, or Al Capp, or sometimes he would just talk to them about philosophy, but he would never tell them it was philosophy. Tonight he would talk.
“My dear friends.” He smiled at them. He loved them.
“There ain’t any valid rationale to treat folks badly. There’s reasons enough, of course there’s reasons, but reasons ain’t explanations of any real substance. Hold on a minute.”
Frank drained his glass and refilled it.
“There’s always a cause behind this sort of thing, treatin’ folks badly, and cause is multi-layered, ain’t it. One act causes this or that, which triggers this, which leads to that, which brings this about, etcetera, etcetera, ad infinitum, don’t you see, until you come to our particular act of treatin’ folks badly, which, in turn becomes an act itself to foster endless other more of’m. Nothin’ ever happens at only one level. Every bit of behavior is segmented to one previous and one following. That’s the one to look out for, the ‘what follows’ one. Now, you can’t help what come before, but you are in charge of what follows, so always bear in mind you are responsible to and for what follows.”
With that, Frank Pearls laid his head back to the chair and closed his eyes. His arms sagged to the sides of the chair and the whisky glass slipped from his hand, and he sighed. The little congregation tensed. They had never seen Frank do this before. A flutter of wonder stirred among them. They kept their eyes on him, waiting, but Frank stayed very still.
Frank Pearls earned enough money as a Dog Sitter to supplement his monthly check. There were fifteen, sometimes twenty, dogs. Some were kenneled separately, others together because they had a merry time together. Every evening, he would gather all the dogs into his house where they would sit obediently before his chair, tails thumping. Then Frank would take out his whiskey and proceed to get drunk, and he would talk to them before the owners arrived.
The owners liked greeting their cherished beasts at Frank’s front door, leashed and ready to go. It assured them of his personal care and concern. Some of them swear their dogs have become smarter since they’ve been in Frank’s care. They all agreed Frank was the only other owner of their dog.
The young Miss Hazelton was the first to arrive. Miss Hazelton drove her new Volvo thirty minutes out of her way to leave her little Butch, a long-haired, miniature, female Dachshund, with Frank. She dressed smartly and worked as a product manager for a big company in the city. She knocked several times and when there was no response, she opened the door a little.
There was no response.
She opened the door just enough to fit her head and looked around, her eyebrows up, her eyes wide, with a perfect inquisitive expression. The house was still. She stepped inside and called out to Frank, and again there was no response.
“Frank?” she called again.
Strange, she thought, there were no dogs in the kennels and no dogs wandering about the house. She wondered how that could be.
She found the dogs lying about in front of Frank in his chair. She thought he was sleeping. Some of the dogs raised their heads sadly to look at her and lowered them again. Others just mournfully rolled their eyes to watch her. Butch came to her immediately. Miss Hazelton caught her up in her arms with a hug and a kiss.
Miss Hazelton had never seen a dead person and she was not sure how to tell if a person is dead. She thought she should walk on the tips of her toes and be as quiet as possible, although she didn’t know why, but she did. She looked very carefully at Frank Pearls. His eyes were partially closed and his jaw sagged open. She felt embarrassed for him, and she wondered if it was rude to stare at a dead person, as fascinating as it was.
Miss Hazelton felt it was her duty to stay and explain to the others. She called the police and they called an ambulance to take Frank away after the Coroner declared there was no foul play and Frank’s passing was a death of natural causes. Frank’s clients were shocked and disappointed. Their dogs dragged at their leashes and walked reluctantly to their owner’s cars with their heads down.
The county auctioned Frank Pearls’ house and everything in it. What did not sell was donated to the Goodwill Center. His ten year old niece in Ohio was delighted to hear she had inherited three hundred and thirty-eight dollars from her uncle Frank. Frank’s belongings went everywhere.
Maria and Carlos Ruiz found Frank’s chair at the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena. Carlos liked it right away.
“This is still a pretty good chair,” he said.
Maria agreed. She examined the cushion. “We don’t even have to patch anything up.” They brought it home in the trunk of the car.
“A man should have his chair,” Maria said.
Carlos liked to sit and have a glass of beer when he came home from delivering heavy jugs of water all day. He could put it right across from the television for the soccer tournaments and. Don Francisco.
It was Friday and hot, and Carlos Ruiz drove his route and dreamed all day of sitting in his chair with his beer while Maria set out dinner. He smiled on his way home, charmed by the image of little Zapata, Maria’s Chihuahua, running into the living room and leaping up onto his lap to welcome him home with a shower of loving licks and anxious whining. “Que Bueno perro,” he said. Sometimes his love for little Zapata brought tears to his eyes. Just a little dog.
Maria kept him leashed in a corner of the kitchen where he spent most of his day. She didn’t like animals on the furniture. It made a smell. So little Zapata was comfortably leashed with a reasonable length so he could stretch his legs, and a thick folded blanket which Maria religiously vacuumed and laundered every Saturday.
When Carlos was settled in his chair with his shoes off and his belt loosened, Maria unleashed little Zapata and delivered a cold glass of beer to her Carlos; always Zapata and the beer at the same time; two pleasures at once for her beloved Carlito. She kissed him on the forehead. He worked so hard. However, little Zapata, instead of leaping up on Carlos’ lap, sat on the floor in front of him and looked up at him as if waiting for something.
It was at about that time when Maria heard a scratching on her kitchen door. She moved the curtain and looked. It was Cooper, the Villalobos’ Bull Dog. She opened the door and he and two other wiggly little mop heads pushed past her to join little Zapata on the floor in front of Carlos. Then, because Maria, in her surprise, had left the door open, the rest of the dogs rushed in, nine of them.. Maria noticed more dogs gathering in the yard. And when she crossed herself, “Mio Dios,” she heard Carlos say, “My dear friends…”
He smiled at them and became overwhelmed with a deep fondness for them. “Now I will tell you the story of how my ancestors discovered all dogs are singers…”