Gone to the Dogs

Everyone should have known the moment Leeuwenhoek dug his claws into the windowsill that this was an omen. Of course, they should have also recognized that naming a dog Leeuwenhoek in the first place was some manner of omen, but perhaps this was a terminal case of omen-nesia.

The point is that it should have been crystal-clear that something was amiss. The day was unseasonably hot for April in New England. Everyone in town had opened their windows, the first time they had needed to be open, and Leeuwenhoek's family was no exception. A sweltering breeze moved the curtains, but offered nothing in the way of relief, just blasts of hot pollinated air.

They found it easy to write it off the first time, and even the second. By the third time, it was curious, surprising by the fourth, and when the fifth and sixth times came, it was downright worrisome. This was no ordinary ice cream truck.

The Entertainer should never be played by an ice cream truck "music" system, the amplified electronic equivalent of a kiddie piano (the kind that are of questionable quality even when they're new and unbeaten by an enthusiastic child). If Scott Joplin were alive, this would, no doubt, cause him to commit suicide. As it were, if any of the notes from this ice cream truck reached his grave, what was left of him would no doubt be rolling in it.

It would have been easy to forget the ice cream truck had it not been for Leeuwenhoek's odd behavior. His behavior had always been a little strange, what with him being a dog and all, but this pushed it completely over the edge. As soon as the notes of The Entertainer started, his claws dug into the windowsill and he looked intently out the window, and tilted his head from side to side, as if trying to understand some secret message. It was rare for him to have moments of lucidity where he actually looked as if there were thought processes going on in his head. Most of the time, his energy was reserved for trying to convince everyone, including the person who had just fed him, that he had not eaten in days.

After the sixth and final time the ice cream truck had passed, the eerie sounds of its satanic sound system still ringing in his family's ears, Leeuwenhoek turned to them and glared, his fur bristling as if tiny creatures were crawling under it and moving it (although with his long fur, it could well have been large creatures causing the motion). His fur bristled almost in rhythm with the music that had so recently assaulted their ears.

The general populace is, perhaps, unaware that dogs are highly responsive to ragtime music, but clearly the evil ice cream man was aware of it, well aware. The look on his face shortly before he hypnotized the dogs was maniacal, a madman on the brink of ice cream headache insanity. Here was a mad ice cream man who drove back and forth through an average middle class urban neighborhood with the obvious intent of hypnotizing all the dogs, the Pied Piper of the canine population, and he sat behind the wheel of the evil ice cream truck and floored the gas pedal, reaching a top speed of fifteen miles an hour. Most of the dogs, had he been like the real Pied Piper, would have been able to outrun him, at least for a short while, as they ran to their deaths in the river (provided the river was close).

No children bought ice cream that day. They rode their bicycles safely into their garages and watched through dirty panes of glass as their dogs tilted their heads and absorbed the message in the almost-melodic tones of the electronic ice cream tunes. Even the children saw the change, they noticed it immediately. There was something very wrong with this ice cream man.

One thing that can be said for Leeuwenhoek is that he is fast to respond. While other dogs were unobservant until the third pass, Leeuwenhoek was fully aware the first time the ice cream truck drove by that this message was for him. This message was for the dogs. He was, perhaps, the first convert to the Dog Order of the Ice Cream Truck (DOICT).

Every day after that, without fail, rain or shine, snow, sleet or hail (any weather is possible in New England in April), that ice cream truck came blaring its message of dog tidings, instructions for life in the DOICT, a monastery of sorts. Its arrival was more guaranteed than that of the Postal Service, and the dogs knew when it would come. They awoke from their meditations (it only looked like they were sleeping) and went to the windows. Throughout the neighborhood, in virtually every front window, a dog stood at attention, front legs propped on the windowsills, toenails deeply embedded in the woodwork, and they waited. To human listeners, those outside potential membership in DOICT, the tune always sounded the same, but it was clear the dogs were hearing a message that was just for them. Soon, they began to respond to the messages.

Leeuwenhoek attacked the mantle clock with a ferocity he had never exhibited before. He looked at it for a moment, and growled anew with each tick, then he leapt at it and pulled it down (breaking several heirlooms in the process). He dismembered it quickly. The only time pieces that were safe with the new DOICT dog were digital timepieces, such as that on the VCR (which never displayed the right time, anyway). In the Dog Order of the Ice Cream Truck, clocks were a bad thing, perhaps the first "bad thing" to go.

The other neighborhood dogs also destroyed clocks. The ice cream man had encoded clock destruction in The Entertainer. The dogs also stopped drinking from toilets, every last one of them. In fact, in homes where the dogs were large enough, DOICT members regularly closed the lids on the toilets, as if an open toilet offended some sense of dog etiquette.

Leeuwenhoek had always enjoyed car rides. His family had stopped using key rings and had to handle individual keys delicately so he could not hear when they were leaving the house. After the first week of the ice cream truck, Leeuwenhoek was not only indifferent to car rides, but almost antagonistic to the car, his old friend. Other dogs did the same thing. Throughout the neighborhood, the only vehicle the dogs cared for or about was the ice cream truck.

At first, nobody noticed the disappearance of the petunias, it was so gradual. With the other dog changes, people focused on the eccentric behavior, not on their gardens. Leeuwenhoek might have been the first DOICT member caught in the act of uprooting petunias, but when his family caught him in the act, word spread quickly, and every single resident of the neighborhood found that there were no petunias left in any of the gardens. The gardens were depetuniated (they were not totally deflowered). The only one that remained was the one Leeuwenhoek had been caught uprooting. Something needed to be done, and done quickly so the aberrant behavior would stop.

Leeuwenhoek's human mother put the sole surviving petunia in a casserole dish and locked it securely in a ceiling-level cabinet. When the ice cream truck was not in the neighborhood, he spent hours sitting on the floor in front of the cabinet and whimpering. The plant thrived in the casserole dish. The leaves grew quickly around the door and wrapped it with cascading blossoms dangling out of Leeuwenhoek's reach. Even if he were coordinated enough to stand on the counter, he would not have been able to capture the blossoms. So strong was his petunia lust, Leeuwenhoek forgot to eat.

Leeuwenhoek had always had a bit of a weight problem. It was hard to tell under all the fur that he was heavy, he hid the weight well, but the fact remained that he was overweight. With the petunia in the cabinet, his weight plummeted. It was clear to his family that Leeuwenhoek was becoming delusional, and it is hard for a dog to convey delusions. When he began to talk to the petunia, the family became terrified, although they were not so frightened that they failed to eavesdrop.

After the incident, in retrospect, Leeuwenhoek's family agreed that he had been barking, but without a doubt, they had understood every single word he said. The plant did not seem to respond to his words, although the family was certain that the plant understood what Leeuwenhoek said just as clearly as they had understood him. Leeuwenhoek had asked the plant to climb out of the cabinet and join his friends. If the plant was to join his friends, the family reasoned, that meant the other petunias were in a place from which they could be liberated. Thus, the Neighborhood Quest for Petunia Liberation (NQPL) began.

A neighborhood meeting of the NQPL was organized in the home of an elderly woman who owned no dogs, only cats. The majority of her cats (and she owned over a dozen of them, as the nose of a visitor quickly made clear) despised dogs, and the neighbors felt, for the most part, that their secrets were safe with the cats. Many people had ideas, most of which were ludicrous. (Some even involved plastic petunias, as if dogs couldn't smell the difference!) One timid young woman, the owner of a rather rambunctious Dachshund, suggested an idea that seemed to make sense-plant the sole petunia in the garden and have everyone in the neighborhood watching to see where it would be transported.

Leeuwenhoek watched gleefully as his family planted that petunia. They knew they wouldn't need to wait long for him to relocate it, although they would have no way of telling how long they waited because of the demise of all the useful household clocks. They did not wait long at all. As soon as all the garden tools were stored safely in the shed, he demanded they let him outside. He went out the back door, as if he truly believed they would not think he would go to the front yard to uproot the petunia. He seemed to wave at them as they watched out the back window, and one by one, the family members disappeared from his view, and stationed themselves in upstairs windows to watch the petunia that had so recently lived in a casserole in a cabinet.

Leeuwenhoek used stealth moves he must surely have observed from watching television with the family. He crept around a bush and hid, although the bush was smaller than he was, so he didn't hide well. He ducked under the porch, but tufts of fur protruded. At last, he crept up on the petunia and pulled it from the earth in one swift motion. He was off and running, his family in pursuit, attempting to be as stealthy as their dog had been. Leeuwenhoek checked both ways before crossing the street and ran all the way to a hedge where he laid the petunia on the ground, licked it once, and turned quickly to head for home.

They only turned for a moment to watch the dog run home, but when the family turned back, the plant was gone. The youngest NQPL member, a boy of only five years old, insisted he saw a man in a white hat reach his arm through the hedge and take the plant. His parents would have ignored this as yet another of his stories when they heard the familiar tones of the ice cream truck, and it sounded close. The ice cream man wore a white hat.

Leeuwenhoek's human father made a bold move. He stepped into the street, risking death by ice cream truck, and he held up his hand to stop the vehicle. The ice cream man stopped his truck and looked nervously at this bold man who had stopped him. He seemed confused. Nobody here had ever bought ice cream before. Leeuwenhoek's father ordered a frozen fudge pop. The man didn't even look in his coolers. He just shrugged off the question. Leeuwenhoek's father was insistent. He needed to know what the ice cream man kept in his coolers. When the ice cream man resisted, Leeuwenhoek's father became bolder (a large crowd of neighborhood people had formed behind him by this point, he could afford to be bold). He climbed aboard the ice cream truck and opened the coolers and found...absolutely nothing. The coolers were empty.

This baffled the people in the neighborhood. They boarded the ice cream truck and forced out the driver, a small man who looked much less maniacal on the street than he did behind the wheel of the evil ice cream truck. They turned the vehicle around, drove it behind the hedge, and discovered a garden made entirely of petunias. The blossoms formed an image of a dog, although the breed was hard to determine based on the inaccuracy of drawing with petunias.

The small man ran into the yard and stood in front of his garden, pleaded with the people, begged them not to upset his Fido's grave. The flowers, he explained, were a monument to his dog. Fido had been killed by electrocution, he said, after dropping a clock into the toilet. The man explained that he was merely doing a favor to the people of the neighborhood, and was keeping their dogs safe. There was more than one teary eye when he finished his recitation.

Leeuwenhoek's family has adjusted to being late for everything, they don't miss their clocks all that much. In fact, they rarely leave the house, and when they do, they walk tethered to one another by a garden rope. They all remember to lift the lid on the toilet now, even when they go at night, and they close it when they're done. Best of all, they have learned to appreciate The Entertainer and they sit at the windowsills and dig their fingernails into the woodwork, as if mesmerized by its message. The neighbors hardly notice the eccentric behaviors, because they all do the same strange things, although they haven't made the connection to the evil ice cream truck. Visitors to the neighborhood wonder why nobody grows petunias in their gardens, why nobody owns clocks, why nobody eats ice cream, why people almost never leave, but they are happy to know it doesn't affect them. And as for that ice cream truck that's been frequenting their neighborhoods of late, only their dogs notice.

© 2003 Lisa Christine Svenson