Prior to being born, if you were given the opportunity to choose the location in which you'd first learn what rain smells like, you'd be foolish to not choose California. Rain is one of those things that, in and of itself, doesn't have a smell, but creates a sensory environment that's so closely associated with smell, it has to be given full credit. California rain smells like what you'd imagine a good portion of the world smelled like before humans were placed on it and immediately got started ruining it. Dewy magnolias, drippy apple skins, cedar landscaping chips drying in the golden yellow morning sun. Fat worms squiggling around in healthy sienna dirt, chicken poop, and a bit of mountain lion dander and burritos thrown in for good measure. Rain in California put the glitter in D. W. Griffith's eye when he rolled camera for the first Hollywood production ever, all the way back in 1910, and it's been making things slippery ever since.
Rain, just as it doesn't have a specific smell, doesn't come with a specific memory. Like the water that it is, it fills whatever container it's given. For Robert Mullens, who'd moved his small family from rural Illinois to Southern California just three short years ago, the smell of rain has a bit of salty tang to it, and reminds him of the day he realized that he didn't love his daughter as much as he had hoped he would.
There are only very few things that a 50-year-old man and a 10-year-old girl can do together, recreationally, that the both would consider fun. Neither Robert, or his daughter Amanda, liked watching TV when it was nice outside, so they found each other sharing time outdoors a lot. A bargaining chip for Amanda and her mother to agree to the move to California, leaving their Midwestern roots which they liked just fine, was the promise of buying a dog once they were settled in the new local. California is perfect for having a dog. You'd be dumb to not have one. Whether you live in a shitty apartment complex, or a middle of the road ranch-style home with a red shingled roof, like they now did, there is no end to the hiking trails, parks, and general unused portions of land rolled out and beckoning for exploration or abuse. Perfect for long walks with the family dog. Or just "the dog," if you happen to not have a family which, at this place in time, Robert Mullens did. The dog that had been chosen, once all their boxes were unpacked, and all the details of their daily lives were squirreled away, was a black Great Dane. Robert had seen a breeder's advertisement in the local Penny Saver, a free rag found at grocery stores that people use to hawk just about everything there is to hawk, and drove his wife and daughter to the breeder's farm in Rancho Cucamonga to check out the litter. They chose the dog they chose, later named Baby; intended as a joke because at just a few months old she was already the size of a small horse; because she hid under her mom's legs the whole time they were there. Why is it human nature to always be the most attracted to whatever person, place, or thing that wants absolutely nothing to do with you?
Dogs need to be walked. Especially Great Danes, which have long, skinny legs that are pre-disposed to getting build ups of fat deposits, and, later down the line, bone cancer - which will put Baby down just six short years later. On this one specific day, the day of one of Robert's most called upon memories, it was a crisp spring morning following a hearty evening's rain. Opening the front door of the house, leash in hand, he couldn't help but close his eyes against the glory of the smell of his front yard. Grass, mini rose bushes, orange blossoms. Manufacturers have been trying to bottle this smell, or seep it into candle wax, for years, and haven't come close. Amanda, bounding up behind him in her clunky pink L.A. Gear shoes that she'd had a screaming fit for in the mall last week, pulled on the right sleeve of her jean jacket, put a ball cap on her poofy blonde hair, and said "Let's go!" Baby click clacked towards them from the kitchen and Robert secured the leash to her collar.
For today's walk they'd turn left from the driveway, snake along the foothill in front of their house, and then move up a grassy trail that led to an unused plot of land that used to be owned by a seminary. Amanda wasn't allowed to go up there by herself because one time she'd chanced upon a mound of lumpy trash bags that, upon inspection via an unfortunate eyeful through a rip caused by a stick, turned out to be filled with dead dogs. Robert knew that she still went up there though. Probably to sneak cigarettes or whatever the hell pre-teens do when they venture away from the eyes of their parents. Nothing good. He couldn't imagine that she went up there to sit on a rock and read books. Those days were long gone. (She actually did do this sometimes though.)
As they approached the small grassy incline leading up the hill, Robert told his daughter to be careful because it was slippery, to which she responded with an eye roll. Gritting his teeth a bit, he clenched cracked knuckles over the dog's leash and continued walking. At the top of the foothill, sitting as though it had been waiting for them, was a plump orange cat. His muddy fur twitched along his back, he locked eyes with the dog, which was standing to the left of Robert, ears straight to the sky, and then took off down the hill. Now, what you need to know about a 110 pound dog on a leash is that, in moments like this it's made clear that the leash around its neck is only ever, at best, an implication. The minute the cat started running Robert could feel like leash rip, in one pulling movement, straight out of his hand. Quickly following the galloping dog went his daughter, screaming "Baby!!!" Summoning up dramatic tears, which only made the scene come more unglued. As she very ungracefully took pursuit down the slick hill of grass, her right L.A. Gear shoe hit a patch too slick and she flopped to the ground with a shriek so loud Robert wondered if maybe she had landed on a rattle snake or something. Up on the mound, sports analogy wise, he was left to retrieve the dog, now in full force pursuit of this dumb cat, so he went down, being careful not to slip himself. He called out "Baby!" one time, in a stern tone, and the dog stopped, turned to him, and then kept running for the cat. "BABY!" he called again, and then moved quicker down the hill. Behind him he heard a frantic, snot bubbly, 'DAD!!!!!!!!!!" A sound so loud that later, once back home, his wife, and her mother, said she heard it as clearly as if it were coming from the refrigerator in front of her. Robert turned back, locked eyes with his daughter, and was faced with a decision.
He had to get that dog.
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