Volume 5 Number 4


Autumn 2007

Hershel and Gertrude

by Marie Shield

Who would think to give children names like Hershel and Gertrude in this day and age? It was no wonder they turned out to be so ill-behaved. In her mind she called them Horrible and God-awful. To her face they called her Wicked Old Witch and her beloved puppy Dumb Dog. He was such a happy little dog. She knew from the first moment she saw him his name could never be anything except Happy.

Easily amused, Happy could spend hours chasing his own tail or chasing butterflies while she planted and puttered and weeded. He'd frequently lick her face, or any part of her he could reach, before bounding off to play again. If she stood up, he would run over and hump her leg. She thought it was cute. He was a sexy little fella. A lot of puppies in the neighborhood had many of his physical characteristics and personality.

An accident of birth had given Mrs. Belagosi a huge hooked beak of a nose and a humped back. Although she had never been married, everyone called her "Mrs." Normally she loved children, but these brats next door were not normal children. She tried to remind herself that it was not the children who were at fault, it was the parents. Hershel and Gertrude had torn up her flower garden, let the air out of her tires, tied a string across her gate, and pelted her with water balloons when she tripped and fell.

But this. This was too much. Last night they had sprayed her precious little terrier with Nair. Mrs. Belagosi found him soon after it happened. After all, she had only left him in the yard for as long as it took him to do his duty. When she heard him yipping, she hurried outside and saw him running in circles, rolling in the grass, biting himself, and pulling out hanks of fur.

Happy always hated his bath, but last night he seemed to think she was punishing him when she plunged him into the tub of warm water. Usually he fought her, tried to wriggle out of her strong hands, and jump out of the tub. She bathed him every week anyway, firmly believing that a clean dog is a healthy dog. But this time, he just lay there with his little round black eyes looking at her with a depth of betrayal she could hardly bear. After the bath, he was subdued and ashamed in his nakedness. It broke her heart when she tried to hold him and he squirmed away and hid behind the sofa. It was as if he wanted to hide from himself.

This morning he refused to come outside. He lay on the kitchen floor with his paws over his pretty little face. She worked in her garden feeling sad and alone.

"Good Morning, Mrs. Belagosi."

Mrs. Belagosi painfully pushed herself to her feet, ready to tell her next-door neighbor just what her darling children had done this time. But she never got the chance.

"I have a huge favor to ask. You know Daddy and I have been planning to go to Hawaii, and we're supposed to leave on Friday." Mrs. Belagosi didn't know and didn't care. Mommy took a huge breath and continued. "My mother was going to come and stay with the children, but she inconveniently had a heart attack last night. Oh, she's fine. She didn't die or anything. But she's not going to be able to watch the children. You're so wonderful with your plants and your sweet little dog. I know you must be just wonderful with children," Mommy gushed. "I was wondering if you could watch Hershel and Gertrude while we're gone? We're willing to pay you, of course."


Bio: Marie Shield is a full-time fiction writer and the winner of writing awards from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, Dionysians, Pariah Publishing, and Mindprints Literary Journal. Her stories have been published in Static Movement, Mindprints, and other journals, and the anthology Curiouser and Curiouser. She lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband Michael.