Here's an excerpt from a rough draft of a story in progress:
Nancy Wayman Deutsch
Nancy Wayman Deutsch
Thump a thump, thump a thump, thump a thump.
The dark-haired girl standing just inside the barn's open door smiled as the puppy’s tail beat out the message against the prison walls of its wooden crate.
“Hey there,” she whispered.
As if in response, the dog whined and wiggled, tail slapping faster and harder against the sides. Thump a thump, thump a thump, thump thump thump.“I’m so glad you came at last,” the puppy said, although it wasn’t in human words. “I’ve been waiting here for you.” Thump, thump, thump. “Only you, only you.”
Charlotte understood the puppy’s intent as if she’d heard it speak aloud. She knew it with every stacatto beat of the heart within her own bony chest. She’d heard the drumbeat message even before she entered the vast cavern of Henkle’s barn, because she could feel it resonate inside her with every breath she took.
Thump a thump, thump a thump, thump thump.
“I’m here now,” she said. “You don’t got to wear out your tail.”
The drumbeat of sound stopped for a moment, puppy cocking its head. Then, the canine Morse Code resumed. Thump a thump, thump a thump. Thump, thump thump! Charlotte's smile widened. She couldn’t see much inside the barn’s dim interior, but she didn’t have to. She knew exactly where the puppy was.
“You know you got a gift, don’t you pup? You got the knack for drum music. Mebbe you an me can run off an join the circus band.”
She’d heard the puppy calling to her long before she’d knocked on the Henkle’s kitchen door five minutes ago. She’d heard it in her dreams and from the moment she’d opened her eyes just past dawn, she’d kept listening to the call. Listening through the long morning as she made breakfast, washed up, and fed the few scrawny chickens rooting for scraps in the dirt outside the unpainted ramshackle shanty she and her pappy called home. She’d known, although she couldn’t have explained the how and why of it, had known there was a dog in Henkle’s barn that needed her. That it was waiting for her to come and claim it as soon as she could get away--when the saloon on Main and First Street opened for business and Pappy went, as he did nearly every day, to find the cure for the pain that had lodged in his soul since the day her mama died beside Charlotte's stillborn baby brother.
It was as if a shining silver chain she couldn’t see, but could feel coming out of the middle of her body, tied her to a dog she’d never known existed until this morning. A puppy that Mama up in Heaven surely meant for her, just as she was meant for it. She knew, without understanding how it was possible to know such things, that this particular dog was going to be her best friend and that it was going to change her life.
Charlotte walked barefoot across the dirt floor towards the animal crate. The thumping sound got louder, faster. Charlotte’s heartbeat matched it, Thump, thump, thump, thump a thump, thump thump! She scrunched down on her heels and leaned forward, peering through a knot-hole in the side of the crate at the half-grown Catahoula Leopard Hound. Two earth colored eyes set beneath brown spots stared back, then blinked. One of the eyes had light blue spots in the iris, as if some of the brown color had slipped off the top, revealing a different shade underneath. A moist black nose thrust forward, nostrils flaring in and out. Charlotte could see thick coal colored whiskers moving back and forth beside the puppy’s nose, as it explored her scent. The dog shook its droopy black ears, making a sound like a whip, then blew through it’s nose, making a soft noise that sounded to Charlotte like “Wuff.”
“Wuff to you, too,” she replied. “You sure are a beauty.”
“You be careful, gal,” called Ma Henkle from the doorway behind her. “You’d best wait for Henry to come afore you let it out. Won’t do fer it to run off. That’s one valuable hound in thar. Mebbe the runt of the litter, but that dog’s mam was one hell of a cur. Best hog dog in the county, accordin’ to Levi.”
“I’ll be careful ma’am,” Charlotte answered. “I’m just looking at it.”
“I don’t want you to get yer hopes up, Charlie,” said the woman, moving forward to stand next to the crate. “ Are you sure your pappy is all fer it? Don’t sound likeAbner Boone ter me.”
“Oh yes,” lied Charlotte, crossing the fingers of her right hand behind her back. “Pa knows I want a dog more than anything in my whole life, and my birthday’s coming up. It'll be okay with him if I work to pay for it.”
“Well, we’ll see what Levi says. Them dogs is his to do with what he wants ter. Now, don’t look so stricken gal,” she added, noting Charlotte’s sudden frown. “The good Lord provides miracles sometimes, I reckon.”
I hope so, thought Charlotte. ‘Cause I truly need one, now.
“Henry,” called Ma Henkle. “Come out here and let that pup out. Charlie is here and wants to see it.”
“Comin’ ma,” her son answered from the doorway behind them.
"I got to get back to work,” said Ma Henkle as soon as her son entered the barn. “It's wash day.”
“Yes, maa'm,” Charlotte replied. “Thank 'ee for letting me see the dog.”
“Ain't no trouble,'tall” smiled Ma, patting Charlie's arm. “You come over soon and take a cup of tea of a Sunday afternoon, you hear?'
“Yes, maa'm. Thank you.'
“You take care of Charlie, Henry,” said Ma, crossing to the barn door.
“Yes, Ma,” the tall red-haired young man smiled. “that I will.”
* * *
“She’s a beauty, ain’t she?” asked Charlotte, as she stroked the dog’s velvety ear.
“That she is,” Henry agreed.
“So, how come she didn’t get sold, like the others? Yer ma said she’s real valuable.”
Henry took off his baseball cap and scratched his curly hair. “Well, Charley, I’ll tell you the truth. Whatever Ma said, the dog won’t hunt.”
“No, I mean she really won’t. Pa tried to train her, but she didn’t take to it. No interest in ‘coons at all. Ain’t much of a stock dog either. Ignored the cows as if she didn’t even know they was there and ran away from our old boar. Folks around her don’t need no pet dog and that’s about all she’s good fer.”
“Well,” Charlotte replied. “A pet dog is exactly what I need. How much you reckon your Pa will want for her?”
“Dunno,” Henry said. “She's a purebred 'Hoola. Patch work coat is real purty too. But I’ll put in a good word for you if you’ll help me out a bit.”
“Well,it's like this. I want to graduate high school. Coach says I got a chance to play ball at WVU and I want to go. It’s the only way out of this one horse burg for me. But I gotta get my math grades up some. You’ve got a head for that stuff, Charlie. You get straight As even though you don't come to school regular.”
Charlotte dropped her hand from the velvety softness of the hoola's ear. “I'd rather be in school, Henry...but I have to take care of Pa. He...gets...sick... a lot. Some days he don't even get out of bed.”
Henry frowned. “He manages to find his way to Delaney's bar near on every day though, Charlie.”
Charlotte stiffened and stood up. “That's not fair, Henry. He ain't no town drunk. It's just, well, he's had a lot of troubles of late. You know that work fell off in the mines.”
Henry nodded. “That it did.I I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything.”
“It's okay. I reckon though my Pappy's not the only miner in the holler to drown his sorrows in a bottle now and again.”
“Especially after he got hurt in the cave in and got fired for good,” Charlotte continued. “We still owe money to the company store. I got to help out.”
“Well, sure you do. You're all he's got. Folks know you do the best you can. It's a shame though you can't stay in school.”
Charlotte shrugged. “I get by. I read Mama's books at home when I get the time.”
The puppy rubbed its muzzle against Charlotte's threadbare skirt then leaned down to sniff her bare toes with an elegantly pointed snout. The girl laughed as she felt a wet tongue tasting the salt on her skin. “That tickles,” she laughed, bending down to ruffle floppy hound ears once more.
Henry cleared his throat. “Charlie, will you help me study?” he asked.
“Well, sure,” she said, standing up. “Maybe we could trade my time for the pup.”
Henry nodded. “If Pa agrees. I 'spect he will. He’d like to see me play ball, but he can’t afford college. I’d be the first Henkle to graduate high school and make it to university, but I gotta get a scholarship.”
“Okay then,” smiled Charlotte, looking back at the pup. “If it’s okay with yer Pa, then we got a deal.”
The pup, sat down on it’s haunches and scratched it’s left ear with a long brown leg. “What do you think, pup?” asked Charlotte. “Is it a deal? You wanna be my dog?”
“Whuff!” barked the pup, as if in assent.
“Well,” laughed Henry. “Seems like she agrees, too. I’ll talk to Pa after supper.”
The Catahoula cur stiffened as a wavering shadow fell across the doorway behind them, blocking the light from the yard. “What the hell you doing here, girl?” growled Charlotte's pappy. “I bin lookin' fer you all over tarnation.”
Charlie flinched from the sound of his voice. It wasn't going to be one of Pa's better days. She could tell from the slurring of the words that he was already well on the way to being 'flat on his ass drunk' and it wasn't even supper time yet.
“I'm sorry 'bout that Pa,” she said. “I just come over to see Ma Henkle, that's all.”
“Well, you ain't done all the chores yet.”
“I done 'em all, Pa. Or else I wouldn't have come over here.”
Abner shook his head. The action caused him to grab onto the door frame to steady himself. “No, you ain't washed my Sunday go to meetin' shirt and I have a mind ter go inter town this afternoon. I got an important meetin.”
I hope he's not meeting that fancy woman at the Full Moon Trailer park again, Charlotte thought. It's a disgrace, even for Pa. She counted to fivc before replying.“What important meeting would that be Pa? You ain't got a job interview, have you?
“Girl, leave off. You know I'm disabled since I hurt my back in the mine cave-in. I can't hold no job.”
“Or his likker, either,” Henry muttered under his breath.
Charlotte poked him in the ribs. “Hush,” she warned.
But, it was too late. Her pappy had heard.
Abner lurched unsteadily across the barn to sway in front of Henry. “Ain't nuthin' wrong with my ears,” he declared, pointing his shaky finger at Henry's face. “You show me some respect, boy, or I'll teach it to you on the end of a belt.”
The dog growled and rose to its feet. It stood, stiff-legged between Charlie and Henry hair bristling between its shoulders.“You and who else?” said Henry, standing straight and tall. At six foot two, he towered over Abner's own five foot eight. “I ain't no little kid you can toss around.”
Charlie wedged herself between the two posturing males and took hold of her Pappy's arm. “He didn't mean nothing Pappy,” she soothed. “Let's go on home now, and I'll iron you that shirt, okay?”
But Abner was high on Dutch courage and rot gut. “You get out of my way gal,” he growled, shoving Charlie to the side. She fell backwards against the crate. The hoola pup yelped, jumping backwards in surprise.”
Henry reached out and took hold of Abner's hand. “If you shove her again, I'm gonna lay you out.”
Abner peered blearily up at Henry's face. “Let go, you got no call to pick on a crippled man,” he whined pulling backward in Henry's firm grip.
Charlie bent down to stroke the dog. “Hush pup,” she said, “It'll be all right.” The dog barked sharply as if disagreeing with Charlie's prediction.
Abner rubbed his forehead with his free hand. “Shut that damn dog up, Charlie. It hurts my head.”
“I'm sorry, Pa. She don't mean nothin'. She just got scared when I bumped the crate, that's all.”
The dog barked again. “I said hush,” commanded Charlie, nudging the dog back into the crate and closing the door. Inside the crate, the dog sat, head cocked to the side and ears forward.
“Let him go, Henry,” she said standing up. “I reckon he just needs to go home and sleep it off awhile. I'll come back later.”
“No, you won't. I don't want you over here no more,” Abner ordered.
“But, I'm gonna help Henry with his numbers and he's gonna trade for my time.”
Abner squinted. “Fer what, exactly?”
“Fer this here dog, that's what.”said Charlie, gesturing at the crate. “She's a purebred patch-work Catahoula.”
“You ain't getting' no damn dog. It's got fleas and will eat us outa house and home.”
Charlie sighed. “Pa, you said I could have sumthin' fer my birthday this year. This is what I want. The only thing I want. You won't even have to pay fer it.”
“You ain't getting no dog,” Abner repeated. “I hate dogs. They're filthy beasts. If'n I see a dog 'round my place, I'm gonna shoot it right between the eyes.”
“You know you don't want to do that, Pa,” Charlotte soothed. “A dog around the place will be right handy. She'll keep them pesky foxes away from the hens and warn us when folks 'come round. Just think, fresh eggs of a morning and a Sunday chicken in the pot and no bill collectors knocking at the door. A Catahoula is a fine watch dog, Pa. Everybody knows that.”
“Well, I dunno, Charlie. I never had a dog.”
“You'll like this one,” Charlotte said, taking Abner's arm and steering him to the barn door. “I'm sure of it.”
“I doubt it,” Abner answered. “And I ain't promising you can keep it either. When are you gonna get time to teach Henry and do yer chores and your piece work too?”
“You just let me worry 'bout that, Pa,” said Charlotte, turning to wink at Henry and the canine object of her heart's desire. It's in the bag, she mouthed silently.
Henry chucked. “I've never doubted you,” he said aloud.