It was so hard not to laugh at a time like this! He was trying his best not to, he really was. After all, one never knew when his own number would come up, and shouldn’t one try to prepare himself and steel his mind in advance for the upcoming disaster looming on his own horizon?
But he just couldn’t help it. No thinking person looking at Fluffy could help himself. No matter how much sympathy he might somehow be able to force himself to dredge up on her behalf.
Poor Fluffy! If only she could have seen herself! Perhaps she would have been laughing, too. But over the years, Fluffy had demonstrated – a little too well, if you asked Cedric—that she honestly did not know what a mirror was for, much less how to use one to her advantage.
Ok. Breathe deep, fella, he told himself. It’s harder to laugh when you’re concentrating on your breathing. Isn’t it?
Cedric thought he heard a tell-tale growl. Was that directed at him? Sneaking a quick peek around the corner, he could tell that it was not. That, at least, was good news.
But this laughter bubbling up in his throat certainly was not! If he was very careful and deliberate, he might be able to disguise the laugh as a completely innocent coughing spasm.
Which THE MOMMY and THE BROTHER both heard. At the same time, they said, “Oh, Cedric, are you all right?”
He could practically feel their sympathy oozing soothingly all over his tired muscles and bones. Without his overt permission, a smile started stretching its way across his face.
The smile disappeared as soon as Fluffy’s eyes met his. And he heard that growl again. And this time it was directed at him. Fluffy was frowning the biggest frown in her arsenal. Which was a little too big for Cedric’s liking.
Trying to distance herself a little—even just a little bit—from THE MOMMY, Fluffy glared once more at him. She could hardly look more miserable. She had probably never been this miserable, or even close to it, at any time in her life.
Earlier that day, their people had rushed out of the big rolling thing outside and through the front door, smiling and dropping packages all over the kitchen table and on the couch, while THE MOMMY was pointing out one of her latest shopping conquests: an innocent-looking blue plastic rectangle with little spikes coming out of it.
Eagerly, Cedric and Fluffy had run up to greet everyone, only to hear the words that put the fear of God into every canine: “We got you a NEW DOG BRUSH! Y’all are going to look so great when we get finished with you!”
Suddenly, Cedric remembered the taxes he had started working on last week. Was it too late to get back to that? Surely, dealing with that miserable Hammie had to be better than to be brushed all over with this new torture tool.
He ran to the back door.
Then to the kitchen window.
No Hammie in sight! And on a day when Cedric would have gladly jumped through any of that filthy squirrel’s unreasonable hoops. Just to get away from that brushing.
If past trends were any indication of the future laid out for him and his unfortunate sister-dog, after a good, thorough, scalp-tingling, gut-wrenching, all-over hair-brushing, complete with the horrifying mountains of loose hair that THE MOMMY was always threatening to “knit into a sweater” but never did (that he knew of), the much feared and dreaded BATH-TIME was next!
Cedric quickly ran to his calendar/appointment book to see if he knew anyone who might be in need of a little last-minute chauffeurial service. Or perhaps some babysitting. On a night like tonight, feeling a bit expansive, Cedric told himself he’d gladly work for free. All night, if necessary.
But all his close friends were either out of town, or had pressing business he knew he couldn’t disturb. He might as well go back and see what was happening to Fluffy. Keeping his eyes low, he slunk back down the hall, toward the drama that began with his sister-dog, but would probably end with him. He sighed heavily.
Lord Jesus, he prayed in his heart, you have to help me get through this. I just don’t know how I’m going to get through this without your help!
“What’s all this?” he heard from a booming voice that nearly knocked him out of his skin. When had THE DADDY come sneaking up on him like that?
THE DADDY was staring at something, and Cedric, curious, decided to follow his eyes to see what was so interesting. Just as he suspected, there was a new, and growing, mountain of black and silver hair on the floor.
“Did all of that come off of Fluffy?” THE DADDY was asking. “She doesn’t look quite as fluffy as I remember.”
THE MOMMY and THE BROTHER both nodded, while Fluffy whimpered, eyeing the DADDY carefully to see if anything even remotely sympathetic might be directed her way.
It was. THE DADDY was saying, “Oh, no! Fluffy, you poor sweet thing! How could they do this to you?”
Then to the people he continued, “Aren’t y’all just about done here? I’m not sure how much more Fluffy can take.”
Fluffy sighed a contented sigh, able, for now, to take just a few more minutes of this “beauty treatment” if this was going to be the reward.
THE MOMMY answered, “I think we’re almost finished. In a minute or two, Lacey and Damien can go ahead and hose her down.”
Cedric did, too. Maybe coming back here had been a mistake. Was it too late to fix it? Quietly he contemplated how inconspicuously a large, handsome fellow such as himself might work himself backwards out of the room without drawing too much attention. Because BATH-TIME was not limited to one victim. Oh, no! If one must be clean, we all must be clean together, need it or not!
Sniffing the air, Cedric decided that a good, cleansing bath might do Fluffy some good. She was beginning to smell bad, even to other dogs with an open-minded, generous soul like him. Cedric felt for her. Yet, not enough to try to save her. If anything, Fluffy’s BATH-TIME would save him. Not only by making Fluffy smell better. But also by buying him some time to work himself up into a BATH-TIME frame of resignation in his mind.
As THE SISTER and THE BROTHER cornered the now-escaping Fluffy, then hoisted her into their arms for the short trip down the hall, Cedric caught their eyes and almost nodded. He thought he might have quelled the urge before it took control.
Now, where could he go where Fluffy’s whimpers would be less alarming to his sensitive ears?
The best place he knew was the master suite at the back of the house. If THE DADDY was not back there – and if no one was looking – that lovely large bed might be all his. Maybe, if he was lucky, he could even fall asleep for a few blessed minutes before his turn in the bath came up.
Trying to look nonchalant, he trotted down the hall, steeling himself not to cringe at the whimpers and groans emanating from a now-cleaner Fluffy, who was partially submerged under layers of warm water and soap. Poor Fluffy!
What was he talking about? Poor Cedric! Yes. Fluffy clearly stank. And she was now receiving the just reward of her recent dirty deeds.
Now Cedric, on the other hand, hadn’t done too much to merit a bath. Except for that one time last night when he ran out of the yard and chased a bunch of rabbits all over the neighborhood. He would have caught one, too, if they hadn’t had soooo many homes away from home. So, there was that one time.
Oh. And hadn’t he stepped in something in the kitchen just this morning? Fluffy had begun “leaking” lately. Forgetting to ask to be taken outside, she sometimes had fallen into the habit of just letting everything hang out. Bad mistake on her part. One which he would end up paying for later.
Or sooner, as it happened.
Carefully, Cedric started licking the soles of each of his hind feet. If he could get enough of the smell out right away, could he perhaps avoid his own BATH-TIME? Well, it wouldn’t hurt to try.
He had heard that “good things happen to those who wait – so long as they work while they wait!” He’d get to work, and just for good measure throw in a few desperate prayers.
About the time he felt satisfied that his feet were now as clean as a newborn puppy’s, the bathroom door opened, and here stood Fluffy: cleaned, brushed, blown dry, and brushed even more. Having survived her recent torture-session, she was now actually smirking at him.
Cedric looked at the clock with a sinking heart: 8:35. The time of his demise-by-cleanliness. Unavoidably, he would be cleaned up, and on some levels that felt pretty good. Yet, he always hated the disagreeable process of getting clean. He’d probably be too stressed out to sleep for at least the next twelve hours.
Unexpectedly, the unwelcome thought crept in that some dangerous animals had started their yearly migration and would be passing through his neighborhood on this very night. What if God was answering his prayers in a way that he hadn’t expected, but which would end up working out not only to his ultimate benefit, but also to the benefit of the people who loved him and gave him this nice place to live? After his bath, he would be alert enough to make sure they didn’t get too close to his house.
Setting his mind on his duty, Cedric prayed aloud one last time before THE MOMMY came to get him, “Lord Jesus, please help me to be brave in the bath and alert when the predators are outside. I’m your dog. But I’m the tiniest bit scared. Please hold my hand!”