by Linda Lambert, 1764 words
In 1918, a forward-thinking farmer of ordinary means, ordered a “Modern Home” from a Sears, Roebuck & Company catalogue. The pre-cut kit cost $874 and arrived by rail for on-site construction and included everything from soup to nuts, or rather from bolts to lumber. As advertised, the structure was a handsome, cross-gabled, two-story building with a porch and a parlor, an attic and four bedrooms into which the farmer and his wife managed to sandwich themselves and their six sons, ages seven to twenty-one. But first, the farmer, a prudent, earnest and wise man, pressed his none-too happy lads, into labor dedicated to bringing the house into existence. They worked alongside their mother and father, swinging hammers and climbing ladders until the house looked like the ad. They continued to erect new buildings as personal needs increased and the farm expanded—a bathroom, livestock barn, supply shed, space for machinery, and eventually a small bunkhouse/guesthouse. In time, the sons appreciated adding carpentry to their agricultural skills, equipping some of them to leave and some to stay.
The youngest son stayed, the last to live on the property. He hung two plaques inside the entrance to the house. One came from a book he had read to his nephews and nieces:
“Do you see, Pooh? Do you see, Piglet? Brains first and then Hard Work. Look at it! That’s the way to build a house.” —A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner
He had found the other quote on a scrap of paper in his father’s desk:
“He who loves an old house never loves in vain.”—Isabel Fiske Conant
He lived on the family land, along with a menagerie of animals—not quite two of each species, like Noah, but a varied assortment of felines and canines he treated with kindness, adjusting the facility to meet their needs—a two-story cat condo, expanded kennels for the dogs. His reputation for taking in strays made his address, despite its location in the foothills, a drop-off target. He refused to transfer animals to the shelter in town. Word on the street indicated that the queen bee who ran the local shelter was a snake in the grass who did not acknowledge killing 56 per cent of the dogs and 71 per cent of the cats who resided on the grounds.
In the mid-eighties, an estimated 17 million animals a year in U.S. shelters were being euthanized. “Euthanize” means “good death.” Were those all good deaths? The youngest son began to write checks to charitable organizations which didn’t euthanize animals.
In 1984 “Best Friends,” self-described as a “scrappy group of friends from far corners of the globe” organized themselves and settled in Utah’s high desert and established a no-kill sanctuary for animals. The idea spread across the country.
Predeceased by his wife and without children, before his death at age 94, the youngest son willed the house and all outbuildings to a new “Best Friends” copycat group in town: the Animal Farm No-Kill Shelter (AFN-KS). The “shelter” in their name was more the embodiment of hope than reality: AFN-KS’s original physical facility consisted of a tiny backyard with makeshift cubicles and feeding stations and a VW van as an office. Now they had acreage and a number of buildings.
Eighteen years later, staff love for the old house, despite many improvements and happy days, had waned. If the youngest son had been alive, he might have hung another sign: “Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.”—George Orwell, Animal Farm. Lack of funding propelled AFN-KS administrators to fly the coup, and the quartet of volunteers, Phil, Audrey, Lynn, and Tom wrangled for leadership.
At one meeting when Phil said, “Going after money is just a wild moose chase,” none of them knew whether his malapropism was a mistake or meant to be funny. The next day Tom, puffing out his chest, confided in Audrey: “He converses with his goldfish, for God’s sakes, so he probably doesn’t know any better. He always talks like that—’Grin like a Cheshire bat,’ and “cute as a tug’ or ‘a little turd’ told me. He’s a fish out of water, and he’s flogging a dead horse if he thinks he can lead this group.”
Audrey smiled and changed the subject. Her peacekeeping tendencies kept her from disagreeing.
“But, how bout Tim? Did you notice what good care he took care of that German Shepherd? Did you hear him tell that guy Bull about the Bark BrightTM he’d used to freshen Cherry’s breath? He taste-tested it himself! And even showed him how to wrap a wet cloth over a finger and scrub each tooth. What a kid!”
Tom shrugged, tossing his buzzed head as if he still had a mane of wild dark hair. His mind was on money. Leopards can’t change their spots, but never underestimate the intimidating shake of a lion’s mane.
Bull filled out Delia’s paperwork quickly, worried that she’d recognize his address as a half-way house, but, hell, he was who he was and why would she care anyway? Maybe she did care. She offered to cut the $100 fee in half and delay payment for 30 days.
Cherry sat at Bull’s feet, quiet but alert, as if she remembered the training Bull had given her two years prior. As a kid, Bull loved Rin Tin Tin, and when he learned that a German Shepherd guided a blind hiker along the entire Appalachian Trail, he knew a Shepard was the breed was for him.
Cherry did not disappoint.
Most puppies took eight to twelve weeks to train. Cherry was on the early side of everything: basic commands at eight weeks, house and crate trained by 10 weeks. Biting, barking and chewing was mostly eliminated, but jumping, well, that was harder.
Bull pushed the papers across the desk to Delia. “Okay, I think that’s it. I’ll be back in a month with the payment.”
At that moment, Cherry leapt up, stretching out all of her 80 pounds—sticking her nose up Bull’s sleeve, sniffing and sniffing, exposing the large, detailed tat on Bull’s biceps and the bright pink letters spelling “Cherry.”
“What the…?!” From deep memory Delia dredged up a flicker of trivia: her “namesake” liked dogs. Why hadn’t she remembered that? Virginia Woolf had two dogs— a mutt named Grizzle and a purebred black spaniel named Pinka, a gift from Vita Sackville-West, her lover. Woolf even wrote a biography of a dog, Flush, about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel.
Against all reason, words rushed forth, throwing a monkey off her back, “I have a confession. I don’t like dogs…or any animals…but maybe I could learn tolerance if I spent time around them. And, I’ve been wanting a tattoo because my father hates them!”
“I’ll pick you up tomorrow, we’ll take Cherry to the dog park, and then I’ll introduce you to M.T. She has a really good lookin’ rose tattoo. See you then.”
Delia sat at her desk, pondering what kind of tattoo she wanted. What would increase Bull’s interest in her? Annoy her dad? Indicate her own identity? A quill? A lighthouse? She wished she had a bee in her literary bonnet, but nothing was buzzing.
She was glad the weather had changed—no longer raining cats and dogs. She didn’t want to think about animals, except to look up where that phrase came from. She pulled her text book on cliches off the shelf. One explanation was not pretty:
In North European myth cats supposedly influence weather and dogs symbolize wind…currently the most likely [source], that with the primitive draining systems in the seventeenth century, a heavy rainstorm would cause gutters to overflow with a torrent of debris that included garbage sewage and dead animals.
I hope the shelter’s gutters are clean, she thought and moved her thoughts to Bull’s departure, a fit, muscular man with man’s best friend trotting behind him.
The ink artist at Tattoo Confidential enjoyed keeping her name secret. If clients asked what the M.T. on her badge stood for, she was evasive: “Nothing. Just M.T. My parents liked brevity.”
She, a brand-new licensee, had gotten the idea of abbreviated anonymity from the school where she learned tattooing. Most courses took one to five years, but “M.T.” didn’t have the time or 10K for most schools; the 16-week course at the Northwest Tattoo Academy was perfect. The academy’s website had the look of a noir detective story from the thirties and dangled a promise: “You will receive hands-on instruction as you work with Master Tattooist with over 10 years’ experience.” Who was Master Tatooist? she wondered.
M.T. never did find out. The classes were taught by a rotating band of all-male instructors in identical black pants and t-shirts. Still, she left with the promised free “Professional Tattoo” on her forearm, (the perk that prompted her to attend, a well-drawn rose demonstrating her own artistic ability, her years of dabbling in art), a Blood Borne Pathogens Certification (BBC), and a card listing contact information for the state licensing department.
She was hired right away by a big city dermatologist, Carson Fox, who, stripped of his scrubs and hospital privileges because he neglected to keep his scalpels and reputation clean, had relocated north, and opened up Tattoos Confidential to capitalize on the burgeoning desire for self-expression amongst the young. He’d anticipated his target market: Millennials through Zs—but really any generation—wanting obligatory signage and emblems of independence on the blank canvases of their bodies. Oh, and the ink addicts who chose everything from fighter jets to someone else’s genetic code. Yes, that was a thing!
But: his main goal was to get back to dermabrasion. The market was vast. Rich women terrified of fine wrinkles around their mouths. Young professionals who could afford to remove acne scars. Floridians who’d moved to the Northwest to avoid more sun-damaged skin. Old men with conspicuous red, swollen noses. Occasional feel-good activities—removing potentially precancerous skin patches.
Others, unhappy with tattoos indicating previous lifestyles or the names of ex-lovers or spouses, would be ready for the motorized device that spun away outer layers of skin.
My career here will be long, he thought. For the present, he needed someone with artistic skill, a sense of confidentiality, someone who would grow along with him. Someone attractive. Blond, trim, and efficient, an eager but not obnoxious beaver.
Fox thought the presence of a female tattoo artist would look welcoming, someone who wouldn’t nose around in his personal life. He’d hired M.T.
Little did he know.