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The Boxer

The Boxer reared up on his hind legs. Andrzej leaned over and nudged Emma, jutting his bushy chin in the Boxer's direction. Nothing so marvelous, he thought, had yet taken place in this six-car garage which served as a dog school.

Waves of irritation rose silently from Emma's heaving chest. Her face developed cold gray splotches, evoking in Andrzej memories of northern seas lashing their shores at midnight. Deep concentration, formerly Emma's strongest power, she found harder to achieve since their first sexual meeting. She never actually regretted the meeting itself, nor where this meeting had led, but she had paid dearly for it as she told Andrzej not infrequently. He had paid dearly for his green-card he sometimes thought, without sharing this verdict. The notion occurred to him most often when Emma, her concentration broken by some unimportant incident, heaped silent insults upon him.

She had had tenure when they met, and sex with a man on Limited Term Employment seemed beneath her dignity, but few outside of Andrzej wanted sex with her at all, and she ended up marrying him. Marriage appealed to him, as did Emma, and it helped toward his green card, a valuable item since his department would not give him tenure, or even put him on tenure track, without it. He told Polish jokes in his heavy Polish accent and made Emma laugh. Nobody else bothered to make her laugh. She also liked those lovely blond hairs on his chest.

Tall and well developed, with a full curly beard and lively green eyes, Andrzej's field was classical philosophy. He treated his students gently, not working them too hard or forcing them to do original thinking. They considered his indifference to most things appropriate in one who had lived so long under tyranny, and he was popular with all of them. His natural charm had, over the years, helped him to develop strategies for concealing an academic mediocrity, which came close to total inadequacy in many areas of his field.

Andrzej and Emma canvassed the idea of children once they married. Emma had no objection theoretically, but if they were geniuses, they might take up too much time. "I took on my endless task as a holy mission," said Emma's mother, her vague blue eyes growing even vaguer with tears, and Emma's stout and acerbic father said, "You have no idea what geniuses cost. How much they eat. And they go after first one degree, then another. It never stops." He shook his head and went out on the porch for a smoke.

The new couple decided to compromise by buying a dog. The pregnant yellow Lab belonging to the secretary in Andrzej's department, one day produced five puppies, two yellow, two black, one almost white. Andrzej and Emma went just to have a look and came home with the white one, a satin ball with beige ears who soon developed some beige shadowing over his back. They called him Saltine, although the cute name embarrassed Emma.

Saltine, at the moment the Boxer went up on his hind legs, lay six feet from Emma, who was concentrating on him. The full force of her brilliant intellect had willed him to stay on a long-down. She fixed her eyes on the pup so steadily, he actually did stay down. Emma's concentration shattered like dropped crystal when Andrzej touched her shoulder. He had assumed, not unreasonably, she would find the Boxer's antics more interesting than anything else going on at that moment.

He could scarcely believe he had been wrong. "Does Emma truly enjoy crouching like a witch and wrapping Saltine in a frozen stare?" Andrzej asked himself. He had known witches in Poland, but even they relaxed now and then.

The handsome Boxer, older than the rest of the class, had seized freedom and wore it like a crown. Should the Boxer decide to take off for the moon, Andrzej doubted if anyone could stop him at that instant. He was a Solidarity Union all to himself, and he might even lead the other dogs into revolt.

Andrzej's instincts had led him from Krakow to Chicago and beyond, and in spite of Emma's repudiation of his "romantic gypsy emotions," he still trusted them. Saltine was a delicious little pup, forty pounds of yellow Lab energy, and a wonderful excitement in his clear black eyes. His impressive down-stays had helped renew Emma's confidence in her concentration, which their sex had made unsteady. That was all to the good, but Andrzej had not thought she would want to miss the Boxer's moment of heroism. This Boxer, called Hector, had done no more than to stand still and stubborn at previous classes, refusing to obey Mrs. Moriarty's commands. Emma often had agreed, on the long ride home, that Hector had been magnificent at that class, and part of their eager anticipation of the next was suspense about when Hector's more active opposition would begin.

Emma, her mouth set in angry lines, finally responded to Andrzej's poking and looked at the Boxer. One look made her gasp in admiration and satisfaction. The Boxer, up on his back legs, came close to awesome, Emma whispered softly to Andrzej, quickly changing that to breathtaking, a word the young had not yet robbed of meaning. She used words sparingly, like a child doling out candy in trades from a trick-or-treat bag.

The Boxer on two legs was the size of a grown man, his thick muscles rippling down his back under his hard smooth shiny mahogany coat. And he moved with a grace few men have, his strong hips supporting him, while his left front paw smashed into the side of Mrs. Moriarty's head. The look of astonishment on her face lasted only a moment. A wave of (slightly malicious) shock passed over the rest of the class. The class then grew as solemn faced and motionless as judges in a show.

The Boxer danced away from Mrs. Moriarty for a teasing moment, but deliberately, his right front paw struck next. Its nails streaked down the side of Mrs. Moriarty's face, and her careful peach colored foundation alternated with stripes of blood, like off-colored ribbons left in a basement too long.

"Hector!" Mrs. Moriarty shouted, her hands groping for the water and vinegar spray bottle she kept tucked in her belt. Her gray eyes tried to make contact with his amber ones.

He backed away, declined to look at her, and slitted his own eyes almost shut. She yanked on his leash, got a grip on her spray bottle, and holding the leash so tightly with one hand his prong collar seemed to dig holes in his neck, she sprayed his face hard and fast. He did not cringe, but his shrunken chin wobbled slightly.

Someone screamed, and the serious minded women who composed most of the class turned to Andrzej, its only manly looking male. He had proved hopeless as a dog trainer, and his incompetence had forced them to work harder to control their own dogs because Emma's excellence did not quite make up for him. They presumed they would find a masculine boldness in one of his build and background even though he was a poor dog trainer.

The tight-rope-walking life of his boyhood and early manhood, unfortunately, had created in him a physical timidity, a secret he tried to keep to himself. Bodily courage, he began to argue many years before, was irrelevant in a man of love, and he put himself forward as a man of love once Krakow lay in his distant past. Tenderly had he made love in the past, with all genders and without prejudice. He had never undertaken an animal, but watching Hector now, he felt more attracted to him than he did to most people.

An emotion rose he had not felt since the communist hey-day of his adolescence when he fell in love with a Vizsla. This Vizsla, named Chita, he could only sigh after from the distance of his dreams because her master was an officer in the secret police, with a fine house near the park. Many said he often acted the role of hangman.

"Do something Andy," said Judy the instructor. She seemed to expect him to grab Hector by the collar and force him down. Andrzej had no intention of doing anything so foolish.

"Come to me, my darling," he said to the animal in Polish, his voice low and endearing, his arms opened wide. Emma looked over sharply and with alarm. He kept forgetting she had fulfilled her promise to take off a weekend and learn Polish for his sake.

The Boxer turned his head only for an instant, his slightly sunken face displaying more surprise than interest in the invitation. His features showed none of the sweetness Chita's had had. Chita, when she tracked Andrzej's friend Jerzy to the country privy where he hid, did it with such exquisite tact that they say Jerzy threw his arms around her, and when the police came, he was weeping into her long shiny neck.

Jerzy's feelings had seemed natural and appropriate, but Andrzej could no longer judge his own. The Boxer was brave and original, and he admired these qualities, but he was not drawn to Hector as he had been to Chita. In some corner of his complex mind he also realized these people in the six car garage would have no sympathy for an attraction between Hector and him.

"Hector, come," shouted Mrs. Moriarty, yanking on his leash and trying to back away and make him follow.

Hector began to move instead toward Andrzej, slowly crossing the wide room and dragging Mrs. Moriarty behind him. Unwilling to surrender, she jerked his leash, her streaked face wild with fury.

"Hector, stop! Hector, stand-stay! Hector, sit-stay!" she yelled. He ignored her, and reaching Andrzej, he thrust his heavy head into waiting outstretched hands. His sharp docked ears rubbed against friendly fingers.

"Voila, voila. Voila, voila," Andrzej said, soon falling back on cichutko, cichutko, the Polish version of there-there.

"Stop talking like that," screamed Mrs. Moriarty. She seemed to feel the Polish language had bewitched her dog into the humping gestures he now made. Using the leash for a whip, she smacked Hector across his shiny rear. He growled almost to himself and went on with his humping. He also licked Andrzej's face up and down, a touching declaration of desire.

"We'll talk about this later. Why don't you go with her now?" Andrzej said, still in Polish. Then, "Go back, Hector," he pleaded, now in English.

The Boxer began to kiss his face with a feverish enthusiasm, pulling the leash and causing Mrs. Moriarty to fall to the floor again, dropping her end of the leash.

"Down-stay," Andrzej said firmly but pleasantly, using this tone of command with small hope. This class had taught him for the first time how to issue a command, but the dogs in the class never did obey him. No more than did anyone else, he thought with an internal shrug.

Hector fell to the floor and looked up at Andrzej with adoration. Saltine, without a release from Emma, ran over and sniffed Hector sympathetically.

"You wicked dog," Emma said to Saltine in astonishment, but with a bit of a smile tacked on.

"You'll pay for this," said Mrs. Moriarty without a hint of a smile. Nobody could decide whom she was addressing.

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