Saturday, June 18, 2016

Fairy Tales of Manhattan: Fetch

Fetch (Puss in Boots)
by Julie Baumgold


Samantha Golden finally had a dog who returned the ball.
Standing at the top of the hill in a squirrel coat in a park full of squirrels, she threw the rubber ball for Trouble.

She did not throw very well — right hand, right foot forward, "like a girl" her father had said.

Trouble, a small black mutt with four white paws, bounded down the hill. After a short lifetime of thoroughbred dogs who would run after the ball or the stick or the Frisbee and then sit there in front of the object perplexed or take it away in the other direction, Samantha saw this little creature knew what to do.

At home she would sing the Squeaky Song to Trouble when they played fetch but here in the park with only one man around that was not a possible thing to do. So Samantha waited, proud of Trouble dashing away down the hill, white feet flashing through the grass, knowing she would return.

Trouble returned with the ball and for some peculiar dog reason laid it at the feet of the man on the hill. This forced Samantha to look over at the man and maybe even have to speak to him.

He was a handsome Asian man in a navy overcoat standing parallel to her on the hill with a briefcase and no dog. He picked up the ball and threw it to Samantha Golden who failed to catch it. Trouble, liking this new game, ran to her, picked up the ball and ran back to the man, laying it at his brown suede tasseled shoes.

Samantha and the man started to walk towards each other. The man handed her the ball with a small bow.

Japanese, Samantha thought.

"She's never done that before," she said.

The man bowed again, picked up his briefcase which Samantha identified as Hermes, and walked away towards the playground and the sailboat pond.

Samantha looked to Trouble as though the dog might have some explanation of her behavior. Then she picked up her iPhone and began her calls, which is what Samantha usually did on the top of the hill in the midst of an abundance of surrounding nature. The wind shivered a few more leaves off the trees.

On the way home Samantha, who was at the moment unwed, thought of the Asian man and wondered if she was losing her looks. She had never slept with an Asian unless she counted the Indian man who actually was Persian and Jewish but raised in India.

It bothered her that he had not said a word, not even dog small-talk.

Every few years as Samantha got poorer and older, she was 38, she had moved further east. She had started on Fifth Avenue, now she was on Second which meant a long way to the park every morning and still, she went because she would do anything for her dog, all her dogs, forever, and she always had. One of her two husbands had said that the way she felt about animals was probably the only good thing in her character.

It's because I'm not Japanese, Samantha thought and felt better.
A few weeks later, the man was standing on the hill again. Samantha decided to ignore him. She threw the ball for Trouble who ran for it and laid it at the man's polished black loafers. Trouble stood there before him, staring up and wagging.

Samantha was annoyed because now she probably would have to go to the man. He bent down and picked up the rather filthy ball in his gray suede gloves, looked at it as though it were some precious jade object, and threw it to her. Again she missed.

"No one taught you to play ball." His voice was deep and filled with shivery echoes with no accent at all.

Samantha, who knew she looked especially pretty that day, shrugged. Trouble, who never had done this ball- to- the- wrong person thing with anyone else, looked from one to the other.

"Your dog wants me to fall in love with you or at least take you to dinner," said the man. "I am Hidecki Aoki."

Samantha hesitated and then gave him her phone number. She Googled him on the way home and saw that he was an architect. His father, a prince, had been one of the secretaries for General Tojo. That made him a prince too she supposed and decided to accept his invitation whenever he called.

Princess Aoki, she said to herself and liked the idea. People had been calling Samantha a Jewish princess for years. It was a staple element of her fights with both husbands involving her sense of entitlement, her pride, her need for luxury, her unabashed and retro idleness and all sorts of disruptive traits.

Hidecki Aoki never did call and she never saw him again on the hill. She kept bringing Trouble to the park and throwing the ball in her girl way, thinking she, an unemployed real estate lawyer, would have to find something more to do with her life than have lunch with her girlfriends all of whom worked.
Without any energy or pleasure Samantha Golden threw the ball.

Trouble ran off. Samantha took a call and, when she looked up, there was the dog with something gray and squirming in his mouth.

Oh God! Definitely a squirrel, half-dead. Samantha Golden screamed a girlish scream and began jumping around. Trouble, squirrel in mouth, was running off with it, shaking his head, the little beast, a rat with a furry tail as her father had said, flopping around in his mouth, maybe still squirming. Samantha knew that is what daschunds do, catch things and shake them to death. Trouble was almost a daschund, a ratter, it was her nature.

And then there was that Japanese man again, now in a gray coat, not that it mattered.

Samantha was still jumping and flapping around squealing and her dog went straight to him and put the squirrel, now bloody, at his feet.

Oh Jesus.

He picked it up by the tail and tossed it into some nearby bushes. He looked at his gray gloves, now bloodied. She ran to leash Trouble who was going after the squirrel in the bushes and, as she did, she saw the man carefully removing his gloves, walking to the bin marked Trash and dropping them inside.

Samantha started to cry for the squirrel dying in the bushes, for the humiliation, for the course of her wasted 38 years, the lack of love in her life and the good gray gloves in the trash. Trouble had blood on her mouth. The Japanese man was back, taking a thin white lawn handkerchief with initials—who in her generation carried a handkerchief?—and wiping the dog's mouth. He walked back to the trash bin and dropped the handkerchief inside. From there he bowed again and walked out of the park.

Samantha sat down on a bench marked "Harris and Sadie Freidman"—all the benches here were dedicated to someone or other, bought and paid for—and realized that she was almost in love with Mr. Aoki because he was elegant in his ways and understood Trouble and she had a feeling would understand her too. She was still crying, sobbing in fact.

"I found this," Mr. Aoki said, suddenly standing over her with an empty shoebox. "I will see if there is any hope. You must know a veterinarian around here…"

Of course she did and she prayed the squirrel was alive and that he would go with her and, in the horribly unflattering neon of the Manhattan Veterinary Group waiting room, he would look at her and like her and the squirrel would be saved and together they would release it into the wilderness of the park to live a long squirrel life. They would all have second chances, or in her case, way beyond second chances.

He took her arm as they walked to the vet, his copy of the Times placed discreetly over the still little critter in the box. Trouble, scenting blood and prey, kept jumping up at the box but Mr. Aoki was tall and held it up high, elegant as the prince who could finally deliver her.

For more on Julie, visit juliebaumgold.com