She was third born in a litter of five pups that warm May morning in Northern California. She was big-boned just like her father, Jett. Jett’s mistress, Mary, loved him dearly. She often looked out the back door of her home to see him standing in the near woods that bordered her property. He appeared majestic to her, every bit the North American Timber Wolf in her eyes. He was a long-haired German Shepherd, purebred, papers going back for generations. Mary made an arrangement to sire him out. For her part she would be given pick of the litter.
When the puppies were born, there was no doubt in Mary’s mind as to whom her pick would be. The size of the puppy’s paws, huge and out of proportion to its body, captured the discerning woman’s attention. When the litter was weaned Mary took her puppy home to meet Jett. She was taken aback, a bit surprised, when he refused to accept his daughter at first. He sniffed her from one end to the other, shook his shaggy head, then returned to the thin woods, his place amongst the trees.
The little girl was terrified. While Jett was poking and sniffing at her with his nose she put her head down and pressed her body against the wall of Mary’s back porch. Her bushy tail held low, she watched closely as Jett left the porch and disappeared, stiff-legged, into the trees.
“Look at you, poor puppy,” Mary said. She scratched the pup behind its ears, kissed the top of its head. “You’re beautiful,” she crooned lowly, “Perfect markings, your mask and the top of your ears, tan and black, just perfect.” Mary gathered the big puppy up in her arms and sat on the porch rocking her back and forth. “You’re my princess,” she said softly, “I’m going to call you Talah.”
Talah whimpered, sounded almost like a baby crying. “I know, I know,” Mary whispered in her ear. “You miss your mother and don’t remember your daddy, Jett. Don’t worry, he’ll come around.”
Mary wasn’t so sure about that. Jett’s behavior confused her. She had supposed he would recognize his daughter immediately by scent, at the very least understand that she was one of his kind and needed him. A proud and solitary animal, he tolerated other creatures, Mary’s son’s dogs and her cat in particular but preferred to be alone. Mary led the puppy to a corner of the porch where she had constructed a bed out of old towels and what-not. Talah groaned and laid her head down when Mary went inside.
Jett watched it all from the cover of the trees. He was conscious of Mary’s every move, her comings and goings. There was a bed on the porch for him next to the one Mary had made for the pup. He seldom slept there, preferring to stay in the lair he had made for himself deep in the trees. He went there now to lie down, his ears keen to Mary’s movements in the house and the pup’s whimpering. Later, when he was sure they were both asleep, he went through the perimeter fence, deeper into the California woods to hunt.
Early the next day, Mary awoke and busied herself with her morning ritual of toast and coffee. A bumping sound from the back porch reminded her of the puppy. She tip-toed across the room and peeked out the window. She hoped to see Jett and the pup together. “Oh my,” she gasped. Her hands fumbled with the lock on the door.
Mary was terrified at what she saw when she stepped onto the porch. The puppy’s rag bed was torn to shreds. She was lying in the middle of the mess, her face and head matted with blood. “Oh no,” Mary sighed, “Jett, you didn’t.”
The puppy whined and Mary was both relieved and distressed. It was alive but bloody and crying. She rushed into the kitchen and returned presently with a bucket of warm water and clean towels from the bathroom. The puppy was waiting at the door for her, its tail wagging and head cocked to one side. Her hands full, Mary nudged the door open with a foot. The puppy walked gingerly to its torn up bed and lay down. It began gnawing on something amongst the bloody rags.
Mary dipped a towel in the warm water and bent to the task of cleaning the blood from Talah’s face. She worked slowly at first, careful and gentle, expecting with each wipe to find an open wound. The pup nuzzled her hand and nipped playfully at her. It jumped up unexpectedly and knocked over the pail of water. “Silly girl,” Mary said, a perplexed look on her face.
“Jett,” Mary said under her breath. She rummaged through the mess of the puppy’s bed and found an animal bone. “Here puppy, here Talah,” she crooned in a singing voice, picking up the bone and offering it to the dog. “Your daddy brought you a present last night, didn’t he?”
Talah accepted the bone. She sat there with it in her mouth, studying Mary with her intelligent and inquisitive puppy eyes. She whimpered a bit, set the bone on the floor of the porch, and lay down next to it.
“Well, sweety, you sure gave me a fright,” Mary said as she sat down next to Talah and worked at washing the blood away. She was startled by the sound of the screen door opening behind her.
“Ma, what happened? What’s all that blood? Are you okay?” Her twenty-year-old son, Jimmy, stood there, concern and worry evident on his face and in the tone of his voice.”
“I picked the puppy up at the breeder yesterday,” Mary explained. “Looks like Jett dragged something home last night. That’s where all the blood seems to have come from, thank goodness!”
Jimmy knelt down and examined the pup. “She’s the spitting image of Jett when he was a puppy.”
“Look at the size of those legs and feet,” Mary said, pointing a finger at Talah. “And her markings, they’re perfect. She’ll be a whole lot prettier than her daddy.” She paused a moment, glanced inquisitively at her son. “I didn’t hear you drive in. Shouldn’t you be at work?”
Jimmy scratched Talah behind the ears. “I got laid off, Ma, haven’t worked for a couple of weeks. I’m about to lose my apartment.”
“Help me get some food and water for this little girl,” Mary sighed, “Then we’ll go in and talk over coffee while I get ready for work.
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