Going to the show may not have been the smartest thing Marsha had ever done, but with the top winning Floogle Hound in the history of the breed, how could she let a death threat stand between her and one more Best in Show?
It’d be strange for her not to have made enemies. Only three years before she’d been the ordinary wife of a mail-order cotton clothing magnate. Then she saw a crowd of vans and motor homes in the parking lot of her children’s school. Curiosity caused her to turn in, and she spent the rest of the afternoon in the rarefied atmosphere of a dog show.
Choosing among the many lovely animals wasn’t difficult. In spite of the obvious charms of tiny toys and the glamour of sleek Sighthounds, the Floogle hound, with his broad fuzzy face and impish expression, won her heart. The fact that the standard allowed only ragged, dirty gray coats appealed after years of producing the whitest whites and brushing out her daughter’s flowing locks. Meeting Janet, breeder of the best Floogle hounds in the world, finalized her decision.
Telling her family about her new life choice proved surprisingly simple. Between board meetings and year end closing it was two months before her husband realized the pile of rags in the corner was a living creature. It took her children longer since the puppy spent most of his time in the laundry room and back yard, areas they avoided strenuously. The first her family had any idea life as they knew it had changed forever was when she packed for her first dog show weekend.
“What are you doing, dear?” her husband asked as he wandered through the bedroom on the way to the television set.
“Packing, Charles. I told you three weeks ago I’d be gone this weekend to a specialty in Minneapolis.”
“What’s so special about Minneapolis? I was there last week for a thread seminar. You could’ve gone then.”
“Last week there wasn’t a specialty in Minneapolis. Besides, Laird wasn’t old enough.”
“Isn’t his name Steve?”
“Steve is our son. Laird is my Floogle hound.”
“Floogle? Isn’t that the truck you bought last month?”
“That was a Florence. I bought it to take my Floogle hound to dog shows.”
“Dog shows? We don’t have a dog.”
“I do. Laird could be one of the best Floogle hounds ever born. I’ve been taking him to classes and matches the last four months and he’s now old enough to go to a specialty.”
Her husband frowned. “That’s right, you haven’t always been home the last few months. If you must go to Minneapolis this time of year, don’t forget your umbrella. Damned wet when I was there.”
That weekend Laird won the Puppy Sweepstakes and Reserve Winners Dog, the last time he was less than Best of Breed. He’d won his fifth group by the time he was two. His first Best in Show came a few months later. It was about that time her children noticed her frequent absences.
“Mom,” asked Tabitha on one of her rare Saturday evenings at home. “Were you here last weekend?”
“No, darling,” Marsha answered from deep within a cupboard. It was amazing how dirty the cupboards got these days. “I was in Phoenix last weekend.”
“How about the week before?”
“Portland I think, dear. Why do you ask?”
“I was wondering why my dresses weren’t ironed this week. You usually do that on Saturdays.”
“I believe I told you last year you’d have do your own ironing if you wore cotton dresses every day.”
“Oh. Mom, do you have a boyfriend? My friend Crissy said her mother stopped ironing when she got a boyfriend.”
“No, I have a Floogle hound.”
“That’s nice. What’s a Floogle hound?”
A few months later, when trophies filled the mantle and every bookshelf and overflowed onto dusty window ledges, Marsha’s family chose to hold a conference. They tried to schedule it on Saturday evenings but Marsha wasn’t home before the younger members went out and Charles went to his study to finish up paperwork from the week before. Eventually they pinned her down one Tuesday evening, with entry forms spread across the kitchen table. Charles began the session.
“Marsha, you’ve been away from home the last five weekends.”
“Six, I believe,” she muttered, trying to choose between Texas and North Carolina for the next four day cluster of shows.
“Whatever. Since you choose not to be available when your family needs you, we feel you owe us an explanation.”
“I told you dear, I have the best Floogle hound ever born. I’m specialing him while he’s hot.”
“A hot Floogle?” repeated her youngest, spiked purple hair waving. “What does that sound like?”
“Mostly he’s quiet at home. He likes the shows, and whines a bit when we turn onto the grounds.”
“You’ve been going to shows without us? What groups are you going to see?”
“The Hound group, of course, though if we win we see the other groups as well.”
“I’ve never heard of the ‘Hound’ group. Are they from England, like the Beatles?”
“Some of them. Hounds come from every country. It’s the terriers that come mostly from England.”
“Terrorists? Wow, I have their new video. You saw them?”
“Terriers, sweetheart. Small to medium sized dogs used on hunts and for ratting.”
“Dogs? All this time you’ve been gone, it’s been for dogs?” Her husband’s face was a novel shade of maroon.
“Yes darling, since that time I went to Minneapolis.”
“That’s right. I told you to take your umbrella.”
“You did, and I appreciated your suggestion. Now, if we’re done, I need to get these entries faxed off. I’ve been considering Bermuda this year, or Canada. Which do you think?”
“Canada in the summer, Bermuda in the winter. Don’t forget to pack appropriate cotton clothing.”
“I stopped wearing cotton last year, dear. It wrinkles so.”
The calls started a few weeks later. When she answered motel phones she could hear breathing at the other end of the line, but no one would speak. She ignored calls at home since she was always busy doing weeks worth of housework in days. Then the first letter came.
It was in a plain white envelope, with her name and address printed in block letters. Inside was a single sheet of white paper with letters pasted on it spelling out:
STAY AWAY FROM DOG SHOWES IF YOU KNOW WHATS GOOD FOR YOU
There was no return address. Since she was leaving for a hound seminar in Atlanta, she stuck the letter in her purse and forgot about it until dinner with Janet Saturday night. When she searched for her change purse, the letter fell out.
“What’s this?” Janet asked, not immediately recognizing an envelope that wasn’t a puppy inquiry, telephone bill or entry confirmation.
“Someone sent it. I guess they got tired of calling.”
Janet showed more concern than Marsha felt the situation warranted. Years of dealing with a self-centered family had developed in her the ability not to worry about what she could not control. It wasn’t until Janet pointed out if something happened to Marsha she wouldn’t win Hound of the Year that she agreed to speak with someone very clever.
The someone very clever was Tracy, who wore glasses with thick lenses and bred Irish Setters for obedience and hunting. Marsha had never met anyone in dogs who didn’t show in the breed ring. She eventually told Tracy everything that had happened so far, and agreed to contact her about further problems.
This was sooner than she expected. Another envelope was waiting when she got home. This time, the letters spelled out:
I WARNED AND YOU DIDNT LISSEN NOW YOU WILL BE SORY
As agreed she called Tracy, leaving a message on her machine. The next day there was a message to meet Tracy at the next show, and bring telephone bills from the last year. Marsha dug up the bills and began to pack. This was going to be Laird’s best weekend so far. The judges were perfect every day, and he had an excellent chance for Top Hound.
Steve came out of the house as she was encouraging Laird into his travelling crate.
“Wow, Mom, where’d you get the neat mutt? You taking him to the pound?”
“This is Laird, my Floogle hound. I’m taking him to Memphis.”
“You going to another dog show?”
“Of course I am. Why?”
“Just wondering. Want me to get the mail?”
Marsha’s reply was muffled in the depths of the van. When she turned around, Steve had a thick stack of dog magazines, premium lists and bills. The one thing she saw was a plain white envelope.
“What’s wrong, Mom?”
“Nothing, dear. I’ll take some of this, you put the rest in the house. I’ll be back Sunday.”
She waited until she’d been on the road an hour and her pulse had settled down before she pulled over to look at the letter. It was brief:
PEOPLE WHO DONT LISSEN DONT DESERVE TO LIVE
For a moment she considered turning around. But there were lovely trophies for Hound of the Year, and Floogle hounds only held their prime for a short while. Once on the show grounds, she immediately looked for Tracy.
She found her watching someone practice obedience and thrust the packet into her hands, nearly babbling in her attempt to relate everything. Tracy waited until a Maltese had successfully finished signal exercises before cutting off Marsha’s narration.
“Fine. I’ll follow you home Sunday evening. In the meantime, don’t worry.”
“But . . . you think everything will be alright? Who’s doing this to me?”
“Just have your family there when we get in. It’s time you discussed this with them.”
It should’ve been the most exciting weekend of Marsha’s life. In spite of back-to-back Best in Shows, she was miserable. Tracy refused to discuss what she’d come up with, but was there Sunday evening. For once Marsha didn’t feel sleepy during the drive home. The house was dark when they arrived.
“You did tell them to be ready to talk when we got here, didn’t you?”
“Well, yes, but Steve had a party and Tabitha might be at her friend’s house. Charles is usually here unless he’s out of town.”
Muttering under her breath, Tracy followed Marsha into the house. It took a while before all the members of the family assembled, yawning and groaning, in the kitchen. Tracy paced around, peering at the not-so-gleaming floor and dirty dishes stacked in the sink.
“Last week,” she began, once everyone’s eyes were open, “your mother came to me with a problem that seemed at first to be a typical case of Petty Dog Show Spite. Upon closer inspection I found the problem to be much more complex. What we have here is Reversed Empty Nest Syndrome.”
Mouths halted mid-yawn, and remained gaping wide open. Tracy looked intently into each pair of bleary eyes, and feared for the future of the human race.
“It seems someone in this house resents the fact Marsha has a life of her own, and has decided to try to scare her into giving it up.”
The loudest gasp came from Marsha, but Tracy’s attention was on the spike haired adolescents. They all missed the flushed face on the other member of the group.
“It worked in the book I read.”
“Charles, when did you start reading books?”
“Well, once in a while . . . you were gone so often. I read those suspense things. Steve helped with the notes.”
“You sent the letters and made the calls?” Even Tracy was surprised.
“I didn’t mind the frozen dinners, or the carpets not being shampooed once a month. But when I found out you’d stopped wearing cotton, Marsha, it was too much for me. I was afraid I was losing you.”
“Don’t you think death threats were a bit extreme?” Tracy’s question fell on deaf ears.
With a cry of: “Charles, I didn’t think you cared!” Marsha threw herself into her husband’s arms.
Tracy let herself out, pausing to look at the sky before getting back into her van for the long drive home. A few stars peeked through the clouds, proof once more that nothing had to make sense as long as love triumphed over all and you finished your dog before it was three.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/anton41/7174011775/”>Flicktone</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photo pin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>