Welcome to the Books of Ellen Gilman
Ellen's books have amused and pleased dog-lovers and people-lovers alike since her first book, Mollie’s Tail — To Mollie with Love was published in 2013. Her books now also include The Best Doggone Bakery (2016), and Ellen is hard at work on another.
Excerpt from “Mollie’s Tail — To Mollie with Love”
FAST-FORWARD SEVENTEEN YEARS: THE UNEXPECTED CALL
APRIL 1986. Sitting in our den, I was thinking of the old saying I learned as a child: “April showers bring May flowers.” Well, if that was true, we should have lots of flowers this spring. It was pouring outside. I could hear the rain hitting the roof while I lounged on the sofa in our small den. I was getting ready to watch my favorite Wednesday night comedy show. To my right there was a large window, and through it I could see streaks of rain running down the glass. I heard the wind blowing, and I knew if I were able to see outside, I would see the raindrops landing on the budding trees before they fell to the ground. There was a chill in the air, and inside our house it felt damp and cold. I laid our plaid blanket over my legs, grabbed the remote, and turned on the TV.
I watched Henry, carrying his usual mug filled with coffee, walk past me to enter his small cubbyhole of a room that he called his office. Calling this space an office was a little overstated since it actually looked more like a large walkin closet without a door. Actually, what saved it from looking exactly like a closet was that it had a window in it.
Figuring that Henry was going to be doing some paperwork and not wanting to disturb him, I turned down the volume on the TV. I guess he heard the change in volume because he asked, “Sherry, isn’t it time for The Cosby Show?”
“Yes, it’s starting in just a minute. Are you going to watch it with me?”
“No,” he answered, “I want to get some work done. I might watch the news later.”
In the meantime Mister, our dog, came over to me and poked his head against my hand. Knowing this meant he wanted to be picked up, I lifted him up and wrapped the blanket over both of us. He curled up next to me with only his head peeking out from under the blanket. He was old and probably feeling the chill in the air. I figured he would enjoy the warmth the cover provided.
I was just getting comfortable when the telephone rang. I picked it up on the second ring and said, “Hello.”
“Hi, Sherry.” Immediately, I recognized my vet’s high-pitched, squeaky voice when she said, “I have something kind of important that I want to talk to you about. Is now a good time?”
“Sure. I’m watching one of my favorite shows, but a commercial’s on now,” I said cautiously as I wondered what my crazy vet wanted with me.
Laura continued. “Yesterday, a couple brought in their four-year-old sheltie. They left her here with me. They told me they’re fed up with her because she won’t listen to them. They want me to put her to sleep.” In my mind, I could picture Laura’s face as she heard what these people had to say to her. “I’ve been their vet since the dog was a puppy, and I’ve tried to help them train her, but they’ve given up. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this dog, whose name is Mollie by the way, so I made up my mind there’s no way I can put her to sleep. I have to find her a home!”
For a moment I sat speechless. “Laura, you’ve got to be kidding! That’s TERRIBLE! What kind of person would do that?”
Laura diplomatically answered, “That’s a really good question. I don’t know them all that well. I only see them a few times a year. Honestly, I believe this problem they have with Mollie is entirely their fault. They don’t have a clue about how to take care of her or how to train her. Of course, I didn’t say anything to them about not honoring their request—they would be angry with me—but I’ve been thinking about how to solve Mollie’s problem. The last thing I want to do is put her to sleep.” She paused briefly before saying, “I’m hoping to find someone willing to adopt her so I don’t have to follow through on their wishes.”
Already, I had a good sense of where this conversation was going, and I certainly understood now why I was the recipient of this phone call. I figured I should just let Laura continue talking.
“I know you always enjoyed having two shelties before. Now that you have only one, I thought of you right away. Would you be interested in giving this poor dog a home?”
My mind started whirling. Did I or did I not want another dog?
Laura continued. “Quite honestly, I really was unable to think of anyone else who might be interested in taking her. That’s why I was sort of counting on you to help me and the dog.”
“Laura,” I replied, “you have caught me totally by surprise! Give me a minute to think about this.” I glanced over at Henry to see if he was listening to my conversation. I thought I knew what he would want me to say, but what did I want? If only I could put her off for a few days so that I had time to think this through and talk with him. No, that probably wasn’t a good idea either, so after a moment’s thought, I explained to Laura, “You’re right. I loved having two dogs. It’s just that your timing is lousy. I just accepted a job offer. I’ll be the manager of the kids and maternity department at a new department store that’s opening up this summer. I’ve been told I’ll be working lots of crazy hours. I’m not sure that getting another dog right now is the right thing to do.” The words coming from my mouth were one thing. My heart was telling me something very different.
There was complete silence on the other end of the phone. Knowing Laura, she was devastated by my negative response. She never would have thought I’d say no. She’d known me since elementary school and knew how much I loved animals, especially dogs. She also knew my parents never let me have a dog. As it was, she had a whole menagerie of animals she claimed as her own. At last count I think she had at least seven birds, four cats, three dogs, and one guinea pig. She adopted them all because someone no longer wanted them.
Lost in the silence, I swallowed hard and hesitantly said, “Laura, I know, I know! You’re really disappointed! You were counting on me to say yes, but I just can’t do this right now!”
Laura had been my vet since we got our second dog. I thought she was a great veterinarian. She was so bright and totally eccentric—a word I thought that described her perfectly. I’ll never forget one of the times I brought Mister in to see her. She had her own Doberman in the office and was trying to convince me that he was gentle despite his appearance. In an attempt to prove her point, she pried his jaws open and stuck her entire head into his mouth. Needless to say, I was spellbound by her demonstration. I laughed at her, but that’s when I was convinced that she had turned into a strange adult. She even looked a little odd. Her appearance was similar to Morticia from The Addams Family television show. She had straight black hair that looked like it hadn’t been cut for years. It was halfway down her back and appeared even longer on her petite frame. Her milky white skin emphasized her huge brown eyes. Even the way she dressed was unusual. It was as if she purchased clothes from another era to wear. Long skirts that swallowed her up and did little to show off her petite frame were her everyday attire. I knew that she cared little about how she looked to other people, but I couldn’t help but think that other people must find her strange too. I also knew none of that mattered to her. Her entire life was focused on the animals that were brought to her for care.
“That’s too bad. I thought this would work out well for both of you,” Laura frostily replied. I could hear the disappointment in her voice.
Not wanting to hang up, but knowing I needed to, I reluctantly murmured, “I’m so very sorry. Good luck finding a home for Mollie. Bye.” Now that I had said no, hanging up quickly was absolutely necessary before I was tempted to change my mind. I was going to have to try hard not to let my heart overrule my decision-making. Even though my favorite show was still on the television, I couldn’t focus on it. I just stared ahead while memories flooded my mind. The past was roaring to life.