January

January 18, Alec Latimer

Winter Runaway

Brownie always came home.

She was squirming when we first met. A chocolate lab puppy, not much smaller than me, struggling to free herself from the stocking over the fireplace. And the squirming never really stopped after we pulled her down. Every other week, it seemed, she was jumping the fence, hunting squirrels, deer, horses. We chased after her in the beginning, until she got older, and I realized that she always came home. She never missed a night of duty, keeping watch over my bedroom door from the corner of my bed.

The snow was deep and wet, a good six to ten inches, one winter afternoon when she went running after who-knows-what. Ten minutes passed before I had noticed she was gone. I waited another five, expecting her to saunter confidently past the bare trees that dotted our neighbor’s yard. Just snowy silence, as the flakes began falling again.

I still thought she was coming, I told my mom. We should just wait her out. But she said no – we needed to look. One teenager’s know-it-all scoff later, we were out the door. Just boots and a hat – this wouldn’t take long.

We followed Brownie’s footprints as far as they would take us, calling out her name every few steps. Nothing. We split up. My mom peered into neighbors’ yards. Nothing. I trudged through a snowed-over community field. Still nothing. We’d been at it for twenty minutes.

My mom called me.

Brownie was squirming again, this time on the edge of an undrained swimming pool in a distant neighbor’s yard, fence gate swung wide open. She had fallen through a thin layer of ice, her two front paws clasping the cement coping while her back paws hustled and strained to paddle underneath. Her eyes found mine, and I ran. The rest is blurry in my memory now, but we plucked her out of the water, warmed her up, and carried her home.

The lessons of this experience still aren’t clear to me, nearly two decades later. Why did we choose to search – this time? Had we been lucky, or appropriately cautious? I still see her eyes from the water. She was grateful, but so was I – and for what exactly, I still don’t know. Maybe I don’t need to know.

I know, at least, for this: Brownie came home.

–Alec Latimer

Falls Church, Virginia

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