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Third Place: Freedom for a Boy and His Dog

By Anne Penniston Grunsted

Bobby is exhausted. First grade is rough. From the time he got out of bed, a mama or a teacher has been giving him instructions.

“Hang up your coat.”

“Look at your book.”

“Listen.”

Someone is always telling him to listen.  And he tries, he really does, but a boy can only focus for so long before feeling overwhelmed.  Sometimes to give himself a break he tunes out all the talking by issuing a flat moan, a seven year old yogi searching for inner balance. When balance eludes him, he can get so frustrated that he drops to the ground in defiance, assuring himself a break by refusing to move.

Bobby lives in a world where adults talk to him but he struggles to talk back. When his mama picks him up from school and asks about his day, he understands the question but between problems finding the right words and forming the correct sounds, he can’t answer verbally. So instead he smiles at her, adjusting the glasses that slide from his flat nose, momentarily scooping his tongue back from where it protrudes over his bottom lip, so he can grin out his satisfaction of the day.

Although really, he grins even if his day has been bad, because he knows the best part of life is waiting for him in the car.

Butter is excited waiting for his boy. His day up until now has been uneventful – a walk, a nap, time spent chewing through his dog toys. His mama is always busy, typing away on her computer and only occasionally stopping to pet his head and call him a good boy.

He loves the praise and wishes there were more “good boys” and less nagging. All day she is telling him what to do.

“Potty here.”

“Sit.”

“Leave It.”

He does his best to please her, but doesn’t understand why she wants all these things from him. It makes no puppy sense.

Only Bobby makes sense. When the boy and mama emerge from school, the yellow labrador sits up tall in the car, tail wagging as Bobby approaches. When the car door opens he is there, licking Bobby’s face while Bobby giggles out his name.

“Butter, Butter.” That word Bobby has practiced to perfection.

The car starts and mama is at it again. “Sit down Butter.”

Butter curls against Bobby’s leg as the boy stares into his eyes, petting his head.

When they get home, Bobby comes alive, running laps through the house with Butter right behind. The boy laughs with glee and Butter’s tail wags so vigorously every tchotchke in the house is threatened.

When they are tired, the collapse together on the couch. Bobby drapes himself on top of Butter, like two puppies in a basket.  Butter occasionally turns his head to lick the boy but for the most part they breathe into one another, happy, understood, nobody giving directions.

That’s freedom for a boy and his dog.

(Third Place Winner of the 2015 Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Contest)

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