The Rescue

By on Sep 12, 2011 in Fiction

The Rescue graphic

It was impossible to outdo Melinda Fireeyes. When it came to doing good, she was the nonpareil. She had sponsored a child in a third-world country. She spent her weekends the denizen of a soup kitchen, passing out meals to the homeless. She worked for a small nonprofit in Washington, D. C., that devoted itself to the preservation and protection of the environment. In her younger days, though she was not old, she had worked in Vista. She attended marches and rallies for various good causes on a regular basis. And that was only the beginning.

Harry Greengrass was at a loss as to how to get her attention. He just could not think of a single thing, a single way to distract her from the ills of the world that she had to correct long enough for those violet eyes to notice his rather more ordinary hazel ones. He had concluded that he had to outdo her. He had realized, as he sat in Starbucks, alone, sipping his decaf, turned down, passed over again in favor of a save-the-wilderness book club meeting, he had realized that he had to join something, do something, contribute to something that she had not thought of, and then, perhaps…

Idly, he flipped through a local giveaway newspaper, looking for some distraction from his nearly constant preoccupation. The photograph of a dog, a hapless mutt, caught his eye. Rover, it said, had been abandoned on the railroad tracks, a sign posted on his neck: “Adopt me. I’m a good, loyal, best friend.” Unfortunately for Rover, this had not occurred, and he was now in the care of the Humane Society, soon to be humanely put to sleep, because no one wanted him. Harry liked dogs, and he felt sorry for Rover, who certainly would not want to be impressed or dazzled by this or that act of good will, who was a creature, part Rottweiler, part Lab, who would simply accept him as a friend, grateful for food and shelter. He was already of half a mind to drive up to the Humane Society, when it occurred to him that Melinda was also a vegetarian believer in animal liberation, who was sure to look kindly on the saving of Rover’s life. This gave Harry the extra jolt he needed, sending him out of his seat, across the tiled floor, out the door, into the parking lot and into his car.

Harry had a legal client whose papers needed taking care of that evening, but that, he decided, could wait until after Rover was in his company. Right now he had to hurry. It could already be too late. Rover might have been gassed, or injected, or whatever they did to animals — Harry was not sure, but whatever it was, his heart already ached, a little, at the thought of this example of man’s best friend lying lifeless on some countertop, as the next victim waited his or her turn.

The forty-five minute drive out into the wilds of the suburbs seemed much longer. But at last he found himself in the parking lot of the Humane Society, gazing out over a series of long, low buildings, with no easily identifiable entrance. At length he did spot it and so made his way into the building, where his ears were greeted by a cacophony of woofs, whines, meows and other mostly canine and feline sounds. He was told that yes, Rover was still alive, and he could visit him. He made his way past locked doors that an attendant opened for him, and past many animals in cages, until he found himself staring through wire mesh into Rover’s mournful eyes. Rover was clearly depressed. He sat in a corner and gazed at Harry without moving. His black coat looked a little dusty, and he did not bark or yelp like the other dogs nearby. He exuded the sense of awareness that a dreadful catastrophe had befallen him, something over which he had no control, something total, something that had brought him right to the brink of the end. And he knew it. Dog that he was, he knew it as well as any person in a comparable situation. There was something about Rover and Rover’s abandonment and coming to rest in this place that rent the heavens. Harry had to look away.

He told the attendant he wanted that dog, and was taken back to the lobby. There, as he was filling out forms, he discovered that someone was ahead of him, that, in short, Rover had already been adopted. The Humane Society, however, still wanted his name and number, should the previous applicant not show up. Harry went away dejected. It was as if he had lost the chance for a great friendship. He went back in town to the office and finished his legal work.

Some weeks later Harry found himself in what he was wont, jokingly, to refer to, as did some of his friends, as the People’s Republic of Takoma Park. The neighborhood was familiar. So was the street. So was the little stucco house with the flowers blooming all around it, brightly on the spring day, and the creepers going up to the second floor. He rang the bell, and Miss Fireeyes answered all aflurry. The situation was dire, she explained. No, it was not the plight of a homeless family or a Rawandan child, it was — and then he heard it: Woof!  A large, black, doleful-eyed canine head nuzzled up to her. Rover gazed with unflappable solemnity into Harry’s eyes. Harry gazed back, as he listened to the story of Rover’s plight, his adoption and the difficulty that now loomed: Rover was quite sick, and veterinary care was quite expensive. Melinda Fireeyes could not afford it and would have to return him to the Humane Society. “And who knows WHO will adopt him,” she lamented. “It could be anybody!”

“We can’t let that happen,” Harry smiled and took out his checkbook. At first she did not want to accept charity for Rover but finally changed her mind when she saw that he and Rover were getting on quite well. She compared him to Rover’s guardian angel. And a guardian angel would have to visit on a regular basis. She ran into the house to answer a phone call.

“You and I were destined to be friends,” Harry addressed the dog. Rover’s tail wagged, and he answered resoundingly, “Woof.”

Passion Contents


Eve Ottenberg’s novel, Dead in Iraq, was published in November 2008 by the Plain View Press. Her short stories and essays have been published in The Rockhurst Review, The Cutthroat Review, and the journal of the Sacred Fools Press. She has also published three novels, The Unblemished Darlings, Glum and Mighty Pagans, and The Widow’s Opera. She has written a weekly column, “Hard Times” for The Village Voice, about the politics of housing in Manhattan. She also covered the criminal courts for The Voice. Her book reviews have appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The Baltimore Sun, The Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Nation, The New Yorker’s “In Brief” section, The Washington Post, The Washington City Paper, In These Times and many other venues. She has published articles in The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, Elle, Working Mother and other magazines and newspapers and has worked as an editor at several publications. She has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the University of Chicago and an M.L.S. from the University of Maryland. She is married, has three children and resides in Maryland, where she is a school library media specialist.