The large brown dog was laying in the sun. He raised his head to disturb a fly on his shoulder and to sniff the air. It carried the scent of green and growing things, the hint of a small prey animal in the distance, and the sweet and sticky aroma of the girl. His girl. He leaned over to lick beneath his tail, then slowly scratched behind his ear with a hind paw. He was waiting for his girl to return on the yellow bus, watching the shadows gradually lengthen, and sniffing for the rabbits and foxes who rarely entered the yard now that he was home. The dog put his head on his big brown paws, closed his eyes, and remembered meeting his girl for the first time.
It was so long ago that it seemed to be forever when the large brown dog was no more than a little brown pup, and a very small girl had visited him on the farm where he was born. He’d been on top of a soft and fluffy pile of his brothers and sisters, a wiggling tangle of floppy ears and wagging tails, each with downy brown fur, some with white spots, and some with small pairs of black socks on each paw. The pup tumbled over the curious wet noses, each one sniffing so many familiar butts, and many small jaws full of tiny white puppy teeth that were searching for the necks of their siblings to lick and nip. From the top of the pile, the pup heard a strange and musical bark like tinkling bells, raised his head, and gazed into the smiling face of a very small girl with a tangle of blonde hair. The man she was with reached into the squirming pile of fur and tails, gently pulled the pup up and set him on the ground before the very small girl who delicately barked like tinkling bells again. She threw her arms around the pup’s neck and yelped excitedly, “He’s the one, Daddy!” The pup barked back.
“Oh!” though the pup, “How sweet and sticky and delicious she smells!” He licked her face and tasted strawberries. The very small girl stumbled backward as the pup licked and licked. “I’m the one!” thought the pup. “Yes, I’m the one, and you are the one for me.” The man gently lifted the pup from the ground, placed him inside a large red truck, and the very small girl climbed in beside him. He barked softly at her again, this time a tiny yip that said, “I’m coming with you, and I will stay with you always.”
“Hello,” the very small girl whispered to the pup as she settled into her seat. “My name is Tillie. Your name is Levi, and you are mine.”
The pup who was now named Levi tilted his head, gazed into the girl’s blue eyes and thought, “I will be your pup, and you will be my girl.” Again, he thought, “I’m coming with you, and I will stay with you always.”
Levi licked the very small girl again, jumping up and down on the seat for another taste of strawberries. Again, he inhaled her sweet and sticky scent, tasted the strawberries on her cheeks, and again he jumped. He felt dizzy with excitement and jumped once more! “You are my girl,” he breathed out with each strawberry sniff, but the very small girl yelped in a surprised pitch that meant hurt. Her face became wet and salty and Levi the pup was distressed. He tried to put his paws on her shoulders, tried to lick her face in the way of dogs who are checking on other dogs in the pack. “Are you hurt? What can I do?” The very small girl yelped louder! The woman in the front seat leaned toward the back and swept Levi onto the floor of the large red truck with her arm.
“Stay,” the woman barked at Levi. He did not know the woman’s commanding bark, but the very small girl’s yelps and the strange bark of the woman made him sad. He did not understand, so he laid down on the floor, put his head on his little brown paws, and fell asleep.
Every day Levi told the very small girl he was hers. He jumped, he licked, and he hoped for the taste of strawberries. He breathed in her sweet and sticky scent, and he barked to tell her so many things! “I am yours,” he told the very small girl, always excited, always jumping on her, and almost always knocking her down. He remembered the puppy pile with his brothers and sisters, their flailing legs, their soft brown fur and floppy ears, their wagging tails. He loved his girl and what better way to show this love than by teaching her how to nip snouts and sniff butts in their own unique puppy pile? His very small girl howled and often barked when Levi made her into a puppy pile, and the man or the woman would scoop her up, bark the word No at Levi, and hold the very small girl until she stopped howling.
Every afternoon the very small girl came home on a noisy yellow bus smelling of acrid fumes that hurt Levi’s nose. The yellow bus carried the wild yips and barks of many other small girls and boys who belonged to other dogs. Shortly after the bus drove away, the very small girl would come into the yard with a wonderful round object called Ball, and she would toss Ball to Levi. He would chase it at top speed, pounce upon it in the grass as soon as he could catch it, and he would try to fit Ball inside his mouth. He wanted to press his tiny white puppy teeth deep into Ball and chew and chew, but the very small girl always ran through the grass and took Ball from his paws. She’d turn away from him with Ball in her hands and begin to run, and Levi would jump up and give chase. Was he chasing Ball or was he chasing his very own small girl? There were so many things to figure out when the very small girl had Ball. Levi loved Ball, he loved his very small girl, and he loved this game; in the middle of every chase, his girl would stop suddenly and throw Ball in a new direction! Levi would bound after Ball, pounce on Ball when he was close, and hope that this was the time Ball would fit all the way into his mouth.
After Ball, Levi would tell the very small girl with much excitement that he was hers. “I will teach you to make a puppy pile because you are my girl,” he would bark and jump up to put his paws on her shoulders. He wanted to breathe in her sweet and sticky scent and to lick her cheeks for the taste the strawberries. Levi was growing in size with every day he spent with his very small girl, and with Ball, and with the promise of soon teaching his girl about the puppy pile. Every day it was just a bit easier to lick and to sniff and to reach his paws up to the very small girl’s shoulders to inhale her scent and to lick her cheeks for the taste of strawberries. Levi’s very small girl would fall into the puppy pile, but she would howl in the way that said hurt and again, he would try to lick her face in the way of dogs who are checking on other dogs in the pack.
“My name is Levi, and I am yours,” he would yip and whine to the very small girl, and again and again, the man or the woman would scoop her up, bark the word No at Levi, and hold the very small girl in their arms until she stopped howling.
One afternoon in the long hours after breakfast, with many hours left before Ball, the man herded Levi into the large red truck. Levi curled up on the back seat, and the man drove as the sun moved across the sky. When the truck stopped, Levi raised his head and sniffed the air. It had been so long since he had smelled the farm where he was born or the puppies from his first puppy pile, but the faint and unmistakable scent of a familiar dog wafted through the truck’s open window.
The red truck stopped, and the man opened the door. Levi jumped down from the red truck and immediately saw one of his brothers with brown fur and black socks standing in the yard. “The puppy pile!” thought Levi as he galloped toward his brother. His brother sniffed Levi’s nose, and they quickly formed the yin and yang circle of two dogs sniffing butts in greeting. Levi raised his head to breathe in the air and the grass, and soon trotted over to investigate the fence. There were so many things to learn on this farm that everything seemed to be new again! He knew his very small girl was not here, and as he sniffed and sniffed the newness, he did not notice as the red truck drove away.
The long days passed for Levi and his brother and as they grew, they were soon too large and wise to fall into a puppy pile. What began on that first day with soft sniffing, peeing on everything, wagging tails, and nipping snouts soon progressed into loud and urgent barks and races. Levi’s brother would always commence the chase with a nip on Levi’s neck, and they’d set off around the perimeter of the property at top speed with the wind in their fur, guarding against the ever-present and pungent menace of unknown wildlife. When Levi’s brother slowed his pace, carefully sniffing the wind and prowling for dangers from afar, Levi would return to his fenced patch of earth and grass. He would lie in the sun with his head on his growing brown paws and think of his very small girl. He remembered his yips to her on the day they met. “I will be your pup, and you will be my girl. I’m coming with you, and I will stay with you always.”
Levi’s girl had given him his name and said that he was hers. “I am yours,” he had barked at her over and over as he’d breathed in her sweet and sticky scent. In his new home on the farm where he was born, he’d laid in the sun, season after season, thinking of his girl. Levi was now too thoughtful for the rough and tumble of the puppy pile or his brother’s constant sniffing for unseen danger. “I am yours,” he would repeat to the very small girl as he closed his eyes, breathed deeply, and dreamed of licking the taste of strawberry from her cheeks.
There was a man on the farm who brought Levi and his brother breakfast and dinner. He scratched Levi’s head and told him he was a good boy but he did not have Ball, and he did not have a sweet and sticky scent. “Come!” the man would tell Levi, and he would hold out morsels that were more delicious than breakfast and dinner. Levi did not yet know Come, but the scent of the morsels would draw him closer to the man, who always said ”good boy” when Levi came close and ate the morsels that he offered. This man did not belong in the puppy pile, and Levi did not try to teach him about licking snouts and sniffing butts. No, this man was only words that meant morsels, and Levi learned the word Come. The next word Levi learned was Stay, which meant to stop and wait for the morsels. Come always followed Stay, and morels always followed Come, so Levi stayed, and he came, and he ate many delicious morsels. Every night he slept with his head on his paws, and every night he thought of his very small girl. “I am yours,” he would think as he drifted off in the sleep of dogs that miss their people who are far, far away.
In Levi’s many long seasons on the farm, he had outgrown the puppy pile, become a good boy, learned Come and Stay, and figured out how to quietly escape his fenced-in patch of earth and grass. On a day when the sun was warm, and the wind carried the smell of small creatures on the other side of the fence, Levi heard the doors of a truck slam. He raised his head and saw the very small girl tumbling out of the familiar red truck! He barked with joy, and his heart filled to overflowing with love. He did not have the words to say, “You came back for me,” so he barked again, this time calling out, “My name is Levi, and I am yours!” He escaped from his patch of earth and grass, quickly trotted over to his girl who was now small, but no longer very small, and he did not think of the wriggling and jumping puppy pile as he pressed the length of his body against his small girl.
Levi breathed in the small girl’s familiar sweet and sticky scent and gently leaned in close. “I am yours, and you have come back to me,” he softly whined as the proper words came to him. She threw her arms around his neck, just as she had done the day she said his name was Levi and told him that he was hers. His small girl yipped with the musical sound of tinkling bells, and he sniffed excitedly at her familiar tangle of blonde hair and her cheeks that still smelled of strawberries. He gazed up at her with his deep brown eyes, and sniffed, and thought to himself, “Here is my girl, my very own small girl.”
Levi’s small girl smelled like home, his home, and again he gazed up at her. “My name is Levi,” he thought, “and I waited for you. I am your dog, and you are my girl.” For the second time, Levi hopped into the large red truck and curled up on the seat next to his girl. “Ball,” he thought. “‘I remember Ball. Do you still have Ball? I am a good boy, and I know Come and Stay. Can I show you? Do you have morsels?”
He put his head on his large brown paws. The red truck drove away from the farm where he was born, and the small girl stroked behind his ears. He knew he was the luckiest dog in the world to be going home with this girl, his very own small girl.
This first appeared in the Maryland Writers Association’s literary journal, Pen in Hand.
This story is inspired by a true story. Tilly is a very real girl, and Levi is a very good boy. Thank you to my good friend Andrew for sharing their story with me.