The little tan chihuahua raced across the room, the sound of his nails going click clickity click against the dark hardwood followed him until he reached a set of well-manicured toes covered in pink polish.
“Let me up!”
The woman with the freshly painted toes stiffened and groaned at the sound.
“C’mon, let me up already,” the dog squeaked again.
The woman’s hands shot to her ears. Her face tightened up into a cringe. A memory of her high school days came back to haunt her. Images of a dark haired geek his chubby cheeks covered in acne danced in her mind, and it wasn’t a pleasant terpsichore that he was performing either, rather it was the robot set to the sound of chalk scratching on the blackboard.
“Jeez Ma, pick me up already!”
“Enough Spike, I can’t take the darn noise anymore!”
Spike looked at her, the woman now stood towering over the dog. In one fell swoop she scooped the chihuahua up and unceremoniously deposited him on the dark blue sofa, then stormed off across the room and out of the apartment, taking great care to slam the door shut behind her with a bang.
Spike jumped from the sofa and moved across the room as though he were shot out of a cannon. He grunted and groaned trying to scale a window bench, upholstered in the same blue fabric as the sofa. Somehow, he managed to conquer the piece of furniture in time to spot Ma as she descended the staircase that led underground to the Queens bound E train.
“Oh heck, she has another date,” Spike hung his head and plopped down on the soft cushion. He thought back to a time when he was her world. That time seemed so long ago to him, now he felt like a ghost in his own home. Memories from his past filled his head and played on well after he had fallen asleep.
Spike awoke to a rattling coming from the bedroom. He looked around the room, trying to gain his bearings, but concentrating over the growing thumping in his chest was difficult. Everything seemed to be in place, but the rattling was becoming more persistent. His tongue fell out of his mouth and hung there, panting. He slid off the bench and crept towards the bedroom much like the Grinch slithering through Cindy Lou Who’s house on Christmas Eve.
The thumping in Spike’s chest had traveled to his head. His tongue had stuck to the roof of his mouth. The dog peered around the corner and let out a deep breath. The pull chain on the ceiling fan light had gotten tangled up and was spinning wildly about clinking and clanging as it twirled.
Content that there was no intruder in the house, Spike trotted back out to the living room and tried to climb the sofa. He was just moments from success when his paw latched onto the television remote instead of the davenport. With no balance, he began to tumble backwards, the remote chasing after him and thumping him on the head at the same time that the floor had broken his fall.
Click! The impact between remote and face had brought the television to life. A white dot had formed in the middle of the screen and expanded until the YouTube logo filled the television and a video of two cats, one black and one white, wrestling filled the screen. They rolled around on top of a sofa until they tumbled off the edge landing on the ground. They were both on their backs looking stunned. Spike began to laugh along with the woman who was recording the wresting cats.
The tv went dark, then a series of words filled the center of the screen and the next video began to play. Spike’s eyes grew wide.
“The Art of Getting Tummy Rubs,” he read the words slowly, one at a time.
“Huh, that is exactly what I need. If I could just get Ma to rub my tummy, everything could be great again!”
The camera bobbed and swayed presented a blurred landscape that resembled a bedroom. A large brown dog with short, yet floppy ears trotted into view, then sat down and stared into the camera, which by now had finally settled into a static position.
“Hello friends, my name is Cindee and today we want to help teach you how to get tummy rubs from your humans. Anytime! Any place!”
The brown dog wore a smile and a pink bow in her hair. Her words drifted out of her mouth riding on lilting waves of music notes. Spike felt his heart begin to beat again, but in a different way than before. The television seemed to grow, and the rest of the room faded into the background, disappearing from Spike’s thoughts altogether.
“If you really want tummy rubs, our first tip and probably the most successful one, is learning how to use your eyes. Just by effectively using your eyes you can make your human do anything you want. Watch as I demonstrate.”
Spike had been sucked in, unable to tear his gaze off the television screen if he wanted to. Cindee moved effortlessly from sitting to laying on her stomach, and with a deliberately smooth transition she rested her head on the ground, her eyes looked up and widened.
“Wow,” Spike said, his mouth falling open. He just wanted to rub noses with her.
Cindee, clumsily sat up and smiled into the camera once more. A big orange cat lumbered into the frame, like a ship tossed in a storm, his white belly lurched from one side to the other with each step he took. Once at Cindee’s side, he too plunked down onto his derriere. The brown Labrador began to speak again.
“Now, if for some reason, eye contact doesn’t work, you will need to progress to step two, which I like to call …. ‘the rub’ … well, because that is what you do. My friend Rapi here will demonstrate for you.”
The orange cat stood on his short stumpy legs and navigated in a circle so that he could approach Cindee from a short distance. As he came closer, he lowered his head and gave her a gentle head butt, before proceeding to lightly brush his body against hers as he continued past her. He then turned and sat next to her again.
“Thanks, Rapi,” Cindee said giving him a kiss on top of the head. The cat looked up into her eyes and smiled, before strolling out of the frame.
“Hmmm, I think I could do that,” Spike mumbled.
“Still no luck,” Cindee asked the camera.
“Then it’s time to toss subtlety out the window!”
Another cat came into view, this time from the opposite side that the orange cat had come and gone from. This cat was mostly white with grey on her back and face. Like Rapi, the grey and white cat was big, but nowhere near as big as the orange one. Her stomach didn’t really sway back and forth, rather it just hung there letting gravity do its job.
“If all else fails, go paws in the air,” the brown dog giggled.
“Paws in the air?” Spike scrunched up his forehead and scowled just a little.
“What is that.” The Chihuahua asked the television.
As if hearing his question Cindee looked straight into the camera and winked at him.
“Bella will demonstrate,” the floppy eared dog said. The cat strolled into the center of the screen and flopped down on the brown carpet. She twisted and contorted her body in a sensually until she was on her back, her legs wiggling in the air.”
“See, paws in the air,” Cindee explained.
“Oh, I see it now,” Spike said knowingly.
“That concludes today’s lesson. Good luck and go get that tummy rub friends!”
Muaaah, Cindee sent kisses over the television. Spike reached up to explore his cheek where he imagined Cindee’s kiss had landed. The video faded to black and the next video began. Spike jumped up and began to dance at the first strains of “Who let the dogs out? Who? Who?”
Spike was ready for Ma to come home, having practiced his technique for getting tummy rubs for a whole hour while he waited. Now, all he could do was sit on his window bench perch and gaze out at the street below waiting for Ma to emerge from the subway. The evening was his favorite time of day. He loved looking out at the cityscape, dotted with lights. The trembling and nausea from thinking about the performance he was about to put on was being subdued a little. It helped that his brain did not ache so much too.
A shadow emerged from the subterranean staircase, then another. Soon a small crowd of people began to emerge like ants from an anthill after boiling water was poured inside. The train had arrived, but Spike did not see Ma anywhere in the crowd. Tired, lonely, and out of hope he was about to give up and just go to bed when a slender shadow materialized from the hole in the ground. He watched the form become exposed by the soft glow of light emanating from the street lamps. Her body was slender and covered by a yellow floral dress which matched her shoulder length hair. She glanced up at the window, confirming Spike’s suspicions. It was Ma. His eyes followed her until she disappeared inside the lobby door. Excited, he spun to face the apartment door.
Ding, came the oh so familiar sound. He knew the next sound he would hear would be the whoosh of the elevator doors opening. He was right. Click clack, click clack, Ma’s shoes slapped against the tile floor in the hallway. Spike thought he was going to pee himself when he heard the doorknob begin to jiggle. The door swung open and Ma stepped through. Spike lept from the window bench and made a beeline for her.
“Your home! I missed you,” he screamed, closing the gap between them.
“Spike, I just got home I need a minute,” she said with a deep sigh.
Spike dropped to his butt and hung his head. His eyes stung a little but he kept his gaze fixed on her, following her movement across the apartment to the sofa. Ma kicked her shoes off, lowered herself into a seated position and delicately crossed her legs.
“Step one!” Spike whispered to himself. The chihuahua scooted across the room choosing to sit on the floor right in front of Ma. They locked gazes. He took this as a positive sign and began to make the eyes at Ma, just like Cindee had taught him. He focused all his attention on her face, her brown eyes, her slender nose, her pouty lips. He imagined himself as Uri Gellar trying to bend a spoon with his mind. The chihuahua’s eyes had crossed and were now beginning to bulge a little.
Ma’s forehead began to furrow, her head tilted to the left.
“Spike, are you pooping? You better not poop on my carpet!” her voice rose.
He blew out a breath of air.
“It’s only step one,” he reminded himself.
“Step two … the rub!” He took in a deep breath and puffed out his chest. If nothing else, he had gained Ma’s attention.
“Let’s do this thing,” he said.
Spike rose to his feet, dropped his head, and charged forward like a stampeding buffalo. Whomp, his head smacked into Ma’s bare leg. Stunned by the impact, Spike fell to the ground and rolled over onto his side.
“What the heck is up with you tonight?” Ma voice sounded strange.
“I am such a failure, my rub was more like a thud or a dud,” he mumbled laying still. Instinctively, he rolled over onto his back and stared up at the ceiling, wondering what had happened to his life and when he had become such a loser. Spike felt numb all over, inside, and out. It started with a sigh and slowly built to a whimper. A tear formed in the corner of his eye, then spilled out over his cheek.
A strange sensation crept across his tummy. It was warm at first, then a little tingly too. An awareness crept over him. He was on his back, or so he thought. He vaguely became aware of his front paws in the air in front of him.
“Paws in the air,” he said. He lifted his head and glanced down at his feet to confirm his back legs were in the air too. That is when he saw the cause of the warm tinglies. It was Ma. She was rubbing his tummy.
“Hey Rapi, what do you think we should write about today,” Cindee called over her shoulder to her closest companion.
“Gee, that’s a good question, let’s think about it,” he smiled that warm jovial smile that he always has.
“Oh, we have email,” the brown dog barked out to the cats. Bella and Yehudi came tearing down the stairs to join Cindee and Rapi.
“Read it, please,” Yehudi, a black and white tuxedo cat, danced up and down, unable to contain her excitement.
The brown dog opened the email and began to scan the lines on the computer reading out loud to her friends:
Dear Cindee and Friends,
I wanted to thank you for making that video on how to get tummy rubs. It made such a huge difference in my life. You see, I have been living with Ma for eight years, and things have not been the same between us for some time. We kind of grew apart and were living our own lives. Don’t get me wrong, Ma didn’t abuse me or anything, she always loved me, but she was going through some hard times and didn’t spend as much time with me.
Because of your video we were able to connect again, and now we talk and play and snuggle all the time. I found out Ma had to work a second job, and that is why she was gone so much. It also did not help that I complain about everything. You brought us together again, and I can never thank you enough.
The four friends sat in silence for a second, letting the email sink in, then stood and began to hug and high five each other.
“Wow, I didn’t expect that,” Rapi admitted.
“I know, all we were thinking about was tummy rubs,” Cindee giggled.
“I am glad it worked out for Spike,” Yehudi said, then turned to head back up the stairs.
“Me too,” Bella added, joining her friend.
Cindee and Rapi sat quietly looking at the words on the screen for a few minutes.
“Let’s go get some tummy rubs,” Cindee asked, breaking the silence.
“You got it,” Rapi replied with a laugh. Cindee joined him with giggles of her own.
That, my friends, was the story about how the art of getting a tummy rub saved a sweet chihuahua’s relationship.