When I got home from work and her mop-topped silhouette wasn't quivering in the screen door, I knew Pixy was gone. If there's anything worse than losing your dog, it has to be losing someone else's.
We had begged for my uncle's cockapoo to come stay on the farm. My uncle's girlfriend said sure, Pixy was getting pudgy in their Times Square penthouse and a farm visit would do her good.
And now, because I hadn't shut the door properly, a 14-pound citified lapdog was out there, alone.
I stood in the door and channeled Pixy. A love-monger, she'd head straight for the closest people. Across Union Corners Road is the town park, where children play soccer while parents cheer and coaches have aneurisms. On Union Corners Road are buses, trucks, pickups, SUVs. I biked over to the park, scanning the roadsides, and started asking: soccer moms, disc golfers, kids. I got no shortage of sympathy, but no sightings.
I thought I heard a high-pitched yelp. I stuck four fingers in my mouth and blew, sounding like a randy old lady who's been smoking for 75 years. A few more tries and I finally got the piercing sound that travels. Every dog within half a mile replied, but I didn't hear that yelp again.
Pixy is more of a people dog than a dog dog, but first and foremost she likes to be where the action is. There's usually some activity, both canine and human, at the new dog park. Maybe someone had let her into the dog run and she was yelping to let me know she couldn't get out. When I got within sight of the run, I stood in my bike saddle and started pumping. It was a small white dog convention, four potential Pixies sniffing rear-ends. But that dog had a tail, that dog had pointy ears, that dog was ugly? no Pixy.
The sun was setting, taking hope down with it. My legs were jelly but I had to keep moving. Fatigue blunted my mind, which otherwise dwelt on the image of a shivering Pixy baring her tiny teeth in a futile defense against circling coy-dogs. Thinking meant processing the knowledge that it was I who had let this happen, and it was I who was going to have to pick up the phone and tell my uncle's family that their little polar bear was not coming home. That thought had the effect of a cattle prod. I would do anything not to have to make that call.
I traded my bike for the car and drove through the town park with my brights on. A small white animal scurried across the road. Pixy!? An opossum. The nocturnal creatures were out. How would Pixy fare against an opossum?
Even though I wanted badly not to think, I had to. It was imperative that I use these hours wisely. If she was out there, there was almost no chance of my finding her this way. Plan B: canvass the neighbors. Headlamp on head, I trudged from door to door, freaking people out as they were cooking dinner or watching football. One couple was hesitant to open the door. They said they'd had an attempted break-in recently. That got me wondering about dognappers. Pixy is an expensive dog.
Eventually I had to call it a night. I dragged my sleeping bag out to the hammock. It was September, the days still summery, the nights bringing the chill that turns the leaves. I slept in snatches, dreaming Pixy and I were walking together somewhere sunny, maybe Greece. I woke around 5 a.m. to ? was it a dream? ? Pixy screaming. I wandered through brambles calling until my pants were wet to the thigh.
When the sun came up, it lit up thousands of cobwebs festooning the meadow's tall grasses. A neon-splotched spider embraced her breakfast. Why is it that life's most chaotic nights are also its most beautiful? Is it just that you're up at an unusual hour?
Inside, husband Joe and I ate breakfast in silence. She'd only been at the house two days, but if we didn't find her we were going to have to move. The place was haunted by the lack of her. Yesterday, I'd been annoyed by the pawmarks Pixy left on the couch after a swim in the pond. Today, what wouldn't I give to see fresh ones?
At eight a.m. I started calling the Humane Society, even though it doesn't open til noon. At 11 a.m. they picked up.
Yes, they had a white cockapoo. She'd been running in the middle of Union Corners Road (so much for her city smarts), so someone brought her in. What, the lady asked, was her name?
I'd done a middling job of holding it together over the last 18 hours, and now I lost it completely. It was all I could do to spit out one letter at a time between sobs: "P-I-X-Y."
Two hours and a pile of paperwork later, Pixy trotted out of the kennel, bum waggling. I buried my nose in her neck and called her unpublishable names. She smelled of warm hay.
Becca Tucker is a former Manhattanite who now lives on a farm upstate and writes about the rural life.