It always felt like summer there. The window over the kitchen sink was open, the sink where my mother washed my hair, singing the White Rain shampoo commercial over and over to keep me from crying. I wiggled my wet scalp away from her fingers whenever she stopped. My eyes never forgot that first sting from the lather and I held that memory like a small whip of guilt over her with every shampoo.
My mother tended to my wordless grandmother, opening the white-curtained windows next to Grandmother’s bed after her early morning bed bath. She smelled chalky with Ivory soap, sweetened by Jergens’s lotion and talc. The window went up in the morning and stayed open all day until the moths came out and flung themselves at the screen.
Every morning, I would take my little dog Rinny out for some exploring. He was a mongrel, some kind of mixed terrier, black and tan, the size of a shoebox. He was named for the mighty war dog Rin Tin Tin.
It was early in the day. Rinny trotted off ahead. I poked along behind.
All at once, there were snarls and deep throated growls, yelps and snapping of jaws and teeth.
A pack of dogs of all ages and sizes had run up out of nowhere, lunging and biting at something in the center of that sudden circle of fur and muscle.
It was Rinny.
There was a German Shepherd flashing copper and tan, diving in toward the center. There was a collie lunging up on its hind legs, looking nothing like the beatific Lassie.
There was an assortment of mutts and mongrels of small and medium sizes, all raging around wherever Renny was.
I walked toward them.
A screen door slammed. I saw the slim outline of my mother on the porch, one hand over her heart, one cupped around her mouth. I heard my name being called with her voice.
I turned back around and walked toward the storm.
Everything was lifting and fading like a campfire.
I waded in.
The shepherd and collie reared up higher than my head. I felt the wet from their spit on my arms, on my cheeks and forehead.
I went in deeper.
Dogs were ankle deep, knee deep, shoulder high. One or two were screaming but they didn’t sound like Rinny.
In the middle of it all, I saw him, fighting back, all small snapping teeth and torn ears.
I bent down and scooped him up. The shepherd and big collie were fighting each other. I held Rinny under my chin and over my heart. I shouted up at the tall ones and down at the little ones with everything I had, louder than I knew I could be.
I walked out of the circle. Not a tooth, not a claw, had touched me.
I don’t remember what came right after-not walking up the hill toward my grandparents’ front porch and my mother, not when I finally put Rinny down so that he could run around to the back of the house. He was fine except for those ears that healed crooked.
What I do remember is the late afternoon light aiming in on my mother and me from the open-air circle in the wooden ceiling of the ancient bath house. How it lit up the mirror-clear water that smelled like sulphur and was the same temperature as our insides. How I hated the smell of the rubbery bathing cap but loved the scent of the scratchy white towels.
What I remember is floating there on my back next to my mother and how the light lit us up and how there was just that one round patch of blue above us.
I thought about the bubble that surrounded me when I walked in among the dogs and how their teeth must have bounced right off of it. How the warm water felt a little like that bubble. How beautiful and clear it was, how long and pale my mother’s fingers looked shimmering under the water like that. How, if I thought about it, I bet I could just float away.
Mary Jo is waiting for Spring.