Hinges squeaked. Lifting his head from his paws, Red swung his muzzle toward the noise.
“Come on, boy,” said Larry.
Red heaved up onto his feet. The collar and tags around his neck jangled, rattling louder as he shook his body from nose to tail. His legs trembled, and he leaned into wall as he hobbled forward after a few encouraging thumps from Larry. His ragged claws clacked against the linoleum with each step.
Larry’s hand, no longer tapping on his leg, rubbed behind one of Red’s sagging ears. Red flung his tail from side to side, smacking into the screen door. His mouth drooped open, wet tongue drying as it dangled.
The massaging fingers stopped after an ardent finale. Larry strode away with the slap of his sneakers against concrete. His stride softened in the absorbing grass of the backyard.
Red lifted his paws high and stepped over the threshold. Sun soaked concrete warmed his toes and pushed away some of the ache in his legs. A gust of warm air played with his fur.
Chattering of birds, squealing children and the rumbling conversations of Larry’s friends melded with the scents of the afternoon. Fresh cut grass and smoking charcoal wound into Red’s nose. Music played nearby and brakes groaned as another guest parked out front.
A sizzle seized his attention. His nostrils flared. Beef and spice a few yards away prompted his paws back into motion.
One step, then two and cool blades of grass met his feet. The sharp edges bent with soft snaps as he waddled. His back half swayed as his tail swished tentatively from side to side. Red maneuvered carefully around the legs and absent steps of Larry’s guests, his nose pointing the way.
“Look a doggie!” shouted a little boy.
Giggles preceded an array of sticky hands tapping lightly on Red’s head then down his back, like rain drops. Red sat his rump onto the ground and extended a paw. Tiny fingers grabbed his offering, shaking all the way to his shoulder.
“What’s his name?” asked a man with a voice like tires grinding over gravel.
“Red,” said Larry.
Red’s tail wagged as the hands found his ears.
“What’s wrong with his eyes?” asked a soft spoken girl who smelled like bubblegum.
“He doesn’t see too well anymore.”
“Oh.” Her petting hands under Red’s chin ebbed for a moment and then returned with added vigor.
Red’s mouth gaped open and he panted away with the faint tinge of morning kibble clinging on his breath.
Another round of sizzling though turned his head under the attentive hands. He lifted his haunches from the grass and started after the tendrils of cooked meat once more.
“Whoa boy.” Small fingers tugged on his collar and Red stumbled with a gasp.
“It’s ok,” said Larry. “Let him go. He can’t get into too much trouble.”
The stranglers released their grasp and Red continued his march. After a few sniffs, Red found a spot by Larry’s side. Flopping down his rump again, he pointed his nose up where a warm glow and charring beef hung overhead.
The grill rattled as Larry flipped over the sizzling burgers and rotated the blackening hot dogs.
“Who’s hungry?” asked Larry.
Shouting requests dominated the air. Red let out his own gruff woof, his tail swishing gently in the grass.
The ground shook as Larry’s guests started hovering around the grill. Towering bodies casting cool shadows. Plastic utensils scraped against paper plates. Baggies rustled and fresh buns dispersed in accordance with orders.
Red locked his nose on Larry’s spatula as he traversed from the fire and grate to the waiting platform of bread.
“Two hot dogs please,” said the bubblegum girl.
Tongs clanked together as Larry made his selection.
“Careful,” said Larry. “Hold on with both hands.”
The suggestion ended with a thump on the ground. The steam stroked Red’s nose as he shoved his muzzle at the dropped dog. Clomping, his rounded canines sunk into the tube. Pepper and spice along with the tang of mustard drowned the kibble flavor on his tongue.
Lifting his jaws from the morsel, Red’s tail wavered and his ears drooped.
“It’s alright,” said the girl, her voice brimming with a smile nearing laughter. “I was going to give that one to him away.”