My daughter Lisa had always wanted a puppy, but we had never agreed to one. None of us were allergic, but we knew it would be a lot of work, not to mention make a mess in the house. After we separated and Lisa started high school, however, Lisa’s mother allowed her a dog.
When it was time for my weekend with Lisa, I drove to pick her up from our old house. She climbed into the car with her duffel bag, holding back tears. “Poppy ran away,” she said. “Can we go look for her, Dad?”
How could I say no? “Of course.”
Lisa thought Poppy might be in the nearby woods, so that’s where we went. It had rained at night, and pretty soon we were ruining our socks and shoes while following giant footprints in the mud.
“Are you sure these are Poppy’s?” The prints looked like they belonged to a wolf or a bear.
She nodded several times. “Poppy’s gotten so big. I can’t even lift her anymore.”
We found the creature curled up by a hollow tree like some mythical beast, but first we found the elk carcass, a dozen uprooted pine trees, and six piles of dirt that looked like little graves, where, according to my daughter, Poppy had probably buried the elk liver and organs for a later snack.
Poppy was the foulest thing I’d ever seen — half-dog, half-something else. Or perhaps I should say twice the bite. When Poppy turned her head, I realised she actually had two. One face growled at me, while the other yipped excitedly at my daughter.
“Poppy,” my daughter Lisa squeaked and dashed to the animal. Her arms barely reached around the beast. Poppy’s tail whipped rather than wagged.
I resisted grabbing my daughter and running. Far. I couldn’t fathom how my ex-wife would allow such a thing in her neat and orderly house.
“Okay, let’s go then,” I said. “We should probably drop off ’Poppy’ at your mother’s place first. Her food and toys are still there, right?” I fought off an image of what they must look like — lamb hearts and rolling skulls.
Lisa stopped stroking Poppy’s pitch-black fur. She cast down her eyes. “We can’t.”
“Poppy didn’t really run away. I let her out. Mum wasn’t going to let me keep her anymore.”
While we stood in pine-scented silence, Poppy stared at me with glowing red eyes. Bone spikes dotted her spine. And those claws —
“Dad?” Lisa looked up at me with a face made of hope. “Can Poppy come stay with you? Pretty please?”
I had every reason to say no, but at least one to say, “Yes, sure.”
It’s been a few months since that day in the woods. Lisa’s mother must be pleased — or gloating is probably more like it. I’ve kept my promise. Poppy lives with me now.
Needless to say, that animal knows how to make a mess. She claws the doors, stinks like a pack of wolves, and I can’t leave anything smaller than furniture on the floor unless I want it destroyed. But she no longer snaps her teeth at me, loves sitcoms, and her tail almost looks like it’s wagging.
It’s a long two weeks when Lisa isn’t here. It’s nice to have some company.