HOME AT LAST by Greg Oldfield

The first Monday with our rescue Allosaurus Mix, I stopped home for lunch and found the ottoman in pieces. Splintered wood, strips of chewed leather, and stuffing littered the family room with a trail of buttons behind the couch.

“Max has to stay in the crate,” I said to Steph on the phone while Max was playing tug of war with my suit pants.

“But Max is only a baby,” she said. 

“Babies need rules, too.” 

“They also need nurturing and a room with a view. Max can’t even see out the window.”

That night, after I lugged to the curb a gnawed-up frame and trashcan full of remains that used to be our Pier 1 Maple Cherry Ranch Number 5, my neighbor, Don, rolled his trash can down the driveway. “Hey, Rich, how’s the rescue going?” he asked.

I sighed. “Someone needs to rescue me.”

Don laughed. “Got to be like dogs. Exercise, containment, reinforce, redirect. You’ll get used to it.”

“Thanks,” I said.

We’d signed up to adopt once we heard about the displaced dinosaurs from Isla Nebur with rough beginnings. Test tube babies created from modified DNA strains inside the InGen labs. No parents. Early isolation. Traumatized from predatory humans, explosions, an Indominus rex outbreak, and an erupting volcano. In the right environment, with love, training, and patience, the non-profit website said, your rescue Dino will make the perfect family pet. The site showed pictures of smiling families alongside personal narratives. The Rodriguez family adopted a litter of baby Velociraptors to help their autistic son. The Pattersons liked to sit on their six-month-old Brachiosaurus and watch Jenny’s soccer game from the sidelines. The Ochibes played fetch with their young Spinosaurus in the backyard using a tree limb and an angled trampoline.

The next day, I saw torn couch cushions from the front window and debated if I should even bother going in. Max figured out how to unlock the crate. Got the TV and stand, too. The living room looked like a news helicopter flyby after a tornado—a debris field of foam, wood, fabric, wires, circuits, glass shards, and a pile of regurgitated screws. Max galloped toward me on wobbly knees, tail flopping, panting, breath smelling like toothpicks, metal shavings, and bile. How could I deny this affection? 

We turned the family room into Max’s room. Cleared out the remaining furniture and paintings but kept the plants for atmosphere and put some old blankets and pillows in the corner. Screwed fencing into the wall jams like a baby gate, which Max chewed through days later before eating two legs off the kitchen table. Then the cabinet doors. 

The day Max discovered the refrigerator was the happiest I’d ever seen a dinosaur. Face covered in barbecue sauce and leftover rice with opened Tupperware containers of mac and cheese and jerk chicken and yogurt parfait all over the floor. I pointed a finger and said, “No” like they said to do in the manuals. Establishing boundaries is essential for obedience. But Max licked me with a scaly tongue, leaving a streak of Texas Tangy in my hair.

“Maybe we should call that Owen guy,” Steph said the day after Max lunged at my teenage son Paul’s bonehead friend, which I kind of enjoyed.

“Called him two days ago,” I said. “He’s booked until next year.”

At bedtime, Max curled up between Steph and me on the King bed, rolled around half the night, body smushed on top of mine for the heat. I’d wake up tingly, unable to move my legs until I gave them a good shake. Made the mistake one day of stepping down too soon and did a faceplant. But that was better than Max ransacking Paul’s room again after he left his door open. Found his clothes ripped to shreds, hidden cigarettes eaten, and his drum kit knocked over, the sticks gone. Suzy, our high school senior, hid all her stuff in the attic above her closet.

We installed a twelve-foot-high fence in the backyard with a cat enclosure so Max could get more exercise. Max and Don’s Labrador Retriever raced along the fence, feinted, then raced back. They’d play for hours. I didn’t even know Allosaurus mixes even barked, but mimicry is one of those joyful surprises you may find about your genetically-modified rescue.

I scooped up the waste with a snow shovel and dropped it into black construction bags. Filled three trash cans a week, but soon the trash company complained that they were too heavy and attracting their own colony of flies. They made me order a commercial dumpster, but that first summer the township issued a Cease and Desist. Said people could smell it half a mile away. 

Max suffered from anxiety whenever we left for work and school. Scraped out the carpet downstairs and knocked tail holes in the drywall. Loved to play Nose The Chandelier until one bite, Max yanked it from the ceiling. Took days to rewire the downstairs, but that allowed us to open up some interior walls and expand Max’s room. Family room, kitchen, dining room, eventually, the whole first floor. We let the faucet drip into the stopped kitchen sink so Max could drink whenever. Take-out dinner became a daily ritual. Steph and I barely had time for ourselves from cleaning up after Max and didn’t have money to keep replacing furniture. Whenever we needed a break, we huddled together in the tilting bed with the door closed and watched TV, but once Max chewed a hole through the door we removed them all and gave Max free range of the place. 

Don put his house up for sale in the fall. Claimed his company needed his managerial experience to expand in the Midwest. Wisconsin or Minnesota. I knew it had something to do with their missing lab. He never blamed Max directly, but his body language suggested otherwise. Steph saw his wife, Michelle, at Whole Foods with a loaded shopping cart weeks after they’d moved. 

“Oh, just home visiting family,” Michelle said. 

Don’s house sat on the market for months. Apparently, no one had interest in a four-bedroom twenty-two hundred square-foot Colonial in a quiet suburban community with a finished basement and a two-tiered deck that included a hot tub. By that time, we’d knocked out the back wall and installed a Dino-door. We cranked up the heat that winter, layered with hats and gloves. Frigidness improved our family bonding. 

Max ate the tree, ornaments, and all the presents at Christmas. The chocolate on Valentine’s. My stouts on St. Patrick’s. The lamb roast on Easter. I reached my limit when Max chewed through my briefcase and ruined the shopping mall project I’d been working on for the past six months. Probably smelled the Chick-fil-A sauce packets from my daily lunch stops. I’d become an insomniac, gained nearly fifteen pounds. Every morning felt as if I were stuck on a treadmill. I checked online Dino rescue groups to see if we were the only family with distressed behavioral issues. My company gave me one last chance. Colleagues noticed I wore the same Febreezed wrinkly suit. Max had ransacked the closet, and I had to hang it from the garage door opener so Max couldn’t find it.

“I think we need to consider finding Max a new home,” I told everyone during the family meeting at the Oriental buffet.

“What? No,” Steph said. “Max is family.”

The kids nodded. Suzy was the only one with clean clothes. She had a stash at her friend’s house but was off to college soon. Enrolled in a summer program to get acclimated. Paul had been sleeping out more, though I’m certain he was living out of the boys locker room at school.  

“We have to do something.” I’d considered moving out myself. “We can’t continue like this.”

We bought Don’s house that summer. Got it for a steal in a foreclosure auction. Kept Max in our old house and moved the kids into Don’s. Bought new furniture, a 4K TV, a refrigerator stocked with fresh groceries. 

I woke in the middle of the night to Max’s howling, neck stretched over the fence outside our bedroom window.

“Max is so lonely,” Steph said. 

“Max has everything a dinosaur needs over there.”

I’d been sleeping great with noise-cancelling headphones, started eating healthier, and had time to exercise. I became more productive at work, and my bosses offered me a partnership that fall. At family meals, we sat down together and had conversations. Suzy was thinking about majoring in Engineering and Paul was trying out for a band.

Max whimpered for hours. Stopped blending in with the foliage to catch the groundhogs that snuck under the fence.

“Max needs us,” Steph said. 

So we expanded the fence. Took out the section that divided the two yards. Max ran over, tail wagging, panting, knocked me down, all seven-hundred and thirty pounds, and licked my face. We were a family again.


Greg Oldfield is a physical education teacher and coach from the Philadelphia area. His stories have appeared in Barrelhouse, Hobart, Carve, and Maudlin House, among others. He also writes about soccer for the Florida Cup and often ramble about soccer on Twitter under @GregOldfield21.

 

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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