By Virginia Pye
All that first summer, Ruby waited by the screen door, nose pressed to the mesh, ears quivering in response to the vibrations of every passing squirrel. When she barked, they scampered not farther away, as they should have, but nearer and nearer, just to gall her. Right from the start, she realized her campaign against them would last a lifetime, as it has. The scratches to the wood doorframe did nothing to make them stop, but her paw thrust forward anyway, again and again. Jamie never did repaint those scratches, though she shakes her head at them occasionally and ineffectually. Humans, Ruby has come to realize, are every bit as impotent as dogs.
And so she lives with that reminder of her former optimism. To fight the good fight was something you simply did. It ennobled you and put you on par with the greats of your species. When Jamie ran her hand through your long coat and whispered of your magnificence, you could nod off to sleep knowing you were a fine creature indeed. In less sanguine moments, however, Ruby has had to admit she’s been a pawn to her own instincts, a hollow vessel to impulses beyond her control. She always meant to think things through more thoroughly, but if she had, would she still be Ruby?
And to posit more deeply, when the screen door of life is accidentally unlatched, how can a sentient being not careen out onto the back lawn, dig under the fence, and escape into the woods beyond? That is, by definition, what it means to be alive, is it not?
Ruby might have wrestled more valiantly with this philosophy of opportunism had it not proved so helpful to her master, who, by nature, hesitated in all things and worried over every little decision like a bone. Jamie would never have taken that first job, or married, or let Ruby’s second master bring those smaller humans into the house had Ruby not shown her how it should be done: When the door of life is left open even a crack, you must go through it.
The world out there beyond the metal screen and the flagstone patio and the cool grass has always been Ruby’s for the taking. Hadn’t Jamie said as much when she set her down for the first time on wobbly legs? “All this, little one,” Ruby’s master had said, “will someday be yours.” She was teasing, of course, because the fence blocked the view of anything past the rusted, unused swing set and the fallow garden, but Ruby took those words to heart and lived by them.
And so it came to pass that the swing set was eventually oiled up and decent greens and tomatoes were carried in by the armloads, all because of Ruby’s example. You must sink your teeth into the bone of life, the very marrow, and not let go. She knew that from the start of her first summer. The world back then was bright and sharp with sensation, and her small, quivering body became a lightning rod to everything around her.
Now, most hours of the day, she sleeps with her head thrown back over the cushion, snoring, slobbering, her legs twitching involuntarily, no beauty or strength left in her. But in her body’s memory, she catapults out the back door in chase of something just outside of reach. That is what is means to be alive, and Ruby, and any of us lucky enough to have known summer just over the sill.