Buddy & Aunt Charlotte
by Mary Ann Smyth

'Buddy! What are you doing up there? Get down. Now.'

Jim stared at his Springer Spaniel Buddy in amazement as the dog twisted and turned in front of a mirror, gazing at himself in approval. Chessie, Jim's cat, sat on the floor in front of the mahogany teacart on which Buddy stood. A look of disdain flickered across her features. She stalked from the room without a backward glance, her tail a lightning rod of dismissal.

Buddy stood on his hind legs as he inspected himself in the large mirror over the teacart. The flowered china that had been on the cart now sat on the rug in the dining room, the cups and saucers neatly stacked. A silver frame that held a shot of Jim's daughter at the controls of a 737 lay beside the china.

Buddy said, 'Hey, Dad O. Glad you're home. How do I look? I want to be at my best when I go out.'

'Whoa, Buddy. What's going on? Why are you up there? GET DOWN! NOW!'

'I thought it was obvious,' Buddy grumbled as he tried for a graceful leap to the floor. His left hind foot caught one of the teacups and knocked it over. 'Blast. Sorry, Dad. No harm done. Cup's okay. See?' Buddy picked the cup up by its handle to show Jim.

'Buddy, why were you on the teacart?'

'Because I wanted to see all of me.'

'As beautiful as that may be, why the teacart? Why not the mirrored door in the big bedroom?'

'Because the light's better in here.'

Jim started replacing the lovely china and the picture frame on the teacart. Buddy picked up a cup in his teeth to hand to Jim.

'No, I'll do it, Buddy. Hands  ... well, teeth off.'

Once the china was back in place, Jim headed for the kitchen to start his dinner. 'Let's see. What shall I have tonight? There's left over pasta. Or maybe just a big salad. Got all kinds of stuff for that.'

'Aren't you going to ask me why I want to look my best?'

'No, Buddy. I'm not. I really don't want to know. Because some way or another, you're going to hook me into something I don't care to be involved in. Just leave me out of your plans.'

As Jim started to tear lettuce into a salad bowl, Buddy looked at Jim with a frown on his face. Then his round eyes became slits as he thought of a ploy to interest Jim. His sister!

'Then you don't care to know that Aunt Charlotte is going to be picking me up? Your little sister. My aunt. Picking me up within the hour.'

'Okay. That's fine.'

'Don't you want to know where we're going?'

'Nope. Don't want to know. Don't need to know. At least I'll have a few hours respite. That works for me.'

Jim chopped red peppers and tomatoes to throw in his salad. He opened a can of tuna fish and drained it. That went in the salad.

'Okay, Pops. If that's the way you want it. I'm ready when she gets here. And we'll be on our way. Okay? See you later. I think I'll wait in the driveway. Then she doesn't have to come in for me. If you don't want to see your baby sister, that's all right with me.'

Buddy watched as Jim added some black olives and red onion to his dinner.

'You are not going to wait in the driveway for Charlotte. I can't trust you out there alone. You wait in here.'

'I'll be okay out there,' Buddy said as he headed for the door.

'NO! You wait in here. You can watch for her from the front door. When she comes around the curve, you can go outside.'

'Boy, what a grunch you are tonight,' Buddy said, but with a smile to lessen the impact.

'Tough. That's the way it is, Bud. Tell Charlotte I said hello. I'll call her later this week.'

After Buddy was on his way, Jim wondered what the two of them were up to. He had been determined not to show Buddy he was in the least bit interested. That way he couldn't get roped into something he would rather not do. Buddy was bad enough, but when Charlotte began coaxing him, he was a goner.

Later that night, Buddy came home, shouting good night to Jim's sister as she pulled out of the driveway.

'Did you two have a nice night?' Jim asked as he replaced a restored sun visor in his '56 Packard. He worked in his garage, trying to complete the restoration of the antique car. Only a few things were left to be done. He wanted to be able to drive the finished restoration before the winter and bad weather set in.

'Yeah. It was fab,' Buddy said. 'Don't you want to know where we were?'

'No. I don't.' Jim pointedly turned back to his work, dismissing the dog outright. Buddy's face again crinkled into a frown. He looked as though he would cry. His big sad eyes filled.

'I can't believe this,' the dog whined. 'You always have to know where I am every minute. And what I'm doing. Why, all of a sudden, don't you care?'

'Because you were with Charlotte. The onus for your behavior was on her for these past few hours. It was very relaxing.'

'You mean you trust Charlotte not to let me get into trouble?' Buddy asked, incredulity in his now dry eyes.

'Welllll, now that you put it that way. What were you two up to?'

'Can't tell you, Dad of mine. It's a secret. But one you will like. I guarantee it.'

'Your guarantees aren't worth a hill of beans, Buddy. I take no stock in them. Are you going to tell me or not?'

'Not. I promised I wouldn't. And don't bother asking Aunt Charlotte. She won't tell either.'

For the next four weeks, Buddy regularly waited for Charlotte to arrive in her Volvo station wagon. She and Buddy were gone three to four hours each time. And Jim was none the wiser. One night, Jim waited in the driveway for them. As soon as they pulled into the driveway, he accosted both Charlotte and Buddy.

'Okay. Enough of this mystery. What's going on?' Jim asked as his dog and sister got out of the car.

'Big brother,' Charlotte said, 'I promised Buddy and he promised me that we wouldn't tell anyone what we were doing.'

Jim looked down at his petite younger sister, her blonde hair piled on top of her head. His eyes narrowed as he tried to think what the two of them could possibly have been doing all these weeks. Buddy had been surprisingly, uncharacteristically reticent.

'Am I going to get a call from the police?' Jim still wasn't over the visit he had had from agencies in various countries looking for Bear's brother Grin and mother Sock It-Toyah. He found that he still flinched whenever the doorbell rang. He had gotten in the habit of checking the house each time he got home to be sure Buddy wasn't harboring any more secret agents.

'Come on, Jimbo. Relax,' Buddy said. 'Everything's cool.'

'Listen to your dog, Jim,' echoed Charlotte. 'Everything's cool.'

This state of affairs continued for another month. Jim got more and more nervous as time, like the leaves on the trees, flew by. His Packard neared the last stages of restoration and his curiosity grew out of control.

'Buddy, this has to stop. What are you and Charlotte up to?'

'Dadeo, just give us one more week and all will be revealed.'

'I don't think I can last another week,' Jim admitted reluctantly. 'But I have to say your behavior has been exemplary since Charlotte has been picking you up and taking you to your mysterious destination.'

'Just what are you saying, here, Pops? That I am not normally on my good behavior? Or maybe that Charlotte is a good influence on me? Is it that you like having time to yourself two times a week without the stresses of raising a son?'

'Buddy, how many times do I have to tell you. You are not my son. I am not your father. You are my dog. And that's our relationship. Dog and owner.'

'DOG AND OWNER!! Good grief, Dad of mine. Is that what you reduce our relationship to?' Buddy's left front paw rose in the air as his head lowered. The brown and white furry paw covered his eyes and he managed a few tears. 'I am cut to the quick. My heart bleeds. I can feel myself sliding into a deep depression. You have pulled the rug out from under my very paws. I shall never recover.'

Buddy dropped to the floor, put his head between his paws and started to sob.

'How can I ever face my friends again? They all think I have the best Dad in the world. Well, here in the neighborhood, at least. Oh, my. My life as I knew it is over.'

Buddy chanced a peek at Jim to gauge his reaction. Jim showed no signs of being affected. Or of even listening. The dog heaved a loud, dramatic sigh, sat up and looked right at Jim. Buddy tried a different tack to get a rise out of Jim.

'Okay, let's forget about me for the moment.'

'That's kind of hard to do, Buddy. Your histrionics are not what anyone would call quiet.'

'Okay, okay, you've made your point.' For effect, he wiped his overflowing eyes on Bear, his ever-present teddy bear companion.

'Buddy, own up. You're only trying to distract me with this ridiculous behavior. I know I said I didn't want to know what you and Charlotte are doing, but I'm so nervous about the two of you together all this time. I think I'd rather know than wonder.'

'No. Can't tell you. But just another week. That's all. Just one lousy little week. Seven days. One quarter of a month. One fifty-second of a year. One hundred and sixty-eight hours ...'

'All right, Buddy,' Jim interrupted his dog. 'All right. I'll wait.'

Jim stopped on his way home from work the next night to pick up some things he needed. When he entered the family room with his groceries, he saw Buddy with a paw down the side of his recliner.

'Bud, what the devil are you doing. Remember the last time you did that, you got your foot caught.'

'Yeah, well, it happened again. Where have you been? I've been hung up here for over three hours. You're late. I'm starting to lose feeling in this paw.'

'Why would you do this again? Doesn't make sense. Don't you ever learn from experience?'

'Yeah, yeah. Okay. No lectures. Just get me out of here.'

'Where's your accomplice? Can't she help you?'

'She does nothing but sit under the dining room table. I can hear her giggling. That miserable cat. Wait 'til she wants something. MAKE HER STOP LAUGHING!!'

'Chessie, stop laughing.'

'And now you stop laughing.'

'Can't help it, Buddy. What are you doing anyway? What's the purpose? Why put your foot down there again?'

Jim compressed the seat cushion of his blue recliner to allow Buddy to slip his paw out of confinement. Buddy's nails were curled under his paw. As he started to limp away, a quarter fell on the carpet.

'Buddy! What's going on here?'

Buddy released his claws and a handful of change fell on the carpet.

'Where did you get that money? Why did you have your paw down my chair?'

'Geez, if you'd give me an allowance, I wouldn't have to scrounge for change. It's embarrassing to never have a coin of the realm. Never any of the readies for Buddy. Oh, no. He's only a dog. What use would he have for money? Well, I do like to have some money. It comes in handy now and then.'

'And how do you spend the money you scrounge from me?'

'I wouldn't have to scrounge if you'd just give me some. Chessie wouldn't give me her new collar to rent out. I would have gotten it back for her. But she's so stingy. Only thinks of herself. I just need a few more dollars and I'm set.'

'Renting Chessie's collar! I don't believe this. How much money do you have? Where does it come from?'

'Do I have to tell you?' Buddy mumbled.

'Yes, you have to tell me.'

'If I tell you I won't ever get any more. That's not fair. It's not like I'm stealing it from you. I never have a penny to call my own. And then when I get enterprising, you're cutting me off at the knees.'

'What knees, Buddy? Hunh? Tell me that.'

'Okay, don't get technical on me. You get the idea. Okay, Okay,' Buddy said with a paw held in the air to stop Jim's next words. The look in Jim's eye told Buddy he had almost reached a point of no return.

'I've been collecting the change that drops out of your pockets - from your recliner. From the floor in the bedroom. In front of the dryer. It adds up over time, Pops. I almost have enough money for ... oops, almost gave it away.'

'Gave away what?' Jim asked, his patience visibly wearing thin.

'Can't tell you yet, oh mine Papa. In time. In time. All will be revealed.'

'What's this deal with Chessie's new collar?'

'Well,' Buddy started then stopped when he heard Chessie giggling again. 'Make her stop laughing. She drives me nuts with her incessant laughing.'


Buddy began again to the sounds of feline laughter from the dining room. He rolled his eyes to express his intolerance of the noise spewing from Chessie.

'You bought Chessie a new collar. That tailless freak up the road took a shine to it.'

'You mean Freddy, the Manx cat? He's not a freak. He was born that way. Manx cats don't have tails.'

'Yeah. Yeah. So he keeps telling me. "I was born this way, Buddy."' Buddy imitated the cat's yowl.'"It's the way all Manx cats are born. We're a breed apart." Just because he doesn't have a tail doesn't make him special. He's just a cat to me.'

'Buddy, get on with it.'

Buddy, seeing the dark look creeping across Jim's face, hurried into his explanation. 'See, Freddy has this new girl friend that he wants to impress. So when he takes her out at night, he rents Chessie's collar. She thinks it's beautiful.'

'And how much do you make on this transaction?'

'Chessie and I split it. 50/50.'

A startled meow erupted from the dining room and Chessie appeared to stand in front of Buddy.

'All right,' Buddy said. '40/60.'

The hair on Chessie's back rose and she raised a paw with claws extended. Before she could strike, Buddy backed off and moved behind Jim.

'Keep her off me. She's vicious. Okay. We split it 20/80. There. Are you happy, Chessie? She gets twenty per cent.'

'Why only twenty per cent? When it's her collar?'

'Because I'm the one who has to make the deal - and the delivery - and the pickup. I'm the one who has to go out late at night - in the dark - on these deserted streets - and risk life and limb - to earn a few pennies.'

Jim paled at the thought of Buddy out alone in the neighborhood late at night. Not that he wouldn't be safe where they lived, but that Buddy was out alone, unsupervised. But he bypassed that thought for the more pressing matter.

'Buddy, why do you need money? What are you doing? What is going on? And most importantly, is it going to involve me in anything? A law suit? An irate neighbor? A petition from the neighbors for us to move? I can't handle this, Buddy. WHAT'S GOING ON?'

By now, Jim's eyes were big in his handsome visage. Color was creeping up his neck into his face and he started to pace.

'Please, Dad. Don't make me tell you. I promise. No nasty surprises. You'll be proud of me. That's all I'm doing this for. To make you proud of me. To make you stand beside me with a big smile on your face and show the world that I'm your son.'

'When, Buddy? When will be this revelation? This moment in time?'

'Next week, Pops. As I said before, all will be revealed.' Forestalling another question, he added, 'On Saturday night. Hold that night open. Don't plan any of your usual Saturday night forays into the night life of West Chester.'

Jim's usual Saturday night consisted of a movie sometimes, with dinner first at a local restaurant. Or a play by a talented theater group nearby. Or maybe a ride to visit relatives. At the age of sixty-eight, he wasn't inclined to seek the night-lights of Philadelphia or New York. He'd partied in his day, but had slowed down to a steadier pace and enjoyed what he did. Where Buddy got the idea he was dancing the night away was beyond him. The dog's imagination worked full time.

Saturday night finally arrived. Not a moment too soon. Even with Buddy's assurances, Jim was apprehensive. Charlotte arrived to collect Buddy and wave to Jim as the dog climbed into her classic El Camino.

'See you later, Big Brother. Be sure to bring your smile.'

'Where am I supposed to be?'

'Oh, didn't Buddy tell you? The theater in Media. At 8:00 p.m. Don't be late. There's a ticket for you at the box office.'

'I'll be there.'

Jim finished his dinner without really noticing what he ate. From past experience, he had learned not to trust much of what Buddy said or promised. But Charlotte wouldn't let him be enmeshed in something unsavory. Would she? Jim groaned and put his head on his folded arms on the table. He hoped Buddy wasn't going to sing. Not that! Then everyone would know he had a dog that could talk and life would go crazy. Ah, geez. He couldn't stand this. The tension was building and his neck started to tighten up.

He got in his red Mercury Sable, the one Buddy said wasn't a muscle car but that he would ride in anyway. It was only 6:30, but he couldn't stand the anticipation of plans that would probably go wrong. Plans usually went wrong when Buddy was involved. Jim paced Main Street, not looking in store windows or noticing that he crossed and re-crossed streets, unconsciously watching for traffic.

At 7:30 p.m. the doors to the Media Theater opened and Jim collected his ticket from the box office. His seat was down front and center. Oh, God, he wouldn't be able to creep out of the theater unnoticed when things started to get out of hand. At 8:00 p.m. the curtain went up and Charlotte's over-40 dance troupe tap-danced on stage. Jim searched in vain for Buddy, thinking he might be a stagehand. Charlotte wasn't visible either. She had attended dance classes for a number of years now, taking up where she had left off as a child.

Her group danced up Broad Street each year in the Thanksgiving Parade with hundreds of other dancers from all over the States and entertained in shows all over the Delaware Valley. But why wasn't she on stage now? Where was she? Where was Buddy? Jim couldn't stand the uncertainty. He wished whatever was going to happen would happen. His nerves were at the breaking point. Just wait 'til he got Buddy home. And Charlotte for that matter. Putting him through this. The suspense was more than he could handle. Enough was enough.

Jim managed to stay in his seat through the lively show. He took in very little of what was happening on stage. His mind was too fraught with the possibilities of whatever was coming next. He envisioned Buddy swinging on ropes from backstage, sweeping across the stage with a Tarzen yell. Or possibly running around the dancers' feet, tripping them and sending them to the floor like tenpins. Maybe he'd be crawling around the patrons' seats in the dark looking for lost change or dropped popcorn. That dog loved popcorn.

The curtain dropped and Jim heaved a sigh of relief. It was over. Nothing had happened. He was safe. He could relax. No! Blast! The curtain was going back up. Music he recognized as Me and My Shadow started to play. With a flourish, Charlotte swept on stage. She was wearing a modified tuxedo top with tails and black satin shorts and black lace tights. She doffed her top hat and danced across the stage, holding the top hat high and a silver headed walking stick tucked under her other arm. Jim was swept with a feeling of pride. There was his little sister, looking like a million bucks, her golden hair luminescent in the overhead lights.

As Jim settled back in his seat to enjoy his sister's solo, he became aware of whispering around him. The whispering rose in volume. People seated near him were pointing at the stage. Jim shifted his gaze from Charlotte. There in front of him, mimicking Charlotte's every step was ... BUDDY!! Top hat in one paw extended over his head, he wore a modified tuxedo top with tails, black satin shorts, and black lace tights. But there was no mistaking that this was a dog. His ears flopped as he minced behind Charlotte in miniature tap shoes. Those shoes, thought Jim with an audible groan, explain Buddy's need for cash.

Buddy's mouth was open in a wide smile. Thank God he wasn't singing was all Jim could think as he lowered his head and swung it from side to side. Charlotte replaced the hat on her head and, taking the walking stick in both hands, she placed the tip on the floor and tap danced, pivoting around it. Beside her, Buddy did the exact same thing. The number came to a finale and Charlotte took her bows and graciously accepted a bouquet of flowers from one of the other dancers. Buddy received a bouquet of dog biscuits tied in a big red ribbon.

Placing one paw at his stomach, Buddy swept down into a deep bow. Thunderous applause burst from the audience. Cheers and whistles. Calls for an encore. Jim tried to slink up the center aisle but Charlotte and Buddy motioned for him to join them as they stood, hand in paw, to take their bows. Jim tried to wake up from this dream. But it didn't go away. After all this applause and cheering, there'd be no living now with that tap dancing ball of fur.

Note; The author retains all rights to this story.