Out Of Rehab. Again. Pong opened the trunk to get his duffle of a thousand patches out. He’d sold his house and most everything in it for his addiction to Happy Herry. His and Lili’s house, with little Po. Yeah, little Po had lived with his brother for a few years, since the rehab before last. Now he’d live here at Pete’s too, or under a bridge with the other cracked up vets. They’d flown him to Laos while the new love of his life went on to Saigon. Oh Lili.
Pong realized he stared at Lili’s patch from Afghanistan, the official one from the Hagibi Hospital where she worked putting people’s faces back together. She used to work there as she’d stayed in after he was discharged. She’d sent Po to him with a note saying they were a real family now, with this little boy. He yanked on the duffle strap and dragged it to his brother’s front door.
“I got the tea straight from Singapore. Great isn’t it” Pete grinned and topped off Pong’s mug.
The kitchen table was supposed to be a cozy, comforting family place to ease anxieties. Crap. “Yeah, great.” Pete had set him up in the rec room, too much room. Pong had nearly collapsed to see a new drawing table, paints, markers and a stack of poster boards. Not anymore, no more cutesy art, not without Lili. He walked outside the room and leaned against the wall in the hallway.
Po burst into the front door singing out “I’m home!” The kid stopped cold when he saw Pong. “Hi Pong.”
Jeez, the kid had grown! “Hey sport. What did you learn in school today?” God forbid if the kid wanted a hug – that was Lili’s job.
In a much subdued tone, Po said, “I have to do a report on a pet. But I don’t have a pet.”
The kid stood as if in the choir, in church. At least the single time Pong had attended church. He’d seen the boy trail up to stand on the stage with a dozen other kids and belt out some hymn. He remembered the grand days where he and Pete had belted out harmonies at some of the big shows. Jimi Hendrix got top billing but there were instant venues all throughout the milling crowds. He’d met Lili at the Pixly Farm show, where it rained the whole time. They let her sleep in their tent.
Pong jerked. “What?”
Pete patiently said, “I told Po that we could go to the Dog Pound and get a pet.”
Pong saw Po’s eyes dart from his nominal daddy to his own mug of tea. He’d had missed the kid sitting down. Annoyed, he blurted, “You could make up a pet.”
Po took a deep breath. “I read that the Dog Pound mostly kills the big dogs and the black cats.” His eyes lifted toward Pete. “If you don’t want a big dog maybe we could get a black kitten.”
The hope in the boy’s plea would have broken Pong’s heart if the still had one. But he gazed at Pete. Apparently, he’d lost his adopted son as well as his wife, each gone quite a while before he ever knew it for certain. He sipped his tea and remembered how he and Lili talked about getting a dog right before her unit sent her over to Afghanistan.
A jacket thrust into his face made him jump. Automatically standing to put his jacket on, he asked, “Where to?”
“You stay in outer space most of the time, dude. The Dog Pound. That’s what we’ve been jawing about, right? They close at five so we’d best be movin’ along.”
In the back seat Pong vividly recalled his favorite poster, ‘Movin’ Along!’, the one he’d got prints made of, the one that had people coming up to get their copies autographed. The cool air in his face and opened door clued him they’d arrived.
At the counter Po explained that they needed to see the process from the end to the beginning. The woman in charge frowned, saying the public was not allowed in the euthanasia area. Struggling to pay attention, Pong asked, “Can we see Death Row?”
The woman screwed her mouth up for another access denial, but Pete saved the day by asking, “He’s troubled. Can we visit the pets that have been here the longest?”
Pete stopped at the Cat Room that was indeed populated with a preponderance of black kitties. Pong went on to the last chance Dog Room, Po at his heels. Huh. He glanced back again, not a hallucination.
The dog room felt so weird, almost electrically frizzy. Maybe because there were now a hundred eyes on him? A neon rainbow sprang from Po to a shaggy auburn Irish Setter-like mutt. Pong blinked and it disappeared yet the affect remained. The mutt looked intently his way. Pong thought about how long he’d tried to draw somebody making the “Tck-Tck” sound you make with one side of your face pulled back, like when you wanted a dog to come. He’d messed up too many poster boards trying, no luck. Luck? Really? He shook his head hard to keep in this time and space.
He stretched one side of his lips back and “Tck-Tck” erupted. The mutt bounded up and over until his paws on each shoulder nearly bowled him over. Once he caught his breath, he knew this was HIS dog. Or maybe his and Po’s? ” Hey son, what you want to name this giant hairy creature?”
His son’s face lit bright. “Angel.”
“Down, Angel”. The dog sat obediently, tail wagging like a windshield wiper. He remembered that leaving Pixly Farm he had to get new wiper blades before they got to the interstate. Angel brought his attention back to the here and now. He saw Po lean forward to check out Daddy’s demeanor. Pong flung his arms out. That hug felt better than he ever thought one could.
The 60’s style flamboyance made his ‘Save a Pet’ posters a big hit, in the restaurants, in vet’s offices, grocery stores, lots of places. One of Pete’s cats, couldn’t tell Stupid from Cupid, had knocked over a bottle of black ink, stepped in it and walked across the top left corner of Pong’ s first effort. Now they all had black cat paw prints stamped there, like the seal of approval.
He shook his head and turned away from the framed posters on the wall. “Lemonade. I came in to get lemonade. He took a Minute Maid out of the freezer and stirred it with water. He heard Po shouting something and laughing. He walked to the screen door and watched Po try to toss the tennis ball again except the dog sat on this hind legs right in front of the boy, begging. Pong opened the door and aimed for his lounge chair. Po ran over and took the lemonade from him just a second before Angel knocked him over, licking his face and arms until he felt like a slobber doll. That Angel could wear a guy out! That Angel was a blessing.