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A Good Plan

By Teru Lundsten

    When I was nineteen years old, back in the seventies, I dropped out of college inVermont and went to live with my boyfriend Mark in California, where he was in his last semester of college. One matter complicated my travel plans: my dog, Soboka.

    I inherited Soboka from my college roommate the year before. She was a beautiful Sheltie/border collie mix, with tri-colored fur, a perfectly proportioned face, expressive brown eyes, leaf-shaped ears like a doe’s that perked up often, and a tail that wagged just as often. She smiled like the Mona Lisa.

    In college, Soboka accompanied me to classes and lay at my feet, and no professor ever complained. I still dream about her. In my dreams, she is pure gold.

    At the time I decided to leave the college, I lived off-campus in a shared house. It was early February, and well below zero. One of my roommates, a guy named Ray, drove Soboka and me to the Albany airport through a pre-dawn blizzard in his unheated VW bug. Ray complained all the way, even though he had offered the favor, for a fee exceeding the cost of gas. I didn’t have much money, but I accepted because I didn’t have any other options.

    It was light by the time we arrived at the airport, and Ray dropped us off at the curb. He sat in the driver’s seat as the car idled and I unloaded all my stuff. “Thanks,” I said as I closed the car door, and he wordlessly drove off.

    In California, Mark lived off-campus too, with three other guys. Two of their girlfriends had moved in, unbeknownst to their landlady, who lived next door. I was to be the third.

    Resident girlfriends were absolutely unacceptable, and grounds for eviction. (After I moved in, if the landlady was working in the yard, we women crawled from one room to another to avoid detection.) Dogs were not allowed, either, and would be harder to hide than girlfriends. Soboka would have to live somewhere else until Mark and I lived on our own.

    Mark’s and my friend Thor, who lived inSanta Fe, agreed to take Soboka for several months. I was to ship her in a pet carrier from Albany to Santa Fe, via Chicago, then take a flight myself to LAX.

    At the Albany airport, I stashed my stuff and walked Soboka through the blinding snow to the cargo area. I paid the airline $70 cash to ship her, and bid her a tearful farewell. I tromped back to the passenger area, my hands deep in my pockets, to await my own flight.

    I kept my eye on the screen that displayed flight departures, and soon saw that Soboka’s flight had been delayed. I grew anxious about taking my own flight and leaving her behind, but it wasn’t long before my flight was also delayed. The runways were frozen and crews were spraying a chemical solution on them to melt the ice.

    I ran as fast as I could back to the cargo area, lifting my legs high with each step through the deep snow, and released Soboka from her carrier. I gave her some water and walked her around until they announced that her flight was ready to take off. She obediently re-entered her carrier, I closed the cage door, and once again bid her a tearful farewell. I returned to the passenger area to check on my own flight.

    Soon both our flights, as well as others, were delayed again. The storm was so fierce that the ice on the runways was not melting, despite the crews’ efforts. I repeated my reunion with Soboka, and then another tearful separation. The day wore on, and I repeated the ritual yet again, until they finally announced that all flights were cancelled. I had nowhere to go for the night.

    Then they announced that passengers on some flights would be bussed for free to New York City and flown out of there. I was a beneficiary of that offer, but not Soboka. How could I go and leave her overnight shivering in that pet carrier in the cargo area?

    I went into the ladies’ room, leaned back against the shiny tiled wall, slowly slid down into a crouch, and sobbed into my hands.

 “What’s the matter, honey?” asked a woman’s voice above me. I opened my eyes and peered through my fingers. Two pairs of legs stood before me, and I looked up into the faces of two women not much older than I. I stood and blubbered out my sorry story.

    “Tell you what, honey,” said one woman. “My sister here, her flight’s been canceled. She’s been visiting me here in Albany. We’re just going to go home and try again tomorrow. Why don’t you just let us take your dog with us and we’ll make sure she gets to Santa Fe?”

    “Really?” I asked. “Okay!”

    As darkness fell, the three of us went back to the cargo area, liberated Soboka and I introduced them (of course they loved her immediately). The airline refunded my $70 cash and I handed it over to them.

    In the parking lot, they wove their way toward their car, as snow fell ceaselessly at an angle, like needles. Soboka followed them with no hesitation, as if she knew this was a good plan.

    I caught my bus to New York City and barely made my flight to LAX. It did not occur to me until I was staring out the bus window that I had not gotten the names or contact information of the two women. What if they kept my money and my dog? Had I been a fool?

    I got off the plane in Los Angeles at midnight in my heavy winter coat, and Mark greeted me in shorts and a T-shirt. Palm trees swayed in the parking lot as we made our way toward his car.

    Late the next afternoon, we heard from Thor that Soboka had safely arrived in Santa Fe, a bit dehydrated but otherwise fine. I wanted to write the two women a thank-you note, but I could not. I could only thank the universe.

~Fidalgo Island Writers Guild

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