I sat in the old porch swing and sipped sweet iced tea while I pondered the upcoming interview with our local newspaper. The light scent from my prize roses wafted from the trellis behind me. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. This was the last time such peace and quiet would surround my well-ordered world.
When the tardy reporter arrived in her old rusty pick-up truck and stomped on to the wide porch Momma had always called the veranda, an ill wind of memories blew across the years and brought a familiar chill to my heart. With her unruly mop of hair, the pencil stuck behind her ear, and her scuffed penny loafers, she could be no one else but Hester Ann Riddlemeyer …the meanest girl in kindergarten, and every year after that through twelfth grade.
She didn’t seem to recognize me. I had a different last name, though widowed now, and a more sophisticated version for my first one---Deena.
Hester Ann plopped down in a white rocking chair and accepted a glass of tea. After she gulped it down she flipped open her notebook and plunged right in with no preamble or chit-chat. She was as blunt as ever.
“So...you say you have dog that can read, huh?”
She might as well have said, “So, you robbed a bank and buried the loot in the basement, huh?”
In a feeble attempt to observe a modicum of good manners, I held up one hand as if to remind a child of a momentary slip in polite behavior.
“Excuse me, dear. I don’t believe I caught your name.”
She never lifted her eyes from whatever she was scribbling as she shot me with a hateful answer right out of her familiar bully-arsenal.
“Oh please, Marsha Nadine Mudley Van Deflin,” she snarled, “You know exactly who I am. Now, where’s that silly dog you think can read? I suppose he can talk too?”
I stared at her for a few seconds until she looked up.
“You’re right, Hester Ann. I know you. You’re the most insufferable female on the planet and I wouldn’t tell you about my dog if you sat up on your hind legs and begged me. Interview over!”
I marched into the house and let the screen door slam behind me. When I heard a blood-curdling shriek I whirled around and dashed back to the porch. There was my nemesis, sprawled in a sickening heap at the bottom of the steps.
“Oh, Hester Ann,” I yelled like I had good sense, “What in the world made you do that?”
When I saw real tears and blood, a drop of unexpected pity tiptoed into my soul. I put an ice pack on her badly broken leg and called for help. The smarty-pants person I detested seemed to shrivel away and leave a scared and trembling little girl behind.
While she was in surgery I called her curmudgeon of a boss. He asked if she got the story before deciding to splatter on my front sidewalk. I hung up without answering.
I insisted she come home with me until she could manage on her own. When I introduced her to Wolfgang, my beautiful German Shepherd, she surprised me once more with a look I’d never seen...a smile…and with the burning question.
“How do you know he can read?”
Wolfgang stood in front of me, ears perked with anticipation. I picked up a stack of printed cards. The first word was SIT. He sat. The next one was SHAKE. He stuck out his paw. The thing that convinced her of my dog’s uncanny ability was the new card that said HESTER ANN. He stared at it and then turned around to lick her hand. That was the clincher.
My former enemy/new friend wrote a best-selling book about Wolfgang. The public loved it…but it doesn’t end there. The plot, as they say where I live, thickened like a pot of overdone dumplings.
When my loveable, eccentric, award-winning journalist brother came through on his way to a new military assignment, he was so taken with Hester he swept her off her feet, crutches and all, and married her. Getting Hester Ann as my sister-law made me realize almost anything is possible.
She goes by Annie Mudley now. When her husband is away on a job she spends her spare time reading to their new puppy. She doesn’t care if he follows in Wolfgang’s paw-steps. Sometimes folks just need someone to listen.
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