By Jeff Smith
Gerald’s Talking Dog loves cherries. That’s all he talks about. He talks Montmorencies, Balatons, dwarf root stock, cold tolerance. He talks dormant sprays, petal fall, shuck stage. He talks Malathion, fruit flies, fungal response. He talks sweets, darks, whatever. He sounds like a know it all, but none of it means anything. Nothing. Especially not to Gerald’s dog.
Like so many obsessions, Gerald’s dog’s obsession with cherries is just a cover up, a dodge, a ruse he’s playing on himself, because talking about cherries nonstop is the only way he can not think about the real thing that obsesses him. Also named Cherry, Cherry LaRue. She was a luscious, copper-colored bitch, a mongrel, history unknown other than word was part of her was some mystical breed of wolf, porcupine rattle snake and peregrine falcon that the Comanches somehow put together. Otherwise, her breed was furthered beside abandoned railroad tracks or lonely oil derricks or on empty wharfs on forgotten waterfronts. Wherever dog meets dog.
Who knows. And who cares. Gerald’s dog didn’t. And Cherry LaRue sure didn’t. She owned her mongrel pedigree. Owned it. She had long nails that clicked on the floor when she strutted by. She had a tail that rose from her back in a perfect arc. She had an 8-inch tongue that could wrap twice around a popsicle.
It was that trick, that ability, that savior faire, that actually was so startling, so shocking, so mesmerizing, that it gave rise to Gerald’s dog’s ability to speak, literally brought words from the throat of a dog. Gerald thought so much about that Cherry LaRue, so much, so, so much. To cope, he forced himself to think about cherries, actual red round cherries. It was boring. Very boring to a dog. But it worked, because thinking about cherries was like thinking about Cherry, but also not thinking about Cherry. It was the only way he could still his mind.
Their romance began on a beach just south of Frankfort. Gerald was peeing on a chain link fence that surrounded a fuel storage tank and saw her from afar. He was riveted by the way light caught her coppery coat and made it shimmer in the sun. He drooled as he watched her eat a coyote turd by the water line. He could barely breath when he saw her emerge from a swim, water running from her matted fur. He shuddered with desire when she rolled on a dead salmon, squirming and writhing, immersed only in the moment, the salmon’s rotting flesh smearing into the fur on her back, the surf roiling in around her. Oh, God.
He craved her scent. So he loped down the beach her way, looking for something to bring her. He saw a cooler, opened, and there on top of the ice was a partially eaten popsicle. He took it in his mouth, ran to her, offered it. That’s when he saw it happen, the trick with the tongue. The two times around. He stood transfixed. And it’s then when words first formed in his brain; it’s then when his larynx engaged in a new way. He whispered, “thank you.”
They sniffed each other’s butts. No shame in that. And they ran down the beach. It was July. There were seagulls to chase and waves to bite and more dead fish to roll in, together. But theirs was a doomed romance. Gerald’s dog was a purebred. All perfect color, trimmed fur, pointy ears and manicured paws. She was a full on gypsy bitch. She was part porcupine for god’s sake. She could not abide a dude that felt somehow mass produced. She could not abide a replica.
In the morning, when Gerald’s dog woke, she was gone, her prints trailed down the beach. Gerald’s dog tried to follow, but he lost the scent in a tangled cedar swamp. He wandered, empty, forsaken, and by nightfall found himself in a cherry orchard. He started talking about cherries, to forget Cherry LaRue, to forget Cherry LaRue, to forget Cherry LaRue.
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