Monday, February 20, 2012

The Girls excerpt by Victor J Banis

If you have ever loved a dog, then you will love this story, The Girls by Victor J Banis, of Jenny--a self-assured self-taught spaniel--and Prima--a shy, mostly German Shepherd Dog with jackrabbit ears--who lived 15 happy years with the author. If you have ever doubted that dogs can love, then you didn't know the girls.

December 5, 2011)


If you’ve ever doubted that dogs can love, you never knew the girls.

Their names were Jenny and Prima, but everyone called them "the girls." They were lovers, of a sort; lesbians perforce, though I can't really say if their affectionate cuddling, nestling, licking and sometimes mounting ever produced any sort of orgasm. I can't actually even say if it really was sexual in nature. I do know that Prima would lie for hours in rapture, eyes closed, a dreamy smile on her face, while Jenny patiently cleaned her ears; and sometimes at night, I would hear noises—long, languorous sighs, a happy kind of panting that sounded suspiciously like girlish laughter—from the floor beside my bed, but I never peeked. Everyone is entitled, in my opinion.

Prima, painfully shy, was clearly the femme, a pretty, mostly-Shepherd mix with no pedigree but gracious manners. Jenny, a registered Springer who seemed quite aware of her superiority to the unregistered rest of us, was the aggressive member of our ménage, an in-your-face sort, although she could be sweet and even demure when she chose.

They were bright and clever. Sometimes it seemed that they were cleverer than I. They did none of the usual doggish tricks, however. I am always astonished to see dogs roll over on command, or beg, or walk on their hind legs, all of which would have been altogether too show-offy for Prima, and which Jenny would surely have disdained as beneath her dignity. In any case, I could never have managed to teach the girls such tricks. Truth to tell, I never managed to teach them much of anything. Jenny was self-taught in all matters concerning deportment, and Prima was somehow Jenny-taught, by a system the secret of which entirely eluded me.

Jenny was with me first. When I went to the breeder's home to pick a puppy from the litter, her brothers and sisters were busy at something across the pen, but Jenny saw me and dashed over to greet me and to announce that I had been chosen for her future partner. I took her home that evening, and by the next morning she had somehow housebroken herself. I had never heard of a dog doing that, and I was utterly bewildered, but I was grateful to find that I had no need to teach her toilet manners.

I did try to teach her about leashes, but she was not fond of being paraded around on a chain like the inferior partner in some bondage relationship. She quickly made it clear on our first day at it that she could walk perfectly well beside me on her own, and if I wanted her to heel, I had only to snap my fingers and she would do so as well as any dog in a show ring, thank you very much. So we gave up leashes, except in those places where they were required by ordinance. She seemed to understand the difference, and would abide them under those circumstances, and behave perfectly well while on one, but with a certain long-suffering attitude and the occasional huff of impatience.

I came in time to believe that she was simply able to divine, by some super-sense, what it was that I wanted, and so could then do it without actual training. Certainly I never met anyone, dog or human, with whom I shared such an uncanny rapport. There was the time, for instance, during her puppyhood, when she developed a penchant for eating things. She never quite got over that, and throughout most of her life regarded anything that didn't bark back at her or run faster than she could as fair game for a snack.

On this occasion, she ate a palm tree. It was only a small one, admittedly, in a little pot on the floor by the window, where I thought it would be encouraged to grow into something large and lush and add a certain opulence to my not very elegant decor.

I don't mean that she ate a leaf or two. I mean, she ate it: leaves, trunk, roots, everything but the pot and the soil. It seemed to do her no lasting damage, but you have never known dog gas until yours has devoured a palm tree.

I discussed this chewing issue with her breeder, afraid of what might succumb next to her peculiar appetite, and the breeder said, you must surprise her at it, and scold her while she is in the act.

That sounded reasonable enough. I left her home alone the next afternoon, got in the car, slamming the door loudly for her benefit, drove several blocks away and parked. I stole back to the house, crawled around the corner, literally on hands and knees, and lifted my head to look in through the den window—and found Jenny sitting inside staring directly at me with an amused expression. All in all, I thought it wiser just to buy no more palm trees.


The girls shared my life for the better part of fifteen happy and loving years. About halfway through that span, we moved to a cabin in the mountains. They loved it: the great outdoors, exploring together, creeks to splash in, all sorts of scents to investigate. In the summer we took long treks in the woods. In the winter, they liked me to throw snowballs for them to catch. They got friendly with the squirrels, who lost their fear of the girls and would leap over Prima where she slept in the doorway to come inside and beg for a snack. Jenny was a jumper, and would dash at and over the most astonishing obstacles while I gaped open mouthed. Prima liked to run, because it was something at which she could beat both of us, since I was slow and Jenny, incurably curious, was forever distracted from their races by something new that had captured her attention. Prima was not much of a swimmer, but, as a spaniel, Jenny was, and she would plunge with delight into any stream, pond or pool, although a single raindrop on her nose was enough to cut short any walk beyond the bare necessity of business.

Prima discovered that the field mice were afraid of her, and it bolstered her self-esteem to think that someone thought her ferocious. Not so very ferocious, however. She came home one day with what appeared to be an odd case of the mumps, her cheeks swollen grotesquely. She came directly to me and began to disgorge from her mouth, one, two, three, six in all, baby bunnies, obviously newborn, quite unharmed. She had brought them home for me to raise, apparently—no doubt having innocently terrified their desolate mother into abandoning them. Jennie regarded these blind, helpless intruders with scorn and refused to have anything to do with what she plainly regarded as an unseemly business in a dog household, but Prima stayed close at hand for days and watched with hopeful eye as I did my best to save her orphans. It was to no avail, however. She seemed to grieve when I buried them in a box in the backyard, and Jenny sat dutifully, if unmoved, by her side throughout the little ceremony.

Jenny still ate shamelessly, preferably people food: the stem ends of tomatoes, pieces of carrots or celery, pie or cake; if it was on my plate or in my hand, it was surely meant for her as well, as she saw it. If a visitor left a strawberry daiquiri sit on the floor by her deck chair, she would shortly find her glass mysteriously empty, and Jenny would sport a pink moustache. Prima, on the other hand, would eat and drink only proper dog things. If I attempted to test her by hiding a couple of green peas in her kibble, the bowl would be licked clean when she was finished, and the peas resting untouched in its bottom.

The years passed, and we all got older. Jenny went mostly blind, and did not hear well, and she had a bad back, from all that youthful jumping. She liked to doze on the deck in the afternoon sun, and Prima and I would sit guard to watch for any hungry coyotes, who tended to look at Jenny as something desirous to be taken home for dinner and would sometimes steal close to extend the invitation.

Prima got a little gray around the snout, and you could see that her hip bothered her when the weather got cold, but otherwise she remained frisky and looked quite young for her years. She had finally grown into those jackrabbit ears and was, I thought, quite a handsome little devil, still shy, but less painfully than before.

They would not sleep in my bed, even when invited in the dead of winter, but they must be right next to it on the floor, and together, of course. When Jenny stumbled one night and fell down the stairs from the loft bedroom, I made my bed on the living room floor in front of the fireplace, and that was where the three of us slept afterward. Jenny sometimes snored. Prima liked to have me warm my feet on her back.

As a result, no doubt, of her reckless eating, Jenny developed a stomach tumor, which had to be removed—with much trepidation on my part, because the doctor warned me that surgery was iffy at her age. She survived, but I began to worry about her mortality. She was fifteen now, Prima fourteen. That was old for dogs of their size, their doctor informed me.

Astonishingly, it was Prima, who had always seemed the picture of health, whom I lost first. She got a fever, sudden and severe. I rushed her to the hospital, and the doctor put her on an intravenous solution to combat the dehydration, and I left her with him. He called me the next morning to say we had lost her.

Her death was painful to me, but watching Jenny over the next few weeks was nearly unbearable. Carson McCullers says that there is a lover and a beloved, and that they come from different countries. No one outside of any relationship can ever, of course, know its intricacies, and certainly theirs was one much of which was beyond my ken, but I had always had the impression that, in this pairing, Jenny was the beloved, and Prima the lover.

I said before that the relationship that had existed between the two of them was lesbian in nature, but I have no way of determining that for certain, and I have no doubt that there are some who would argue that it was really, say, more a matter of "sisters." That may well be, but of one thing there could be no possible argument: it was love, as profound as any celebrated by bard or songsmith.

Jenny spent her first day alone searching the house for her beloved friend and, concluding, finally, that she was truly gone, she stopped eating. Jenny, who had sometimes seemed to live to eat, never ate again.

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Eric Spector said...

There love, and your love for them, shines through. Thank you Victor.

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

I'm not really into dogs but you made them seem human. Well, I'm also not into humans that much either but you made these dogs stand out as unique. Glad I read it. Nice memory.

Erastes said...

oh that's heartbreaking and beautiful. Similar thing happened to me with my two cats, Pixel was pushed around and treated shamefully by Spooky who was half his size but when she died, he wouldn't eat, wouldn't come in the house and simply sat out in the car park all day and cried. One day he disappeared and I didn't find him until a week later, under a bush and close to death. It broke my heart, but his obviously broke first. *sob* Thank you for this lovely excerpt.