He’s a promising young pup. No dog in the pack can match him for tracking wild boar. His master, Odysseus, is rightfully proud. But when Odysseus is called away to war, everything changes. The ensuing years are unkind. Careless men take over the kennels, use up Argos’s potential, and then discard him to fester in fleas and root in manure for his meals.
Meanwhile, halfway around the world, his master likewise falls on evil times. After ten years at war, Odysseus is forced to travel through perilous lands for another ten. When he finally returns, he does so in rags and disguised as a beggar, finding his home overrun by unscrupulous men.
He limps into the courtyard of his old home with a servant. Argos is lying on a trash heap, barely able to move his arthritic limbs. He has never forgotten Odysseus, not for one day, not through the hunger nor the neglect nor the beatings at the hands of lesser men. He’s sleeping, but when he hears his master’s voice, he raises his head and looks right at him.
Odysseus, that master of disguise, cannot help himself. He dashes a tear from his eyes, trying not to give himself away. “Servant,” he says. “What a noble hound is lying there!”
Argos cannot rise, but he signals joy at his master’s praise with a wag of his tail: At last! And as Odysseus passes into the banquet hall to deal with his enemies, Argos passes “into the darkness of death, having seen his master once more.”
A few years ago, one of our neighbors down the street was moving out, and they had many of their possessions on display in the driveway for strangers to pick through. Who can resist a little voyeuristic shopping? So I went, and took my young son Monty, who was 8 at the time, with me.
There were cars parked all along the street, but there was still a lot of good stuff left. We picked out a set of rose paintings for the bathroom, and some green cloth napkins. As we left, Monty stopped to pet a little brown dog that was wagging her tail at him.
A gentleman standing nearby tipped his cap at us and smiled at Monty. “She’s friendly,” he said, nodding at the little dog.
“Is she yours?” I asked. “She’s very sweet.”
“I wish she were,” he said. “She belongs at the house up on the corner. She comes out and walks with me every day. I walk for my heart, you know, doctor’s orders. Her name is Mercedes. I call her Sadie.”
The house on the corner, well, I will leave it out of this. Let’s just say that it’s no wonder Sadie takes every chance she can to follow Jack around the neighborhood.
Of course, anybody might want to follow Jack around. I do it too. I start running up the hill when I see him passing, and walk the block with him, just to bask in his company. Always a smile, always a kind word, always that same flat driving cap. He’s 86 and cares for his ailing wife, Lana. She’s his first wife, he’s her second husband.
Lana likes to knit, and to read, and to do crossword puzzles. It’s about all she can do nowadays, given how difficult it is for her to walk. Jack takes care of the house, and the lawn, and cooks their meals. They have no children, only each other.
About the time that I started getting to know Jack, the family on the corner got tired of Mercedes and decided to send her to the pound: Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here. Nearly 10,000 lives a year are ended at this pound.
Fortunately for Sadie, someone in the family had a brain–and a heart. The daughter, the troubled girl gone most nights on a motorcycle with her latest in a string of boyfriends, this girl. “Please,” she said. “Let me just see if Jack will have her.”
And Jack did. Jack gave her a bath. Jack bought her a leash. Jack sold one of his beloved cars to pay the $600 vet bill. Jack.
We’ve since moved out of that neighborhood and the thing I miss most is Jack. I run into him, on a visit in the area. He tips his hat to me, kisses my cheek.
“How is Lana?” I ask.
“Thank you for asking,” he says. “Lana is, well, Lana is about the same. She’s Lana for about ten minutes a day. The rest of the time she thinks I’m her first husband.”
Wow. That must be hard.
He bows his head slightly, “It is,” he says. “Lana calls me by his name now.”
I shake my head. I don’t even have words.
He smiles. “And I answer to it.”
It’s time to go.
“I’ll miss you” I tell Jack.
“I already miss you more than you know,” he says.
Yeah, I say.
Then he smiles. He always smiles. “Nothing is forever,” he says.
“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” Sylvia Plath