Eric sat in the low, overstuffed, green chair in the golden afternoon shadows of a pretty spring day. Jilly’s living room was still and quiet, but for an occasional murmured outburst that would escape from inside her room, as she spoke on the telephone. Eric inferred traces of concern and alarm in the young woman’s voice, though he could not make out her words.
He did not know Jilly Bing that well. Fred had brought over to the house a time or two after the Chopus affair. And there had been the recent adventure with the firemen. But he was attracted to her benign eccentricity, her child-like beauty—and, since that incident, he had since spent with her nearly every free hour.
Jilly’s angry whispered shouts filtered from behind the closed door to her bedroom. Her high-pitched adamant pronouncements echoed softly through the tiny house she shared with two other co-eds. Eric had no idea as to with whom she was speaking, nor the context under which her wrath had been incurred.
He gawked in ennui out the window at the tall grass growing in the yard. Jilly preferred not to cut the grass, but rather, to “keep it natural.” The unseasonably warm spring had produced a lush thicket of lawn three feet high.
It green waved through the window as Eric absently watched, trying not to notice Jilly’s increasing agitation. His right leg tittered spasmodically. With his hands, he nervously tapped out a drum patter on the vibrating limb.
Finally, Jilly emerged from her room, fuming in a way that seemed substantially younger than her twenty years. Her big eyes roiled in rivers of blue, narrowing to rapids rushing across her face.
“She is such a moron!” Jilly pouted, “I told her about that guy Bob whatever his name is. I told her he was a creep. But she thought he was so fucking cute.”
Eric quizzically gazed at Jilly’s silly rage. He raised his hands above his head, shaking them shamanistically.
“What are you doing?” she demanded. “You’re crazy. I’m serious! She’s stuck at some motel over there. He just left her there. And she’s all spaced out—she’s on something. I don’t know what.”
Attempting to gather the gist of Jilly’s rambling dither, Eric squinted up at her as she bobbed before his eyes. He winced at her tempest, the indignant storm of her disdain. But he liked the way she set her mouth when she was mad. Her anger caused a wrinkled dimple to appear across her upper lip, which very much appealed to him. He smiled absentmindedly at the depth of her rancor and spleen.
“The dipshit. I’m supposed to go get her. Who do you know with a car? Do you think Fred would let you borrow his truck so we could go get her?”
“Go get who?” Eric, startled, asked.
“My cousin!” Jilly replied, punctuating her answer with a stomp of her foot.
“So what’s going on?”
“Haven’t you been listening to me? My dipshit cousin, Renee, took off with that Bob creep and now she’s stranded at some motel.”
Eric asked where, attempting to put the pieces together.
“Lincoln City!” Jilly glared at him impatiently. “Do you think Fred’ll let us borrow his truck? I’ve got to go get her. I’m afraid she’s going to flip out. I don’t think Karen will let me borrow Emily. I don’t think Emily could make it to the coast anyway,” Jilly rattled. But then her face fell soft and sincere. “She’s a sick car.”
With bemused fondness, Eric observed the girl. He was in a foggy daze comprised of spring and sun and the dewy newness of love for the fair femme before him—who was hugging herself and shivering, though the temperature hovered near ninety.
“Eric,” she delved, “are you gonna help me or what? Hello Eric? Ground control to Major Tom?”
Eric focused on the figure waving a hand in front of his face.
“Are you there?”
“Oh yeah, sure, ” he said, shaking free of his reverie… “I guess I could give him a call and see what he says,” mumbled Eric, grabbing at the last thread of the conversation he had retained.
“Yeah, call Fred,” Jilly chided, hoping to instill in Eric a sense of urgency.
Eric began to mobilize. He considered his friend Fred, the big military green Dodge panel truck, the drive to Lincoln City, Renee: the stranded space case on the coast. Jilly.
“Yeah, uh, I guess I could call him. Why don’t you let me use the phone?”
Jilly ran to her room like an unleashed puppy, bounding to fetch the means for her cousin’s retrieval. She quickly returned with the phone. Handing it to Eric, she exhorted.
“Here. Call Fred. We’re on a rescue mission.”
Eric called his friend, who was less than enthusiastic about the prospect of lending his truck for the purposes of pursuing a lunatic in Lincoln City. Eric leveraged Fred with the guilt of favors past. Ultimately, Fred relented.
“Well, we got the truck.” Eric muttered somewhat victoriously. “Fred says we’ll have to get gas—and he needs it by first thing in the morning, so we’ll have to hustle.”
Jilly engaged Eric admiringly. “Well, I’ll be ready in a couple of minutes. I just need to get my sweater and a couple of things.” She rushed off to her room in a flurry of nervous energy.
Eric shouted after her. “Hey Jilly, I’ll go get the truck from Fred. I’ll be back in a couple of minutes.”
“Okay,” she called back. “Hurry!” Jilly sprinted back out to the living room. “Eric?” She yelled, thinking he had left. “Oh, you’re still here. Um,” she said sheepishly, “thank you.”
He smiled back at her, utterly smitten, then ran down to the house he shared with Fred and the others.
Eric reappeared with the big, boxy panel truck, to find Jilly standing in the high grass in front of her house. She hurriedly climbed into the cab, slamming the door with a clank of authority.
Eric revved the engine and put the truck into gear. They wheeled through the small town of Monmouth, passing the tiny college campus, enroute to the highway to the coast.
Three or four miles out of town, driving in silence, Eric glanced down at the gas gauge—the red indicator of which teetered ominously just above the E.
“Jeez, Jilly! We’ve got to get some gas. Fast. We’re almost out. We’d better head for Dallas or turn around.
Annoyed at the likelihood of further delay, a gray cloud drizzled in Jilly’s eyes. “Well either way is out of the way. Let’s go to Dallas. At least it’s in the right direction.”
Aiming the truck toward Dallas, which lay five miles away, Eric looked over at Jilly, who was passively searching the hilly horizon—as if, by chance, she could spot her cousin on the other side of the Coast Range.
In an attempt at reassurance, Eric said “This won’t take long. We should be able to make the coast in an hour or so. What time is it now?”
“Four-thirty,” she answered, still scanning the skyline. “I hope we can make it by six. Renee said they’re going to kick her out of the motel by six—and she doesn’t know Oregon at all. She’s only been up from Oxnard for about three weeks.”
Eric stifled several questions, certain that Jilly’s responses would only confuse him all the more. He was content in knowing that he was helping her and that was his only real concern. To him, the quest was secondary to the fact that they were sharing the escapade together.
Dallas bore neither the antique charm nor rural sophistication of Monmouth. For while the two towns were located a mere ten miles apart, Monmouth sported a college to justify its presence among the rolling green hills of the Willamette Valley. Dallas could claim no such fame. It was a slow, dusty mill town—an island in a twilit sea of better years, far decades in the past. Time had quit turning in Dallas. The inhabitants seemed like flesh ghosts, haunting a present that refused to recede into history.
As they entered the town, Eric spotted a Texaco star above an old-fashioned, cream-yellow stucco gas station, a few blocks down Main Street. He pulled the truck up to a pump and hopped from the cab. He inspected an awkwardly scrawled sign in the window of the station office. FiVE CaNs of Soup FrEE WiTH FiLL up. Eric screwed up his face in wry disbelief. Free food for gas? His mind dawdled on the absurd aspects of the promotion.
Jilly exited from the passenger’s side with agitated haste, leaving the door wide open. Karl, owner and operator of Karl May’s Texaco appeared from the garage bay wiping the grease from his hands with a red rag. He approached the couple. “Fillerup?” He inquired hopefully. “We’ll let you have five cans of soup with a fillup.”
Eric surveyed the pyramid of Cambell’s soup cans neatly stacked upon a shelf mounted on the office wall. “No,” he replied, chuckling, “how about seven dollars’ worth of regular.”
Dutifully Karl nodded, the elongated bill of his oddly cocked Texaco-green baseball cap flapping like a furious wing in the warm spring wind. He grabbed the gas nozzle from the pump, wound the meter to zeroes and, with great agility, unscrewed the truck’s gas cap. He squeezed the trigger and the gas began to run. Eric wandered toward the office door, curious as to the varieties of soup being offered. Jilly followed a few steps behind, aimlessly kicking pebbles across the asphalt of the station lot.
As he peered into the cluttered office, a lithe and pretty, shiny black dog—past puppyhood, but still gangly, sprung up at him as if she had regained a long-lost friend. Jumping up, she splayed her front paws across Eric’s waist, licking his belt buckle in earnest affection. Eric danced in the doorway with the comely young creature, gazing into her almond brown eyes. Gingerly he grabbed the hound’s pleading limbs and set her down. “Hey, Jilly. Check out this dog. It’s really a nice one.”
Kneeling, Jilly petted her intently. “Yeah, it’s a nice dog,” she sang, noting her gender. She said, “She’s a boo-boo girl, yeah.” Jilly massaged the lonely dog’s velvet-soft, tufted ears, eliciting great snoring grunts of pleasure from the prostrate animal.
“Oh she’s such a lovie, Eric. I always wanted a dog, but we could never have one. My dad told us we had to move too much to have one.” She patted a smooth pink belly, which induced the dog’s hind leg into convulsive gyrations. “Yeah, she’s a little boo-boo girl and I love her. Yes I do.” Submissively, Boo Boo Girl continued to gurgle and gush ecstatically. “Oh I wish I could have a dog like you Boo Boo girl.” The little Lab licked her hand profusely.
Noticing that Karl had finished up at the pump, Eric walked behind the truck to the driver’s side and hiked himself in, fishing for his wallet on the seat. He closed the door as Karl appeared. “That’ll be seven dollars even sir. Oh say, let me getcher windshield for ya’.” Handing over the cash, Eric started to protest any further delay. But he looked over his shoulder to see Jilly still spoiling the limp black pooch on the office floor. He decided to let Karl do his deed—glad to have Jilly’s anxiety abated, if only temporarily.
As Karl expertly squeegeed the windshield, Jilly stood up in the doorway. The shiny black canine leapt up from the floor and scampered across the asphalt toward the truck, leaping up through the open passenger door onto the seat next to Eric, placing her paw lovingly on his shoulder. He gazed into her adoring brown eyes. She smiled back, coyly, grunting in devotion.
“Well…!” Karl exclaimed, “kinda looks like you found yerself a dog!”
Confused, Eric probed, “What do you mean? Isn’t she yours? I thought she must be your dog.”
“Aw, naw…” Karl countered. “Some family from up around British Columbia somewheres left her behind a coupla weeks ago. Never came back for her. Poor thing. Why she’s a good dog. I didn’t have the heart to take her to the pound. But she does get in the way around here. And I’m runnin’ outta vegetable beef and chicken noodle soup. They’re the only ones she’ll eat. She doesn’t like minestrone or cream of asparagus… or tomato.
“You’ve been feeding her soup?” Eric incredulously inquired.
“Yeah I didn’t want to spend no money on her. It’s hard enough to make ends meet around here. Hell, Texaco gives me the soup. It’s some kinda deala theirs. So wha’d’ya say? You want her?”
Jilly closed the door behind her as she hopped into the truck. “What’s he want to know?”
“Oh he says we can have the dog.”
“Really?” Jilly squealed, disbelieving.
“Yes ma’am,” Karl replied. “Hell, I’ll even throw in ten cans of soup if you take her. I’d feel better knowin’ she had a good home.”
“Eric can I keep her? Can we take her with us? Look at her.” She sensuously kneaded the dog’s coat. “I’ve wanted a dog for so long. Oh please, Eric. Please.” Jilly purred coquettishly. Eric looked into the pleading blue currents of Jilly’s eyes, gazed at the dog’s glossy black, perfect head and turned to meet Karl’s expectant grin.
“Yeah. Okay. What the hell? Sure.” Eric waved, shrugging. “But no cream of asparagus. Okay?”
Karl tipped his green cap amiably and hurried into the office to collect the cans of soup. Jilly hugged the happy drooling mutt, which slurped an appreciative tongue toward her ear. Eric stared helplessly through the spotless windshield at the orange afternoon sky.
“Oh I just love her, Eric. She’s such a lovie,” Jilly cooed.
Karl brought the couple a sack filled with cans of soup. “There ya go,” he said cheerily,” that should keep all a ya in food for days.”
Eric smiled dubiously and nodded his head, starting the truck. Karl waved at the three of them as they drove away.
“What should we name her, Eric?” Jilly wondered. “We need a good name.”
“How about Maria?” he sincerely rejoined.
“Maria? What kind of name is that for a dog? Maria.”
“Oh, I was thinking of Westside Story. You know, ‘I just met a girl named Ma-ree-ya'” Eric warbled.
“Oh how dumb,” Jilly retorted. Dogs know when they have dumb names, you know. You can see it in their eyes. Look at Chopus. No, she needs an important name.” In deep deliberation, Jilly softly stroked the panting dog. “I know– how about Gypsy?”
“Gypsy’s a pretty good name,actually,” Eric conceded.
“Yeah, Gypsy.” Jilly confirmed. “Because she’s traveled all over the world.” She looked at the dog approvingly “Yeah, Gypsy, that’s a good name for you isn’t it little BooBoo Bear?”
In complete surrender, the dog fell into Jilly’s lap, pawing the air erratically. Smiling.
Renee was standing on Highway 101 next to the sandy parking lot of the Surf’s End Motel in Lincoln City. Her long, curly brown hair was swept into swirls by the insistent sea breeze. A formless olive shift, like sea grass played in waves around her young and supple feminine form. Though cars were whizzing past her, she seemed unaware—undistracted, searching Highway 101 North for a vehicle. She did not know what sort of vehicle. But Renee maintained a solemn vigil, waiting for the car that contained her cousin Jilly: oblivious to any other aspect of the world.
Eventually a dark green truck shone in the purple dusk. Renee glimpsed the flash of Jilly’s chilly blue eyes and saw a look of fright wash across her motile face. Eric eased the truck to the side of the highway, while Jilly scrambled over the front seat to the rear of the van, with Gypsy right behind her.
Jilly opened the side door for her cousin—who was in a bewildered daze. Gypsy, protective, barked fiercely at the frazzled girl. But Renee showed no reaction to the dog, only looked at her cousin warily, tears welling in her eyes. Jilly helped Renee into the van. Gypsy growled briefly, then began to lick extravagantly at the two of them, abundantly glad to welcome yet another member into the widening circle of her new family.
Removing her gray, cardigan sweater, Jilly placed it around her cousin’s shaking shoulders. Renee began to cry—telling her tale, as Eric turned the truck around, heading back the way he had come. It was not long before Renee had fallen asleep, exhausted by an acid trip, Bob’s trip and the trip of being an eighteen year-old girl alone and on her own in a very trippy world.
After a time, Jilly and Gypsy clamored back into the front seat, as Eric endured the darkening roadway ribboning ahead, beyond the reach of the old truck’s headlights. Gypsy bathed Eric’s ear and cheek with her tongue, daintily placing her paw upon his shoulder, wheezing blissfully.
“Thank god she went to sleep,” Jilly sighed. “She’s fried. That fucking Bob is a basketcase maker.”
“A what?” Eric asked.
“A basketcase maker. He makes basket cases of stupid girls like Renee. He feeds them a line. Gives them drugs and then fucks with their heads—along with everything else. Then he takes off. What an asshole!” Defensively, Jilly folded her arms in skilled consternation.
“You seem to know a lot about this Bob guy,” Eric surmised. “What’s the deal? Are you one of his victims too? Did he make you a basketcase?”
Jilly sank in the seat, becoming very small within herself. She sat quiet, unwilling to respond to Eric’s query.
“Oh, I see.” Eric nodded.
Silence befell the three of them there, in the front seat of the big green truck.
“Shit,” Jilly unexpectedly intoned. “Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit!” she continued, more insistent at each expletive
“Shit what?” Eric wondered cautiously.
“Oh… you’re not going to like this.”
“What? Are you pregnant with Bob’s baby? Are you afraid the kid’ll have a tail?” He guessed.
“No,” Jilly shook her head. “No Eric, it’s worse than that. I can’t keep Gypsy. I just remembered my landlord told us we couldn’t have any more dogs. He had a cow about Chopus, till I told him that she caught tons of mice that were in his house. And she’s so small, she doesn’t really count as a dog.” She became more vehement, “but he’ll never let us have a regular dog. Shit!” She yelled.
“What is it?” Renee mumbled groggily from the back. “What’sa matter?”
“Nothing. Nothing, Renee.” Jilly whispered, annoyed. “Go back to sleep, for god’s sake.”
Renee’s head fell back upon the floor of the van with a blunted thump.
“Well, what’re we going to do with Gypsy?” Eric asked with honest anxiety.
Jilly looked at him wide-eyed, as innocently as she could muster. “Would you take her? Then I could see her everyday.”
Eric had not considered owning a dog until that moment. Ever since the incident with Jesus—he was unsure he could bear to lose another dog. He tried to weigh the advantages and disadvantages, but he felt too pressured to clearly undertake the assignment.
Eric pondered the starry Oregon night sky. He knew he would not say no to Jilly, no matter what she asked. So, he said.
“Yeah. Sure. I’ll take her.” He gently patted the furry black ball beside him. “She is a good dog. Yeah, I’ll take her.”
Jilly squeezed Gypsy between herself and Eric, as she hugged his neck and kissed his cheek.
“You’re so sweet,” she said. “You’re such a prince. But she’ll always be my dog, right?”
“Oh right. Sure, Jilly. She’ll always be your dog,” he reassured. But as the little lights of Monmouth shone ahead through the windshield, Eric knew in his heart that Gypsy would never again belong to another—she would be his dog, forever more.
©SP Clarke 1988