by Barbara Ebel
Chester, our intelligent Chesapeake Bay retriever, wasn’t about to escape my writing about him. Almost two years old when this story happened, he was serious and willful in play, as well as in training. He is an assisted-activities and therapy dog, so he’s no dummy. Plus, he’s become a celebrity as the star in five children’s books. At the time, this sorrel, headstrong retriever probably figured he’d be visiting nursing homes and hospitals, so it was time to bone up on touring novel places.
The homes and inhabitants of the subdivision where we and Chester live are as diverse as any beach in our state of Florida…from the bathing-suit-clad motorcyclists at Daytona Beach, to the beach bunnies in Miami. That’s what prompted my boys, Justin and Brendan, and me to create our own lingo for what goes on around here.
We call the house next door to us “the Circus House” because that description suits the zany exterior. On a small lot, the overbuilt home can be seen by boat from out in the Gulf of Mexico. Maybe even from Mexico. It is orange stucco with purple trim! Sometimes we see people on the walking path out front stop, point, and cackle at it. When we give people directions to our house, we simply say, “Come down the road two miles. We’re next to the Circus House. You’ll know what we’re talking about.” I’ve often wondered what the paint job looks like inside the house.
Across the street, another house is a mystery. Justin labeled it “the Box House” and the people living there “the Box House people.” It’s a box house because it’s square and plain…no outside staircase or any decks wrapping around it like everybody else’s. Everyone here uses their decks to sit outside and sip margaritas or read the newspaper. But the Box House people remain barricaded, isolating themselves from the Gulf breeze, rolling waves and stunning sunsets. The only sign of life I’ve noticed is the light on upstairs at night.
The two teens in the Box House rarely show their faces. After spotting the teen boy fewer than a dozen times, we’ve named him the Alpha Geek of the Box House, but perhaps we’ve become too harsh with our jocularity.
Meanwhile, back to Chester! Last week, to promote the sale of the Circus House, realtors strung oversized banners outside that read “Open House.” Cars jammed the street with potential buyers; the realtors were rushing in and out. What does the inside look like, I wondered, if the outside looks like it came out of a leftover 60’s pop-art poster? I’d never had the opportunity to spy on the inside.
I was walking my faithful companion early in the afternoon, and he kept looking curiously next door. As I unsnapped Chester’s leash and slipped him through our garage door, his inquiring mind overshadowed his good manners and he yanked away and bolted. Within seconds, he’d bounded up the gaudy front steps and into the house, whizzing past a shocked realtor sipping wine and smoking a cigarette on the front deck. The door was open; maybe that’s why they call it an ‘Open House.’
I ran after him, shouting to the realtor, “Did my dog just go in there”?
“Yeah, he sure did.”
I ran up the steps and shook my head. Another man, probably the inside greeter, stood in the foyer. His eyes bulged and he gripped his glass as Chester zoomed past him and up the second flight of stairs. “To the bedrooms,” Chester must have been thinking.
“A dog just ran into the house. He went that way,” the second man said, pointing upstairs.
I followed the traveling upheaval. What a serendipitous way to see the inside of the Circus House! Continuing Chester’s pursuit, I noticed the bedrooms…screaming at me. Purple here, dark apricot there, bright yellow in that one and clutter everywhere. I didn’t think I’d even find Chester!
Something flew past me. “Hey, Chester, wait for me. I’m coming, too,” I shouted, weaving my way past people and reversing our path. Back at our house, I reprimanded him. “Don’t do that again,” I chuckled, “unless I can tag along.”
I thought he’d learned his lesson, but oh, no, not him. On a walk two evenings later, he escaped from me again. I thought I saw a mirage, because the garage door of the Box House was open. Varoom! Chester went straight into their dark garage. A doorway stood to the left, apparently a staircase entryway. It must have also been open, because Chester’s butt and tail disappeared through it.
Next thing, I heard screams, “Ahhh, ahhhh,” and scuffling chairs from the upstairs. In a flash, Chester darted back by me and the Box House lady came through the stairway after him. Uh-oh, this can’t be good, I thought. In one hand, she held a flat knife! She was licking a finger on her other hand.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, frantically. “He’s never done anything like this before.” I hesitated. “No, I take that back, he’s never done anything like this before except for two days ago. He went to Mary and Paul’s Open House.
For a woman who just had a chesty bulldozer of a dog run through her house, she unexpectedly beamed. “Well, did he buy?” she asked.
Her humor caught me off guard, but then I burst into laughter. “No, he didn’t,” I said. “Again, I’m so sorry.”
“That’s okay,” she said. “We were just having birthday cake.”
“You mean you’re having a birthday party?” I asked, feeling worse for the intrusion.
“Yes, he just thought he’d try some,” she said, laughing, waving the knife at Chester.
“I’m sorry, again,” I said, and “Happy Birthday.”
I corralled Chester and we crossed the street towards home. We ran upstairs and I headed for the phone and called my son. “Hey, Justin,” I said, getting him on the line. “You know, those Box House people aren’t so bad after all.”
But I’m not so sure about Chester.