“Methinks my body is but the less of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me. And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and a stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot.”
One morning towards the end of our time in Nantucket, David and I left the children at the house and went for a walk towards the beach. Most of the streets near my parents’ house are unmarked, I don’t know their names, and I find them difficult to describe to other people, since they are all sandy and veer off gently one way or another. So now, instead of saying something concise, I have to say that we had reached the part of the route where the road turns towards the right and another road, which you might think is the main road, but is not, continues out straight towards the ocean—this is a landmark on the walk—when David noticed a dog running through the grasses on its own. We waited to see what would happen, which was that the dog came towards us and lay down in an enormous muddy puddle, and two women walked by who weren’t its owners.
The dog, a golden retriever, seemed to be in high spirits—he loved the mud—and also good-natured. We called him to us, and caught him around his collar. His name was Tobe, and his address was a street I knew, not strictly in my parents’ neighborhood, but probably about a mile, I thought, away. I called the number on the tag, but there was no answer. We decided to walk him back home. “Come on, Tobe,” I said, and Tobe started off with us.
Initially Tobe confined his activities to carrying dead animals in his mouth—he dropped the animals when I asked him to—and sitting in mud puddles, which he couldn’t resist. As we approached the short bridge over Long Pond, though, Tobe ran ahead through a gap in the grasses and bounded into the stinking water, which is filled with snapping turtles and the rotting remains of chicken legs and salami and all the other stuff people use to fish for snapping turtles. “No, Tobe!” I said, and Tobe listened to me, if listening means doing what you want until you’re done with that, and then doing what the other person asked you to do. He came out of the pond and through the grasses unashamed.
Crossing the bridge brought us into a more densely populated area where the houses were close to the road. Tobe started running away from us to check out the houses, and, in one case, to eat the cat food they had left out for their cat. At first we were hopeful, when Tobe ran towards people and those people greeted him warmly, that everyone knew each other. But it was just Tobe being himself, friendly and hungry. At the house where Tobe ate the cat food, the people gave us dog cookies to help us lure him back to the road.
I think this is related to everything I have told you so far about Tobe: he was not neutered. You know, I liked Tobe. He was courageous, and lucky, and dirty, and he knew what he wanted. David said to me that Tobe was “the kind of dog you read about in books.” Yes. Tobe was also like any character who desires things, and whose desire lead the other other characters, in this case me and David, into new territories. Still, it was taking a really long time to accomplish Tobe’s return. We had left the children at home by themselves, which was fine for the length of time it took to walk to the beach and back, and less fine for the length of time it takes to have a picaresque adventure, which can be years.
I called my parents to come get us, and they came, but I didn’t feel we could load Tobe, stinking of carrion, into the back of their, or anyone’s car. Since we still had to get Tobe home, the last part of the trip became a parade, in which David and I walked ahead and called to Tobe, rousing him from a series of mud puddles, as my parents drove a Volvo station wagon behind us at a walking pace. When we got to the address on Tobe’s collar, there was a little parking lot in front of a line of condos. A red lead hung from a front door knob, the empty neck begging Tobe to just put his head back in it again. A neighbor who didn’t know the dog’s name came out and said, “I was wondering where he’d gotten to!” She opened the door of the condo with the lead on it and shoved the muddy, stinking dog inside. She told us that Tobe was often tied up outside the condo, and had escaped before.
I couldn’t blame the neighbor, who just seemed to be helping out, but I did blame whoever tied Tobe to the door and left him there. I thought that was wrong. Maybe the fact that a disgusting, mud-covered Tobe was now walking around inside the condo was some kind of retribution for this. In any case, I was relieved that it wasn’t my problem, anymore.
Or was it? I worried about Tobe. Was someone coming back for him? When? I left another message for Tobe’s owner, and that afternoon she returned my calls with a series of messages that made it sound as if she had left Tobe with someone who had left him with someone else who had not treated him right, and that she was going to straighten the situation out. I think the lesson to draw from this—if you’re interested by lessons—is that we all do the best we can. His owner wanted to go off-island. The friend who was supposed to take care of the dog thought someone else was helping out. That person was called away. The neighbor didn’t know what was going on. David and I had to get back to our children and the rest of our lives. And Tobe, who was really a great dog, was going to get out of his lead again and go back to doing what he wanted, just as soon as he could.