CONTINUED FROM PART 1
“Sorry about that, Jerr,” Oven apologized, even though he knew he didn’t have too.
“No,” Jerry said slowly. “You don’t need to be. I mean, it’s not a crime to say her name. In fact, I think she would agree with you. Humans are pretty boring at times.” He looked over at Oven and smiled. It was something Oven thought he would never see again. Every wrinkle on Jerry’s face was accentuated, but it made him look younger for some reason. “You probably knew her better than anyone else. How do you think she would have zoned this place?”
Oven could have talked about Peggy for hours, but he didn’t want to ramble and lose this chance. He stopped himself and focused on the question. “I think I might know.”
“Maybe. Bear with me for a sec cause I’m talking and thinking at the same time. Do you remember when you went on that fishing trip with Saxon’s owner? It was about 6 or 7 months before the fire.”
“How could I forget,” Jerry exclaimed. “Best trip of my life. Roger and I caught darn near every fish in the sea.”
“Roger,” Oven remembered. “Yeah, that’s him. He’s a good guy. Saxon, on the other hand…”
“Be nice,” Jerry said, cutting him off.
“Well, anyways, that was about the best weekend I ever had with Peggy. We spent most of that time just sitting around talking about anything and everything.”
“She loved to talk.”
“She did,” Oven agreed. “Funny enough, one of the things we talked about was when she first met you. She said she fell in love with you instantly because you actually listened.”
“She said that?” Jerry asked. “How did that come up?”
“She did,” Oven grinned. “We were talking in the living room after dinner one of those nights. She told me that she was glad to have me around while you were gone because I was a good listener, too. Then she started talking about how lucky she was to grow up with a mother that was a good listener. Did you know that she picked up saying ‘Brilliant’ from her mom?”
“I did,” Jerry said. “Her mom was British, or English, or something like that. Hate to admit how much I don’t know about it, but it is what it is. I think it’s normal, or at least, it’s become a normal saying for them. I’ve heard her mother use it when we’d visit, but Peggy said it all the time. Her father may have said it too, but I never got to meet him.”
“Wow,” Oven laughed. “Thanks for the crappy lesson about British culture.”
Jerry took it in stride. “It is what it is, but what does her saying ‘brilliant’ have to do with anything. Where you going with all this?”
“Did you ever catch what she said was brilliant?”
Jerry was confused. “What do you mean? Everything was brilliant.”
“She used to say ‘fine’ a lot, too.” Jerry’s eyes opened wide at this realization.
“She did, didn’t she?”
‘She did. I’d go so far as to say that everything that wasn’t brilliant was fine. She meant it in a nice way, though.” Oven laughed to himself as he spoke. “I’ve overheard Patricia say it to her friends and I’ve learned that it’s a good thing if it’s about a man, but a bad thing if it’s about everything else.”
“That sounds about right,” Jerry agreed.
“But Peggy meant it genuinely when she said it.” Oven paused before asking his next question. He wanted to phrase it in a way that didn’t make it sound like he knew Jerry’s wife better than Jerry had. “Did you ever notice that she never really said ‘brilliant’ when she was inside the house? It was always when she was outside.”
“She was outside all the time, though,” Jerry pointed out. “She’d always say how she felt trapped when she was inside for too long.”
“Exactly,” Oven said, happy that Jerry brought it up first. “Did you know that’s what you say almost every time before we head out for a drive?”
“You do. I’d even wager that almost every single kid in that school zone probably feels the same way after they’ve been in there for too long. I’ve never been to school myself, but I’d go stir crazy if you lectured me for 8 hours.”
Jerry smiled again. “I hated school. Well, not all of it, of course, but enough of it to ditch and go fishing every chance I got.”
“But all you do when you fish is sit there. Isn’t that what you do in school?”
“Sort of, I guess,” Jerry realized. “We did have some work to do though in school with tests and whatnot.”
“But you have to work a little when you’re fishing too, right?”
“I guess you could call it work,” Jerry admitted, “but it doesn’t feel like work when you love it. It was the type of work that didn’t make me have to think. Paused to call it, ‘mindless routine’.”
“I think that’s how Peggy felt when she was working in her garden. She always said she felt, ‘carefree’.”
Jerry began to reminisce about Peggy in her garden. He remembered clearly how she would lean over for a few minutes to dig. Then, as if she was programmed to do it, she would stand up, put her hands on her hips, and twist at the waist to stretch out her back. It looked like exhausting work to him, but she loved it. He waited for the image of her in the fire to overcome the memory, but it didn’t. Was he really getting better?
“You know,” Oven continued, “that’s the thing I hear from humans all the time when they’re tired or stressed. They look down at me and say, ‘I wish I was a dog. You lot don’t have a care in the world.”
“That’s not totally true,” Jerry admitted, playing with the thought in his mind. “I guess you have it easy cause you don’t need to work, but some dogs do.” Oven was moved to hear Jerry speak up for his kind.
“Of course. There’s dogs on the police force, seeing-eye-dogs, rescue dogs, you know, your basic superhero type jobs that we just do naturally.”
“Naturally,” Jerry said. Oven recognized the phrase from the Abbott & Costello baseball sketch, Who’s On First that Jerry used to watch. “But do humans really say that to you?”
“You’ve actually said it a time or two yourself, but I let it slide cause I like you. If it’s a human I don’t like, well, I usually look at them and say something mean like, ‘sucks to be you.’”
“I really hope that you don’t cause I know we raised you better than that.” Jerry slapped down on his turn level to let absolutely no one know that he was about to make a right turn onto his street.
“You did,” Oven reassured, “and I guess I don’t say it like that anymore. I mostly just come back with how I wish I was a human because your kind just seems to live forever.” Oven regretted his words and quickly backtracked. “You know, compared to the lifespan of my kind.”
Oven saw Jerry’s grip loosen on the steering wheel as he turned his head to look at him. “I know what you meant. No offense taken.”
“Good,” Oven said, happy to move past his faux pas. “Well, I brought all of that up to say this. I think Peggy used the term, ‘brilliant’ to describe the things that made her feel carefree. From what I know, I think a school zone is anything but carefree. I think some may like it, some may not, but I don’t believe that it doesn’t come without its stressors.”
“I think you’ve done a pretty good job describing it,” Jerry complimented. “I remember my Anna would come home looking just worn out from school sometimes. She really enjoyed learning about everything, so I figured it was something to do with the social aspect of it all.” He rolled his eyes and breathed deeply. “ Gary on the other hand had no problem making friends. What he did have was a hard time keeping his grades up and was always worried about being held back a grade. During the summer, though, they didn’t have a care in the world. They were totally different people.”
“They were before my time, but I appreciate the insight. Just makes me feel like I’m right.” Oven laughed out loud at a thought that had quickly come to mind. “To be honest, even the word ‘zone’ sounds super rigid. It’s like the area has to be tied down to the point of cutting off its circulation before it can be considered a zone.”
“So, what I think you’re getting at,” Jerry said, quite confidently, “is that Peggy would probably not zone anything at all?”
“Fortunately, or unfortunately,” Oven stated, “ however you look at it, that’s more than likely an impossibility. What I do think is that she’d probably consider everything inside the school zone that she liked as being fine, and everything outside of the school zone that she liked as being brilliant.”
“A carefree zone,” Jerry muttered to himself. “That does sound like a really nice place to be.” He made another right into his gravel driveway without signaling. This was a dead give-a-way to Oven that he was lost in thought and expected them to nail a tree any second. He looked over at Jerry as he lightly bounced around in his seat as they made their way down the gravel driveway. They drove past the house to the where he parked his truck out back. Oven spoke up a little way before they were supposed to stop.
“You still there, Jerr?” Oven asked, but Jerry proved he was by taking his right foot off the gas as he quickly pressed the brake with his left. Oven would have been in the floor if he hadn’t braced for a different impact into the shed at the end of the driveway. Jerry shifted the car into park, cut the engine, and stared out the driver’s side window at the neglected garden that haunted his lawn.
He saw her again. She was standing up wearing her gardening apron. She was glancing this way and that, as if making a mental inventory of all that she wanted to do. Jerry expected to see her ignite at any second. Just because it didn’t happen last time, doesn’t mean it won’t happen again.
But it didn’t. It didn’t happen at all. She just turned her head, smiled at him, and disappeared.
“Jerr?” Oven asked again, pulling Jerry out of his daydream. He could have let himself out of the truck, but he was starting to worry about his owner again. “You still with me, Jerry?”
Jerry sniffled a bit and turned to face his faithful friend. He reached over and scratched Oven behind his ears, something he hadn’t done in a while. He spoke so softly Oven felt as if the words would lift him from his seat.
“I wasn’t,” he admitted, a tear starting to run down his cheek. “But I am now.”
“Good, Oven said quickly, “Cause I gotta pee.” He turned around in his seat jumped out the open window, and ran off towards the woods. He didn’t want his owner to notice that he was shaking because of how overwhelmed he was, and it horrified him that he might see him cry. He didn’t want him to think these were anything more than tears of joy. As he ran, he heard Jerry laugh loud and clear. He knew without a doubt in his mind that they were going fishing tomorrow.