It was another one of those Key West days, salty and warm, with a wind that blew mostly gently across the island. It was a day just like the ones so many months before, before the move to Paris and the very unexpected return, or so it seemed, and then something marvelous began to unfold.
Despite what we have all been told, it is possible to buy love. In Key West, there is only one place where you could buy this kind of true love, and that was in a little shop, tucked in a plaza, on the wide boulevard leading to the heart of the island. Next to this haven of hope, there was a pawnshop run by a short and stout man who wore lots and lots of gold chains and sold all sorts of nautical coins and seafaring booty so popular with the islanders. And it was in this same plaza, that there was a store, filled with a multitude of things for just one dollar. You could buy your most basic needs there such as pot scrubbers in a 3 pack, generic brand toothpaste and rubber gloves in an assortment of colors, while at the same time fulfilling your most hidden and decadent desires with an unending selection of colorful and unusual costume jewelry, plastic and china figurines for every occasion and taste and décor as well as decorations for virtually any holiday imaginable. When you lived on a tiny island such as Key West, which is over 150 miles from the nearest city, things in the dollar store looked amazing and priceless in a way they wouldn’t anywhere else. Checking the inventory frequently there becomes a sort of passion and obsession for many people with far too much time on their hands, something which living in Key West affords most. But by far, the best shop in the plaza was located between the pawnshop and the dollar store, across the boulevard from the Gulf of Mexico and the mangrove swamps that surround Key West.
This was a shop full of little beating hearts, hearts that are full of the pure love that comes covered in fur. The little creatures were lovingly collected from all over the country and even the world, and brought to the island several times a year by the owners of this emporium of love. The couple left Key West several times a year and traveled in search of these little hearts, returning with a large crate full of furry, barking puppies. The first few days after each one of these returns, the word spread across the island and you would find the shop full of people all staining to look into the crate and see these newest members of the community and possibly their family. I was one of those puppies.
Now, because I was so little, only about 7 weeks old I don’t really remember my long journey to Key West or anything that went before. My memories begin the afternoon she came into the store. I was hiding in the back of a high shiny crate in the corner behind all of the other unruly puppies trying desperately to find some peace and comfort. I remember the yapping and wrestling all stopped when she came up to the crate and peered in. Her face looked kind of sad, at least that was what I thought, but then there was a smile. I heard her voice while the terrier, pug and dachshund resumed their play, forcing me further and further into the corner, and then the next thing that I knew I was being lifted out of the crate and placed on the floor next to all of the toys that were hanging on the wall. When I looked up she was kneeling in front of me, hands out, and now an even bigger smile was on her face. I was scared and froze where I sat thumping my tail on the floor. She reached forward, scooped me up and held me close. I had never felt anything that good before. What I didn’t know then, was that I was not the first puppy that she had held this way, and that that puppy’s little heart ceased beating one day somewhere very far away, and that this was the reason that she was here, back in Key West and in the little shop that afternoon.
She said something to the lady behind the counter as I was being carried back to the crate and this time the other puppies were even louder and wilder than before. I was immediately ‘welcomed’ by them, much to my dismay, and I curled up as tight as I could back in the little corner just in time to see her give me a smile and walk out the door making the bell ring as it did each time someone went in or out of the store. I went to sleep and didn’t think anything more until early, very early, the following morning while I was still warm and sleepy in a place, far, far away from the crate, I felt someone lift me up from the furry pile and before I knew it I was being carried down the aisle toward the back of the shop where I could hear bigger dogs barking. Before I could even grasp what my surroundings were, I was wet, soaking wet, and bubbles were closing in all around me. Firm fingers were rubbing and rubbing me, over and over and bubbles were growing bigger and bigger, my heart was beating faster and faster, and just when I thought it would never stop a gush of warm water began raining down over me. The bubbles disappeared and the fingers wrapped around me again, but this time with a soft blanket of a towel that covered me so that it was dark and I felt safe at last. Safe that was until the towel fell away and a big, shiny silver tube appeared and a fierce wind, hot and dry began to blow and follow me no matter how I struggled to escape it…my poor fur!
I do have to admit though, that soon I felt better, and a nice scratchy brush smoothed my wind blown fur and I could feel the bristles gently rub at my skin underneath. It was then that I noticed, a very pleasant aroma. It was coming from me! It certainly smelled better than anything in that crate! So I guess this was all worth it. The same hands scooped me up once again and back through the shop we went. Oh no I thought, all this to just be put back in the crate with the very ones who were bent on my torture! Past the tanks of fish, cages of birds and lizards, the rack of doggie toys where I sat just the day before when she was there. Just when I thought surely I was going to be put back in that terrible crate, I saw her standing there, smiling and reaching toward me. She took me, kissed me and said, ‘there she is!’ and I knew that this was the beginning of something very wonderful. I looked at her with my biggest eyes which is the way I speak and told her my name was Tallulah.
Then, while I was enjoying this wonderful moment, she handed me to a man who was not smiling at all and whose hands were hard and rough and who just looked at me with no expression whatsoever. She continued to talk to the lady in the shop and the man took me out the door making the little bell ring and set me up high on some crates that were stacked on the sidewalk. I looked back through the big window and saw her looking at some papers and then she came out the door, plucked me from the top of the crate, said something to the man, and we headed to the parking lot and a little green car with a tan top dropped down to let the sun come in.
The three of us, with me in her lap, whirred out of the parking lot and onto the boulevard I had seen from the shop window. The first couple of days were a blur as I was exhausted from the lack of sleep due to the constant motion of my former roommates in the crate. We went to a place near the water where she and the man lived. She kept me very close to her there as there were lots of big cats at this house. One of the cats was always trying to get close to me and she took great care to prevent that from happening, tucking me up under her leg when we were on the sofa or at night in bed. The cat was named Chopin and he would sneak around just waiting for a moment when she was not looking to bat me with his black paw of daggers.
Needless to say, I never took a liking to Chopin. Then one day she put lots of things in the little car with the tan top and we drove off from the man’s house.
I snuggled on her lap in the car again and we headed up a long highway, surrounded by the ocean on both sides, and the big pine trees that were leaning over from many, many years of gentle winds that blew across the chain of islands. We drove for a very long time and soon the little road spilled out onto a big land with no ocean. All around us were buildings, people and lots of signs. It was not as pretty as Key West. For several days we went from place to place on this big land where we visited lots of people. Before I knew, it we were driving back to the little island, and when I woke up from my nap and looked out the window, I saw the long road with the ocean on either side of us and the bent pine trees and I knew we were close. We moved to a little cottage in the heart of the little town on a street called Love Lane. There were purple flowers all over the cottage and the little lane that led to it which covered the sky and the ground making a lovely shade everywhere. My first meal was a lizard I found on the path to our house.
One day, she started leaving in the morning, and would be gone for a very, very long time. I didn’t understand this at all, nor did I like it, and I would be in the little cottage all by myself. It was terrible, especially since I was too little to even see out the windows and watch the roosters and hens that scratched in our yard and I hated those papers that she put on the floor for me. I rebelled and would pee on the tile just next to them instead. But then just as it got dark, she would always come back, and we were so happy to see each other that the long day alone would fade away and we would go for a walk around the island. At night we would climb into her big bed and fall fast asleep only to be awakened by the roosters and for the day to begin again. Sometimes the man would come late but not often. One of the last mornings I remember him being there he startled me and I peed in the bed which caused his face to look less pleasant than usual. It wasn’t my fault she told him, but he didn’t seem to hear her.
Early one morning, as I sadly sat and watched her prepare to leave, she reached down for me and much to my joy out the front door of the little cottage we went. As we walked down the lane she said, ‘Tallulah, it is time for you to come to work with me. I asked the owner and he said as long as you stayed in the office and did not bark, that you could come with me’. Into the car and down the sleepy streets of the little island town we went that morning to what became a wonderful new life for us. We spent many busy and contented days at the little hotel where we worked. I met new people everyday and would sleep the afternoon away under the desk in the office after a long, exhausting games of ball on the long wooden front porch facing Duval Street.
The days were passing and the man who never smiled quit coming to the apartment, which was just fine with me. I liked it when just the two of us were there.
It was now winter on the little island and it was very cold. It was cold in our little cottage and cold at the hotel. At the hotel we would huddle next to a little heater under the desk and she would rub her hands together and hold me close. At home we would snuggle under the green velvet blanket on the big bed but we were always cold. The guests at the hotel would come in the office and ask if we had any space heaters, but she always told them, ‘no, I am so sorry but we don’t have even one’ and we would both go back to huddling next to our secret heater.
One day we didn’t go to the hotel. Instead she put large suitcases packed with all sorts of things including my toys into the car and as much as I tried to ask her with my biggest eyes ‘what is going on’? All she did was hug me close and say we were going to some place wonderful and that we would be very happy there. Up the long highway again, the ocean on either side of us, the bent pine trees blowing a little more now in the wintry wind we went. When we reached the big land this time we drove straight to a place that had big silver birds parked everywhere. At least that is what it looked like to me not knowing that much about birds, as I was never able to get close enough to really investigate one. After a cozy night in a hotel nearby, where I had to be snuck inside in my own little suitcase, tucked between all of the other bags, we went to where all of the silver birds were parked. After awhile, we put all of the other bags on a long moving sidewalk and soon were walking down a long, long corridor to one of those big silver birds. Inside were rows and rows of seats and lots and lots of people. I was safe in my little bag where I could see everything and everyone and I was very excited…we both were. She sat down and held me in my bag on her lap and told me over and over that we were going to have a wonderful adventure and I heard lots of people talking in a strange and beautiful way, and she told me it was called French and that where we were going, this is the way that people spoke. Soon the big silver bird took flight with us inside and so did our hearts.