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| Milk Teeth Excerpt |
| Prologue: May 1999 |
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| The Set Up |
You wouldn't find us on the couch together, this dog and me. First of all, I no longer allow dogs on furniture. But that isn't the real reason.
Every evening after supper I sit on a Breuer chair in the living room and invite Laska to join me so that I can pat her. Tonight we take up our customary positions, eyeing each other expectantly. Laska's looks strike me afresh and remind me of why they attract attention on our walks. Her springy step, the high carriage of her head, and her shiny coat that ripples down her back as if ocean waves had just left their trace, radiate life. These traits, combined with her shape, often cause people to mistake her for a puppy. In reality, her slender, compact body belongs to the British type of Labrador retriever. If we didn't walk so briskly, people might notice that Laska's face holds more dignity than a pup's. What looks like a thought furrow runs vertically down her forehead. Shepherds' crooks, ancient as the domestication of animals, could have inspired the curve of Laska's brow bones. Covered by rich black fur they catch the light, drawing attention to her eyes.
Though she's over two years old, the inside of Laska is less familiar to me than the outside. Tonight, I look into her wide-set brown eyes and notice for the first time that they are the color of wood streams running with iron. A stream we passed earlier today on our walk in the Vermont woods prompts the comparison. Iron seems the right metaphor, for Laska is a strong-willed dog. Suddenly I hear myself say out loud, "You are my perfect girl." My words surprise me because "perfect" does not mean her looks.
Hearing me exclaim, Laska's sturdy otter tail, as Labrador retriever breeders call it, circles like an airplane propeller. She scans my eyes.
I say, "Do you know why?"
More and faster wags as if the plane is about to take off. Yet she holds her body poised, ears pitched forward.
Besides their wood stream color there is something else about her eyes I notice. They are discerning, inquiring, mischievous but not, no never, soulful. The word "soulful" applies to the yearning look of my first Labrador, Sarah, who died four years ago. Unfairly, I often have measured Laska by the standard of Sarah.
Setting Laska free from the comparison I say, "Why are you my perfect girl? Because you are your very own self and no one else."
Is it possible that after two years I finally have accepted Laska for who she is? This turn of heart would be the greatest surprise of all.
I do not have time to answer the question. The build-up of my three excited comments is too much for my dog. She lunges at my face excitedly, the whites of her eyes showing.
No longer startled as I used to be by Laska's rude civility, I turn away from her in the chair and fold my arms. This gesture signals my lack of interest in her style of greeting. Firmly I say "Off," repeating the word several times before she drops back down on all fours. Then I stretch my hand out to pat her. As usual, my touch agitates Laska. She wriggles frenetically, grabs my hand in between her large white teeth, presents her rump for me to pet instead of her head, then jumps away as if in alarm.
I once read a scientific study that showed that patting a dog lowers your blood pressure, but these findings do not seem to apply to me. With Laska, my blood pressure always surges. To be fair, it seems hers does too when she receives my touch. Our misbegotten moments of affection are the real reason you would not find us hanging out together on the couch.