LB: Live! From Paradise #218 “Animal Talk”

(Image from the intro to this column's previous web incarnation)

by Larry Brody

Here on The Mountain, the animals are restless.

“I need to talk to you,” Huck the Spotless Appaloosa said early this morning as I rolled the hay cart to the corral.

“He really does,” Rosie the Romantic Arabian affirmed, stamping her hoof. “It’s important.”

“I want you! I want you now!” Ditsy Dixie the Yellow Lab yelped from the dog yard.

“And me! And me! And me!” Emmy the Bold, Decker the Giant-Hearted, and Belle the Wary called out as they pushed their way past her to the fence.

“When you have a minute there’s something we need to talk about, boss.” That was the biggest of the unnamed Silky chickens, calling from their pen. (Unnamed because chicken have a tendency to expire when you least expect it, and giving them names made their deaths much harder to bear.)

The only Cloud Creek Ranch animal inhabitant who didn’t push himself into my usual morning reverie was Bob the Careful Tuxedo Cat. In fact, when I awoke and reached out for Gwen the Beautiful and found my hand on his furry little rump instead he responded with a sound somewhere between a hiss and a sigh and slipped off the bed. Bob had never wanted me for anything in his life, and that wasn’t changing now.

But the others

“Things are way out of kilter around here,” Huck said.

I tossed the hay over the fence, figuring that, as usual, Huck and Rosie would dig in. Instead, they pinned me with sideways gazes.

“He thinks it’s unacceptable,” Rosie added.

“What’s unacceptable?”

From the porch, the dogs filled me in with loud, staccato barks.

“You’re not giving us enough attention! You’re not playing—”

The rooster I was now thinking of as the Silky King (uh-oh, that’s the same as naming him, isn’t it?) interrupted. “You’re not singing to us! You’re not doing that Mozart thing when you throw us our bread!”

“You don’t talk to us anymore!”

And there it was, the same complaint, from three different directions and seven different breeds of Not-Supposed-To-Be-But-Nevertheless-Sentient-Beings:

Oh, man, I was in Trouble. With a capital T.

And they went on:

“Why don’t you pay attention to us? Why don’t you come outside like you used to? Why are you hiding in the house? Is it something we’ve done? Have we hurt you? How? Tell us!”

I looked around the clearing at the Cloud Creek Crew. Let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding.

“It’s not you,” I said. “I love you all. It’s—”

“What? What?” Dixie cried.

“It’s July.”

“July? Who’s that?” Belle said.

“It’s a ‘when,'” Decker growled. “A month.”

“Not just any month,” I pointed out. “It’s a month when the temperature lives in the 90s and the humidity’s even higher. A ‘now’ when I’m covered in sweat by the time I walk across the front porch. A ‘when’ when flies swarm and chiggers burrow and ticks suck—”

“No ticks or chiggers or flies here, boss,” the Silky King called. “Anything like that comes in this pen and it’s lunch.”

“Ah,” I said, “you love the summer weather in Paradise, don’t you?”

The Silky King answered with a crow. I shook my head.

“But I don’t,” I told everyone. I looked from one animal to the other. Tried to explain. “This weather wipes me out,” I said. “It leaves me weak and exhausted and itchy. Look at these welts! I wake up scratching and go to sleep the same way.

“When it’s cooler you know where to find me. Outside. Making my phone calls from the front porch. Working at my laptop on the back porch. Hanging out with you.

“But in the summer—I’ve got to hide,” I said. “And you’re not who I’m hiding from. It’s the weather, that’s all.”

The animals were silent. Thinking. (I think.) Then:

“People!” Huck snorted. “You’ve got some serious problems.”

“Bad breeding,” nickered Rosie.

“And you call yourselves the planet’s top dogs?” Emmy said.

The horses dipped their heads down into the hay.

The dogs flopped down on their bellies on the grass.

The chickens scratched in the dirt.

Our conversation was over. I went back into the house and up to the bedroom. Gwen was still sleeping. Bob lay on my pillow, but he was awake. “Everybody out there feels sorry for you because you’re a human,” he said. “Do you feel sorry for yourself too?”

I thought about it.

“Only when I itch,” I said, scratching away.