Love Stories

Argos

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.

Argos

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.”

Jack

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.”

Lorraine

Me

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

This is the second in an impromptu series in which I use one of these fearless writer quotes as a writing prompt. Yesterday’s was the first.

What Do Your Dreams Look Like These Days?

There’s a woman up against a wall. Facing her is an old man, a beggar. He’s huge and ragged and bloody, and he’s just gone on a rampage and killed all the men in her banquet hall.

And now he wants to talk.

He’s saying crazy crap, talking about her son, and monsters, and gods.

She thinks he might be her dreams come true at last. Only, he doesn’t look so hot.

Do you remember that scene? I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since I read it as a teenager. Odysseus comes home after twenty years to find his house overrun by men trying to steal his wife and kill his son. He’s faced monsters and witches and angry gods, and now that he’s finally home he’s got this: Rude guests.

That’s what growing up is like. As a kid, you think life is going to be all big glorious battles, important challenges, and working hard for your dreams: The great odyssey of your life. Maybe you even have some of those adventures. Then you grow up and realize life is mostly laundry and what to do about the rude guests messing up your banquet hall. I mean kitchen.

So here’s Penelope, and for her it’s been *all* laundry and rude guests, and in comes her husband, late as usual and caked with mud from his exciting adventures, and no wonder she’s sitting against the wall trying to decide what to do with him.

Lately I feel like Penelope, up against that wall, staring at this big ragged hulk of a thing in front of me. It’s saying crazy crap, talking about my sons, and my book, and God. I think it might be my youthful dreams come back to me, and they’ve been having an awfully exciting time without me.

Of course Penelope didn’t know what to do. She’d been bogged down for twenty years in drudgery, entertaining guests, protecting her son, and attending to clothes. It was hard to believe the miracle she’d been hoping for had actually shown up. And he didn’t exactly look the way she remembered him, either. Well, maybe a little, if you could get past the blood. Could she trust him?

Penelope did ultimately figure it out, what with her brilliant intellect and all. It helped that Athena cast a glamour over Odysseus right about that time, making him taller and goldener and “crisping curls”ier. Didn’t hurt a bit. Convinced at last, Penelope threw herself into his arms.

The Embrace

But what about me? What am I supposed to do with this thing in front of me–my book, my business, my family, these ragged things that look like they *might*, if you can get past the blood and sweat, look a little like my youthful dreams? I’m not as clever as Penelope, no olive-trunk-bed tricks up my sleeve.

And last I heard, Athena quit her job as a glamour caster.

And what about you? Has life turned out the way you thought, all adventure and excitement? And has it paid off like you expected? Would you recognize your youthful dreams if they showed up in your banquet hall covered in blood and asking you to embrace them?

Well, maybe this thing in front of me–my almost-finished book, my on-the-cusp business, my half-grown family–doesn’t look quite like I expected. Be that as it may. What with Athena having quit her day job and all, I guess if somebody’s going to polish these dreams up, it’s gonna have to be me.

Embracing.

P.S. I’m at page 149 of 294 in the final edits on my book before submission. The halfway point. Yah, still kinda sweaty and ragged, but it’s starting to shine just a little. Maybe.

P.P.S. HEY. I’m nearly at the halfway point in my 30-Day blog challenge too. Halfway points suck, btw. All slog no glory. Embrace, Heather. Embrace.