Travels of Zoe, the Wonder Dog

Author’s note: “Friends to the End” is a fictional serial. Though it takes place in the Mid-Hudson, and many of the places are identifiable, the story and the characters in it are fully fictional. Any resemblance to real-life people, events or businesses is purely coincidental.


James Dunning pulls onto I-84 and headed west. Beside him, Zoe stares blindly into the night, makes a little whimper, then curls into a tight ball and snuggles against his thigh. In a moment, she is asleep.

James runs his hand along her back, feeling her rough coat and the dog warmth just beneath it. He is close to tears. But he’s volunteered to do this. He has to be the one to do it, and he knows that. Susan could never have handled it. She’d be crying so hard right now she’d drive off the road.

There was no choice, that was the worst thing. There was just nothing else they could do. The Record had cut his job and kicked him out, just like that, after more than 20 years. Kicked him out and by now, kicked out more people than he could list.

Susan’s hours at the college had been cut, too, and this had come as a complete shock, because more people were going to school, and from what James can see, about 90 percent of them are completely nuts, completely in need of counseling, and since Sue works part-time and gets no benefits, it seems to him that she should be the one to get more hours, not fewer.

But that’s not how it’s turned out.

Sue’s hours are down, and James has simply not been able to get a job. Hell, all he knows is how to write and edit, and who needs those skills these days? Who cares about those skills? Who even knows that people have those skills, or cares that there’s a difference between a good sentence and a bad one, or that “eager”means one thing and “anxious” means something else?

James has been looking for work. He’s applied at Shop-Rite and McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. He’s applied at Gander Mountain and Panera Bread and Home Depot and Lowe’s. He’s applied to Orange County tourism, Sullivan County tourism, the new hospital, the old hospital, Bethel Woods, every marketing firm around, and every government job he could conceivably accomplish. He’s applied to every newspaper in the area, all the papers in the City, and every magazine within 100 miles of their home in Mamakating.

He’s gotten nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. The papers and magazines aen’t hiring. The chains see him as overqualified and destined to be unhappy with the salary they could pay him. And the others, the marketing groups and tourism people and county governments, they just don’t respond. For weeks, he’s chased them down by phone and in person, trying to find someone, anyone who would interview him – if he could just get an interview, he’s sure he could get a job – but finally, broken and exhausted, feeling like a stalker, he’s stopped.

And now, he and Susan have gone through nearly all their savings. They can keep up with the car payments, and they’ve nearly paid off the credit cards, but they can’t keep the house and live in it, too. Their only hope is to move in with Susan’s mother, and she’s happy to have them (happy, really, to have her daughter and granddaughter living under her roof, James thinks, and willing to take him in trade).

If they lived with her, they could rent out their house, and in a year or two,  move back in and resume their lives. The renters are scheduled to move in tomorrow, and so, there is just this one thing between them and safety.

This one warm, soft, mostly blind little thing, sleeping soundly on the seat beside him.

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