The second clue came that weekend.
I sat at the sewing machine putting the trim on the Easter dresses I was making for myself and Mandy. Mandy was glued to my elbow and Jakes, as ever, was sprawled beneath the dining room table, keeping one eye on both of us, hoping, I supposed, that we would leave off the silly work we were doing and take him for a walk. Tripping over those hairy size 16 paws annoyed me every time I rose to check my work on the dining room table, but with Mandy there watching every move I made, I was forced to smile and make a joke of it. I did let out an occasional, "You fur-bag!" with a laugh, but Mandy's scowl told me she wasn't fooled.
“Look,” I finally said in response to one of her pouts, “we’ve made-up.” I stroked Jakes’ big doggy head to prove it. You'd think I would know better. The lumberjack of an animal promptly sprang to his feet and toppled into the sewing machine.
Performing a gymnastic maneuver that would have amazed the 2008 Olympic committee, I leapt across the room to rescue my Easter dress from being trampled! But I kept my cool. I righted the sewing machine, smiled at Mandy, and didn't kick Jakes...at least, not when Mandy was looking.
By three that afternoon, our dresses were done. Full of excitement, we called John in from the garage for a fashion show. Mandy twirled around like a ballerina while I did my best Madonna pose. Jakes yipped and ran about our ankles.
“Mom, our hats,” Mandy yelled, grabbing our Easter hats from the sideboard and smashing them on our heads. “Look at this, Daddy,” she called.
Part kangaroo, part jack-in-the-box, and all dog, Jakes lunged at Mandy’s head. With a grace I could hardly believe, he snatched her hat from her head, grabbing just the corner in his massive teeth. He wasn’t about to let that straw contraption sit on his girl’s head. No way! Then, off he fled into the living room, glancing behind to see if was up for this little game.
For three frantic moments the entire family ran around the coffee table after him, then skittered into the kitchen, and only stopped when Jakes reached the back door, which was firmly closed against him. In a split second, just a split second, before John or I could get to him, he made a doggie-decision and... dropped the hat to the floor. But, that was just a ruse.
Mandy squealed with laughter. “He’s eating it!” she said.
Indeed. He ate most of it. We were left with a bit of tattered brim, a torn slice of white ribbon, maybe two daisies. Matching Easter hats were a thing of the past. The result? None. No one cared, except me.
That was clue number three. Isn’t the saying, three strikes and you’re out? If only I’d paid more attention to sports as a girl.
Easter evening I hurried Mandy to bed at eight-thirty, after a Charlie Brown special on Channel 12. I waited for her funny little snore before tiptoeing into the kitchen. It was time to create "The Ultimate Easter basket." My sidekick was right there with me. Head coming up over the top of the table by now, he poked his nose into a pile of Easter grass and whined that pathetic whine which always got him his own way with Mandy and John.
I was in better humor by then, having forgotten the three telling clues. I threw him a marshmallow chick. He gulped it--without chewing, and begged for more.
“This is a special Easter basket,” I said. “This baby is going to be a big surprise for Mandy. I want her to be happy. What do you think?” I examined the full basket, turning it this way, that way, showing it off to my audience of one. "She's going to be a fantastic big sister, don't you think?" I asked. Jakes let out a little bark which sounded like, "Of course," so I threw him a jellybean.
At ten o’clock I took my ultimate creation in to John. With Jakes at our heels,we searched for the best hiding place. The windowsill was too small. The bookcase wasn't "hidey" enough. Finally, we tucked it behind the drapes next to John’s leather recliner.
At ten-ten, leaving Jakes to guard the house, as usual, John and I turned in.
“Everything’s going to be perfect,” I murmured, snuggling into John for a good night's sleep. (of course you know what's coming, don't you? everyone, everywhere would have known what was coming...JOHN should have known what was coming...but, I...I was clueless.)
Easter Day began at dawn. I was awakened by Mandy yanking at my sleeve. Jakes was by her side, breathing into my face. "You go ahead," I said, forcing myself awake--desperate to escape the doggy-breath enveloping my nostrils. John and I tried to keep up with her as she raced downstairs but...what 34 year old can keep up with an eight year old? Jakes had no such trouble, naturally. He barreled down the stairs ahead of all, barking, yelping, intent on being first.
But we three humans were hot on his heels. We tumbled down those steps in unison, burst into the livingroom, and . . . gasped.
The room was in chaos. Silver foil stretched from one end to the other, glittering like sequins in the early morning sun. Bits and pieces of yellow were scattered over the furniture-- remanants of the gigantic bow I had put on the handle of Mandy's Easter basket. Too stunned to take it all in, none of us knew what to do, or say. The Easter basket itself, testament to the havoc wreaked upon it, sat squarely in the middle of the floor, overturned, completely empty, chewed to some unrecognizable form.
Someone--someTHING--had ruined my marvelous creation! It was Jakes! Jakes, who, even as we held our hands to our mouths in dismay, sat happily at my feet, tongue dripping from that cavernous mouth, tail brushing back and forth over the carpet, strings of Easter grass trailing from his ears.
“This is the last straw,” I gritted to John. “The last straw!”
My voice must have frightened Jakes. His feathery tail went limp, his mouth slammed shut, he turned his head up, watching me with a worried look on his face. John grabbed his collar and led him away, out of my sight, out to his pen in the backyard.
Arms limp at our sides, Mandy and I stood there, like statues, in that awful room. Looking out the back bay window, I watched three perky robins scatter to cloudless skies. John and Jakes emerged from the garage. Jakes gave a short wag of that blond tail, sending John a pleading look from sad eyes, but John knew better. He ushered Jakes into the pen and locked it behind him. Before turning away, I watched him poke a few fingers through the chickenwire to scratch that hairy head.
“Maybe there’s some left,” Mandy said. She fell to her knees and began searching for candy beneath the chairs and tables. She retrieved a pack of gum from under the sofa, but that was all she could find. Everything else had been devoured, everything except the little wind-up chick that now wobbled on unsteady legs and opened its beak to emit silence instead of the squeak it was supposed to give. The truly amazing part was that the room was littered with candy wrappers. Jakes had managed to eat the candy, but leave the wrappers.
“How could he do this?” I muttered under my breath, stooping to pick up the scraps one at a time. I could see him enjoying himself; chomping to his heart’s delight. How he managed to separate the candy from its wrappers would forever be a mystery, and not something I cared to ponder at the time. I wrapped my anger about me like a scratchy wool sweater and repeated, over and over, “This is unforgivable. He’s got to go. That’s all. He’s got to go.”
Mandy settled in to watch cartoons so I could join John in the kitchen. John was keeping himself busy making coffee. The sun hadn’t found that corner of the house yet; the cold linoleum shocked my bare feet. I thought fleetingly of going upstairs to get my slippers but I wanted to feel the cold... to let the uncomfortable sensation consume me. So, I stood by the refrigerator and listened to the glub-glub-glub of the coffeepot perking.
“Are you happy?” I finally said.
John made elaborate work out of pouring two cups of black coffee. I could see into Jakes' dog pen through the window behind John. Jakes was pacing like a nervous bull, back and forth, back and forth, eyes checking the garage door to see if he was to be rescued soon. I watched him flop to the ground, bounce his head between his paws and stare, hard, at the house. His look seemed contrite and morose. But, I knew better. I looked away.
John passed me my coffee. His fingers brushed my wrist. “He’s only a dog,” he said, as if that made it all right.
“Yes,” I nodded, “a dog that ate my damask tablecloth in April last year, and dug holes in the yard all summer. In December, he knocked the Christmas tree down. In February he got loose and Mandy was frantic. In March the paper boy was only trying to put the evening paper on the front porch, and Jakes almost took a piece out of his leg!”
John sipped his coffee in silence.
“None of that matters, compared to this,” I said. I couldn’t stop talking. I had to make sure John knew how devastating this was. “This is it. I don’t want him here when the new baby comes.”
Before I could go on, and I could have gone on, and on, and on, Mandy came sailing into the kitchen demanding breakfast. I gave my anger over to tradition--a tradition that dictated John make Easter pancakes. But the spirit of the day was ruined, for me. While John whipped up the pancakes with a flourish, and even made a happy face on Mandy’s stack with the squeeze jelly, then sprayed whipped creme all over it, I could only concentrate on how I was going to tell her our news when she hadn’t been properly prepared with a marvelous Easter basket full of surprises.
“I can’t eat that,” she pushed the plate of pancakes across the table, making a Shirley Temple face. “Give it to Jakes, Daddy. He’ll eat it. Jakes eats everything!”
And she and John filled the cold kitchen with warm laughter.
“Not for long,” I murmured, but no one was listening to me.
After church, things took a turn for the worse.
I would have left Jakes and his thick red leftover winter insulation in that backyard pen until midnight, but Mandy wouldn’t have it.
“This is Easter,” she insisted. “We can’t leave him outside all day!”
A staring contest, a test of wills, I suppose. Mother and daughter, each determined to do what was right. Each determined to have her way. Adult against child. Innocence against...what? Weakness? Innocence won, in short order, when I finally gave in. Flashing Mandy the OK sign, John ran out to release the prisoner from his cell. Why the ex-con chose to drag his furry body into the kitchen and flop down at my feet as if he belonged there, I will never understand. Why didn’t he go into the livingroom with John and Mandy?
“Go away,” I said, nudging him with my foot. “Can’t you tell when you’re not wanted?” But he only swung that offensive tail back and forth at my ankles and whined that doggy whine.
At two o’clock, my parents arrived for a hot dinner of baked ham and sweet potatoes. They brought Mandy a small basket filled with M&Ms and jellybeans. Jakes was given a rawhide bone. Mandy scurried off to her room to sneak some goodies before dinner, with Jakes trotting alongside, gnawing on his bone with such fierceness, the rumbling sound it created sounded like a freight train on shaky tracks.
Dinner was when I had planned on making my announcement. Now, I didn't know what to do, what to say, how to even begin. John and Mandy had no such problems. Almost before the Amen, they began competing with each other in the telling of "the story of the empty Easter basket."
“It was supposed to be the Ultimate Easter basket,” I said. No one heard me.
When John stopped for a breath, I lifted my head and said, as loud as I could, “We’re getting rid of Jakes.”
The room went quiet.
“Joanne,” John said, but my daggered glare silenced him.
All eyes turned to the topic, the monster lying on the threshold between us and the kitchen, sides heaving in sleep. Our scrutiny shook him awake. He sat up, lifted his massive head and chest off of the floor, fixed those wide eyes on my face, and blinked, just once.
“He says he’s sorry,” John said.
My mother and father, the same mother and father who would go pale and clutch their throats every time I asked for a pet as a child, bobbed their heads up and down in unison. My daughter, who looked beautiful in her new dress, even without her hat, gave me a soft look and a sigh.
“I don’t care if he is sorry,” I said. “He’s got to go. Excuse me. I forgot the Easter bread.”
I busied myself in the kitchen to avoid their accusing stares. But I could hear them whispering.
“Daddy, we can’t give Jakes away,” from Mandy.
“John, are you going to do it? Give the dog up?” from my mother and father.
"Now everyone, stay calm. Trust me. Jakes will take care of everything,” from John.
Jakes! Jakes, Jakes! He was stealing the whole day from me. And here he was again, guarding my back.
“We’ll find you a good home,” I assured him.
He smiled that crooked Golden Retriever smile.
“Somewhere in the country. You can chase rabbits.”
He thumped his tail against the refrigerator.
“On a farm. You can probably have a friend. Maybe a girl friend.”
He cocked his head to the left.
I carried the Easter bread, sliced and steaming, to the table.
“Mommy,” Mandy said, “I bet Jakes thought the Easter basket was for him. He thinks everything on the floor is his.”
For a moment, the world stopped. I felt my blood stop flowing. My face froze. I clamped my mouth shut, while my body stiffened in realization. Mandy's words echoed over and over in my brain, "Mommy, I bet Jakes thought the Easter basket was for him. He thinks everything on the floor is his."
How could I have forgotten that Jakes owns the floor! His food and water dishes are on the floor, food that falls there is his to gobble up, Mandy and John routinely throw popcorn to the floor for him. As the realization hit, harder and harder with each passing second, my blood began to flow again. I could feel it flood my face until I was sure I looked like a raging fire engine.
It was true. Mandy was right. Jakes took possession of the Easter basket because it was in his territory.
It wasn’t fair. How could I be the one at fault? I looked down at the gargantuan creature who, even now, was wagging his tail happily at me, red tongue dripping in anticipation, eyes focused on the Easter bread, and I thought, You don’t play fair, Jakes.
“Next year,” I said, gathering my wits and glancing around the table with a smug grin, “we’ll just have to have an Easter basket for Mandy, Jakes…and," meeting John's eyes, "the new baby.”
Mandy squealed and leaped into my arms. My parents hurried around the table to congratulate me with hugs. I was back in control. It felt good.
Honestly, did he think I hadn't learn anything from this?
“Jakes," I said. "Want a treat?"