Casey — A Short Story

As Ye Sow, So Shall Ye Reap

 

“O lost, and by the wind grieved, Ghost, come back again!”—Thomas Wolfe

Once, a few years ago, I did something bad. I don’t know that the act was so bad that you would call it evil, but the consequences of my act taught me about evil deeds, and their distant effects.

This will not be a juicy confessional by today’s standards, but my case, though minor, was a clear-cut one. It involves a dog named Casey.

We acquired Casey when she was still a pup, though a half-grown pup who had already lived for a while with a woman in the country who had many dogs. That was part of the problem, for Casey when we met her had been used to running free with several other mutts and had very little discipline.

I wasn’t ready for another dog. Our older children had enjoyed a mannerly golden retriever, but he was now too old to give that special gift that only a puppy can give for our youngest, a five-year- old sweetheart named Caity. My wife insisted, so we went looking on a very limited budget.

Casey was not a pure-bred, but she looked like a Gordon setter, and we brought her home to the kitchen. She was rather wild, and shied from me in particular. My daughter was delighted.

Casey turned into something of a trial. In addition to the predictable puppy whining and gnawing, she would tear her way out of any indoors room, and would dig her way out of the back yard and run for it. Impossible to catch, fearful of me, and not well-adjusted, this dog caused a lot of second thoughts, especially when the familiar piles had to be scraped off of the kitchen floor. Our landlord was not thrilled.

But Casey was loved, and played and romped with my daughter in the best doggy tradition. She was, however, a major inconvenience and a mess and costly, especially at a time in our lives when we could ill-afford the investment of money or energy.

The end came during an episode of fishing. In early summer I took Casey with me for an outing at the lake. I took my fishing gear and a leash, and we hiked a couple of miles through the underbrush to the shore, where I turned her loose and began to cast. Things went well until she ran underneath the pole at one point as I cast, and the line tangled in her tail and then her legs.

As I reached to catch and free her, she panicked, and began to roll herself up worse in the now very tangled line and then plunge into the brush, pretty nearly ruining my casting outfit. When I finally grasped her and held her to the ground, she began to bite me in her fear as I struggled to cut her loose with my knife. I had all but the last strand free when she got up and made a break for it, running full speed down a path.

Some slow calculation began in my mind as I watched the line go taut around her speeding legs, and then I felt as if I were in a Roadrunner cartoon when I realized that the other end of the line was still attached to something in the water. As I grabbed the line, the images came together at the same instant that my spinning lure leapt from the lake water towards me at high speed, burying the hook all the way through the knuckle of my fist.

The dog kept dancing and straining, and I couldn’t pull the hook back out. I finally cut the dog free, and then set about pushing the hook all the way through so that I could clip off the barbed end with my needle-nose pliers. It hurt.

I gathered my stuff, spoke very calmly to Casey, clipped her to the leash, and walked back to my truck, damn sore. Once we sat in the truck I looked over at her, thought back on all the trouble, contained the anger inside me, but then opened up the door, pushed out the startled dog, started up the truck, and drove the several miles home. Casey, I said, got “lost” while we were at the lake. My wife went along with my decision.

Two years have gone by, and we have now for my daughter a beautiful golden retriever, acquired as a young pup and carefully trained. She adores Baxter, and so do I. We are more ready for a dog now, and the inconvenience has faded. But at night when I put Caity to bed, and we say our prayers, she likes to name every one in our family and especially ask for a blessing for them. We always start with Daddy and Mommy, go on to name her brother and sister, and then Baxter and the old one, Ozzie, who is starting to smell bad but is still our dog.

Some nights Caity thinks to name her fish in the bowl as part of our essential family, though sometimes she forgets. The usual ritual is for me to say the names first, and then she repeats them in her prayer. There are nights though, when I think we’re done, and she stops her prayer and looks up at me and says, “And Casey, Dad; don’t forget Casey who was lost. She’s in our family, too.”

My daughter is not naïve. She knows something happened. She is just checking, and when I look into her eyes as she says this, I have to look away. I look away because of what I see in her face, which is fear. She knows that Casey was a bundle of love but she was very inconvenient and a real mess-maker.

And that is just what my daughter feels about herself. She, too, is wonderful to love, but can be very inconvenient, and makes, as I tell her, quite a mess. If, she seems to wonder, we could get rid of Casey whom we loved because she was a bother, then somewhere in Caity’s mind before she sleeps comes the thought that other things we say we love might also become expendable, when they become a bother.

That was my evil deed, to have put that possibility into her mind, and for that I suffer to see the flicker and the small shudder of her fear. She wonders what our love means, if we are capable of doing what we have done. Why am I telling you this? Because I have seen the same look in the eyes of another little girl my daughter’s age who is her friend.

I know the mother, a social activist committed to openness and frankness. We argue about a lot of things. I know that this girl’s mother was pregnant twice before she had her lovely daughter, Rachel. But the timing wasn’t right for her, and from neither of those pregnancies came a child. They were Rachel’s potential siblings, who were “lost” when someone left them behind.

Children learn, whether told directly or just from knowing, as they always will, who we really are. They learn today that personal fulfillment is the highest value, and that love for others, or even the sacred life of another, is not so sacred as it seems when it gets in our way.

I am ashamed of what I did to Casey, though I tell myself that someone probably took her in. I’m not sure what Caity will do with me when I get old, a bit of a bother, perhaps incontinent, though I cling to my hopes. Yet I have read that as ye sow, so shall ye reap. That is not good news in America today.

 

By

At the time this article was published, David W. Murray was a cultural anthropologist in the Washington, D.C. area.

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