I was working in the yard, trying to put a new blade-drive belt on my lawnmower, when Mischief ran up to me and said, “There’s something wrong with Smut!” Mischief is my frenetic black Lab, and Smut is my calm old black Lab.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, alarmed. Smut is 14 years old and has been through two cancer surgeries. His hold on life is becoming tenuous.
Mischief was jumping up and down all around me, trying to convey urgency. “He’s acting very upset and disturbed,” she said. “He might be having a stroke!”
She turned and took off quickly the way she had come, and I followed, praying that Smut was not having a stroke. We found him at the edge of a field where he often went to read and think about particle physics. His smoking jacket was unbelted and hanging open, and his fez sat at an unstable angle. He was pacing back and forth quickly, clearly deeply concerned about something.
“What’s wrong, Smut?” I asked, hoping he could answer me rationally. But he seemed not to hear me, and he didn’t acknowledge my presence.
Mischief quickly barked at him, telling him to snap out of it and talk to us. Smut stopped his pacing, looked at us, and grumbled, “Nothing. Nothing. Just reading, that’s all.” But I could tell that it certainly wasn’t all.
“Are you sick, Smut?” I asked. “Do you not feel well? Do we need to go to the vet?”
Looking resigned to having to interact with Mischief and me, Smut settled back on his haunches, pulled his pipe out of his pocket along with a pouch containing tobacco—or something—and after filling the bowl, tamping it down, and lighting the pipe with a match he found in his other pocket, he took a slow drag on the pipe and said, “I’m just a little upset about something I read, that’s all.”
Relieved that Smut wasn’t suffering from a physical ailment, I asked with sarcasm, “Oh, is there another conundrum in the world of particle physics?” I expected a lengthy discourse on some inconsistency in the way quarks react to mesons, or something like that.
“No,” he replied, “I decided to take a break from particle physics and read a newspaper. It was a story in your latest edition of the Wall Street Journal that bothered me.”
“What was it in the Journal that upset you so much, Smut?”
Smut took another puff on his pipe, looked at Mischief, then at me, and began. “Well, you know how you like to share that really delicious Stilton cheese and fine port wine with Mischief and me?”
I don’t like to share it with them. It’s just that they’re always begging and trying to grab it from me, so I usually give in and let them have a taste. “I love the taste of that cheese, and it goes so well with the port I lap up. When you share that with us, I feel a special friendship for you,” Smut continued.
“Save the flattery and get on with it, Smut,” I told him, sensing that his fawning behavior was leading to something I wouldn’t like.
“The story in the Journal said that import prices are going up as high as fifteen percent in 2014,” he reported with sadness. “I’m afraid as a result you won’t buy as much Stilton and port as we, I mean, you like!”
“Oh, no!” Mischief interjected.
“You’re absolutely correct, Smut,” I said. “That stuff is high enough already. I don’t have the money to spend on that kind of luxury, especially now the prices are going up.”
After a furtive look at Mischief, Smut turned to me and asked, “Could you perhaps get a second job? I hear McDonald’s is hiring.”
I should not indulge those dogs.