She broke her concentration long enough to go to the front door. She may have only been one year old, but she could multitask.
The door wasn’t quite latched, so she worked her fingers around the edge and hauled it open. The screen door was firmly closed, but the glass was up, and she looked through the bare screen at the golden retriever sitting on the stoop. It was he that had made the scratching that attracted her. “Hi,” she said.
“Hi,” the dog said. “I was walking by, and I smelled bacon…would you care to part with any? I’m quite hungry…”
“No,” she said. The oddity of a talking dog didn’t register with her; she was, after all, only one.
“Oh, well then, I suppose I’ll be on my way. Good day—“
“You can’t have any,” she said, “because we ate it all already. My mom only made enough for the two of us.” She paused. “It was very good.”
“Splendid,” the dog said, “It’s a crime when bacon is no good. Say, I suppose—“
“But you can have a cookie,” she interrupted.
“Cookies are my next favorite food,” the dog said, smooth as butter, “after bacon of course.”
“You have to help me get the cookies, though,” the girl said. “My mom is in the shower.”
“Certainly! Ah, now, if you could just let me in…see, I haven’t any thumbs…”
“No,” the girl said. “Mom says I’m not supposed to let strangers in the house.”
“Oh, really?” the dog said. “My name is Buster. What’s yours?”
“Marley,” she said.
“See? There. We’re not strangers anymore!” That seemed like very sound logic to Marley, and so she obliged the dog by reaching up and flipping the tiny lock switch behind the door handle, and then opened the door. Buster gave her a nod and a toothy, tongue-filled, doggy grin, and then nosed the door open far enough to slip inside. He was small for a retriever, but tall enough to lick the little girl’s nose, which he did, and very appreciatively. She frowned and wrinkled it, then smiled and toddled past the dog, toward the kitchen.
“This way,” Marley said, and the dog padded after her. “The cookies are on the top shelf.”
“Doesn’t it bother you,” Buster said, “that you’re holding a conversation with a dog?”
“No. Why?” She tugged on a kitchen chair, inching it across the floor.
“Oh, no reason.” Buster nosed the chair from behind, moving it a little faster, and together they edged it toward the cabinets. “Just that my last master thought it was odd. He got rather worked up about it, actually.”
“But did he listen to you?” Marley paused and looked at Buster before turning back to the chair.
“Ohh, that he did,” Buster said. “It didn’t go so well.”
“My mom listens to me, kind of.” Marley climbed up on the seat of the chair, then looked back. “But I think she needs her ears checked. She doesn’t seem to understand what I’m saying.”
“You don’t say,” Buster said.
“Right? It’s like she only hears babbling. It’s so annoying. I have so many cool things to say! After all, I know everything. But she doesn’t get it at all.” She looked down at him. “One night, I even woke her up to give her my insights into string theory—she keeps the ink pens, you know, so I needed her to write them down—and she just kept shaking her head and saying “no pattycake, no pattycake.” Sometimes I think her mind may be going soft.”
“So what did you do?”
“What COULD I do? I played pattycake with her until she fell asleep again. She seemed to like it.”
“Of course,” the dog said, and put his paws up on the seat to steady it.
“Thanks,” Marley said, and turned back to the cabinet.
“Don’t mention it,” he said. “So, what is your mother’s name? I’ll have to introduce myself, I suppose.”
“Mom,” she said.
“Oh…well…yes, but…well, does she have another name?”
She stopped reaching for the door, and gave him a look. “Mama?”
“Oh, but she should have another…”
“You’re not making any sense,” she said, “why would she need another name?”
“Of course,” the dog said, “just how old did you say you are?”
“I didn’t,” she said, and turned back to the cabinet. She had the door open in a flash. “Bazinga! Cookies, incoming!” The package sat on the top shelf, one corner stretching tantalizingly over the edge. “Just…gotta…reach…”
“MARLEY!” The girl flinched, and so did the dog, who somehow managed to look guilty even while panting. The package of cookies tipped and fell to the countertop, then bounced to the floor. Buster gave them a longing look, but didn’t move. The woman in the doorway glared at both of them. “Just WHAT do you think you’re doing?!”
“We’re busted,” Buster whispered.
“I know!” Marley whispered back. “What do we do?”
“Don’t look at me,” he whispered, “I’m a dog.”
“I guess I’ll have to talk her out of getting us in trouble,” Marley whispered. “I’ll give her my most logical and reasoned arguments. She’ll never be able to resist my rhetorical skills. Watch!” She looked up at her mother, who was standing over her now, hands on hips, waiting.
“Well,” the woman said, “what do you have to say for yourself?”
Marley glanced back at Buster one last time for courage. She turned back to her mother, and gathered her wits about her. Then she raised a hand, and stretched out a finger, and opened her mouth; and in her best and most authoritative voice, she said…
The woman laughed, and bent down to hug the girl. “You know, if you weren’t so darned cute…” Then she straightened up, and looked down at the dog, and frowned. “But where did the dog come from? And how did he get in?”
Buster dipped his head in a doggy shrug. “What can I say? I borrowed your daughter’s thumbs. She’s very helpful, by the way.”
Marley watched as her mother’s eyes rolled back in her head, and she slipped to the floor in a dead faint. “See?” she said. “I TOLD you she doesn’t understand me!”