Jerry lifted his right foot off the gas and quickly pressed the brake with his left in a simultaneous movement. His dog, Oven, whose head was out the window enjoying the wind in his face, lurched forward and knocked his skull against the window frame. The black Labrador retriever winced in pain and looked over at his chauffeur.
“Sorry about that, Buddy,” Jerry apologized. “It’s a school zone. Gotta slow down.” Oven appeared to roll his eyes in annoyance as if this had happened more than once. He stared back at his owner for some time, as if to say, “What kind of moron are you?” Of course, this didn’t get said. Instead, he chose a more mature route for a canine his age.
“You know,” he began, loud enough to be heard over the wind as the truck left the school zone and picked up speed. “We’ve been together for right around 8 years now, and I can’t help but be curious.”
“Curious about what?” Jerry asked. He knew what was coming. He’d heard it so many times before.
Oven squinted his eyes as if thinking while bobbing his head back and forth. “I’ve been wondering. Just how many accidents have we been in?”
“Scratch that,” Oven interrupted. “Let me try again. How many accidents have you been in?”
Jerry sighed. “13.” He didn’t even have to think about it. 10 of those were within the past 5 years. It had become normal for him to drive around for hours to clear his head. He truthfully couldn’t believe he still had a license but having a brother in-law as a judge came in handy. He took his hand off the wheel to wipe his forehead.
“10 and 2, Jerr,” Oven deadpanned. “You’ve spent enough time in driving school to know that.”
“Look, I’m sorry I bopped your head against the window,” he apologized. He was now becoming the one that was annoyed. “I’ve always drove like this and it’s hard to change now. Shoot, you should know that better than anyone.”
“Excuse me?” Oven said in a mocked tone of insult. “Here we go again with your stereotypical bologna. Just because you refuse to drive correctly, something I’d do if I had the ability. Trust me on this one. I would. Just because you refuse to drive like you’ve been taught doesn’t mean you get to go spouting nonsense about my kind. This ain’t no new trick, my friend. This is something that you’ve known since the 50’s.”
“Look, can we just talk about something else please?” Jerry exclaimed harshly. It was reminiscent of the tone he once used when Oven was just a pup being house broken.
“We can,” Oven said, showing signs of hurt from Jerry’s outburst, “but please don’t talk to me like that. I’m not a puppy, okay. I hate that.”
“Okay,” Jerry muttered. “Sorry about that.” He pulled a stick of chewing gum from his shirt pocket, quickly unwrapped it from its foil attire, and put it in his mouth like the advertisements taught him to do. Oven watched the gum gently fold over itself and smelled the sharp spearmint aroma that always gave away his owner’s whereabouts. It was a welcomed replacement to the smell of cigarette smoke that was, at one time, all he could ever smell. Oven was happy for Jerry’s transfer of habits, though not for the initial reason he made the switch. He even tried a piece long ago as an early adult and made a solemn vow never to try another. They drove for a spell before Oven broke the silence.
“So, here’s a dumb question.” he began. “There’s a sign back there that says End School Zone, and while I know that that’s what we’re doing when we past the school, what I don’t know is what zone we’re entering when we leave.”
“What are you talking about?” Jerry asked.
“You know,” Oven continued. “We entered the school zone and then we left the school zone. What is the zone called that we are driving in when we’re not within the confines of the school’s vicinity?”
“Confines of the school’s vicinity?” Jerry repeated. “Where did you learn to talk like that? Have you been hanging out with Patricia’s Collie again?”
Oven was about to lie, but realized it wasn’t necessary. “I’m a grown dog, Jerry. I don’t see how it’s any of your business if I wander over to the Library to socialize with Willow every now and then.”
“I guess I really don’t mind,” Jerry admitted, “but I’m going to put you on America’s Smartest Dogs if you keep talking like that.”
“Duly noted,” Oven said. He thought he caught a glimpse of a faint smile from Jerry. This was new. “Anyways, like I was asking. What zone are we in when we’re not in a school zone? The Twilight Zone?”
“You're not old enough to know about the Twilight Zone,” Jerry said. He was about to ask how Oven knew about the show but was cut off.
“Don't go off on another rabbit trail,” Oven advised. “It’s not like I’ve been locked up in a closet for most of my life.”
“You’ve been trapped in a car for most of it,” Jerry said in an almost contrite manner.
“I like our drives, Jerr,” Oven admitted. He really did enjoy them, despite the frequency, but Jerry was acting different this time. Something was better. “Still, I know about a lot of things that you probably don’t think I do. What I don’t know is, yet again, what zone we are in.”
“I don't know,” Jerry admitted. “I mean, we’re not in a city, but we’re not so far away to be considered the middle of nowhere, even though there’s really nothing but small farms out here. Most likely it's considered an agricultural zone, or a residential zone. Maybe a mixture of both. Something like that.”
“Really?” Oven asked. “That's boring. You humans are really boring sometimes. Especially the ones in charge of naming zones. Let's call it something else.”
“What you call boring, we call practical.” Jerry momentarily went rigged after he spoke. He couldn’t help but think how much that last sentence sounded like Peggy. It even had a small amount of her tone and inflection.
“You sounded just like Peggy,” Oven said without thinking. He didn’t know if revealing this truth would make Jerry happy or sad, but, at the moment, it was almost impossible not to point out. “I mean, that sounds just like something Peggy would have said.” Jerry let out an almost inaudible laugh, but it was still a laugh. Jerry seemed to actually be getting better.
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