Either the Fat Lady has sung her last and made a hospice of my noggin, pressing her three hundred and forty-two pounds of dying flesh into the three pound cavity still occupied by my quarter ounce brain, or I have a righteous sinus infection, or the flu. Regardless, I wish the EMTs, Paramedics, Fire Marshall, Jaws of Life, AAA—somebody—would come and remove whoever’s swollen ass (because judging from my appetite, it’s most likely the Fat Lady's), has taken up residence just below and behind my eyeballs, and bury the whole lot of it in a piano case somewhere in New Mexico.
Mike Lloyd and I were out in the shop, bullshitting, one day last week when James dropped in and shocked us with this bit of news. Not that James dispersed it as such.
‘What’ve you been into this morning, Mr. Hammock?’ Mike asked when James poked his head in the door.
Mike’s a big man. From Ohio originally. In his late sixties I think; white, round and rosy in all of the places that Santa Claus is white, round and rosy. Mike’s got a twinkle in his eye too, but with a bit of a mischievous slant. ‘Oh...’ James said, closing the door behind him. James is in his early forties. His features and physique are headed in much the same direction as Mike’s, only with a dyspeptic twinkle. ‘...not much. Just came in from feedin’ my cows and dog. Saw your truck Mike. Thought I’d come over and see what ya’ll were up to.’
Mike and I looked at each other, eyebrows raised in big question marks. 'Dog'? Mike mouthed. I shrugged. It was the first I had heard of it.
You see, in James’s own words, he don’t care nothin’ for no damn dog. The few he has had in his lifetime were coon dogs—working dogs, kept outdoors and admired for their skills, but never extended any more affection than a rewarding pat and ‘attaboy’—and those he had when he was as a kid.
‘Oh really? Mike said, ‘A dog?’
‘Yep,’ James said, examining a piece of lumber I had standing near the door. He wouldn't look at us directly.
‘What kind of dog?’ Mike asked.
‘Oh, it’s that old dog of Bret’s. He’s taken up with my cows.’
'You're feedin' him?'
Bret’s another guy who doesn’t care for dogs. Neither does his wife. To appease their six children, though, they packed one home. Two, actually. One took sick as a pup and Bret put it down. The survivor was Max, the dog with James's cows.
Max grew up to be a lanky dog, not quite a short-hair but not a long-hair either, mostly white with black and brown blotches. It’s said his father was a Great Pyrenees. Mom must have been a Pointer and the dominate gene donor.
As it turns out, Bret’s kids don’t care much for dogs either. Max apparently realized this and spent a good deal of the last three months wandering, the Pyrenees in him in search of a more appreciative herd to watch over. Apparently he found it in James’s cows, some six miles up the road.
Mike and I knew better than to pester James about his new dog. James would probably run Max off just to proove he hadn't gone soft. I told James about Max's Pyrenees blood and we all agreed Max would be good at keeping an eye on the cows.
I went out with James the other day to check on the herd and to feed Max, who James still referred to as 'that dog.' I was surprised to learn that Max was no longer being fed scraps alone. James had bought Max twenty pounds of the cheapest dog food he could find. He bitched the whole drive over to the pasture about the nine dollars it cost him, a sure sign he was proud of his generosity.
I saw Max from the road, flopped out in the sunny grass beside his new bovine family. He raised a lazy eye to us when we pulled up to the gate, then, when he recognized the truck, got up and came running.
‘Max!’ I hollered, as he came up the hill. He was thin, but his tail was wagging. He looked happy.
‘Is that his name? Max?’ James asked, emptying the can of dog feed right there on a patch of roofing tin beside the gate. Max devoured it.
‘Yep.’ I thought everyone knew Max's name.
‘You watchin’ my cows Max?’
Max looked up and wagged his tail. He was doing his job.
We went out and walked around and among the cows. Max fell in beside James. I slipped back and followed the two of them, listening to James as he pointed out the good and bad among the herd. Max would come back to me, briefly, from time to time, maybe because he knew me, knew I would scratch him, but he always ran back to James’s side. He would nudge James’s hand with his nose. And once, just once, and barely at that, without even a downward glance, James scratched the back of Max's ear.