Once upon a time, in a small log house at the end of a long lane, there lived a dog named Hyperbole.
Whenever his friend Edward would come driving down the long lane to visit him, Hyperbole would bounce and bark and run around in circles. His ears would flap and his brown eyes would shine. His big black nose would shine, too, in that pixelated way dogs’ noses shine when they are moist with enthusiasm.
Now, on one particularly frosty winter day, a day close to Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, when snow had fallen on the little log house and melted in the ruts of the bumpy lane and frozen again, so the ice cracked and crunched under your boots when you walked up the lane to check for mail in the mailbox, on this particular winter day Edward came driving up the lane and crunched to a stop beside the log house.
“Oh boy, oh boy, bark, bark, bark!” said Hyperbole as he ran in circles and sniffed and snuffled and bounced around his friend Edward.
“Let’s go for a walk in the woods, Hype,” Edward said. “But first, I have a Secret Package to carry inside and put away for later.”
“Oh boy, oh boy, bark, bark, bark!” said Hyperbole. “Can we have the Secret Package now? Can we have it now?”
“Have you checked the mailbox yet today, Hyper?” asked Edward, who really wanted the Secret Package to be a surprise.
“Not yet, not yet, but I’ll go see,” said Hyperbole. He bounced and ran around in circles a few times, and then shambled down the long lane, sniffing and whuffling at the interesting repositories of smells along the way, such as old cattail stalks that other animals had peed on, and a muskrat’s tracks in old snow that had thawed before the muskrat walked across it and then frozen afterwards.
As soon as Hyperbole was out of sight, Edward carried the Secret Package into the kitchen, where he unpacked it hastily while keeping an ear cocked for Hyperbole returning. He put some of the items from the Secret Package in the refrigerator, and then, glancing over his shoulder to make sure nobody was looking, he put the rest of the items in the cupboard, high up on the top shelf.
“Whuff! I’m back, I’m back,” announced Hyperbole, just as Edward shut the cupboard door. Hyperbole’s voice was somewhat muffled by the mail he was holding in his jaws, but when he had dropped the mail on the table and Edward had wiped off the drool with the sleeve of his jacket, the dog’s voice rang clear as a bell again.
“Anything for me, for me?” asked Hyperbole.
They pawed through the mail looking for Christmas cards from Edward’s nieces, Jasmine and Dakota and Cheyanne, but there weren’t any Christmas cards yet, just L.L. Bean catalogs and fundraising letters and bills.
Finally, Hyperbole and Edward took a really long, long, walk
through the woods.
Hyperbole and Edward walked all the way up one side of the mountain, past the pine trees and the hemlocks. They passed the old foundation stones where lilacs bloom in the spring. They passed the place where last time they saw bear tracks (extra-long sniffing here).
Then the two friends came back down the mountain, with a few detours after squirrels (Hyperbole), and a few pauses for drinks of cold, cold, well water from a BPA-free water bottle (Edward), and fur that was cold on the top and warm next to the skin (Hyperbole), and frosty cheeks and a red nose (Edward), and puffs of breath visible in the cold air (both of them), and stretched trapezius muscles in the shoulder (both), and joy in the heart (both, for sure).
Now, by the time the two friends got back home, Hyperbole had forgotten all about the surprise. Secret Package? What Secret Package? He trotted over to his water dish and gulped and guzzled the water until his thirst was slaked. Then he curled up in his dog bed next to the wood stove and tucked his nose under the plume of his tail and slept.
Perhaps Hyperbole dreamed, for every once in a while his muzzle quivered or his front paws twitched.
As he slept, I wonder if Hyperbole heard, dimly, the squawk of the squeaky hinge on the cupboard door, or the whump of the refrigerator door closing, or the hiss of water running in the sink.
Or perhaps he smelled, in his sleep, the deep and glorious smell of onions frying in an old and experienced cast iron skillet, and the brown smell of floured chunks of beef tossed into hot oil, where they sizzled, minute by minute by minute, the brownness crisping and crusting and deepening until, at just the right moment, Edward scraped under the browning beef chunks with a spatula and flipped them to brown on the other side.
But I will tell you that by the time Edward’s Surprise Beef Stew was finished cooking, Hyperbole did hear the clink of knives and forks on the table.
Hyperbole woke up with a start.
“Whuff?” he said. “Whuff?”
“Let’s eat!” said Edward.
“Oh boy, oh boy, beef stew! Bark, bark, bark!” said Hyperbole, for beef stew was his very favorite dinner in the whole wide world. And he bounced into his chair at the table and fell upon his portion like a ravenous wolf at the end of a very long winter day.
And when the two friends had polished off two huge bowls of stew each, they stacked their dishes in a sinkful of hot and soapy water. Hyperbole went out briefly in the cold to sniff around the woodpile and pee one last time, while Edward scrubbed the skillet and blotted it with a towel and wiped it with oil and set it on the stove to dry.
Then Edward shoved two more logs into the wood stove. He clinked the stove door shut and adjusted the draft so the fire burned brightly. The stove ticked softly in the peaceful, after-dinner silence. The two friends curled up together on the sofa and slept and slept and slept. And what they dreamed about, sleeping in that warm log house at the end of a long lane under the bright and icy stars, I will leave you to imagine for yourself.
With thanks to my son Edward for walks in all seasons; to Dorothy, for the hospitality of her log house in East Lempster, NH; and to the writers, illustrators, and publishers of all my favorite children’s books, especially The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, for their stories. — MAB