I stir to the sound of Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” outside my window. It takes about two full verses before I am completely awake.
“Ophelia!” I think, and clamber over to the window to find rain pouring down and Ophelia standing in a yellow slicker, her blonde curls hanging wet from under her hat. Beneath a purple, yellow, and orange flowered umbrella, she has arrived from another dimension to take me home, I am certain.
“Ophelia,” I exclaim. “Come on in!”
I open the window and a soggy Ophelia climbs in, soaking the handmade quilt she had given me. Glancing over at the clock, I see that it is almost 3 in the morning. Both of us are nocturnal creatures—Ophelia and I live at night. The only reason I was asleep was because I was recovering from a nasty bout of bronchitis.
She goes into my kitchen and puts the kettle on to boil. Within minutes the kettle starts to sing and Ophelia brings me a steaming mug of hot tea with honey, then takes my foot and begins to paint my toenails blue. She paints hers bright red.
“Aren’t we wonderful?” she exclaims.
“But of course!” I reply.
I always agree with everything Ophelia says, for even when she is wrong it seems like she is right—and who cares about such things anyway? Ophelia is the brightest, most exciting friend I have ever known. Being with her is like being with Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden and every day is a new adventure.
Suddenly, Ophelia’s face darkens.
“I’ve got a serious issue at hand,” she says, her green eyes clouding over with dismay. “You know that awful neighbor of mine that never feeds his animals? That revolting creature, Joel.”
“Well, of course, how could I forget?” Ophelia and I have been feeding his two cats and Labrador retriever for months, because he doesn’t.
“He left almost a week ago, and I’ve been feeding Mittens and Reagan, but I haven’t seen Monica.”
She gazes out the window at the tall pine trees of North Hills swaying back and forth in the wind.
“What should we do?” I asked, alarmed now myself.
Ophelia lights two cigarettes and hands me one. All at once lightning rages across the sky and the lights go out, leaving Ophelia staring into the single candle as though it were a crystal ball. She might have come straight out of one of George de La Tour’s paintings.
She looks at me with that direct gaze of hers and says, “Well, I’ve already talked to the landlord and he will not let me in. I know that poor dog is in there suffering and we can wait no longer. We’re going to have to break into the house and get that dog.”
“Well, of course,” I reply, putting on a yellow slicker and hiking boots.
Throwing water on my face, I walk out the door with Ophelia close behind, a hammer in her hand. Up and down Kennilworth Lane we trudge in the rain, huddling close together under the umbrella, like two orphans in the woods. The trees sway above us and there’s a large crack as one of them is struck by lightning.
“Lord, lord,” Ophelia says. “We’re liable to be next.”
“We’ll be fine,” I say, my senses heightened by danger. “When we save that dog, it will all have been worth it.”
“I know we’re too late,” Ophelia wails. “We should have come sooner. I don’t know why I didn’t.”
“Quiet, Ophelia,” I whisper as we arrive at Joel’s two-story house. I go up the steps and try the door. Locked. All the windows on the first story are also locked, with double-pane glass. Going round to the back I spy a single light on, with the window ever so marginally cracked.
“We’re in!” I shout.
“Shhh!” whispers Ophelia.
Getting in is no easy matter, but I’ve been a tree climber from the time I could walk. With Ophelia cupping her hands together, I climb onto the frail branch of a baby pine tree, praying it won’t break underneath my weight. I crawl along the limb until I can just reach the ledge of the window. I hold on tightly and try the window. There is no barking or moaning dog, nor any sign of life at all inside the lit room.
“Throw me the hammer,” I say. Miraculously I catch the hammer while still hanging on, and at last I climb in the window. I don’t know what to expect. A dead dog, a sick dog, or no dog at all and we could be hauled off to jail or an insane asylum.
Inside is a bathroom. Praying mightily, I open the door, and there, huddled in the corner, is Monica. She looks up at me with large beseeching eyes. This magnificent animal is now practically a skeleton, having had no food or water for days. The monster that had abandoned her there had not even left the toilet seat up so she could drink water.
I pick her up and carry her out the front door to where Ophelia stands wringing her hands. She weeps all the way to the Fountain City Animal Hospital, where Dr. Kalsa checks her out and puts her on a diet of small meals until she is strong enough to be taken to a new home.
Though I wanted to keep Monica myself, I could not, having a jealous dog who would not tolerate another in the home. Her reward was to be great, however. I took her to two friends of mine, Eve and Loraine, a couple who had lost their collie a few weeks before. They took one look at Monica and cried for joy. Taking her inside, they introduced her room by room around their home. Not only did they have ample means to take care of her, but they also had woods behind their house, and, best of all, a large swimming pool where they could swim with Monica.
Before I left, I knelt down by Monica and embraced her. She held up one paw and gazed into my eyes as if to say, “Thank you.”
I got into the car next to Ophelia and we gave each other a high-five. Another job well done. But not quite. I went back and got the two cats, Mittens and Reagan, and they gave me 16 years of joy.
I ran into the monster, Joel, only once after that.
“I know you have my cats,” he said.
“That’s right,” I replied. “I do.”
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