We all have gifts—talents, skills, even personality traits that we’re born with or have developed; usually both. We can choose to use those gifts strictly for personal gain and comfort or we can use those gifts to make a difference, however large or small that difference might be.
I come from #women who made a difference. For example, my grandmother worked in the kitchen of a large, busy restaurant washing dishes and huge pots and pans. It was a grueling, on-her-feet eight to ten hours a night then walk two miles home in the early morning dark since the restaurant closed around 2 a.m. It was the kind of job that could easily depress a person; make them angry and resentful; or just too tired to care about anyone else.
Not my grandmother.
Grandma didn’t tout her #spiritual beliefs. She just quietly lived them. Still it wasn’t surprising when the young cook and his wife brought their sickly newborn to Grandma while she was on her fifteen minute break and asked her to bless the child. Grandma laid aside the half sandwich and the cold glass of water, got up and walked outside with young Pete. She took their baby in her arms and prayed for the child and gave the little girl her blessing. I heard that the child did indeed begin a slow process of physical improvement from the night on.
Grandma was a giver of many blessings; usually in the form of encouragement, common sense counsel, a listening ear, and a caring heart. It didn’t matter if you were family, friend, or a stranger. My mother had a different type of gift. She didn’t care much for most people though she could talk anyone into almost anything. No, Mom’s gift lay with animals. Many of my short stories about animals originate in some incident with my mother. Stories such as the one about a coyote pup’s rescue from cruel men and the story about a horse standing in a farmer’s field starving, all came from instances of my mother’s courage to face down hostile humans and rescue needy animals. Vicious #dogs were my mother’s special gift. Dogs that would rather chew my face off as to look at me would sidle up to my mother and beg for her to touch them.
My family didn’t have a lot of money; most days we were fortunate to have enough to eat, yet few days passed that my grandmother or my mother didn’t use their gifts to bring healing to a hurting world. From them I learned that if you have a gift and don’t use it to bring about positive change then you waste a precious resource. No other person will ever have the exact gift that you do. No other person will ever be able to bring about the positive changes that you have the power to create.
Sometimes, it isn’t easy to choose to use your gift for positive change. In my early twenties, I’d published a few short stories, some articles and a handful of poems. At this particular time in my life, I was living in an old milk van converted into a moving house. I made money with a variety of odds jobs that barely kept body and soul together. It was one of the tougher times in my life.
One night a man in a business suit knocked on the back door of my van. I picked up the pipe wrench that I kept handy for unwanted and insistent visitors (of which I’d had a few since I parked in out-of-the-way places and deserted parking lots) and answered the door. Ascertaining that the man meant me no harm, I invited him in for a cup of coffee. He sat on the passenger seat and I sat sideways on the driver’s seat as he laid out a business proposal. A friend of his had read some of my work and had been impressed with my ability with words. He had shown some of that work to this man.
Mr. Suit provided enough evidence to prove that he was indeed a successful businessman. His proposal was that I would write pornographic novels (he owned several adult bookstores and supplied a number of other outlets). He would buy them, paying me a nice advance for each novel, and then—depending on our agreement for that particular book–either the balance of an agreed-upon fee on completion or royalties. I could write under a pen name, if I desired.
At that moment in time, I had a total of ten dollars in my wallet and no job on the horizon. I turned him down. I was given a gift with words and with that gift came the responsibility to use it in a manner that would be, in some way, positive. Whether that emerged from writing an engaging story that allowed people to relax after a stressful day, or whether it emerged from the underlying ‘message’ in my stories, was irrelevant.
Since that evening in my van, there have been other times that I have been homeless, penniless, and jobless, but I have never regretted my decision. Now, many years later, I write books with strong female protagonists who make Superman look like a wuss.
My latest release, Death by Dog, opens with a street kid determined to stop dog fighters.
Death by Dog
When the cold rain stopped that Wednesday, the sun peeked through gray clouds and painted the horizon over Puget Sound in slashes of orange and red. Soda stepped out the door of the First Avenue bookstore as she brushed her thick chestnut hair away from her face. It fell in waves to the middle of her back. She dug a scrunchie out of the pocket of her faded jeans then fisted her hair and tied it so that it fell under the collar of her hoodie.
Mid-March in Seattle, Washington, breathed an early spring chill on the city. She flipped her hood up then zipped the sweatshirt and stuffed her hands in the pockets. Shoulders hunched, she walked briskly south. Before long, she left the restaurants, boutiques and shops that had pulled steel mesh across their entrances for the night and entered an industrial area that had seen better times. Warehouses and abandoned buildings with busted windows hulked in the darkening evening.
The sound of rough male voices drifted across the narrow street. Soda edged into the deeper shadow of a crumbling, brick building; its windows like blinded eyes stared blankly out onto the littered street. Between the black jeans and the navy blue hoodie–pulled close around her pale face and with her white hands stuffed in her pockets–the shadows swallowed her form. Standing perfectly still, she listened as the voices drew closer. Eyes straining, she peered from her spot, trying to make out what swung between the two men.
A few street lamps–not yet vandalized–spilled watery yellow light on the dirty sidewalk and the green dumpster that squatted at the mouth of the alley across from where Soda hid. The men sauntered into the light. Soda squinted her gray-blue eyes. Her heart pounded when she finally realized what they carried.
The body of a large dog hung between them as they made their way to the dumpster. They swung the body back and forth until enough momentum had built and then let go. The animal sailed over the edge of the dumpster and thumped into the trash. They pulled off their gloves and stuffed them in jacket pockets.
The hum of traffic from several streets away sang a muted song, but the men’s voices–harsh and loud–rode over the top of it. The shorter, heavier man dug under his jacket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He lit one and the ember glowed as he inhaled. Grey smoke drifted up toward the circle of lamp light, but disintegrated when a slight breeze puffed off Puget Sound. The breeze smelled of dead fish. “Damn, that was some sick bitch. Shortest fight I’ve ever seen.” Admiration sounded clear in his gravelly voice.
The second man was slightly taller and not quite as heavy as his companion. He accepted a cigarette and lit it. “Short for damn sure. Only thing that bitch,” he jerked a thumb over his shoulder and toward the dumpster, “good for was a trainin’ fight. Can’t believe that other’n; not even two years old, yet. Man, I want me one of them dawgs.” He snorted a laugh.
A shiver ran up Soda’s spine. She pushed against the brick; the cold that seeped through her hoodie felt reassuring.
The shorter man shook his head. “In your dreams.” He finished his smoke then flicked the butt out into the street.
A cramp seized Soda’s calf muscle. Afraid any movement would draw their attention she clamped her teeth and pressed her lips together, willing herself not to move.
“What you think one of them dawg’s worth?” In imitation of the other man, the taller man flicked his cigarette butt out into the street.
For a moment, he seemed to be looking straight at her and Soda thought her heart might stop.
The other man shook his head. “Way outta your league. I heard some of them cost as much as fifty big ones.”
The taller man shifted his attention to his companion and Soda sucked in a silent breath. “If I had me a dawg like that…”
The shorter man guffawed. “You wouldn’t know what to do with it. Them things are the devil’s own dogs. One of them would eat you up, bro. Come on. I’ll buy you a beer.”
They sauntered away into the dark created by busted street lights. Snatches of their words faded until only the hum of the traffic from nearby streets filled the air. A couple of minutes later, a truck roared. Soda shuffled to the edge of the cracked sidewalk and watched as a block north a large, dark colored pick up pulled into the street. She waited until she could no longer see the red of the taillights before she hustled across the potholed asphalt.
Hand on the dumpster side she let her head drop back until she stared up at the faded sky. “Why am I doing this? It’s not going to change anything. She’s dead, or they wouldn’t have thrown her away.” A lump swelled in her throat. She swallowed hard. Taking a deep breath, she pushed her thin shoulders back and straightened up to her full five-foot-five in an effort to steel herself for what she knew lay in the garbage. With an exhale, she clambered up the side of the dumpster. Balanced on the inches-wide lip of cold metal, she stared down as the odor of rotted food wafted up to her. Pale light glinted off black plastic bags of garbage.
The dog had landed on top of several black bags. “You poor dog,” she said as tears quickened in her eyes. She readied to hop off the metal container then stopped. Holding her breath, she leaned forward. A faint movement caught her eyes.
Without hesitation, she dropped into the garbage and waded to the animal. One dark eye blinked slowly up at her. “Poor baby.” She eased down close to the dog. Papers rustled and a puff of something rancid reached her nose. She ignored it. Gently lifting the dog’s head, she scooted her legs underneath and laid the big head on her lap. A whine whispered from the dog. With light fingers, she stroked the dog’s face between gaping wounds. At least, the bleeding had stopped. A pink tongue slowly snaked out and rasped along Soda’s hand.
Even in the faded light from the street lamps, she could tell that the dog’s coat had once been a sable color, a mix of light brown and black hairs. Now a spray of drying and dried blood matted the fur with dark splotches. One of the muscled forelegs had been gashed and the muscle ripped open. The jagged point of bloodied bone jutted out of the skin. The dog had once been a beautiful animal with a well-built body that looked bigger than most German Shepherds that Soda had seen, but it was definitely a German Shepherd. She’d always loved the regal look of German Shepherd dogs.
Another shuddering breath pushed the dog’s ribs up and down. Soda swallowed back her tears as she recalled a lullaby that her mom had sung to her when she was young and had awakened from a bad dream. She petted the dog’s big head and stroked her side as she sang in a quavering, soft voice. Before she’d finished the song, the dog licked her hand once more, looked into Soda’s eyes and breathed her last.
Tears coasted down her cheeks as she wiggled out from under the dog’s head and laid it on a pillow of garbage. She reached out and stroked the still side. “Maybe you’ll see my mom when you cross the Rainbow Bridge, girl.” Jaw clenched, she struggled to her feet. With the sleeve of her hoodie, she scrubbed the tears away.
She had always loved dogs. Had one that had died a month before her mother died of cancer; a little dog shelter mutt, but Soda had loved Cindy. After her mother passed, she was glad that Cindy had died of old age first. She couldn’t have taken care of Cindy while she lived on the streets and she wouldn’t have left her dog alone with her abusive stepfather.
Fists knotted at her sides, she vowed that even though she was only a street kid she’d do something! She didn’t know what, but she would do something to stop those assholes from slaughtering any more dogs.