The house was shrouded in fur yesterday so I pulled out the vacuum and shooed Chester onto the balcony where he could loll in the sun. Imagine my surprise when I found an envelope stuffed beneath the sofa cushions where he likes to nap. Scrawled on the outside it said, “Just in case I ever get bitten by a rattlesnake you should read this.” Of course I couldn’t wait for a day like that, one I hope will never come, so I tore the envelope open immediately.
Who knew Chester could write a letter? It took me a while to recognize the italicized lines were poached from Hamlet. It remains a mystery how that dog learned Shakespeare.
To prove my sense of decorum is as intact as my facile ears and handsome nose, and to assure you of my faith in full recovery, I insist you read this in that lovely Laurence Olivier playing Hamlet voice you always attribute to me.
To be a dog, or not to be.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
the Ticks and Fangs of outrageous Wilderness
Or to take arms against a sea of boredom
And by opposing, maybe end me —
There, there, now, you mustn’t cry. Do stop.
Certainly I will recover from this dreadful rattlesnake bite with all due gratefulness for your exquisite emergency first aid procedures and your superior foresight in vaccinating me against the wicked venom even though I grumbled about that shot at the time.
You mustn’t blame yourself my dear. It was I wasn’t it? It was my maddening insistence upon chasing those rabbits and quail and roadrunners through scrub and brush, over hill and dale and burying my nose in bush for the thrill of the flush. Oh! Even now I feel the wind in my fur and the pebbles digging into the soft spots of my paw pads and the thrill, the thrill, the thrill of the hunt! It’s utterly breathtaking sport, dear Lady. You know it was the thing I loved, not above you of course, but more than dinner.
We knew the risks.
Frailty, thy name is woman did not apply to you. Nay, you’d put on those lovely boots which heralded freedom, sunshine and adventure. Every single day as you snapped me onto that miserable leash you stroked my head in the kindest way possible and reminded me that this, this chain was for my own good. And then, dear lady we both knew your fine understanding of the nature of the canine spirit would triumph and though you vowed to rein me in you could not, nay you would not deprive this dog his pride and pure unbridled bliss.
Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely
The pangs of despised love, the laws delay
I don’t blame you much for that wretched Rattlesnake Aversion Training Class though it did me no good for who might see a snake coiled silent out of sight? Remember that poor family we met at class who told of Huck the Black Retriever bitten right upon the nose in his own front yard? You murmured, “if it could happen in the front yard it could happen anywhere” and I thumped my tail on the tile and said, Yes! Yes! I’ll take my chances. Yes!
…To die, to sleep–
No more–and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to.
I remember like yesterday the day I heard you on the phone with your mother right after spring’s first rattler surprised us on the road, the road! where you said we’d be safer. You said, “Geez, Mom, I may as well hike. Chester loves the trail and I hate to squelch the essence of his dogginess.” My heart leapt! Lady. The pith and marrow of my essence you do most certainly comprehend.
…nature cannot choose his origin and I, my Lady, was bred and born a dog with all the instincts and needs therein.
Did I ever thank you for our post hike custom? Do you know how much I love to lie upon my back as you croon and murmur pulling ticks and cactus quills from my belly and disentangle foxtails from my fur? Life would have been easier for you, wouldn’t it, if I were but a sidewalk pet, a lap dog, a dullard. Do you ever wish you’d never brought me home?
I do so hope you’ll never need to read this and for that I would be most grateful, for myself, tis true, but also for you dear Lady. Do you know I worry about you too when I see you pay no mind to where you step as you photograph the deer across our path or stoop to loosen me from branches, low and dense.
Why is there no rattlesnake vaccine for humans?
Are you feeling any better yet, dear Lady? I know that cheering you is one of my most special attributes. Surely I’ll be better soon. But one thing troubles me when that time comes.
Be all my sins remembered.
Will you let me still bound free, as that is all I wish for?
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart
With undying love,
Chesterfield Henry Huggins Keefe
I stuffed the note back into its envelope and scratched my head. I guess you never really know what a dog is thinking behind all that silence and wiggle.