Hollis sat in his stiff-backed Victorian chair barely making eye contact. He sounded weary discussing his bed and breakfast business as if he actually hoped the article I was writing would discourage guests to his establishment as opposed to promoting them. He sounded ready to retire and yet, here I was interviewing him for a magazine.
Interviews such as this are difficult. Inside, I feel like a failing magician rummaging through a bag of tricks, frantically searching for something that will get the job done – a rabbit to pull out of my hat and start the interviewee talking so I’ll have something to write about. Sometimes I am lucky and I find the key. Sometimes we stumble along, what should be a short, breezy conversation turning into an agonizing bout of stops and starts punctuated with awkward silences. This was one of those times. And, since my livelihood depends on getting the job done, I found myself developing an increasing dislike for the slender, soft-faced Hollis, who so obviously was dissatisfied with his own lot. I stared at his dull blue eyes behind the wire-rimmed glasses and inwardly pleaded for him to say something helpful. “And, why did you choose to redecorate the Rose room?” I ask him. “It needed painting,” he mumbles. No gems there.
“What led you to Vermont?”
“Can’t really say.”
A part of me wanted to jump up and strangle poor Hollis, but we both struggled on, me reluctant to end the conversation without more information, he, not seeming to care either way.
Finally, when I realized I had rung him for all he was worth, I got ready to excuse myself. And, this is why I love dogs. Just as I was getting ready to leave, Hollis mentioned his Jack Russell Terrier, Baby. It was a passing remark, not meant to elicit any response, but I rose to the occasion. “You have a Jack Russell? I have pugs,” I said.
And, thus, I released a font of information I did not think possible from Hollis. Suddenly, he turned his face to me and his dull blue eyes began to sparkle. He took me through a journey of Baby’s 13 years on the planet – her litters and potty training, breed standard and show history. He showed me photos and discussed where each of her puppies had ended up. I listened and chatted, forgetting the clock and thoroughly enjoying this man unfold from his shell.
What is it about dogs that do this? Why could Hollis not master a single, happy word about his work, but could ramble on, smiling and sharing about a wee bit of a dog? Why did I find myself suddenly warming up to this man?
I could picture him late at night when the guests were asleep curling up in this very same chair, glasses on the end table, Baby in his lap. His jaw would slack and the tight lines disappear as he and his dog would drift off to sleep.
Looking at Hollis during our interview I would have said he was a tired and lonely man, but in the half hour I listened to him recount Baby’s life, I learned of breeders and handlers and people who bought Baby’s puppies that all were woven into the web of his life. What do our Baby’s do that transform us so? They turn unhappy men into delighted children again. They so often are the rabbits we pull from our hats to work magic on our lives.
Writing Prompt: What Lights Up Your Life?