we ripped off the back stoop in the spring of 2001. well, we didn't--charles did. he was the guy we hired to replace the concrete back stoop with an actual porch. a screened-in porch where we could sit on summer mornings and have coffee, and where the dogs could lounge around with us and stare at the world.
even before it was built, doug knew where toby would lie. he had it all figured out: the southwest corner of the porch, beside a rocking chair that we planned to buy and that i planned to sit in pretty much from may until october.
so charles showed up, and he gave us a bid--not an hourly one, which turned out to be a good thing, since he wasn't exactly the most efficient of workers--and got to work.
every weekday morning that summer, charles showed up around 8:15 or 8:30--right about the time we were heading to work. he'd poke his head in the kitchen door, sniff our coffee (he was a connosieur, as it turned out), and start chatting. he'd lean on the countertop as if he had all day (i guess he did, at that) and delay my exodus. he was an extremely friendly guy, and he talked about all kinds of things: where had we traveled? he was going to greece. had we remodeled our kitchen? he was planning on remodeling his; he had bought some granite from a salvage place and was going to make his own countertops. were there any good coffeeshops in the neighborhood?
the dogs loved him. toby, who generally didn't much care for strangers, fell for him right away. boscoe loved him, too, but that was no surprise; boscoe loved everybody.
work on the screen porch was slow. but it was great having charles around, because this was the summer when toby was ill. as long as charles was here, toby could be outside if he wanted to (and, since he was on Lasix to keep the fluid from building up around his heart, he kind of needed to be outside more than usual).
charles was not what you'd call a dedicated worker. one time i came home in the middle of the day to find him sitting on the front porch, reading the newspaper. another time he spent his entire afternoon building a wooden box to transport the granite for his countertop. as i said, it's good he didn't charge an hourly rate.
on weekends, doug and i sat out on the platform that was eventually to be a porch, looked out at the yard and had a beer. toby, as doug had predicted, lay down in the southwest corner, beside my green plastic adirondack chair (the rocking chair was yet to come) and slept.
but june melted into july; the summer days grew shorter. the breezes and shadows of september fell across the yard, and still the porch wasn't done.
doug fretted, a little. toby was moving pretty slowly, breathing pretty hard these days. "i want the porch done," doug said. "i want it done so that toby can enjoy it." we both were very aware that this was almost certainly toby's last summer, though we didn't talk about it that way.
but i think toby was enjoying the porch. he didn't care that the screens weren't in place, or that the roof wasn't finished. he just liked hanging out wherever i was, and if i was sitting in a plastic chair amidst a lot of wood shavings and bent nails, that was fine with him. he just curled up beside me and slept.
eventually, charles' boss couldn't stand it anymore. he sent over a crew of four strapping young men, and the porch was finished in a blur of two and a half days.
toby didn't live much longer. he died in mid-october.
that christmas was an odd one. the weather was eerily warm, and there was no snow. doug bought an artificial tree, which he put on the new porch and strung with lights. boscoe was confused without toby. one dog seemed like not enough. it felt melancholy.
you know what happened next. time passed. riley showed up.
the porch is no longer new. we've rescreened twice in places, thanks to riley, who likes to lean against it as though it's a hammock. as dogs do, he has found his own safe places--claimed his own part of the porch. he spends most of his time sitting outside the screen on the steps, protecting the yard. the bugs drive him crazy, and he's constantly biting at his own butt to get rid of them. but for a long time he preferred the independence of the steps to the porch itself.
until this summer.
this summer, maybe because he's getting older--he's almost six already--or maybe because he's gotten calmer, he's taken to the porch more. right now, as i type this, it's friday night. doug is just home from another very long day at work. he's got beth orton on the stereo and he just brought me a glass of wine.
and there's a dog lying at my side, in the southwest corner of the porch. it's riley. toby's place is his now, and it's been that way for some time.
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