No, Sparky, No!
I was alone at home, lying on the living room rug, petting my four-year-old dog Sparky, a Border Collie, as I read the newspaper.
“So, you going to ask her out or what?” I heard someone say. I looked up, expecting to see one of my friends standing in the doorway. But when I looked around, there was no one in the room. I wasn’t nervous at first because I didn’t realize what was happening. It began to sink in though that the voice wasn’t that of anyone I knew. I sat up and set the newspaper aside.
“Are you going to answer me, Barry, or are you too baffled to speak?” the voice said. In my peripheral vision I thought I saw Sparky’s mouth move and I looked straight at him. We stared at each other for at least 20 seconds. I was beginning to think maybe I needed to take a mental health day from work when he spoke again.
“Okay, so I’m a talking dog. Don’t freak out on me now,” he said. It’s amazing that at moments like that you don’t know whether to give in to the thought that you’re losing your mind or run from god knows what.
“You know, I’ve known you for four human years now,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve know you to be speechless. I know you never expected me to engage you in conversation. But, I mean, come on.”
“This is a joke, right? The guys have somehow rigged it so it looks like your mouth moves while they do ventriloquism, right?”
“Does it look like they’ve rigged it so my mouth moves?”
“No, no I have to admit it doesn’t. It looks like the real thing.” My relationship with Sparky was forever altered. It seems that dogs could talk long before humans. All that stuff scientists have been feeding us about having to have a large brain to talk, or a certain throat structure, that’s way off the mark. Sparky explained it to me.
“Yeah, we can talk. It’s not really that special. All it takes is practice. In fact, we consider it sort of an antiquated form of communication. Touch works much better, and eye contact is a much more fun language. Of course, when a species is as warlike as yours, well I can see why you need to use every communication form at your disposal.”
Once I got my wits about me, I asked, “So, what weird things have you heard these years you’ve been eavesdropping?”
“Oh, you wouldn’t believe some of the great stuff I hear through the grapevine. I’ll bet you didn’t know that your so-called best friend and roommate John has the hots for your girlfriend Cindy or that Putin plays Monopoly."
“It gets better. He secretly would like to own a stable of racehorses. He ...”
“No, that first part, about Cindy.”
“Oh, yeah. Cindy kind of digs him too. Sorry. By the way, I’ll bet you also didn’t know that her best friend, you know, that gorgeous female she hangs out with; what’s her name?”
“Yeah, Penny. I’ll bet you didn’t know she thinks you’re about the best thing since remote control. She said so aloud one night when her collie Max was in the room.” Sparky rambled on, telling me juicy details about famous people and people I thought I had known for years but obviously had only known superficially. Then he said something that gave me an idea.
“Oh, and you know that three-bedroom, ranch-style house sitting on an acre of forested land for sale at the end of town? The Bradfords are having a hell of a time getting rid of it for what they want for it. They’re asking a million, but Ruff told me they’d settle for eight hundred thousand. They want to move to Cape Cod where Mindy Bradford’s family lives, but they need the equity in the house here to make it work. It all adds up to a pretty desperate situation for them.”
I saw opportunity smiling at me. I could do the Bradfords a big favor and also own a home before I reached thirty if I played my cards right. Okay, so my total life savings from my job at the supermarket amounted to three thousand and forty-two dollars. I realize that’s not good, but there are ways to get around these things.
I called on the Bradfords later that same day just to feel them out. Of course they acted like they were sitting on top of the world.
“Yes, we received two more offers this week. At this point we’re considering calling all the bidders in and having an auction,” Tom said.
“Well, here’s another offer to add to your stack. I’m prepared to buy your house right now on these terms. First, I’ll give you twenty thousand up-front toward the down payment. Second, I want you to carry a second for the remainder of the down so that I will qualify at the bank for the loan. Third, I will buy your home for total selling price of $650,000. If you accept my terms, we can draw up a contract any time you like.”
At first, they were astounded at my audacity. My offer was more than twenty percent less than they’d planned to settle for. They protested that there was no way they could do that. I would have to come up with at least fifteen percent down, and a higher price, they said. I reiterated my offer, emphasizing that I was ready to put it in writing right then, and I left. I had one ace in the hole. Sparky said they’d paid one-hundred-and-eighty-two thousand for it twenty years ago. They would more than triple their original investment if they decided to accept my offer.
Besides, I had other fish to fry, like where I was going to come up with the rest of the twenty thousand to put down.
I turned my attention to the other pressing matter in my life, Cindy. As if on cue, she drove up in her almost new red Camaro. I thought to myself, what a perfect opportunity to let her know about my good fortune. That thought was pushed aside, however, when my so-called friend John also got out of Cindy’s car.
“Barry, sweetheart,” Cindy gushed as she put her arms around me and planted a big, wet kiss on my lips. I didn’t want to deprive her of her fun so I let her kiss me. Okay, so I didn’t want to deprive me of her fun.
“What’s he doing here,” I asked, motioning to John.
“Who? John? Oh, he was just on his way downtown and asked us for a ride. That’s all.”
“Me and Penny.” I looked where Cindy was pointing and saw Penny standing by the car. She smiled and waved shyly. I waved back.
“Hi, good buddy,” John said.
I thought to myself, Sparky, you could be wrong about Cindy. Please be wrong.
“You three want to come in? Have a Coke or something?” I said.
“No, we really can’t, honey. I’ve got to get downtown before that divine dress I saw in the window at Macy’s is gone,” Cindy said, then wrinkled her nose up as if she smelled a skunk. She was looking down at Sparky, who came trotting up to us, tail wagging and tongue hanging out. “There’s that horrible dog,” she said. “Not only is he the ugliest mutt I have ever seen, but he has this nasty habit of always sticking his nose in places where it shouldn’t be and sniffing.”
Sparky walked over to her, lifted his rear leg, and took aim.
“No, Sparky, no!” I shouted before he started.
He did as I told him, lowered his leg and trotted off to the back yard, wagging his tail.
“We’ve got to go, darling,” Cindy said. “Besides, John here is in a hurry to get to town, aren’t you?” She squeezed his arm, then led him out to the car by the hand. John smiled at me and shrugged his shoulders, as if to say: Hey, she’s a crazy lady. What can I do?
“I’ll call you after dinner,” I shouted to Cindy as they reached the car. She waved over her shoulder, not even bothering to look back. Penny stood there by the car smiling at me until Cindy told her to get in. Then they drove away. When I called Cindy that evening, there was no answer.
"I hate to be the one to break the news to you,” Sparky said. “But if you call John’s house, you’ll find he’s not home either.” Sparky and I sent out for pepperoni pizza and watched an old Mel Brooks movie that night.
The Bradfords called the next morning.
“I’m sorry, Barry, but we got another offer that was better and we’ve decided to accept it. Thanks for your interest though.”
Swell. I get a great tip from a talking dog and can’t even turn that into a buck. Sparky came through for me though. He already had another deal lined up.
“Listen, there’s a classic Chevy Corvette over on Fourth Street that’s badly in need of repair,” he told me. “The owner’s desperate to sell.”
I withdrew my savings from the bank and bought the Corvette for three thousand and forty-two dollars. I took it to a body and fender shop that was willing to let me make payments. They painted it candy-apple red and put in a new black leather interior. I sold it two weeks later for fifteen thousand, making a five-thousand-dollar profit after I paid off the body shop.
“The stock market can be great fun,” Sparky said that evening. “I heard from a toy poodle whose owner is a stockbroker that there are some good buys out there right now. Listen up ...” Sparky heard about major stock purchases that would drive the market up and told me about them in advance. Same with analyst reports that XYZ company was about to report a big loss for the quarter. I’d short it and make a big profit. He assured me that there was no law barring the use of information obtained from a talking dog. I bought and sold stock with the five thousand dollars I made on the Corvette. Within two months I had made six hundred and thirty-two thousand dollars.
And a month later I was living in a new, three-bedroom home on an acre of forest land. I had more than a million dollars in the bank and more cars, electronic gadgets and other toys than I could ever use. But something was missing. I needed someone to share it with. I hadn’t heard from Cindy in a while. She was otherwise occupied. But she had gotten wind of my good fortune and called me, asking if I wanted to take her out. It hurt to do it, but I turned her down. Sparky, AKA the canine Perez Hilton, told me afterward he thought I’d made a wise decision.
“She didn’t want you. She just wanted your money. When she heard you bought a big house in the hills and that you’re driving a new Tesla, and sometimes a Porsche, she started salivating. You know what though? Even for a human, I think you’re being a bit insensitive and selfish.”
That hurt. Why would he say that? My best friend, in fact my only friend, Sparky, was turning on me just as I was finally achieving success.
“What are you talking about,” I said quietly. “I set up a trust fund for my nieces, didn’t I? I gave ten thousand dollars to United Way. I’m helping where I can.”
“That stuff’s all good and well, but true charity has to start at home. Here you sit, with all these riches and no one to share them with but a dog. And do you know what Penny Pennington is doing right now? Of course you don’t, because you’re too self-absorbed to care. She’s sitting at home alone watching TV, wishing you were there.”
“I ... I didn’t know.”
“Well, now that you do, call her!”
Sparky was right, as usual. It would be good to hear a friendly, familiar human voice. In the months since my newfound wealth, I had become somewhat of a hermit. It was just me and Sparky. I desperately needed human contact.
“I’m becoming afraid of people, Sparky,” I told him. “Maybe it’s those calls I keep getting from so-called financial planners wanting me to entrust my money to them. Or the calls from the charities. I never knew there were so many! There’s an organization for practically every ill in the world. I do what I can but I can only do so much.”
I couldn’t bring myself to call Penny that night. Sparky seemed to understand. He insisted though that I get out and make some human friends. “I’d go rabid if I couldn’t bark at another dog every now and then,” he said. I agreed to go to the museum the next morning, just to get out of the house.
When morning rolled around, it was beautiful. Sparkling sunshine shone through the towering redwoods, beckoning me outdoors. I almost chickened out at the last minute though.
“I can’t go through with it, Sparky. There’ll be other occasions to see people. Besides, why do I have to go to the stupid museum anyway? There are plenty of other things to do.”
“Mainly because you’re becoming a pain in the house. And you’ve always liked museums.”
“I know, but that’s not the point. I just don’t feel like it.” I was fighting a losing battle and I knew it. It’s funny how much power over you a dog can have. It reminded me of that old Haitian saying: A dog is just a dog unless you are face to face with him — then he’s Mister Dog. Besides, Sparky was right. I needed to get out. I went to the museum.
I was glancing down at the pamphlet the guide had given me as I rounded a corner and bumped into a woman coming the other way. Her purse fell to the floor, spilling some of its contents.
“I’m so sorry,” I muttered quickly. I stooped to help her pick her things up.
“That’s okay,” she said kindly. I recognized that voice. It was Penny. She looked up, saw me and smiled.
“Hi stranger,” she said.
She looked wonderful. I had never remembered her looking that attractive before. I don’t think she had changed. I had.
“You don’t know how glad I am to see you,” I surprised myself by saying.
“I think I understand, Barry. I’ve missed you too.”
“You have? That’s wonderful. I mean, it’s good bumping into you like this. It’s really a coincidence.”
“Not really,” she said. I looked into those soft, brown eyes questioningly.
“I knew you would be here today and I came down to see you,” she said.
“How did you know I’d be here?
“Sparky told my dog, Charlie.”
There you have it. My life was fulfilled. Good old Sparky had set things up for us that day. I had found someone I suspected at the time but only later fully came to realize was the partner I had been searching for all my life. Penny and I are married now and have two little ones, Sparky calls them our pups. Sparky is still my best pal. But Penny is the love of my life.
James DeTar is a writer living in California.