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It's Nelly's World

Free to Be You and Me

alec vanderboom

We can tell time without clocks. This, for instance, is the time for purple phlox. When it blooms in the roadside meadows, it is that time again. It is also time for Nelly to jump.

It was errand day. I loaded my garbage, my recycling, my books for the coming local library fair, my child, and my dog into the car. God bless the designer of the station wagon.

How I love my sweet library, my home away from home. Perhaps it feels that way because

it was once a home, an eighteenth-century stone house with its little additions that grew outward like squash vines creeping in the night. Inside are wing chairs to sit and read by the old fireplace that still bears the black reminders of ancient fires that fed people who are now ancient ghosts. How could they not rest peacefully to know that their house is beloved by so many? They are kept company by the ghosts of great writers.

When it was built, the road out its door--now with trucks and a steady stream of cars heading north, heading south, which has caused what it usually takes eons to accomplish, the crumbling of the rock in its walls--was a quiet brown lane.

I support this little library with all my heart, because it is where I go to feel I belong to something, where I go when I need a book, and it is also like another home to my child. So when they have their June fundraiser, I bring them bags of books I no longer need, record albums and stuffed animals (handy timing, given my impending move), and several copies of my own books to sell in the Local Authors tent.

It was hot on errand day, and we were in a post-dump state of mind: sticky, worried we still carried the odor of decomposition on our clothes. I scouted a place in the shade to park the car as I drove in to the library lot, so I could leave Nelly for a minute while my son and I ran in to get the book we'd asked for through interlibrary loan, to drop off our contributions for the sale. Nelly, too, knew what it time it was, because she realized she knew this place (and didn't love it half as much as we): Time to Get Left in the Car.
I had not yet come to a complete stop, much less rolled the windows up for little Miss Houdini's Daughter. Then I see a white streak heading across the back lawn of the library.

She pauses by the shed behind the parking lot, stares at me (one can interpret that stare any number of ways, of course), and once I have a chance to put my eyes back in my head, I call to her, and that's when the jig is really up. She races next door, and all I can think is, She's not going to survive Route 209.

Out loud, though, I said, "Honey, I'm not going to panic." See, panic belongs to my old life; panic used to feel like a drug. It felt wonderful to finally relax into it and let it take me away. But while it might have been salutary for me (or was it?), it was certainly not for those who had to witness it.

So, calmly, we got out of the car and walked to the library door. I now had no idea where Nelly was. It felt as though it was my heart out there running loose, my heart, too near to heavy traffic. I knew it was my heart, because I felt a big empty hole in my chest.

The door to the library had been left open in the warm weather, and just as I was (calmly) explaining to my librarian-friend that I'd lost my dog and that she might come in, I looked down, and there was Nelly. The man at the computer next to me (it's a small library) asked what she was. "Devil-border collie mix," I told him. "How did she get in here?" he asked, bemused, as she continued to look up at me with bright eyes and panting tongue: So, Ma, where do they keep the steak here? When I told him, he said he'd had a dog who once jumped out of car windows too--only his did it at 40 mph. But he still hadn't quite put this story all together about whose dog this was. "Oh, that's your dog," he finally said.

"Oh, no," I hastened to reply. "This one, she's free. Free to a good home."