by Ron Van Sweringen
My pizza arrived in the little Italian restaurant and looked tempting. Fair to say I’m not usually a pizza lover, but having exhausted the somewhat limited menu of pasta dishes on earlier visits, I decided to take the plunge. The first hot bite was a howling success, followed by a healthy chug of wine. Halfway through the second bite, I knew I’d made a terrible mistake. The best mental description at the time was, “It tastes like a used litter box dipped in the Great Salt Lake.” The anchovies! Needless to say, I carefully removed each one, leaving no trace behind.
I paid the bill, over-tipping the grateful waitress and stepped out into the night. It had stopped raining and turned colder, with a definite frost in the air. Not paying much attention, I almost tripped over him, a brown, medium-sized mongrel, sitting on the sidewalk directly in front of me. A piece of string tied around his neck had a soggy piece of paper attached to it.
I decided not to get involved and walked away. After a few steps, I couldn’t resist a quick peek over my shoulder, hoping he would be gone. With guilty relief I noted the corner was now deserted, only the dim street light filled my view. Suddenly I felt a gentle but firm push on the back of my calf. Without looking down, I knew it was him. When I turned, his nose was still touching my leg, but his eyes were looking up at me. It was then I noticed for the first time that one eye was brown and the other, sky blue. I started to laugh, but caught myself; for whatever reason I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
By now my curiosity was aroused beyond the point of no return. What was on the piece of paper tied around his neck? I knelt down, running my hand across his head and down his back. He was shivering slightly and I realized the cold night air was taking a toll on him. He lifted his head to my hand, pushing up as if to return my touch.
The paper was crumpled by the time I freed it, but the writing had survived, though faintly. It read, “This is my friend, I have been evicted, he’s hungry.” I had a feeling that when I untied the string, I was also untying his past.
On our walk back to my row house, there were two dark and deserted city blocks that I was never comfortable traversing. Halfway through one of these blocks, a figure appeared from the darkness of an alley. I could only tell that the person was a large male and for whatever reason, headed straight toward me.
My gut told me I was in trouble and I steeled myself for the worst. That is when my new friend stepped forward, placing himself between the stranger and me. His low growl grew louder and then suddenly broke into a full-fledged snarl, exposing a formidable set of fangs. The stranger stopped in his advance and after a moment’s hesitation, quickly withdrew into the darkness.
When I looked down, my friend was looking up at me and wagging his tail. A bond of complete trust was sealed between us at that moment.
“I wonder if he likes pizza? There are three pieces left. It will have to do until tomorrow, and then I’ll get him some Kibbles and Bits, without anchovies.”
As soon as we got home, I put the pizza and a bowl of water on the kitchen floor. The note was right; he was hungry. I went into the living room, lit the gas fire, then kicked off my shoes, dropped down in my easy chair and gave a sigh of relief. The chill was just wearing off when he came into the room. He looked at me for a moment and then stretched out halfway between my chair and the fireplace. After a while, he rolled over on his side and fell asleep.
I couldn’t help but wonder at the strange events of the night as I nodded off. Who knew I was ordering pizza for two?
You can find more of Ron’s short stories here in KRL’s Terrific Tales section.