My First Century
Fortunato Salazar

When I hit the century mark for the potent benzodiazepine I was taking, I celebrated by teaching Harriet to steal gloves. Harriet is my Irish setter. I wanted Harriet in on the celebration because technically it was her benzo. The prescription was written for her, not me. I was dipping into her supply. The benzo helped with her agitation at night. If not for her two tablets at bedtime she would swim all night from the foot of the bed to the headboard and back again, foot to headboard, headboard to foot, with my assistance in reversing direction at the end of each lap. Two tablets put her down until the alarm went off at six. I had worked my way up to ten tablets. Ten tablets put me down for three hours, then I was up and back in the middle of the rage against the mess that certain spiteful neighbors of mine had gotten me into. I would lie awake cycling through all the talking points of that rage until the alarm went off. Every few months I’d have to tell my vet that Harriet was building up a tolerance in order to persuade the vet to write a new script for more tablets. It was a good thing that Harriet was large for her breed and could plausibly be expected to build up a tolerance so high that it allowed me to be taking ten tablets a night.

I taught Harriet to steal from the Staties who staked out my A-frame. The Staties were under the impression, thanks to misinformation from my kindly neighbors, that I was growing bud along the slough that ran behind the house. Ironically I was having nothing to do with any kind of pharmaceutical at the time except the benzo, which was a necessity because it at least gave me three hours of sleep a night. The Staties parked across the street in front of the school and watched me split wood. Every so often they would pull out from the schoolhouse and creep up my long driveway to have a chat with me. That was the opportunity I was going to take advantage of in my glove-stealing training.

All I did, day in and day out, was split wood, work in the garden, and practice my speech therapy exercises. I was trying to clean up my life because I had a major infatuation with my speech therapist. I was making myself presentable for my speech therapist. I needed the speech therapy because of a jet ski accident that had left me intact except for some slight damage to my temporal lobe that affected my ability to pronounce fricatives.

Whenever I saw that the Staties were about to make one of their friendly visits I would put down my maul, grab a Henry’s from the cooler on the back deck, and wait on the porch. The beautiful part was that the Staties always left their rear door open. They would get out of the front seat and open the back door to gather their supplies, which consisted of a clipboard and a set of aerial photographs taken by the helicopters that passed up and down the slough two or three times daily. I was asked to identify suspicious-looking patches along the slough. For some reason, probably because they knew that they would be spending all of two minutes questioning me, they never closed the back door.

I trained Harriet to respond to a cue that sounded something like brrr. We trained when the Staties weren’t staking us out. First I trained Harriet on a set of old woodcutter’s gloves sitting atop a stepstool, then we worked our way up to the seat of a defunct lawn tractor left behind by the A-frame’s previous renters. I spraypainted the gloves white and I taught Harriet to dash down the steps of the porch, grab the gloves, and trot up the driveway toward my nearest neighbor. Harriet would trot up the driveway and then I would have to go after her because she found the trash heap irresistible. My neighbor dumped his trash behind his house down the hill leading to the slough. Harriet would drop the gloves somewhere along the way and I would have to dig her out of the heap. What I was working on was getting her to drop the gloves in the heap.

I spent a month training Harriet. I was working out, playing ball twice a week at the school gym in the evening. I had better stamina than I ever had in my life, but strangely, I was putting on weight, which must have had something to do with the massive dose of benzo I was taking. Harriet wasn’t gaining weight so it wasn’t like I could talk to the vet about my weight gain. I looked into the literature on the benzo but never found anything about the weight gain side effect.

When the time came, the training worked like a charm. I made the brrr sound and Harriet, bless her heart, wasn’t fazed in the least by the fact that the gloves were on the back seat of a powerful Statie patrol car and not an old lawn tractor. She nabbed a pair of starched white dress gloves from the back seat and trotted up toward the trash heap. The only disappointment was that she dropped the gloves halfway up the driveway. The Staties took it as an amusing diversion. It didn’t occur to them that I’d taught Harriet to steal the gloves. They thought it was just some mischief that she had dreamed up herself.

Eventually I communed with myself and decided that the mischief I had taught Harriet had a perfectly respectable motive, which was to provide myself with an anecdote to tell my speech therapist that was impressive enough to persuade her to go out with me. Each of our sessions ended with an anecdote-telling exercise. I worked up the anecdote so that I could make a joke of it by cramming it with a ridiculously high proportion of fricatives.

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