The orange cat studied the stack of wooden blocks intently, crouching down to his belly and slowly scooting around the perimeter, stopping here and there to scrutinize certain angles.
He finally came to a stop, having navigated the structure twice already. The cat inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with air which expanded his already plump body further.
He reached out one paw then stopped, taking a second to steady himself, before continuing. He gently tapped one of the long narrow blocks located about three quarters of the way down from the top. The tower of wood teetered for the briefest of moments then stilled itself.
Again, the cat stretched his paw forward placing it against the same block, this time applying a steady pressure. The wood slowly started to slide forward, the other end of the block peeking out of the far side of the tower.
The feline mustered all his mental strength to try and control the muscles in his arm which by now, had begun to spasm.
Now shoulder deep inside the structure and with the oblong piece of wood sticking halfway out the far side, little beads of perspiration began to form on the cat’s forehead.
Slowly, he withdrew his arm, hustled around to the other side of the wooden tower and started to steadily pull the block the rest of the way out with his mouth. It sprung free and clunked to the ground. The cat leapt up and pumped his paw triumphantly in the air.
“Wowwie, you are good at Jenga,” I said to Rapi, who was still dancing and celebrating his move directly in front of his opponent, a grey and white cat who sat across from him, scowling with trepidation.
“You are good too Bella,” I offered encouragement to the grey and white feline. Her scowl immediately diminished at my show of support.
“Thanks Cindee, you know, you are okay for a dog,” she said with a giggle
“It’s your turn,” Rapi issued a challenge to Bella, then took a seat next to me on the sofa where he could be out of the way and see what Bella was doing at the same time.
The grey and white cat stood and looked the puzzle over. After just a minute or two she identified a block two levels up from the one that Rapi had just removed. She reached out smoothly and with purpose, her paw rock steady and began to push on the piece. Her face contorted with the strain of concentration. It was almost halfway out already.
Ding dong! The doorbell rang.
Bella jumped, startled by the unexpected sound, wood blocks flew through the air in every direction landing with clinks and clunks, further spooking the slightly overweight grey and white cat, who scattered across the living room and dove under the sofa with a yelp.
“I win,” Rapi yelled out victoriously, his cubby body hopping and dancing around the ruins of the Jenga puzzle in sheer delight.
“Door, someone is at the door,” I barked out from among the chaos.
“What’s going on down here,” Mommy cried out over the din while hopping and weaving over the mess on her way to the entranceway.
She pulled the handle and the door swung open.
I sat there blinking, my mouth hanging open. Standing in the doorway was a small light-colored shih-tzu and next to him was a short wiener dog, both with their tongues hanging out and big smiles on their faces.
“Cindee,” they both barked out in unison.
“Jeepers! I haven’t seen you guys since you were pups,” I shouted, my heart thudding with joy in my chest.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was Sammie and Charlie, my cousins from Georgia. It had been years since I had last seen them. Well, seen them in person, we Skype together all the time. Standing behind them was Aunt Liz and Uncle Johnny.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” Daddy yelled from the top of the stairs.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” everyone cried out, and hugged.
“C’mon on in, let’s go upstairs where we can have some peace and quiet,” I said, before turning to head up the stairs with Sammie, Charlie and Rapi all in tow.
We turned the corner at the top of the stairs and cruised into Mommy’s office where we keep all of our beds.
“What a great surprise,” I said plopping down in one of the big soft pallets.
“Mommy and Daddy didn’t tell us,” Rapi added snuggling up next to me.
“I know, we did it on purpose,” Sammie, the small wiener dog said curling up in the other big bed and smiling.
“It was hard not to say anything when we were Skyping last weekend,” Charlie, the small shih tzu said, circling around and finally laying down next to Sammie.
A little black and white cat head peaked around the door frame to see what was going on.
“Hey Yehudi, meet our cousins Sammie and Charlie,” I said introducing our guests.
“Hey,” Yehudi squeaked.
“Happy Thanksgiving!” Sammie and Charlie barked joyfully.
“What’s a Thanksgiving?” Yehudi asked.
Our two guests turned to stare at each other dumbfounded. I smacked myself in the head with my paw, mostly out of reflex.
“Uh,” Rapi just stared, his mouth open. Apparently, he had run out of words.
“Yehudi is very curious, and sometimes a little naïve,” I explained to Sammie and Charlie.
“Naïve,” Rapi asked, looking at me with that sarcastic look that he has been known to get.
“It’s Thanksgiving,” I reminded Rapi before he had a chance to say something he may regret later.
“Thanksgiving is a special day that comes once a year. It’s a time for us to remember all the things that we are thankful for in our lives,” Sammy explained.
The black and white cat was silent for a moment, her whiskers twitched, and her eyelid fluttered. Sure signs that she was mulling this new information over in her mind. We all sat in silence watching Yehudi’s face shift through a myriad of expressions until at last her eyes closed and her face became serene.
“Wow, that’s deep,” she said, before turning and scampering off to find Bella.
“Who wants to go for a walk before dinner,” Daddy’s voice drifted up from the living room.
That human has a way with words. He puts so much enthusiasm and effort into his questions that it is hard to say no to him, even when you don’t want to do what he is suggesting. Sometimes I almost convince myself he is a hypnotist, but then, I remember he has trouble understanding the simple things like when I ask for something, it takes him five or ten minutes to comprehend, while Mommy knows in a second what I am saying. No, it is impossible he is a hypnotist.
“Coming,” we all yelled and begin to charge down the stairs.
This truly was a treat. Daddy hooked us three dogs up and he put the harness on Rapi so he could come along too.
Soon, we were off, the four of us trotting down the street. There was a bit of chill in the air today, and sadly all the beautiful leaves had either fallen or turned a depressing shade of brown. Even that wonderful autumn smell was gone, instead, the air had that clear clean wintery smell to it.
I lead the way and was quiet for the most part. I just enjoyed my surroundings and listening to Sammie and Rapi banter back and forth about how it felt for a cat to be out walking like a dog. It was an interesting conversation.
“Do cat’s think and feel like dogs,” Sammie had wanted to know.
“I don’t know, how to dogs think and feel,” Rapi had responded.
This went on for a few blocks until they both decided that maybe the experience was the same and it didn’t matter if you were a cat or a dog you felt the same feelings.
“Park,” Rapi hollered excitedly, his paw pointing straight ahead at the neighborhood park, which stood uncharacteristically empty today because of the holiday.
We all whooped and hollered, then picked up the pace dragging Daddy behind us to the wide-open space. We all came to a sudden stop, piling into each other at the appearance of an unsightly schnauzer, that had stumbled out from behind a bush at the far end of the park. He had managed to make it to the sidewalk before he groaned and fell over on his side.
“Jeepers,” I yelled.
The dog was old, grey hairs had begun to invade his face, giving the impression that it was a black dog with a silver goatee. His expression was gaunt and warn out, more so by his lifestyle than his age. His body slender, to the point that it was sickly. Butterflies were floating everywhere in my tummy. I felt yucky with sadness just looking at him.
“Are you okay,” Sammie asked laying down beside the schnauzer so he could make eye contact.
“I am tired and hungry,” the schnauzer answered weakly, lifting his head to gaze at the rest of us.
“Where do you live? Tell us and we can take you home,” I asked him.
His smiled wearily at me. I looked deeply into his vacant eyes and felt a sense of hopelessness begin to creep through me. My body started to tremble a little waiting for his answer. At first, I thought it was because of the cold air nipping at me, but soon, I realized it was an ancient dread growing inside of me that had chilled me to the bone.
“The streets are my home,” the old dog said humbly.
My fear had been confirmed. Memories of being abandoned in a box when I was a baby flooded my thoughts. That night all alone in the vacant pharmacy parking lot, I had believed I was going to be homeless. Hiding in the darkness I had contemplated what would become of me. Staring at this schnauzer, the cold harsh realization of what could have been started to strangle me.
“Daddy,” I asked, turning to look at him. Surely, he would know what to do. The rest of us stood in silence waiting for an answer, but all he did was kneel and stroke the tangled hairs of the old dog.
“We have got to do something,” I barked.
“Yeah, let’s help him,” Sammie and Charlie sang out, unable to contain their enthusiasm.
Daddy stood up and took out his phone and began tapping away on it. Rapi inched forward until he was close enough to the dog to lean over and whisper into his ear.
“Hello friend, my name is Rapi, what’s your name?” he spoke quietly to keep the schnauzer calm.
“A name?” his face scrunched up deep in thought.
“Now let me think, nobody has used my name since I was a pup living on the farm,” he said with a hearty laugh.
“It’s okay, take your time,” Rapi reassured him.
“You are very nice young man, considering you are a cat,” the schnauzer said lifting his head a little to examine Rapi’s face.
“I get that a lot,” the orange cat said, eliciting another laugh from the old schnauzer.
A hush fell over us as time passed on this Thanksgiving Day, which right now did not seem to have much to be thankful for. Second by second the tension rose inside of me to the point where I didn’t think I could take it anymore. Just then, Mommy pulled up next to us in the silver SUV.
The four of us, now joined by Yehudi were once again comfortably tucked into the beds whispering about the poor homeless dog that was in the bathroom getting a good scrub down by mommy and aunt Liz.
“What is a homeless,” Yehudi asked.
Charlie looked over at me with a puzzled expression on his face.
“She is curious,” I answered with a shrug.
“Homeless is when someone does not have a place to live sweetie,” Sammie explained to the little black and white cat.
“Why don’t they have a place to live,” Yehudi, not content with the answer pushed for more information. We all looked at each other for a moment, waiting to see who would be brave enough to answer this question.
“There are lots of reasons,” Charlie began.
“Sometimes somebody runs away, or they may get lost, there are even times when an irresponsible human will abandon their furbaby on the side of the road,” Charlie explained.
“Or a parking lot,” I added, my gaze falling to the ground.
“Oh,” the little black cat’s face filled with concern.
“So that’s what happened to that schnauzer,” the words tumbled from Yehudi’s lips, neither a question or a statement, but rather a thought floating out into the ether.
The bathroom door opened, and our new friend trotted out and joined us. He looked and smelled like a new dog. He laid down on top of one of the cat beds and made himself comfortable.
“No, here, take my spot,” I said standing and offering him a place on the dog bed I had been sharing with Rapi and Yehudi.
“No need young one, when you have been where I have been this is plenty comfortable,” he answered with a wide smile on his face.
“Dinner will be ready in a few minutes guys,” Mommy said, as she passed by.
“See you then,” Aunt Liz added, poking her head in to say hi before continuing down the stairs.
“Why don’t you have a home,” Yehudi asked, too young to realize her frankness was rude.
The schnauzer turned his head and looked directly at Yehudi.
“Why don’t I have a home?”
“Rascal,” the schnauzer said.
“Huh,” I said, confused by the statement. Looking around at my friends I could see I wasn’t the only one.
“Rascal sir,” Yehudi asked.
“Rascal. That is my name. It just came to me,” he said, a look of wonder spreading on his worn face.
“Rascal, that’s an awesome name,” Sammie said.
“It is, I wish I had a name like Rascal,” Yehudi complained.
“Where was I? Ah yes, why don’t I have a home,” the old dog suddenly remembered the question he had been asked.
“It’s all starting to come back to me now. When I was little, I lived on a farm. Oh, it was a big farm way out in the middle of nowhere. We had lots of goats and chickens … and corn. My goodness, I remember the corn went on as far as the eye could see,” Rascal’s eyes seemed far off, almost as if he were back in that place.
“Oh my gosh,” he stopped dead in the middle of his recollections.
We all sat silently holding our breath, hoping that everything was alright. Yehudi looked over at me, fear was in her eyes. I could tell she was concerned she may have broke the old dog with her questions. Pools of water started to form in his aged eyes.
“I had a boy, a human boy that loved me,” his voice cracked with the revelation.
“His name was Joshua. I remember his name,” Rascal barked.
“We used to play frisbee every day. We would go out behind the barn, past the windmill and play in front of those old grain towers,” he smiled at the memory.
“One day, Joshua’s dad went into town, and I wanted to go along because I love riding in the back of the shiny black pickup truck. So, we were on our way to the village traveling down them backroads and I couldn’t resist. I stood up and stuck my head out the side of the truck. There is nothing more liberating than the feel of wind blowing through your hair and your tongue floppin’ around in the breeze.”
“Wow, that sounds exciting,” Charlie barked excitedly.
“That’s when it happened, we hit a bump in the road and I was thrown over the edge of the pickup onto the side of the road. Joshua’s dad didn’t even know I was gone. I wandered around and around looking for him, but eventually I gave up hope,” Racal said, hanging his head.
“Dinner is ready,” Mommy called from downstairs.
A big joyous cry went up in the room as cat and dog alike sprang to their feet and ran for the dining room.
“Jeepers Rascal, I am sorry that you have had such a difficult life,” I told him as we walked slowly together down the stairs.
“Aw, it’s alright. I have seen plenty in my day. More than many dog’s dream of,” he answered, his voice sounding more upbeat than he looked.
The humans sat down at the table, meanwhile our food was placed in our bowls which sat on top of old newspapers along the wall. Mommy apologized for having to use the newspapers, explaining that she had run out of time to get some nice Thanksgiving themed runners for us.
The truth is, it didn’t matter to any of us once we saw our bowls filled with potatoes, carrots and chicken all smothered in a yummy gravy. It was difficult waiting for Daddy to say a Thanksgiving prayer, but boy I was very thankful once he finished.
My first bite of dinner was heaven. I looked over at Rascal who sat next to me and wondered what he was thinking about as he munched down on his chicken. I shifted my focus back to my own food bowl and began to swoop in for another delicious bite but paused halfway there to stare at the grocery advertisement that doubled as my placemat. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
“Rascal,” I said in a hushed voice.
He leaned forward and scooped up some more chicken and began to chew it up good.
“Rascal,” I whispered a little louder,
“Huh,” he swung his head to see what I wanted.
“Look at this,” I said, pointing to an advertisement with my paw.
The schnauzer leaned over and squinted at the ad.
“What, corn is on sale,” he mumbled.
“No, the picture. Look at the picture,” I urged.
He leaned forward and stared intently at the picture in the advertisement. I watched his expression change as recognition set in.
The ad was for fresh corn from Hoover’s Farm. Below the words was a picture of the farm. It was an old white farmhouse with a red barn. But, behind this barn was a windmill and … twin grain towers with the farms name on it.
“Home,” Rascal barked.
“That’s my home!”
Everyone stopped what they were doing to look at the old black dog who suddenly had some life in him.
“You found my home Cindee,” he cried out in joy and danced around the room.
“Hush,” Daddy said.
This was too important. I grabbed the paper and pulled it out from under the bowl and scurried over to Daddy dropping it at his feet.
“It’s Rascal’s home,” I barked.
“That crazy dog,” Daddy huffed.
Why did I get a Daddy that is monolingual? Soon the rest of the gang had surrounded me, and we were all yelling at the top of our lungs.
“Rascal’s home,” I barked and pointed at the picture.
Rascal leaned over and nudged it with his nose.
“I think they are trying to tell you something,” Aunt Liz said.
We jumped up and barked and danced. Mommy stood up and looked at the paper.
“What you want more corn,” she asked.
I gave Mommy the death stare.
“What then? The farm,” she asked.
“Yes,” Rascal barked. The rest of us danced in circles.
“Is this your home,” she asked.
“Yes! Yes my home,” he came to life yelling and dancing. He gave her leg a loving headbutt then ran towards the door.
The silver SUV pulled into the long stone drive and rolled to a stop in front of the two story structure. Mommy and Daddy got out of the vehicle along with Rascal and strode up to the door.
A young man opened the door and met them on the porch before they had a chance to knock.
“Can I help you,” the young man asked.
“This is going to sound strange,” Mommy said smiling at the man.
“It’s me Joshua! It’s me,” Rascal danced around the man’s legs.
“Hi there,” he said, noticing the schnauzer.
“I used to have one just like this many years ago,” he said scratching Rascal under the chin.
“So sorry about that, you were saying,” he returned his focus to Mommy.
“That’s okay. Actually, we were here about this dog,” she said.
Before Mommy could continue, the schnauzer broke free and sprinted for the barn.
“Sorry, I will go get him,” Daddy said.
“Anyway, we found this dog wandering on our street and you are not going to believe this, but he saw your ad on the grocery flyer this week and went crazy. He wouldn’t calm down until we brought him out here,” Mommy explained awkwardly.
Rascal came back with a frisbee and Daddy chasing behind him. The dog dropped the frisbee at the man’s feet, turned and sprinted out to the water tower.
“C’mon, lets play Joshua,” the schnauzer begged.
“That can’t be? Rascal,” the young farmer called out to the dog.
“It’s me,” Rascal barked back, then hopped and danced, before spinning in a circle and sitting down.
“I can’t believe my Rascal has come back to me after all these years,” the farmer said, a single tear drop falling down his cheek.
“We will let you two get re-united,” Daddy said, shaking the farmers hand.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” Joshua yelled as we pulled away.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” we all called back.
“Thank you,” Rascal barked to us as we drove past him.
Sammie, Charlie and I turned and stared out the back window, watching as Rascal and Joshua faded away.
I turned to look at my cousins who smiled at me, enjoying this happily ever after moment.
“Best … Thanksgiving … ever!” I barked out loud.