Lucky, by Linda Caradine
Photo by Gregory Murphy on Unsplash
This newest COVID-19 variant was a real game-changer. First the Delta and then the Mu. “My goodness,” thought Helen Whitmore. “When will it ever end?” She sat reading an article in People telling about how the Omega variant was said to be affecting human behavior. Of course the reports were mostly anecdotal at this point but, still, it was worrisome. Murder and suicide rates were up. Same with incidents of road rage and domestic violence. If there was one thing that Helen did well, it was worry. And worry she did.
Helen’s chihuahua Lucky lay curled up in her lap sleeping the sleep of the righteous, the little caramel-colored dog’s flanks rising and falling in time to the ticking of the wall clock marking the way till mealtime. Helen adjusted herself in the easy chair, being careful not to wake Lucky, and lay down her magazine. She looked up at the clock. It was almost eight a.m. Henry would be waking up soon. He would be wanting his breakfast. Her husband was, if nothing else, a creature of habit.
Helen flipped on the tv to catch the latest news report before Henry came down looking for his coffee and eggs. The news was about the virus of course. There was no escaping it. “I don’t know,” thought Helen, “I don’t feel any different. And if it affects Henry, why my goodness, it would only be an improvement.” Helen smirked at her joke. They had been married for forty-seven years and she figured she was entitled to a little laugh at Henry’s expense. After all, she had put up with his ways all these years. And since God hadn’t seen fit to bless the couple with children, all she had was Henry and his ways. And Lucky, of course.
Helen sat lost in her thoughts. She was surprised to look up and see it was already nine-thirty when Henry came tottering down the stairs. She immediately started to rise.
“Don’t get up,” Henry said. “I think I’ll get my own breakfast this morning. You just relax.” His kindness hit a sour note. “Besides, I wouldn’t want you to have to wake up your little princess there. Damn thing growled at me last night.”
“Lucky growled at you? I don’t believe it. She’s as sweet as they come, my little Lucky. You must have imagined it.”
Henry looked at her and then at the sleeping dog. “Don’t you believe it. That animal is spoiled rotten. And, to make matters worse, she’s got a greedy streak. Always wants what I’m having and won’t take no for an answer.”
“Now, Henry. Don’t start in on Lucky this morning.” She made an effort to change the subject. “Why did you sleep so late? I think the COVID’s starting to change you, I do. If you’re not careful, you’ll be out fighting with the neighbors soon over who has the greenest lawn.”
“Oh horse feathers,” barked Henry. He did feel a little more crotchety than usual this morning.
Helen picked up her bible study guide and started reading this week’s lesson. You shall not take the name of your lord thy god in vain. Helen was pretty sure she never did this. But she knew a lot of people did and she knew they were breaking one of God’s commandments. She wondered if Henry ever took the lord’s name in vain when he muttered under his breath and she couldn’t hear him. She doubted it. Henry was a decent sort underneath it all. Now if he would just be a little more patient with Lucky, he would stand squarely in her good graces. She thought patience was one of God’s seven virtues but she wasn’t sure. Helen made a mental note to look those up when she had a bit of free time.
Upon smelling food from the recesses of the kitchen, Lucky stirred on her lap and jumped down to investigate.
“Now, Lucky,” Helen crooned. “Don’t go bothering mean old Henry. I’ll make you an egg when he’s done in there.”
The next morning, Henry stayed in bed until after 10 o’clock. Helen heard him up in the bathroom and decided to go ahead and leave for the store. “If he’s going to sleep in so late,” she thought, “He can just fix his own breakfast again. I have things to do.”
She stepped out into the cool September morning. “What a glorious day,” she thought, getting into the Buick and adjusting the seat. Odd. Henry hadn’t been driving lately. His doctor had warned against it because of his heart condition. She wondered whether the stubborn old man had been ignoring his doctor’s orders when she wasn’t around. Last night she had been at Wednesday night bible study. He could have taken the car and gone somewhere. “But where would he go?” she asked herself, absently humming Nearer My God To Thee.
She went to the grocery store to pick up some ingredients for the beef stew she planned to make that evening and a bunch of bananas for Henry’s nighttime bowl of cereal. Then she swung by the Post Office to mail in her Woman Within order. She was buying a new dress for Sunday service. You couldn’t look too good for the Lord. Or for that gaggle of old biddies who was trying to monopolize all of the handsome new pastor’s time. She would have to make him one of her famous lemon pies. That would make him forget about those foolish women. But wait. There was one other place she had to go. Oh yes. She wanted to stop in at the yarn store over on Beech Street.
Helen glanced at her speedometer and picked up the pace a little. She didn’t want to leave Henry alone with Lucky for too long. Those two really weren’t getting along too well lately. She was afraid Henry would banish Lucky to the backyard while she was away.
Back at the house, Henry was just starting down the stairs for his morning coffee. As he stepped off the first step, there was a frenzied skittling sound on the hardwood to his left making him hesitate. “What the..,?” Henry started to say. Suddenly a tiny brown locomotive rushed in between his feet and kept going toward the other side of the hall. Henry took a misstep trying to avoid the dog and tumbled to the bottom of the staircase, hitting his head on the wall on his way down. He lay sprawled at the base of the stairs with a terrible pain in his ankle. Then his pacemaker alerted. “No,” he said to no one in particular. “Not like this.”
Once home, Helen juggled her grocery bag into her left arm and unlocked the front door. She pushed on it but it didn’t budge. She pushed harder. Still no movement. Then she set the bag down on the porch and gave it mighty shove. Peering into the slim opening, she could see Henry’s slippered foot with blood on his ankle. “Henry. Henry! Oh my god, Henry, what have you done?” She pulled her phone out of her purse and dialed 911, all the while trying to get her husband to answer her. There was only silence inside.
Later, she didn’t remember any of this happening. She knew that she must have found him at the bottom of the stairs and called for help. She knew they must have told her at some point that he was gone but she couldn’t remember any of it. Heart attack. It was as if her worst fear had come true.
Days passed. Then a month. With the help of her pastor and the congregation, she was getting by as if in a fog. “Oh Lucky,” she said to her faithful little pet. “Now I only have you to take care of. Whatever shall I do?” Lucky wagged her tail, enjoying all the attention she was getting in recent weeks. She lay down belly up for a good scratch and Helen absently complied.
The tv was on in the background giving the latest statistics on the Omega variant. There was ongoing looting downtown and some cars in the neighborhood had been set on fire. Her pastor had theorized that only man’s inherent good will had saved them all from the ravages of whatever weird changes were occurring in everybody. “But wait a minute,” Helen mused. “I thought people were flawed sinners underneath it all. We can’t have it both ways.” But she left it at that. The pastor wouldn’t tell her anything that wasn’t so.
One day, confused by the continuing violence and all-around insanity in the streets, Helen was moved to look up God’s seven virtues. Faith. Hope. Charity. Prudence. Temperance. Fortitude. Justice. She believed in those things, believed they were what set humanity apart from, as the pastor put it, the lower animals. It was just that people kept being pulled in the other directions by those dreadful seven sins that represented the other side of the coin. Pride. Greed. Lust. Wrath. Gluttony. Envy. Sloth. It doesn’t make any sense, she thought. Even the pastor doesn’t have the answer. She gave up trying to understand what had gotten into people and went to the refrigerator to make an egg for Lucky.
In the upstairs bedroom, Lucky lay sleeping. Deep inside her rudimentary brain, synapses were firing away, letting her know there was a treat in the offing. She skittered down the steps and into the kitchen. Food. Then, after the snack, she would curl back up in the woman’s warm lap while Helen worked on her knitting. Comfort. Lucky smiled as only a dog could do, her small beady eyes glowing with anticipation.
Helen was feeling guilty. Oh, of course she missed Henry. He had been a big part of her life for almost fifty years. And now there was only Lucky to keep her company. But, strangely, it was enough. Lucky was easier to please and to understand. Lucky gave her love in no immoderate dose. Lucky had only been in her life for the past ten years but had made quite the impression starting with the first time Helen had seen her at the dog shelter, looking frail and impossibly small as a puppy. Helen had fallen in love instantly. She had to save her from life in a cage. At that moment, she named the dog Lucky and vowed that it would be ever so. And now whatever would she do without Lucky, who loved her unconditionally?
Lucky yawned. Stop moving, she wanted to convey to the woman.
Helen’s days continued to pass uneventfully until one winter morning when she noticed Lucky was looking a little scruffy. Her coat was still smooth and sleek as a seal’s but something about her was looking ragged and wild. My goodness, thought Helen. It was her nails. They’d grown long as if the little beast had been gnawing them into sharp talons at the ends of her petite feet. And her teeth. Could they be growing larger? They looked somehow intimidating where once they looked cute as little white Chiclets. She made a mental note to take Lucky into the veterinarian’s for a nail trim and a, she didn’t know what, a physical? For now, she was content to stroke Lucky’s domed head and croon sweet nothings to her.
The news continued to grow worse. All non-essential businesses were shutting down due to the virus. Helen found herself going to the grocery store just because it was something she could do. Mostly she bought treats for Lucky. And as Lucky’s waistline started to expand, the dog’s little legs grew stout and muscular under the burden of her over-indulged torso. Her button eyes took on an anticipatory glint. While Helen was out shopping for her, Lucky paced the floor like a wild animal, her once-dainty chin glowing with spittle.
One Sunday, as Helen attended church via Zoom, pastor McKenzie had mentioned dogs, which made her sit up and pay attention. The pastor said that dogs shared many traits with people but that, unlike their human counterparts, dogs lacked the higher intelligence necessary to truly transcend the baser instincts. That’s what made them animals. The pastor urged his on-line flock to use their God-given intelligence to develop empathy for those less fortunate.
“Oh pish!,” thought Helen. “He’s just building up to ask for more money for those supposed orphans. If they even exist.” She turned off her computer and looked around for Lucky.
“You’re not an animal, are you girl?” She reached out and patted the dog on her fat flank until it made a slapping sound. “You’re a perfectly well-refined lady, aren’t you?”
Helen was feeling guilty about turning off the church service. She puttered about in the kitchen for a while and then decided to make another trip to the store. Lucky might like some sauteed chicken breast for her dinner tonight.
In her absence, Lucky paced the hardwood floors as usual, her pointy nails scratching the waxed finish. She found a piece of abandoned Snausage lying by her bed and chewed it into a tasty pulp. Then she did something she’d never done before. She jumped onto a kitchen chair and then up onto the counter where she nosed open the cabinet. Her superior sense of smell picked up a tempting array of odors from the packaged goods on the shelves. She began to drool greedily. Somewhere in her avaricious little brain, she understood that the woman was her conduit to all things good in life. That it was a symbiotic relationship etched itself across Lucky’s mind although she didn’t have the vocabulary necessary to put it into so many words. Then, without further exercising her new reasoning skills, she jumped down. Time for a nap.
She dreamed of running through a forest chasing deer, the prey’s fear scent awakening in Lucky a surge of adrenaline. The little dog’s legs pedaled as she ran on in her sleep. Then, still dreaming, she reached a clearing where an alpha male wolf sat preening. Lucky assumed a subservient posture and sidled up to the male. She didn’t know what else to do at that point, having been spayed and lacking in reproductive hormones. The next phase of her dream cycle brought her back to Helen’s lap and the heady, slothful satisfaction of a good snooze. She whiled away the time until the woman came home by alternately pacing and sleeping.
With the sound of Helen’s Buick creeping up the driveway, Lucky experienced visions of red, bloody meat being offered. She ran to the door to greet her benefactor.
“Why, Lucky, what a good dog coming to greet me!” Helen beamed at the aroused little carnivore. “Who’s a good dog? Who’s a good dog? You are, that’s who.” She headed for the kitchen with Lucky bouncing at her heels like a tiny ballerina because that was the behavior that suited the woman at these times. Lucky was all too happy to comply.
On one afternoon, the pastor came to call. He’d been worried about Helen not tuning in to Sunday service in a while. Helen greeted him warmly and showed him into the living room where she’d set out an assortment of cheese and crackers and a bowl of fruit. No sooner had he sat down when Lucky came hurtling in from the other room bent on destruction, the erectile hair on her back and her bared fangs giving a feral, dangerous impression. She was just an inch away from making contact with the pastor’s shin when Helen snatched her up into her arms.
“Quiet down now, you silly.” Helen crooned. “There. There.” But Lucky would not be subdued. She squirmed in the woman’s grasp, teeth snapping and spittle flying. Helen had to take her and lock her upstairs in her bedroom where she pawed furiously at the closed door.
“I’m so sorry, pastor.” Helen reentered the living room, embarrassed. “She’s never acted like that before. Never. I just don’t know what’s come over her.”
Pastor McKenzie said it was no big deal, that he was just glad Helen didn’t have a pit bull instead of a chihuahua. But she could tell that behind his mask he was still shaken by Lucky’s bad behavior. As he launched into his spiel about the orphans needing Helen’s continued support, Lucky dug at the door and growled menacingly beyond their purview.
Helen was getting the impression that the pastor didn’t like dogs and that made her unhappy. She sat quietly for what she thought was a reasonable length of time and then took the first opportunity to end the visit.
Still flustered after the pastor’s awkward departure, Helen turned on the tv for an update. The virus was still raging. Existing vaccines were thought to be ineffective against the Omega strain. People were coming unglued. And, now, as if things weren’t bad enough, children were attacking their parents. There’d been a couple of incidents right here in town where kids as young as nine years old had gone at their mom or dad with a butcher knife or a sharp toy. “Heavens,” thought Helen. “I guess I’m lucky not to have children after all. I couldn’t stand to have them turn on me like that after I’d given them nothing but love for all their lives. Sad how they could be so ungrateful?”
Helen turned off the tv and tsk-tsk’ed her way upstairs where Lucky was waiting, her tail wagging back and forth uncertainly. She had dug a hole the size of a paperback novel in the hollow bedroom door. Any more time at it and she’d have been able to scrabble through. Dried saliva flecked her head and chest and she was panting hard from her exertions. As Helen bent to pick her up, a gratified dog-smile spread on Lucky’s lips.
She was a good dog.
Two weeks later, Helen was bathing Lucky in the kitchen sink and the faucet sprung a leak, spraying water across the kitchen. She groped to turn it off before she got the front of her dress all wet in the torrent. Lucky was sullen and indignant, hopping out of the sink and onto the dry counter-space to await Helen’s ministrations. The little dog’s head hung low and her ears were pinned back in annoyance. She seemed distracted as Helen rubbed at her body with a fluffy towel.
“Oh dear,” Helen thought, working her fingers into Lucky’s ears. “Now I’ll have to call a plumber. That’s sure to cost a small fortune.”
She finished up with Lucky and mopped up the water on the kitchen floor. Then she reached for her phone and began to look up residential plumbing services. She found one listing that contained a Jesus fish in its ad and wrote down their number. She figured maybe, since they purported to be Christians, they wouldn’t charge her an arm and a leg. She punched in their number and reached a pleasant male voice who agreed to come over the following morning to fix the leak.
“Good,” thought Helen. “Problem solved. Now I can get back to my knitting.” She settled into the living room sofa with Lucky preening nervously beside her. Lucky’s synapses continued to fire as she fought back the urge to strike out at the woman and her clacking needles. Her nerves had gone on overload and she pinned her ears back menacingly. Helen took no notice and continued to count her stitches.
The next morning when the plumber came, Helen was in her room dressing and yelled “Come on in” when she heard the knock at the door. She went absently back to blowing her hair dry and tried to ignore the whirring of the electric dryer.
Downstairs, Lucky was awakened from her morning nap by the sound of someone coming in the door. She leapt off the sofa with her small eyes bulging in madness and sprang at the man’s body with all her might and fury. In her rage, she was able to jump up and make contact with the man’s thigh, chomping down fiercely through his denim work pants and into the weak flesh beneath. By sheer luck, her bite was able to sever the man’s femoral artery and start a spurt of blood spewing that was reminiscent of the water squirting yesterday from the kitchen faucet.
The attack had come out of nowhere and the plumber didn’t have a chance to defend himself. By the time Helen came downstairs, he was laid out on the living room floor in a pool of blood twitching spasmodically. Lucky lapped desultorily at the blood.
“Oh heavens!,” Helen burst out upon seeing the body. “Lucky, what did you do?” Lucky was covered in blood and trembling in a rageful lust, looking for all the world like the feral animal that she was at that moment.
“Oh Lucky, what did you do?”
Helen’s mind raced with thoughts of the police coming and taking Lucky away. The poor thing would wind up back in the shelter living in a cage again. Or worse. They would deem her a dangerous animal and have her euthanized. She couldn’t let that happen. She knew that Lucky was just confused by the COVID and didn’t deserve to be punished.
Helen went to work mopping up the blood from the floor. She rolled the man in her living room carpet and levered him into the trunk of the Buick with sheer will power and determination. By the time she’d returned from dumping his body in a downtown alleyway, her newly coifed hair was hanging down into her puffy eyes. Her blouse was ripped and she was streaked with blood from her exertions. “Oh my!,” thought Helen. “What have I done?”
She started up the man’s van and left it two blocks away in the Dollar General parking lot. Returning home, she changed her clothes and cleaned up the last of the carnage. Then, her mind racing protectively, she called the number to complain that the plumber had not shown up at the appointed time. Helen had watched a lot of crime shows on tv and knew that no one was going to blame a nice old woman for someone going missing. When the police showed up to question her, she would lock Lucky in her room and answer their questions with care and empathy. They would never suspect her of a thing.
And that was pretty much the way the crime’s aftermath played out. Helen and Lucky had dodged the law and gone back to their daily routines. Helen had a few second thoughts but decided ultimately that she had no choice but to protect her Lucky. And as the virus waned inside of Lucky’s brain, the little brown dog lost her air of frenzied delirium and returned to being Helen’s precious lap pet.
For the second time in her life, the little creature had lived up to her name.
Linda Caradine is a Portland Oregon based writer whose work has appeared in the RavensPerch, Cobalt Review, Free State Review and numerous others. Her first book, a memoir, is scheduled for publication in April 2024, and she is currently working on a novel.
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