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It's Nelly's World

It's Haunting

alec vanderboom


A ghost visited me the other day. Only I saw it. Nelly was having fun and games on the lawn with Sadie, a pal who is twice her size but half her age. Nelly led her around like a child's pull-toy on a string, exerting centrifugal force on the poor black dog who was powerless not to try to catch her. But the game Nelly was playing was Don't Be Caught--Not Nowhere, Not Nohow. She drew sinuous curves all over the surface of the grass, S's this way and that, changing direction in a quick bursts: Fooled ya!

And that's when I saw the ghost of Mercy. The most gorgeous, intelligent dog who ever lived.

Maybe she came back because right about now is the run-up to the anniversary of her death. I can't remember exactly, although my body must, having been imprinted permanently with the shock, a hot brand burning the flesh of the emotions. The thing my mind will never forget is the incessant calls of the mourning doves, just like now--woo-OOH-OOH-OOH--until I wanted to scream Stop! Don't you know you're torturing me? I had never really noticed them before, but that May, my hearing was suddenly changed. My senses were scraped raw so that everything (colors, sounds) was like vinegar on a cut. The whole world hurt.

Of course I had to get another border collie. I had to have her back. I ended up with Nelly, who is herself. But there she was, four years later, reanimating Mercy's game. In Prospect Park, our dog used to lead a string of other dogs a merry chase, just like this, switching back and forth, finally ending crouched under a picnic table, frustrated pooches circling with tongues dragging the dirt. Her eyes glinted with laughter. Ha-ha! Fooled ya.

No one could catch her, either.

I welcome her back.

Sadie on this day, of course, played a Sadie game. She betook herself into the back field, and dunked herself in my son's pond (the one I "gave" him for his own during our time here, the one he used to take his friends to when the grownups were otherwise engaged with margaritas on the patio during summer parties, the one for which he made a plaster plaque decorated with glass dragonflies and and declaiming, "Welcome, Friends, to my pond"). The only thing is, it's actually a mud hole.

Then Sadie burst into the house and shook herself vigorously. Mud splattered all the way to the ceiling the newly painted walls, the ones that are supposed to help sell this house to deep-pocketed city folks, along with the general cleanliness of its rooms. The floor, too, was now covered with the dog's interpretation of Jackson Pollock. Quite a good one, I think. I had three showings of the house scheduled for the next day.

As my son said, "Mom had a cow."

But my cows are getting smaller and smaller these days, I am proud to report. I am working very, very hard at "letting things go." It makes life, and everyone around me, much happier. Soon these animals will be the size of the toys my child puts in his play barn.

But once upon a time I had a border collie. She loved it here, as did I. And every once in a while she pays a visit. For which I am glad. Sad. But glad. Both at exactly the same time.