“Why does it have to be tape?” Callie clutched the only picture she had of her mother as Xu kept a lookout for bears. The dead oak tree on the old Pearson property had not seen bears for twenty-three years, but one never knew.
“It can’t hurt the tree,” Xu answered, her face turning this way and that, the snow dancing past her suspicious eyes searching for objects to cover and change. It had not snowed for near three years. Not really. The sky seemed bloated and too gray-white for Callie’s comfort. “The tree’s magic won’t work. That’s the rules. What was that?”
Both peered toward the tilled field, where corn had stood in military precision until just a few days ago. A rather large blurry object bumbled toward them. “That’s the stray dog. The St. Bernard Mr. Kelly tried to shoot. Said it was eating his chickens. So I tape this to this magic tree and my mom comes back?”
“There’s words and stuff,” Xu offered, her crisp black hair covered with a raspberry beret. “It don’t always work. Like real magic. That’s how you know it’s real. When it doesn’t always work. That is a big dog. Tape it already. Duct tape, right?”
Callie pulled a long bit of scotch tape, heart beating too fast, eyes dazzled by tiny snowflakes waltzing past. “You didn’t say that. You never said that.” She stepped back, the picture of her mother in her high school cap and gown flapping, threatening to fly off. She heard panting. The St. Bernard, skinny as the old barn cat, Mrs. Mouse, looked at both with one mournful eye, the other gummed shut and leaking yellow matter. Matted auburn and ivory coat and one ear shredded, swollen. A more beat up, unhappy dog Callie had never seen. Xu backed away and it shadowed her. “It’s just an old dog.” The picture tore free, zoomed into the air, upheld by the growing wind. “Damn it!”
“No, let it go. Now say, dance dance, tree tree, come back to me. And your mom’s name.”
“What? Okay, whatever. Dance dance, tree tree, come back to me, Vivian Thomas. Oh her middle name was Jane.” Callie’s bare hand touched the back of the giant, emaciated dog. It leaned against her legs with a sigh. A collar? She removed it, the dog shook its entire body. Lady had been etched into the cracked leather. “Come on, Lady. You can live in the barn.”
“It’s probably got worms,” Xu trailed behind, always wary about bears but quite good with magic. Callie took the picture of her mother, put it in her coat pocket. “No! It has to remain near the tree. The dog stinks.”
The picture spiraled upward. Lady sniffed at a clump of weeds. Callie headed home, with her best friend Xu grumbling about it might not work now in her ears.