Sharron couldn’t sleep at night without The Friskative Dog. When she rubbed her fingers along the fur on his shoulders, sparks shone in the darkness of her bedroom, like he made his own little stars.
Now she sat with her spine against her bedroom wall, dog at her side, doing her homework. Her mother’s voice rolled along gentle and ripply and gold like water at the curb. She talked on the phone every night in her bedroom. Through the wall, Sharron couldn’t hear the words. Just the murmuring, like fingertips tracing the paint at her back.
Fourth-grade math was hard. It was November and the class was doing algebra. X stood for something you had to find out. X factor was the mystery.
Her mother always said, “Look, sweetie, I can’t help you with that math. I put the items over the magic window, and the register tells me the numbers. I just take the money and smile. I’m not the one good with math. Your father was.”
Her father was gone. He had disappeared a year ago, but still her mother talked about him at night. Sharron could tell. No laughing or joking. Her mother talked to Aunt Dickie, her sister who had moved to Germany with her husband, who was in the army. Her mother talked to her best friend, Leila, who worked with her at the market. And once a week, on Thursday nights when they were planning what to make for dinner the next night, she talked to Grandma Pat. Daddy’s mother.
Those nights, her voice was light and cheerful, and Sharron knew her mother was trying to make Grandma Pat understand that they were fine, they were waiting, they were patient.
“Have patience,” Grandma Pat said every Friday, when she came over for dinner. “They’ll find him. He got hit on the head. He doesn’t know where he is.”
Grandma Pat’s hair was always in a bun, sitting like an unbaked biscuit on her head. Cut out and round and white. Every Friday, at six-ten, she always said the same thing.
She thought he’d gotten into an accident somewhere and he had the memory disease.
“He’s got insomnia,” Grandma Pat said. She put down enchilada casserole on the table. The casserole dish had a lid always covered with steam like fog.
Sharron said, “That means he can’t sleep at night. You mean amnesia.”
“That’s the one,” Grandma Pat said. “When his memory comes back, he’ll come back. He’ll find his way.” She patted Sharron’s mother on the shoulder.
That night, Sharron sat with her back against the wall so she could feel her mother’s low voice. When his memory comes back. What if it didn’t? People didn’t know their way home like dogs did.
People couldn’t just walk across the country, like in one of her favorite books, The Incredible Journey. A man couldn’t sleep in a field at night, catch a rabbit to eat, hide in a barn, and swim across a river and then walk into his apartment a year later.
Dogs had something inside their brains. A locator. A tracker. At school, Piper said her mother’s new car had GPS. A voice that talked to the driver from the dashboard and told her mother where to go. Global Positioning System.
People didn’t have anything like that inside them.
She rubbed the softness of her dog’s ears. Dogs that accidentally got taken all the way across the state somehow found their way home. They trotted through fields and crossed streams and highways, and they showed up in their own yards dirty and tired, and still their tongues hung out when they saw their people.
They don’t have amnesia, because they love their people. Maybe my father does have insomnia, too, Sharron thought. Like me. She lay down on her bed, her back still against the wall. Her mother’s voice had stopped. I have insomnia. That’s why I need The Friskative Dog.
Her father had bought him, but her mother claimed he’d liked the rabbit better.
Her father used to say, “No, I saw this guy and knew he was the one. Those cute little ears.” Her mother used to smile and shake her head. “You wanted to get the rabbit, but I said this guy was perfect for Sharron for Christmas. She was only five, but she knew all the different kinds of dogs. Remember? Cocker spaniels and dachshunds and Dobermans. I saw this yellow Labrador retriever puppy, and I knew she had to have him. I remember how soft his fur felt.”
Her mother liked to tease Sharron about how she made up her own names for things back when she was three and four. Her mother would say, “I’ll never forget one day, out in the yard, we saw a huge bee on the bottlebrush tree, and you said, ‘Look at that bumblebee’s antlers!’
“Early in the morning, before the sun was up,” she would say sometimes, even now that Sharron was nine, “you’d hear that rumbling noise and you’d say, ‘Here comes the streetcreeper.’
“And at night, I’d be sitting with you on your bed, and we’d hear a siren, and you’d say, ‘Listen—the ambulamp is coming. Watch for the red light on the wall!’ ”
And when her father bought her the puppy and he’d danced across the floor, Sharron said, “This doggie is so friskative!”
She remembered saying that word. She didn’t need anyone to remind her.
Those were words Grandma Pat used to say about Sharron. “Look at this little girl,” her grandmother would laugh. “Just as frisky and playful as can be. And so talkative.”
Sharron’s puppy never barked. He just leapt and moved and scrambled across her bedspread while she held the leash. She kept the leash on him even when they slept. She never wanted him to run away. Every night, back then when she was small, while she lay with her dog under the covers, she had touched his hard, cold eyes to make them warm and soft with her own fingers.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Friskative Dog by Susan Straight. Copyright © 2007 by Susan Straight. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.