Roadworthy

It’s a Tuesday afternoon and I’ve made a late start on a road trip to visit Huck, who’s summering off the farm and hopefully, working on his svelte figure. Distance-wise, it’s not much of a journey but during rush hour, every trip’s a pilgrimage.

There’s a Diet Coke and a pack of gum sitting shotgun, but I’m not alone. Brynn’s right behind me; still I don’t feel her presence. At less than a month of age, she’s about as lively as a loaf of bread and though I remember snapping her seat in the car, I find myself craning around, to check that I didn’t leave her stranded at home, baking in the drive.

A sleeping baby isn’t much company but I feel the steady presence of another soul. And I’m reassured between radio lulls, when I hear the rhythmic panting from the depths of the car.

Factor in Corrie, and in my last 20 years of driving, most excursions — from grocery store runs to summers spent chasing horse shows along the coast — have included the companionship of a Border Collie.

Corrie — who strolled into my life after high school, and died four years ago — was like Maisie in her utter sheep-dog lust for work. But otherwise, their personalities were different. Corrie sedately sat or slept on the floor, on the passenger’s side of Zippy, my Honda civic. Sometimes I’d reach down and give her a pat. Maisie, on the other hand, travels standing up, on high-alert, in the SUV.

I imagine the two dogs as people — like professional athletes on the way to a game. Corrie would have been the grizzled veteran, lost in thought on the team bus, plugged into an iPod and saving her energy for the field. Whereas Maisie is the anxious, effusive rookie who won’t shut up and bounces a ball against the seat in front of her.

With the arrival of Brynn, Maisie’s been relegated to the way-back, the SUV’s trunk area — a landfill of discarded socks, happy meal toys, squirt guns, diapers and muddy towels.

Somehow she finds her footing amid the debris and stares intently out the window — like her life depends on it — and frequently snaps at passing cars, her nose issuing a resounding “thump!” against the glass.

It also leaves an artful streak of nose slime on the window.

She doesn’t snap at every car — I don’t know how she chooses her foe — but she has a system and when the thumping gets too violent, I worry that she’ll bruise her nose. “Easy, Maisie,” I’ll warn, glancing in the rearview mirror.

From my vantage point, all I see of her is one pricked ear peeking above the headrest.

And for the trip down to Huck’s farm, just like every other drive to get the kids, or buy stamps, or play softball, Maisie’s just a thump and an ear.

Still, she’s a strong presence. And it’s nice to have company.