For several years now, Edwin and Frank have been meeting at Caffe Trieste to commiserate about their extended residency in the state of bachelorhood. Edwin is forty-seven, trim, quick-witted, self-absorbed, and the owner of a successful online book business. Frank is a heavyset fellow of fifty-nine, a piano tuner, jovial and full of fun.
“I have news,” says Frank, huffing and puffing as he comes in from the rain—late as usual. “Wonderful news.”
Edwin frowns. “You met someone and she didn’t immediately reject you?”
“I got a dog,” says Frank, grinning gigantically. “Her name is Millie. A Lab-Shepherd-Spaniel mutt. She is so sweet.”
“A puppy?” asks Edwin, unaccustomed to thinking of Frank as anything but alone.
“No, she’s two,” says Frank, gesturing to Mona behind the counter. “Latte, please. Two shots.”
“Well,” says Edwin, shrugging despondently, “I suppose any sort of relationship is better than nothing.”
“I’ve always loved dogs,” says Frank, smiling enormously. “I didn’t feel right about having one when I lived in an apartment, but now that I’ve got a house with a yard…” Frank chuckles. “I must tell you, Edwin, I’ve been taking Millie for walks, and she is so friendly that… well, I’m dating two very nice women now and…”
“Hold it,” says Edwin. “You’re dating two women because you got a dog?”
“I wouldn’t say it’s because of the dog, but…”
“What else could it be?” says Edwin, aghast at this shocking turn of events. “You haven’t dated anyone in years.”
“That’s not exactly true. There was Stella and…”
“But let’s be clear about this. The two women you are currently dating you met through your dog.”
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” says Frank, smiling at Mona as she delivers his latte. “Thank you, dear.”
“You look great, Frank,” says Mona, winking at him. “You in love?”
“As a matter of fact, I am,” says Frank, grinning. “I have the most wonderful dog now.”
“Oh, bring her by,” says Mona, touching Frank’s shoulder as she saunters away. “I’m crazy about dogs.”
“I don’t believe it,” says Edwin, stunned. “Mona called you by your first name, winked at you, and touched you. She’s barely said a word to us in three years. Where did you get this dog?”
Dante, the dog Edwin adopts in early January, is big and friendly, with thick auburn fur and pointy ears — a two-year-old male abandoned on the freeway. Frank convinced Edwin to give Dante a try by saying, “Should you decide not to keep him, I will take him, for I sense in him a noble spirit.”
Edwin buys a cheap dog bed and puts it in the garage, where he’s cleared a little space beside his car for Dante to occupy. Twice a day, Edwin takes Dante for walks, and as he had hoped, Dante attracts other dogs attached to women with whom conversations ensue and a date or three materialize. But Edwin’s luck with women does not noticeably change, he remains unhappily single, and he begins to regret his adoption of Dante.
On a cold, sunny day in February — Valentine’s Day, as it happens — Frank and Edwin convene at an outdoor table at Caffe Trieste.
“Is your offer still good?” asks Edwin, chewing anxiously on his thumbnail. “To take Dante off my hands? I hate to tell you, but he’s a total dud compared to yours.”
Millie, as it happens, is lying next to Frank’s chair, where Mona and two other women are fawning over her.
Frank clears his throat and asks, “Where is Dante now?”
“At home,” says Edwin, sighing. “In the garage or moping around in the back yard. He started out so cheerful, and now… I don’t think he likes me very much. I think maybe I’ll get a smaller dog. Something cute and perky. Women like that.”
“I’ll tell you what women like,” says Frank, looking Edwin in the eye. “Women like a man who is devoted to his dog, and is loved by that dog in return. Women can see and feel the love flowing between man and dog, and it turns them on, Edwin, because it shows them that this man is capable of love and devotion, which is what women want. And it’s what Dante wants, I assure you. And if you’re not going to love him, I will gladly take him from you and give him a place by the fire in my living room, and treat him like the noble soul I recognized the minute I met him.”
This solemn speech strikes Edwin deep in his heart, and he is overwhelmed by the realization that he has given this dog almost nothing, while expecting him to be the bringer of love and joy.
Dante is curled up on his bed in the garage when he hears Edwin’s car pull up in front of the house. He sighs, for he knows it’s that time of day when Edwin takes him for a tedious walk and then pays absolutely no attention to him. He has been thinking of tunneling under the backyard fence and making his escape, but being a very smart dog, he knows it might be wiser to wait for the warmer days of spring to make his break for freedom.
So imagine Dante’s surprise when Edwin opens the door connecting the kitchen to the garage and says, “Come on in, Dante. I have a treat for you. And from now on, you can sleep inside by the fire.”
Dante and Edwin are sitting together on a bench at the Berkeley Marina, both nicely winded from a two-mile run. Edwin puts his arm around Dante and says, “You’re the best, kiddo. The absolute best.”
“Excuse me,” someone says. “Would it be okay if I took your picture?”
Edwin and Dante turn together to see who’s talking to them, and here is a lovely woman wielding an expensive camera, her hair in a ponytail, her face alight with the sweetest of smiles.
“He’s a handsome fellow, all right,” says Edwin, scratching Dante’s ears. “You don’t mind if she takes your picture, do you, Dante? You big ham.”
Dante barks loudly in the affirmative and licks Edwin’s face.
“Oh, I meant the two of you,” says the woman, gushing. “You have this amazing synergy.”
“He’s my best friend,” says Edwin, his eyes filling with tears. “And my teacher.”
“I’m Ellen,” she says, holding out her hand to Edwin.
“This is Dante,” says Edwin, taking her hand. “And I’m Edwin.”
Todd Walton is the author of Buddha In A Teacup: Tales of Enlightenment and the forthcoming Under the Table Books: A Novel of Stories. He is also a musician and a maker of whimsical greeting cards. Todd’s website is www.underthetablebooks.com.