Belt, I thought. My jeans probably won’t fall off and the grey-brown sweater hauls down nice and low. Besides, another meal or two at Eats I won’t be able to use this belt till I punch some more holes in it. I pulled it off and looked around for, ahem, my dog. She was lying on the floor again watching me. The tail gave a thump, but I thought she looked at the belt worriedly. “Oh, honey,” I said, distressed, and stuffed the belt under my t shirt. I knelt beside her. She raised her head and gave my nearer hand a lick. I had fed her twice, I was god. Also it was warmer in cabin seven than it was out on the street. I lifted my t shirt and let the belt slither harmlessly to the floor. Her eyes moved to watch it. I tapped the bottom of her front feet with the end of it.
She rolled up on her stomach and sniffed it. She raised her head and looked at me. And then MacFarquhar does something else criminally stupid with a dog she doesn’t know anything about except that she eats tuna and hash and doesn’t necessarily rip anyone’s throat out overnight in a motel room. I started sliding the end of the belt under her belly, in the gap left between her elbows and the sighthound swell of her sternum. She turned her head to watch it emerge on her other side. I got it halfway through and stopped.
I picked up the end nearer me and draped it over her back.
Nothing went on happening.
Fortunately it was a very long belt—the kind you’re supposed to knot around on itself. Even the skinniest sighthound has a tremendous depth of chest. I draped the farther end over her back, toward me. She turned her head to peer at it and me but she didn’t move. I crossed the two ends and brought them forward to buckle around her neck. Voila. Instant figure of eight harness. She shrugged a little and then looked at me. Expectantly. Hopefully. Okay, I got this. I should have thought of it first. And it did suggest that she’d had some training that didn’t involve the misuse of belt-shaped objects. I went back to the (rapidly deflating) grocery bags, found the wedge of local cheddar that had been highly recommended at the deli counter and hacked a bit off with my pocketknife. Sid had got up and followed me around the foot of the bed, wearing her harness. I held the cheese a little above and in front of her nose. “Sit,” I said, moving it toward her. She sat. Excellent. Although it may only have been surprise. She took her cheese daintily but without wasting any time either. I put the rest of it in the tiny refrigerator in case she got any ideas. There were two small bottles of apple juice and two small bottles of orange juice in there already. After I added the cheese there was just about room to get my hand out again. And close the door.
So far so good. I still needed a leash. There are occasional advantages to cold weather: you probably have scarves lying around. Or crushed in the bottom of your knapsack if you’re trying not to be a wuss and therefore not wearing them. The one I unearthed was pretty crushed and it would probably go from six-foot muffler to sixty-foot twine if Sid took off after anything, but it would do. I hoped. I tied a knot around the center of the figure eight of belt over her shoulders with one end of it and we were ready to face the world. . . . I hoped. Have you ever taught a puppy to walk quietly on lead? It’s not necessarily a fun time for either of you. I hoped most of all I wasn’t looking at that situation here, with fifty or so pounds of full-grown (if underweight) dog with a fully developed personality and an unknown history.
“Come on, honey,” I said. “This is the quid pro quo moment. You get regular meals and to sleep warm and in return you have to walk on a lead.” And go to the vet, I thought, but we’ll worry about that after breakfast. My breakfast. She looked at me. I looked at her. I dropped the lead, went back to the refrigerator, and put the cheese in my pocket.
Picked the muffler-lead up again. Holding the end of it, went to the cabin door and opened it. Looked around. My dog was at my heels. We went through the door together. When I paused to close the door, Sid paused too. We went down the steps together. Clearly this was too easy. Something would happen any moment now.
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