Robin Hood and I grew up together. I thought we were the same animal and I believe he did too. My family bought the English Springer Spaniel when I was just a few years old. He was my ally when my siblings left us behind, too slow and too young. And so our realm was the thin strip of woods which ran along the downhill side of the driveway, and the front and back yard. We dug holes together, ate crab apples together and tunnelled through the hosta bushes together. Robin Hood even taught me how to read and I taught him how to sing.
Our house lay just over the cusp of the Old Smoke Road hill and Robin Hood could not resist chasing squirrels. He almost got the one that enticed him across the street, but a car got him first. My mother and I watched stupidly, the impact of cold metal on his right hind leg. We lifted him into the station wagon and she drove to the veterinarian, faster than she would ever drive again, while I held his head in the way back. It was the first time we shared real fear, my mother and I and Robin Hood too, though he had helped me often through endless nights together under the blankets. It was humid under there and smelled of dog breath, but in this tent-world we were safe from my alphabet wall paper which rose to life in the dark. In the seconds while my eyes adjusted to the flick of the light switch, letters wiggled and invited the wild animals who shared their sounds to dance a chaotic jig, a small vibration of muted colors and lines, a summoning of the night crawlers. The fear I felt in the way back, holding Robin Hood’s head, was a new fear though, a fear that would frighten even the wallpaper I thought.
Robin Hood lived. His hip was broken though and he was confined to a cage while it healed. I naturally joined him in this small space and joyfully filled our den with blankets, a troop of stuffed monkeys and my favorite books. I did not know how to read, but the illustrations activated memories and I could retell Robin Hood the stories my mother had shared with me; Christina Katarina and the Box, What Was That!, and Jenny's Surprise Summer. I searched through the scramble of letters. At first it was as if I was looking at the blossoms on the crab apple tree. Endless shapes, similar but not identical, hanging onto a white branch. Slowly I began to see patterns, lines and squiggles became letters. Robin Hood’s heavy head was always on my lap, warm and wet with drool, while I disassembled spoken words back into just sounds.
“Wwaa waaaa waaaaves waves. Waves pounded the beach”. I delighted in the illustration. The waves at Jenny’s feet, her basket of mussels spilling as she ran from a storm. I told Robin Hood it was OK, because next Jenny would find the two kittens hiding from the rain. They were her surprise that summer. As I made the slow sounds, stretching out words like salt water taffy, Robin Hood started to join in. We were the same animal, and suddenly he could even talk like me. He could make the sounds that I made, the ooooos, and whooooos. He began to howl, a short quick howl. He surprised both of us and I giggled, charmed as he yelped and howled louder.
Robin Hood would sing his whole life if I invited him with my own howls. When the family came home after sunset and he had been left behind, chained to the garage door, I found him howling then as well, and I knew that at these times he had been summoned by the black hole itself.