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The Two Sorriest Dogs in America (Part 1)

I have never written a book or a story in which I didn’t know the end. Didn’t know the middle. Didn’t have an arc. Didn’t have an outline. I’ve never written a book or a story with anyone else (except my editor). Until now. I’m going to start a story not knowing where it’s going to take me. Always open to ideas from readers, friends, and interested parties. Just throw ‘em out there and I’ll weave them into the writing.

This story (inspired by a headline I saw on Facebook) is about a woman who walks into a shelter and asks to adopt the two dogs who have been there the longest.

Edna Marble twisted the rearview mirror down to check herself. The lines in her face were still there. So was the dull, gray hair she tied back in a ponytail. Even the filament was growing again – okay, the whisker – one black, wiry hair that poked out of her chin. Whenever it was long enough for the tweezers to grasp, Edna would pluck it out, but it always came back, a stubborn, heartless reminder that she was getting old.

“How do I look?” she asked.

No one responded as there was no one to hear or presumably care. But Edna cared. In fact, she had put on a bit a makeup before she left, feeling that somehow it might make a difference.

After trying on a brief smile, she stepped out of the Mercedes and walked into the shelter. At once, she was met with the thick smell of unwashed dog blankets, topped with an acrid odor of disinfectant in the small reception area. The walls had been painted a pale lime green, the linoleum floor was stained in several places, but the plastic chairs pushed against the walls looked new. No one was behind the desk, but she could hear the excited yipping of dogs coming from a room somewhere beyond.

The front door behind her opened, and cool air swirled in along with a rather scary looking hulk of a man with an even scarier looking very large dog. Together they seemed to take up most of the space in the room. The man had rough features and tattoos on both his forearms. He looked around him and stated, “No one’s here.”

“I’m here,” said Edna.

“Can I leave him with you?” he asked, nodding to his companion, who was panting as though he’d run miles.

“No, you cannot.”

“Well, I can’t take him with me. They don’t allow dogs.”

“What’s his name?”

“Chester.”

Edna took another look at Chester. She thought he was a Rottweiler, jet black with spots of brown over his eyes; the same light brown highlighted his mouth, making it look even bigger. He was drooling excessively.

Just then, a heavy-set woman with red hair emerged from the back room. “Mornin’ folks, what can I do fer ya?” she asked in a slight Scottish accent.

Feeling the presence of Chester and his companion looming, Edna stepped aside.

The man stood his ground and tightened his grasp on Chester’s thick leather leash. “I have to leave him here,” he said gruffly. “Where I’m going, they don’t take dogs.” All at once, his face contorted in a spasm of grief and he began to sob. “I’m sorry, Ches. They don’t take … dogs,” he sputtered.

Edna and the woman behind the counter shared a glance as the weeping man knelt by his dog. Chester licked his face and began to pant even harder. He knew something was not right.

After a moment, the redhead took over. “Why don’ ya take yer boy out for a bit of walk around the block? Compose yerself. It’ll be easier fer both a yous.”

Wiping the snot from his nose and the river of tears from his face, the man gathered up the leash and went back outside, a relieved Chester trotting beside him.

“Always a sad day,” said the redhead. “I’m Margaret. And what can I do fer you … miss?”

“Edna Marble. I’d like to adopt a dog.”

“You’ve come to the right place, then.” She lifted her head to the glass door where they could see two hulks turning a corner. “How does a sweet, young Rottie sound?”

“Well, I do feel for them, but I’ve made my decision.”

“And what might that be?”

“I want to adopt the dog that has been here the longest.”

“Have ye ever taken care of a dog before, Edna?”

“Yes. We had a lovely Golden Retriever once.”

Margaret’s eyes scanned the woman before her, noting her well-tailored slacks and expensive cardigan. “We do have some lovely dogs who need a home. But the one who’s been here longest … well, she’s a special needs girl. She’s missin’ a leg, fer starters. And she’s got some what you might call odd sensitivities, which is why everyone brings her back.”

“What’s her name?”

Margaret ran an anxious hand over her mouth and said, “Alice.”

“I know what you’re probably thinking,” said Edna. “But I’m not bringing anyone back. I’m going to give Alice a home.”

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