What happens is
the ocean is a desert (unfinished)


After I've been out of the house all day, I'm saddened by the remnant of poodle pee odor that hits me when I walk back through the door, because I'd quite forgotten about it in the meantime. I say poodle, though I don't really know what sort of dog it was. All I know is that it wasn't our dog, because the smell predates our life here.

I imagine the poodle as the sort who was both fussed over and neglected, like a child who is very badly behaved around other people, but whose parents see him only as creative, fun-loving, and quite possibly "gifted." Then I imagine that the poodle got out one day while its owner was answering the door, and nearly had its little existence wiped out by the careless postal worker who careens up our street at inconsistent times of the day. Doted upon beyond reason, the poodle was operated on, no expense spared, by the vet a few blocks away, who fitted the yippy little creature with a prosthetic foreleg, as well as a glass eye.

The poodle adapted to the false leg easily enough, but never quite got its balance back with only one good eye. When it ran around in circles, it would become disoriented and dizzy, and flop down, panting and puking up a significant percentage of the morning's 1/4 cup serving of Natural Balance Ultra Premium Dog Food, leading the owners to consider psychotherapy for their pet, whose name was Alex.

Alex's "parents" preferred non-gender-defining names for their pets and the children they planned to have later on when life had been fully experienced enough in order to accommodate the change in lifestyle a family of four humans plus Alex would require. The children were to be named Darby and Darcy, no matter which came first.

That was for later, though. All that mattered for the present was making sure Alex's emotional needs were tended to, and for that, Alex's parents turned to Dr. Lumpkin, leading pet analyst of Ocean County. The name Lumpkin didn't do much to engender confidence in his patients' owners, but as his esteem rose along with his consultation fees, Dr. Lumpkin felt that his somewhat awkward name would one day become synonymous with excellent pet mental health. The Lumpkin Legacy, as it were.

At first, it seemed obvious to Alex's parents that Alex was having a difficult time adjusting to both a prosthetic leg and a false eyeball, but Dr. Lumpkin dug a little deeper by employing his patent-pending pet hypnosis technique, whereby he discovered that the root of the problem was in Alex's concern over having brown fur, whereas most of the other poodles Alex met had white fur. These white poodles were primly concerned with the absolute whiteness of their coats, preening and licking, and largely disdaining Alex, having been taught that their own coats were never to be marred with the dirt and dust of the external world, lest they need to be vigorously shampooed back to a more natural glossy alabaster state. This was done on a weekly basis at the groomer's anyway, but best in the interim to avoid any possibility of taint that would require extra bathing.

Not that most of them minded a good hearty bath anyway. Poodles were bred to enjoy being fussed and fawned over, so that the dog grooming industry had somewhere to go beyond semi-annual coat and nail trimmings.

Poodles, in short, and unlike other breeds of dogs, are self-aware.

I surmise that the poodle Alex peed on our carpet on purpose. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Alex's parents insisted that they had always let Alex know how much they loved and admired the rich chocolately brown fur, and that they enjoyed coordinating Alex's winter sweaters and spring raincoats with the color, but Dr. Lumpkin pointed out that Alex might have seen this as a passive-aggressive attempt to hide the brown fur from a world which disdained a poodle that came in any color other than snowy white. Even efforts to dress up the prosthetic leg would be seen as subterfuge by people who cared for Alex but were ashamed of the poodle's physical differences.

Alex, in addition to semi-weekly sessions with Dr. Lumpkin, began attending a group physical therapy class. There were four other dogs in attendance, but only one of those a poodle. A white one, naturally, but Alex felt some measure of superiority as a Miniature poodle, while Terrance was a Toy. Toy poodles might have a certain caché among some show people, but to a Miniature, they are simply small enough to be kicked around, if a Miniature could be bothered, which it really couldn't.

During the time of Alex's therapy, his parents worked hard to keep the carpet shampooed and fresh, even though Alex, eager to please as ever, still puked up gourmet breakfast on a regular basis. The exercises in class were meant to restore balance to a one-eyed dog, but Alex's heart really wasn't in it, though awards were given each week for Most Improvement. Terrance never won an award, but he scoffed at the idea, muttering about the stupid working breeds and their constant need for approval.

In the afternoons, Alex liked to run around in the backyard. Specifically, around the pool, counter-clockwise. It was only running clockwise that caused dizziness at this point, so Alex's parents didn't worry about their little pet falling into the water. Alex would run and run and run, stopping occasionally to jump around in the lily patch, or to pee in it.

Lilies have a subtle scent which nevertheless can be carried a long way on a breeze. Alex didn't understand how a scent could go away from something that never went anywhere. Even a poodle has limitations of understanding.

Then one day, sometime after the petals fell from the lilies and only a green knob filled with genetic material for more lilies remained on top of the stalk, Alex spied a new flower in the lily patch. A flower which breathed, though it did not move. Alex plunged a little furry nose into the top of the flower to have a sniff, only to have the flower fly off across the yard. It was a dragonfly, though Alex did not know this. The idea that a flower could just leave, rather than dry up and fall to the ground, was amazing to Alex.

Alex wanted to be that flower-which-was-really-a-dragonfly. An object which was meant to be still, yet somehow could move, without being told to heel and stay by something very large with a treat in its hand. An object of bright, brilliant color, which flew without effort, answering to no one.

When Alex was called in for supper, the answer was clear. The only thing to do to assert some individuality and control, was to pee on the freshly-cleaned carpet. Alex's parents were horrified. They scrubbed and sprayed, and patted Alex and pointed their fingers in a loving but admonishing way, and the next day, Alex did it again.

Dancing in a counterclock-wise circle, jumping and yapping and filled with glee, Alex conquered the puking problem in one stroke, as it were, and began a new habit that was to plague his parents for six months, til they gave up and moved to a new house completely fitted with floors made of Pergo and handmade Italian tile. They also fired Dr. Lumpkin and cancelled the PT classes, choosing instead to send Alex to an outdoor daycamp. On the day the movers came, before Alex was fitted into the little kennel strapped into the Jeep Liberty for the ride across Ocean County, Alex ran in circles and peed and peed and peed all over the newly cleaned slate blue carpet.

The owners had the carpet shampooed all over again, but without replacing the padding beneath the carpet, they ensured that whoever rented the house next would forever be plagued by the remnants of Alex's reach for freedom of spirit. By the time they rented the house out, they had quite forgotten the smell that rose up to meet them when they first entered the building, but asked for a 500 dollar deposit against cat pee, which they'd always heard was an impossible smell to remove from a floor.