[Spoiler alert: you might want to read Part One before Part Two.]
Read The Blue Ball Incident -- Part One
Read The Blue Ball Incident -- Part One
The next morning, Saturday, I was up early, and worked on The Gravy Train upstairs in my attic study. Later, I went downstairs to edit on my notebook computer in the library. On the way down I checked in on Styles. Still asleep. I had decided the night before not to tell Manette and Zac about Styles: they couldn't do anything about it, so why have them worry?
At 9 a.m., like clockwork, Styles came downstairs for his breakfast. He was drowsy as usual, but did his normal morning routine. Stretching with his front paws extended, his chin on the ground and his butt in the air. Standing up again, yawning, wagging the entire back half of his body along with his tail, stretching again, yawning some more. I let him outside before breakfast. I felt my heart start to race as I saw him squat. He pooped. I checked, but nothing. I remember thinking at that time that parents of infants are immune to the process of changing their babies' diapers, or having them throw up all over them. I guessed it was the same with Styles; he was a rescue, but didn't that mean we loved him more? Why would I give a damn about running my rubber-gloved fingers around in some warm turds for pieces of turquoise rubber when the little guy risked going under the knife?
I gave him another big breakfast with about half again more meat than usual, some broccoli, olive oil, and then afterward, a few pats of butter. He still hated the tummy drops, but now seemed resigned to them and rolled onto his back when he saw me approaching with the vial.
About forty-five minutes after his breakfast, Styles stood by the door. I let him outside and watched from the kitchen window, ready to follow him if he wandered toward the bushes, out of my line of vision. My heart started pounding as he squatted again—the little man is a champion pooper—and even from that far away could see flecks of turquoise hit the ground. I went outside. Two pieces! Styles must have sensed my elation because he strutted around with that stiff-legged pitbull walk like he was proud of himself.
I decided it was time to focus on figuring out how far along we were in the process. I taped the two pieces he'd chewed off the ball and not swallowed back to it, then donned my rubber gloves again, pulled my bleach bucket into the basement utility sink and scrubbed the retrieved pieces off with some more bleach and an old brush. An hour later I taped them to the ball. I guessed that my original estimate of 40% of the ball consumed was right. I retrieved about 20% of that, so by my calculations, about 12 more pieces to go. He's gonna do it.
I came back upstairs and played with him. He ran around the house again like a madman, and then I gave him a marrow bone in his crate. I sat down on the library sofa to go back to work. Styles finished his bone and climbed up next to me. He put his head in my lap while I worked. All was right with the world.
About noontime he wanted to go out again, so I walked around the yard with him while he sniffed, stomped in the mud and scratched at some remaining piles of snow. We were just ready to go back in when he hunched over again and squeezed out two more pieces of the ball. Now we were really getting someplace.
Before dinner, more tummy oil. Now when he saw me coming with the vial, he hung his head, looking like he was feeling betrayed. I felt guilty as I rubbed the oil on him. About two hours after his dinner, Styles did two more big poops—I was overfeeding him, but still couldn't believe where it was all coming from. Nothing. I went to bed anxious, yet more hopeful than the night before.
The next morning, Sunday, Styles still seemed perfectly normal when he awakened. The usual routine. Stretch, yawn, butt-wag; same thing all over again. My hopes fell when he did his business, a big one, with no turquoise joy. I wondered if he sensed the growing feelings of defeat coming off me in waves as we went back inside. He was oddly quiet all day, sleeping a lot, and not really engaging when I picked up his ball and tried to play catch inside the house. I wondered if Dr. Buchoff would consider this lethargy. Images of walking Styles up the ramp into the vet’s office, only half the lights lit on a Sunday evening, Dr. Buchoff suited for surgery, flooded into my mind.
That evening it was pouring rain. I felt a creeping dread. Styles hated the rain, and the only way I could get him to go outside in it was to carry an umbrella with me. After his dinner, I put him on the leash and walked with him around the lawn, the two of us protected by my biggest golf umbrella. Sort of protected. The wind was blowing and we were both getting soaked. We sloshed around in puddles and mud for at least ten minutes to no avail, but I wasn't giving up. We kept going. Finally he stopped and looked up at me with sadness in his eyes. "Okay, let's go back inside," I said. We walked around the pool and as we stepped off the bluestone onto the grass, he stopped, sniffed and squatted. I couldn't believe my eyes. A festival of turquoise. I brought Styles inside, donned my gloves. I could hear my pulse pounding in my ears. I was too excited to worry about bringing the umbrella. Four pieces. Unbelievable. I dropped them in the bleach bucket and ran back inside with it, down into the basement. I cleaned them off and taped them onto the ball. We had to be more than halfway there.
I was buzzing with emotion when I came back upstairs. I checked the weather report for the next few days. Clearing Monday, with bright sunshine on Tuesday. I texted Joyce to reconfirm Styles' play-date in our back yard with Rosie, her rottweiler, for Tuesday. I threw the ball around with Styles in the basement for about an hour, Styles going at it like I’d shot him up with amphetamines. I went to bed knowing we were over the hump.
The next morning, Monday, I decided I needed to be more scientific about the ball. I cut all the tape off it, and lay the pieces out on a piece of wax paper on the kitchen counter. I got out my Gorilla glue and some pins, started piecing the ball back together, remarkably finding that I could figure out where most of the pieces had come from. I glued and pinned them. I watched Styles running around in the yard through the kitchen window while I worked. The pool cover had about three inches of water in it; the pump had died, but run long enough to get a siphon going down the grade into the woods to drain most of the water. Styles would rush in and out of the water, pick up a stick, throw it in the air, grab it from the water, then do it over again. Making his own amusement. A funny little guy. Well, not so little; he weighed in at 51 pounds at Dr. Buchoff’s on Friday, which now seemed like an eternity ago. 51 pounds of muscle. Three days of nervous tension.
It took me half an hour to finish gluing the ball together, some of the pieces swollen and misshapen from soaking in the bleach, but they all fit. I was stunned. Only one or two small pieces were missing. They were either still inside Styles or in the woods. Either way, crisis averted. I felt the tension flood out of me.
When Manette and Zac got home that evening, Styles greeted them like they’d been away for six weeks, jumping up, wagging his whole backside and licking their faces. It took Manette an hour to notice the reconstructed blue ball sitting next to the Vitamix on the kitchen counter. Over tea I told Zac and her the story. Styles got another full round of strokes, pets and treats after that. Afterwards, Manette walked over to the ball. Manette, a mother who had wiped Zac’s butt and had him puke all over her when he was a baby, picked up the ball by her fingertips like it was radioactive, wrinkled her nose and said, "We don't still need this do we?"
I shrugged and shook my head.
"Good. That's gross," she said as she threw it in the garbage can. She washed her hands, then pulled the peroxide spray out from underneath the sink and sprayed the counter next to the Vitamix. All I could do was smile.
That night just before bed I walked into the library to see Manette down on the rug on her hands and knees, fishing around for something. "What's up?" I said.
"Styles chewed the zipper off the cover to his bed." She looked up and held a piece of something out to me between her fingers. "I only found a piece of the zipper pull. The rest of it's gone."
"That's tiny," I said. "It'll pass right through him." After the last three days I felt like I knew what I was talking about.
Manette sat back, crossed her legs Indian-style. She nodded, seeming satisfied. She pulled the bed cover toward her, then showed it to me. "You can see where he pulled the zipper right off the end of the teeth."
I looked at it and tensed. I bent over and took the bed cover from her, scrutinized it. I felt myself go cold.
"What's wrong?" Manette said.
"Remember he chewed this once before? I put a safety pin on the end of it so he couldn't slide the zipper off the teeth again. Did you find the safety pin?"
"No," she said. "But wouldn't that pass right through him, too?"
"Look at this," I said, showing her the fabric at the end of the zipper. "It isn't torn. That means the only way he could've gotten the safety pin off of there was if he opened it." I felt a sharp tug of anxiety in my gut. "That means he must've swallowed an open safety pin."
Manette and I just looked at each other.
Here we go again, I thought.