The leaves were curling, red-yellow-orange, against the crisp wind of autumn. Fallen leaves skittered across the gritty concrete, sucking up the sunshine and leaving the sidewalks dappled with light. It was early afternoon:, a time for gasping and holding your breath. A time for secret giggles, and fantastic stories; and running. It was a time of mischief. I sat, trembling, at the kitchen table with the Sunday funnies. Mother stood at the sink, yellow rubber gloves scrubbing furiously at the remnants of last night’s pie. I kept looking at the clock, waiting, for something… special. Something extraordinary. If anything exciting was to happen, it would happen today. I was sure of it. After all, it was early afternoon: a time of mischief.
I should’ve known we were in for trouble the minute my brother rushed in, breathless, slamming the screen door behind him.
“Mother!” he said, eyes shining.
My brother had plump rosy cheeks and a curved-up mouth. He constantly looked as though he had heard the most fantastic joke. His mop of brown hair actively refused to be combed, and to retaliate often bounced on the top of his head as though it were one step behind him. At fourteen, he still looked like a child; with his shining eyes and shiny forehead, but it was because of exactly this reason that he got away with what he did. Which was everything.
My brother got everything he wanted. The day he brought Pauline home was no different.
“Mother,” he said again, with great solemnity. “I want a dog.”
I sat up straight, time stood still– even Mother paused, sponge in hand, as she considered his words. Such things were not asked for in this house. A new toilet brush, yes, a nickel for the arcade, perhaps; but not dogs. No, even imagining such a thing in Mother’s house was laughable; dogs did not straighten doilies or dust the grandfather clock. And Mother had no time for things that did not straighten or dust.
“No.” she said, and resumed scraping crumbs into the garbage.
I could see my brother scheming. His shining eyes were squinted in concentration, and his up-turned mouth dimpled on the left. His shoulders tightened, his fingers clasped as if in prayer.
“Please please puh-leeeeze may we get a dog?” He wailed. His hair quivered with excitement, bouncing all over the place. Those big, shining eyes were locked on Mother with all the force of a jail-house spotlight. “I swear on my grave I would feed ‘im and wash ‘im and sing ‘im to sleep!” Those big brown eyes searched our Mother for a weakness, any sort of softness he could exploit. He was best at this, and I watched with baited breath as he scrutinized her. Finally, the big punch. The last blow. It was this, or nothing. If Mother didn’t take this line, it was over.
“I’d love that dog just as much as I love you, Mother.”
Incredible! Shots fired. A hush fell over the assembled troops, him and me, in this new battlefield, as Mother quirked a brow.
“What on earth do you want a dog for?” she shook her soapy hands, red and sudsy from the dishes she’d finished washing. I smirked at my brother. Classic tactical blunder. Mother had just finished cleaning, and was moving on to more work; the worst time to ask for things. The battle was over before it began.
“To practice my responsibility on,” he deliberated, scuffing his sneaker into the beige carpet. But beneath the cool facade, I knew– he was vibrating with the thrill of the battle. I looked on in awe, as my brother baited my Mother. I had never seen a ploy so artfully disguised.
“Really. And how would having a dirty, smelly dog to look after help you have responsibility?” She played at being uninterested, but we knew she was caught.
My brother readied his arsenal. “I’d take care of it, and make sure ‘e was properly fed and washed. It would be a good role model to my friends, and good practice for when I have to babysit. I would always take care of it. You would never even have to deal with it. I will be responsible and adult.” His chest swelled with impending responsibility and importance. Mother was beat, and she knew it.
My brother got everything he wanted. And he wanted no ordinary dog. He wanted Pauline. Pauline was a stray he had found wandering in the baseball field, with tags on but no owner inscribed on the dangling metal plate. He had decided she would come home with him, and of course, she did.
Pauline was the color of an old musty saddle, with a pirate’s white eye patch over one startlingly blue eye. She had a slobbery pink-and-black maw that never closed, and a tongue that seemed three inches too long. Her tail stood like a curved ‘C’, fluffy and taunting. She was stocky and shaped like an anvil. The top of her head reached my brothers’ hip. Her barrel shaped chest heaved in and out as she panted expectantly.
My brother presented Pauline to Mother. Mother looked at the dog suspiciously, patted her on the head, and promptly returned to the basement to vacuum. The machine clicked on with a loud and mighty whirr, roaring and growling under the couches; and sucking up my marble set, probably.
My brother stood, proud and responsible, for a moment. Then he spun towards me and grinned recklessly.
“Well!” He bounced on the balls of his feet. “I gotta go play with the guys! House break ‘er for me, will ya?”
And he bounded out the front door, slamming the screen as he went. I glared at his plaid flannel back as the ran towards the baseball field, trying my best to incinerate him.
My rotten brother! Dumping this dumb dog on me. What was I supposed to do with it? I dunno what dogs do.
I sighed. Crouching, I patted the dog. “I suppose you’re not so bad, huh?”
Pauline panted and wagged her fluffy tail. Then she lifted her leg and peed all over the banister.
“Ya dumb dog!!” I howled.