Scout and Scout lived below us in the coach house we shared tucked behind a larger brick complex off of Racine avenue. They were there the day we moved in. As we hauled boxes and bags up the flight of wooden stairs we passed the old man sitting out front on the first floor apartment. He was resting on the furthest end of the porch observing us at work. When it was time for a break or at least some distraction we carried a box around the front path so we could come face to face with the man and introduce ourselves.
He sat in a green patio chair with plastic strips that would leave double inch lines on the back of your thighs in summertime. A gruff man, surprising to find in our Chicago neighborhood, maybe a leftover as the younger and wealthier slowly infiltrated. His age and existence matched the chipped siding of our new home and the decrepit yet sturdy state of the porch railing.
“Hi Sir, we wanted to stop by and say hello. You might have noticed us moving in,” Marion chummed, he was always the more charming of us two. The man nodded in acknowledgment. At his lap was a large blonde crescent roll that uncurled to life. The dog leaped off his lap, leaned into a deep stretch and trot over to our shins. I bent down in greeting and the dog propped her two front paws on my left knee and leaned in to lick my face.
“That’s Scout,” the man finally said. Marion knelt beside me to scratch behind Scout’s ears. She turned and curled into him, not unlike a cat. “What a cutie,” I replied. The dog turned around and returned to the man’s lap. “We will try and keep it down and not be too loud up there,” I attempted at lightheartedness, the man either didn’t hear me or thought the comment unworthy of a response.
“And what was your name?” I attempted again. “Scout” he replied. Marion and I both shifted in uncomfort, the man was confused. He paused then clarified, seemling enjoying our discomfort. “Like the dog,” he added, pointing a fat finger at the creature perched on his thighs. Scout the dog tilted her head back towards him as if in agreement. “Scout and Scout, how about that!” Marion concluded, “it was sure nice to meet you both, let us know if you ever need anything.” We slipped off the front porch and back to our car to pick out more cases, we shared a confused glance and waited to debrief until we got inside our new home at 2R.
We lived in that apartment for a year above Scout and Scout. Scout would always run up to greet us with a lick and a whisking of the tail. She seemed particularly inclined to Marion. Scout the man would usually give us a head nod and maybe a brisk “thanks,” the couple of times we helped him with his groceries. Most days they would be sitting on the front porch in the sun, a beverage in Scout’s hand hidden with a koozie. I would say a ‘good morning’ to them on my way into work and a ‘good evening’ on my return.
Each Sunday the Scouts would have a visitor. A young plain woman who could have easily been his daughter, granddaughter, or a caretaker. I would see her carrying in supplies for a quick meal, a tote over her skinny shoulder and a tupperware or two in her hand. She would arrive in the afternoon, take both Scouts for a walk and leave shortly after dinner.
I had the windows open in October, inviting the fall wind to whip into our living room, lifting the dust and spreading the candle scent around the room. It was early evening but already dark as winter approached. As I sat reading on the couch there was a brisk knock at the door. I mistook it for a branch of the large maple tree twisting up the side of the house rattling on the window as it often did. Then it came again. I padded to the door and peeped through the hole. There stood the downstairs Sunday visitor. I opened the door as a gust of cool air swirled inside.
She greeted me with a brief shift of her eyes to meet mine and then turned back to her feet. “My name is Cecilia, I am a relative of Scout who lives downstairs.” “Yes, I’ve seen you around, how are Scout and Scout?”
The old man had died that evening, it was relayed to me that it was a peaceful passing. I felt a pang of unexpected sadness and then a cringe of disgust that it happened below us. I pushed down the shameful thought and averted my attention back to the woman in front of me. She had continued to speak as I was still processing, I tuned back in; “and so Scout left in his will that he would like Marion to take Scout upon his death.” I stared back in surprise, my mouth agape.
Before I knew what was happening the woman walked up a box of toys, treats, and food and Scout behind her. Albeit a slower trot than usual, her curly tail uncoiled between her legs, Scout seemed familiar with our place hopping onto the couch with ease. The woman muffled a ‘thanks’ and I quipped an ‘i’m sorry for your loss’ and our heavy red door was shut.
I stood there for a moment gathering my presence when the door opened back up. It was Marion returning home from his shift at the hospital. He gave me a quick kiss on the cheek and went straight to Scout scooping her into a cradle.
Unbeknownst to me Marion had been walking Scout for the past twelve months. He had struck up conversations with Scout and offered to take the dog to the park for fetch and would often join them both on the porch for lunch on his days off while I was in the office. At first, I felt betrayed that this was all going on without my awareness, but that is how Marion is. Building relationships with everyone he encounters, not finding each one noteworthy as he assumes my bonds are just as strong with each person in our life. "I barely said hello to the man," I explained, feeling ashamed for dismissing our deceased neighbor.
We’ve had Scout for five years now and it seems she was always ours. I find myself waking up most nights dreaming that she has died. My lungs gulp for air pushing me into consciousness leaving the dreamworld behind. I feel for her warmth against my calves. On bad nights I’ll slide upright and slip my hand under the covers. I’ll place my hand on her ribs to feel the rise and fall of life. On the worst nights, I’ll curl my arms under her body and pull her into my chest, holding her until she squirms free.
Each morning her existence surprises me, how she came to be ours. Her little heart pumping blood, her tiny head fitting in my palms. Marion brought her to me. I imagine Mikko brought Scout to him, and me to them both. Before her soul was breathed into her small body and sent to accompany old man Scout, Mikko told her to eventually be with Marion. He sent her to be his younger brother’s companion that he could no longer be. And I am lucky to bear witness, to be a part of this miracle that our lives now are. Our tripod of happiness I never knew could be.
I didn’t know I could love a living creature so. My heart spills open wide each night as my mind races towards the worst I can imagine.
Scout is my sweet girl. My baby girl, she came from my womb. I don’t say that to friends who are trying to have a human baby or who have birthed, mothered, fathered, or parented. It would quickly become an insult rather than a sort of joke. That is how I really feel sometimes, how else can I describe this encompassing cocoon of emotion, devotion, I feel for her. A creature we were blessed with in the most surprising of ways.
Everyone loves her, even those who don’t. They can’t resist when she curls up in their lap and stares up with her almond eyes. Scout never forgets a face and greets every encounter past the first as the homecoming of an old friend. Perhaps, in her shorter length of life they are old friends.
Sometimes when we walk around the neighborhood Scout will still pull and sniff when a gruff grandpa walks by. She stopped pulling to go to the first floor door after a few months.
I wish we had a photo of Scout and Scout but it seems Cecilia was merely a conduit, vanishing after playing pet stork. We tried to get in contact with his family but had no success. Eventually Scout’s origin story became a surprising tale we would share with friends when they would ask what breed she was and eventually drift into the adoption question.
Scout is the biggest blessing in our life. I only hope that she sees us the same and that old man Scout is resting happily and Mikko as well with a job well done.