Chapter 1 – A Dog Day Morning
Kirk Gage is jolted from a light slumber by the sound of his German shepherd dog Gunner barking. He reaches to his right to shut off the C pap machine, slides out of bed, quickly dons a pair of well-worn sweatpants from the top of his dresser and heads out of the bedroom to see what Gunner is barking at. Realizing that Gunner is at the front room window, Kirk addresses Gunner. “Thank you, Gunner, I’ve got this.” Gunner suddenly stops barking; the changing sound of Gunner’s tags tells him the dog has turned away from the window in obedience to his master.
As Kirk turns the corner and enters the front room, Gunner meets him, tail wagging. Continuing toward the window to see what Gunner is barking at while rewarding the dog, he scratches behind Gunner’s ear and says; “Good boy Gunner! That’s a very good boy.” Peering out the picture window wearing his faded sweats and nothing else, Kirk sees a UPS driver delivering a package to the Steele home directly across the street. As the driver hops back in his truck and zooms away; the sight of Bill Steele emerges holding the new delivery.
Bill notices Kirk is standing in the window watching; a wry grin emerges on Kirk’s face, Bill returns the grin, they exchange a quick wave and each of them turns to go about the business of the day. Kirk also noticed that the trash and recycle bins at the bottom of the driveway are open indicating that they are both emptied and ready to be wheeled back up the drive and onto their concrete pad. He will get to them later in the morning.
Waking up mid-morning is typical for Kirk; he manages a small but hard working second shift metal fabrication crew. Their core hours are 3:00 pm to 1:00 am. On a good night, Kirk will turn in at around 2:00 or 3:00 am. It is common for Gunner to wake him up while on guard duty from any form of passersby like delivery trucks, postal workers and neighbors walking by on the street.
Bill and his wife Betty are the youngest couple in the neighborhood. The Steele’s have the only children who are young enough to need to live at home in the neighborhood. Three of them; two girls and one boy. For now, all the children are in the house more than they are away from home due to being educated on-line in virtual classrooms. The oldest daughter is a college Sophomore, the middle daughter is a Junior in High School and the youngest, a boy is in Middle School.
Avid outdoor enthusiasts they have a very well mannered field trained Labrador dog named Aaron that rarely barks and never leaves the yard unless commanded by a family member. Kirk is jealous of how well-behaved Aaron is. Aaron is named after Aaron Rodgers. The Steele’s, like most Wisconsinites are diehard Packer fans.
Knowing that he has Kirk’s attention, Gunner trots to the pantry door, looks up at Kirk and gives an optimistic bark. “Sorry big dog, it’s too early for that. Or is it?” Kirk glances at the microwave oven and sees the time is 9:05 am. “Nine o’clock Gunner, see me in an hour.” Kirk turns and walks away from the pantry with Gunner trailing close behind.
The man wanders into the bedroom, but Gunner stops at the threshold and watches. The dog has been trained to never enter any of the Gage bedrooms. Kirk picks up his phone that is still charging on his nightstand disconnects the cord and texts Gwen before sliding the phone into his right front pocket; “Good morning beautiful! Hope you slept well. I love you!”
Kirk makes his bed and fills the C pap water chamber from the jug of distilled water in his closet while Gunner sits and watches from the door. Kirk finds an equally well-worn sweatshirt to match his bottoms and dons the top then slides the closet doors shut. Gunner stands up, backs up, spins around and leads Kirk into the kitchen. A room that they both are quite fond of.
Kirk hears the familiar ping of his phone which also vibrates to indicate the receipt of a text message. He eagerly takes the phone from his pocket and looks down at the display to see the message that Gwen has sent back. “Good morning stud! I love you. How did you sleep?” Kirk answers back; “The usual…I need you back in our bed.” Gwen shoots back, “I’ll be home tonight baby. Headed in to see a patient now, radio silence for a while.” Heart emoji.
Kirk shuts off the display and places the phone in the right front pocket of his sweats thinking about a conversation that he and Gwen had a little over one year ago concerning her medical practice. Gwen: “Hey baby I got a call from Emily at the Eau Claire hospital today, we had a nice long chat.” Kirk: “Oh? What’s Emily up to?” Gwen: “She’s up to her neck in wound care patients. Stewart announced his retirement 6 months ago and has significantly reduced his workload during his final month of work. On top of that one PA was fired while her newest PA just took a job at the Mayo Clinic next door. The nursing staff is solid, but she needs a Dr. and at least one more mid-level to run the clinic efficiently.” Kirk: “Wow. What’s her plan?”
Gwen: “Emily’s plan is why she wanted to talk to me. As we’ve discussed, I want to make the switch to wound care from Emergency Medicine, this may be the time, and Emily wants me. Their patients react positively to me when I fill in up there, she’s floated my name to the board.” Kirk: “I know baby and there is great beauty up north, but that drive…that’s a 3-hour drive one way.” Gwen: “I’m driving over 1 hour per day each way to Madison or Milwaukee now, this will actually reduce my drive time by 4 hours per week. Plus, the patients are not ill, just in need of care. It’s safe and I will get to know my patients. Let’s sit down and figure out if this will work for us.”
Kirk and Gwen consider themselves lucky to have gotten love right the second time around. Both divorced, yet neither thought they would ever be divorced. But they both married young without knowing how they or their first partners preferred to give and receive love. After time the energy needed to show love that is not natural to their love languages became too hard. That’s when they found each other, they saved each other from failed love.
Gwen a tall blonde with more energy and drive than most, was born with more leg than torso. Long fit legs that became so early in life as a competitive swimmer and downhill skier. Kirk who descends from a Scottish bloodline was born with more torso than leg and is muscular without really working at it very hard. Kirk’s energy levels are not as high as Gwen’s, but he can work hard in spurts, and likes to take frequent breaks from his grind.
Gunner releases another hopeful bark by the pantry that snaps Kirk’s mind back to the present. Looking at the clock that now reads 9:42, Kirk announces; “Not yet big dog, 20 more minutes.” Coffee beans are ground, 6 cups of water and fresh grounds are added to the Mr. Coffee and 5 minutes later there is brown nectar of the gods ready for consumption.
Kirk wanders around the house checking to see what needs to be straightened up or cleaned before Gwen gets home tonight. The pact is easy, when either gets home from work the home will be welcoming. A pact that they both live up to every week. This promise is a great way to make sure that things never get too messy. While the home is definitely ‘lived in’ there is a place for most everything and most everything is in its place.
The home is a modest early 1980s ranch style with 1800 square feet on the main floor and a matching footprint in the basement with a large 2 car attached garage. Gwen and Kirk have spent much of the last 3 years modifying, improving and remodeling the abode to fit their personalities and needs.
As was popular in the early 80s the floor plan was not one of open spaces; a living room in the front, 3 bedrooms west of the living rooms with two bathrooms. One bathroom for the master bedroom and one bathroom shared by two smaller bedrooms. A small dining room and modest kitchen directly south of the living room. In the mid-80s the original owner added what they call the Mother-In-Law addition that boasts a reading room, a small bedroom and a half bath with a den and fireplace to the far south of the structure.
Kirk quickly and efficiently tidied up the house, unloaded clean dishes from the dishwasher and transferred the small collection of dishes from the sink to the now empty dishwasher. A hot cup of coffee was poured into his favorite mug, and while sitting down at the breakfast bar Kirk gives a voice command to the smart speaker in the Mother-In-Law reading room. “Alexa, please play Motown Radio.” Alexa: “Playing Motown Radio, free on Amazon Prime.”
The room is now rocking to the sound of Tina Turner singing Proud Mary. A broad smile appears on Kirk’s face as his mind thinks about the music video of this song with Tina and her backup singers and the frenetic dance that accompanies the song. Once again, Kirk is jolted back to the present by a hopeful Gunner bark. Looking up at the microwave clock now reading 10:32, Kirk looks at Gunner. “I know, I know…I’m late!”
The pantry door is opened, dog food is poured out of a Tupperware container into Gunner’s metal bowl. Gunner sits and now waits patiently for the bowl to be set in front of him. Upon setting the bowl down, Gunner looks up intently to Kirk and waits. Kirk smiles and says; “Take it!” Gunner eagerly enjoys his breakfast and Kirk moves to the garage door to exit the house and retrieve the empty trash and recycle bins.
Kirk is greeted by Delia Brooks while returning the empty bins to their normal location near the garage overhead door. Delia is a widow that lives next door to the east of the Gage home. Widowed early in life, Delia raised her now grown children as a single mother. A wisp of a woman and much stronger than her thin frame would suggest. Delia mows her own lawn during summer months and clears the frequent Wisconsin snow from her driveway each winter. One exception to her independent work ethic is collecting the multitude of leaves that fall from a 100-year-old maple tree in her back yard each autumn. Most of the leaves are collected by a lawn care service, the others fall into the Gage backyard who do the rest. Delia is proud of her farm girl upbringing and takes pride in her independence. Kirk and Gwen are quite fond of Delia, who never has a negative word to say to or about anyone.
Delia; “Hi Kirk! Beautiful day isn’t it? I think I’ll take a nice long walk this morning.” Kirk; “Hi Delia. Beautiful indeed. It is a great day to do anything outside. It’s a little warm, however so make sure you drink plenty of water.” Delia; “Good idea. Is Gwen still at work up north?” Kirk; “Yes she is. Today is her last day for the week. She should be home early this evening.” Delia; “Good, I worry about her. Maybe I’ll invite her over for a little white wine in the 3-season room this evening.” Kirk; “I’m sure she’d love that. Gunner should be done with his breakfast now; I need to let him out. See you later.” Delia and Kirk exchange a quick wave, Kirk reenters his home as Delia heads west to begin her walk.
Kirk quickly gets his phone out and sends a text to Gwen letting her know that Delia may be calling her over for conversation and wine later in the day. Gunner is at the door to greet Kirk who leads the dog to a sliding glass door and the back yard. When Gunner is safely in the back for his morning constitutional, Kirk grabs his coffee mug, pulls up a patio chair and sips on coffee while enjoying the views in the backyard.
The lot is no more than ¼ acre total and slopes downhill with a slow grade down to meet the backyard neighbor’s yard that slopes gently back up towards their ranch style home. The symmetry pleases Kirk’s mind. Symmetric disorder bothers Kirk, he’s not sure why, he just knows that it does. Ever mindful of this reality, Gwen is careful to set up the home as symmetric as possible.
The timing of Kirk’s coffee mug running dry and Gunner’s return to the deck work out perfectly. A man and his dog reenter the house where the dog curls up on his favorite rug and Kirk check’s out the fridge for late morning breakfast options. Once the refrigerator door opens, Gunner jumps up to assist with meal preparation, hoping for scraps to accidentally land on the floor. Cleaning up is important to Gunner too, who takes this task quite seriously.
There is a little over a dozen organic eggs, some organic potatoes and some left-over chicken meat from last Sunday’s afternoon barbecue feast. Meat, fried potatoes and egg for breakfast. That is just the kind of comfort food Kirk needs while missing Gwen the last three days.
Half of the meal was eaten, and the other half then put into a glass storage container that would make a nice snack at work later in the day. After cleaning up, Kirk remembered to take his blood pressure medications, vitamins and supplements. Losartan keeps the BP level in control. Since the virus pandemic broke out daily vitamins and supplements were added to their regimen helping the Gage’s to rarely feel ill and eliminate serious sickness from any viruses that are being spread.
Looking up at the clock, Kirk sees that it is time to think about getting ready for work. He looks down at Gunner. “Shower time big dog.” As a creature of habit, Gunner knows Kirk and Gwen’s routines. Hearing Kirk turn on the shower Gunner heads to his rug to once again curl up for a nap while his master takes a shower before dressing for work.
When the shower water is shut off Kirk hears Gunner whining as he grabs a towel and steps out of the shower while drying off. Kirk is surprised to see Gunner in the bathroom with him. The dog is panting and begins to howl. “What’s the matter big dog? Do you need to go out?”
Kirk quickly exits to the bedroom to get dressed and send Gunner outside. Gunner enters the bedroom with Kirk, who immediately stops and gives Gunner a command. “Gunner, out.” Gunner refuses to exit the bedroom, a room that he knows that he is never allowed in. This time the command is given a little more forceful; “Gunner out!” No success as more howling comes from an unusually needy Gunner.
Kirk gets dressed quickly and leads Gunner to the back door to let him outside. Gunner is in no mood to exit the home either and continues to howl while staying on a tight heel to Kirk’s left leg. “What’s wrong big dog? This behavior is not like you at all. Gunner! Your timing is bad, I’ve got to get to work soon and Gwen will not be home for a few more hours. Maybe I should call the vet and get you an appointment.”
The panting and whining and howling and neediness gets to Kirk who is now looking for the vet’s phone number on speed dial. The call is placed. “Hello Stephanie? This is Kirk Gage, Gunner’s owner. Hey, he’s acting really odd, howling and whining and very needy. He never does that, I’m worried. Can I bring him over and leave him with you before I go to work? The doctor can look at him when she gets a chance.” Stephanie; “Wow! You are the fifth owner that has just called with the same symptoms about their dog. Cat owners are calling too.” Hesitating. “Um OK, sure Mr. Gage bring Gunner over, doc will look at Gunner as soon as she can “.
Kirk hangs up the phone and turns to continue getting ready for work as Gunner stays on heel. Suddenly Kirk is stopped in his tracks as the house seems to shift and fine dust falls from the ceiling. Gunner yelps while Kirk is left wondering what just happened. Looking down, Kirk realizes that Gunner is no longer clinging to his left leg. He looks around; “Gunner? Where are you boy?” The whining begins again, and Kirk realizes that Gunner is in the Mother-In Law addition bathroom, a room that is the only interior room in the house.
Approaching a curled up and shivering Gunner, Kirk is dumbfounded and asks rhetorically. “What the heck was that big dog?!”