Compare and contrast the two mothers in “Puppy.” Must be a paragraph long. NO additional research is needed.
By George Saunder s
Twice already Marie had pointed out the brilliance of the autumnal sun on the perfect field of
corn, because the brilliance of the autumnal sun on the perfect field of corn put her in mind of a
haunted house — not a haunted house she had ever actually seen but the mythical one that
sometimes appeared in her mind (with adja cent graveyard and cat on a fence) whenever she saw
the brilliance of the autumnal sun on the perfect etc. etc., and she wanted to make sure that, if the
kids had a corresponding mythical haunted house that appeared in their minds whenever they
saw the bri lliance of the etc. etc., it would come up now, so that they could all experience it
together, like friends, like college friends on a road trip, sans pot, ha ha ha!
But no. When she, a third time, said, “Wow, guys, check that out,” Abbie said, “O.K., Mom, we
get it, it’s corn,” and Josh said, “Not now, Mom, I’m Leavening my Loaves,” which was fine
with her; she had no problem with that, Noble Baker being preferable to Bra Stuffer, the game
he’d asked for.
Well, who could say? Maybe they didn’t even have an y mythical vignettes in their heads. Or
maybe the mythical vignettes they had in their heads were totally different from the ones she had
in her head. Which was the beauty of it, because, after all, they were their own little people! You
were just a careta ker. They didn’t have to feel what you felt; they just had to be supported in
feeling what they felt.
Still, wow, that cornfield was such a classic.
“Whenever I see a field like that, guys?” she said. “I somehow think of a haunted house!”
“Slicing Knife! S licing Knife!” Josh shouted. “You nimrod machine! I chose that!”
Speaking of Halloween, she remembered last year, when their cornstalk column had tipped their
shopping cart over. Gosh, how they’d laughed at that! Oh, family laughter was golden; she’d had
n one of that in her childhood, Dad being so dour and Mom so ashamed. If Mom and Dad’s cart
had tipped, Dad would have given the cart a despairing kick and Mom would have stridden
purposefully away to reapply her lipstick, distancing herself from Dad, while she, Marie, would
have nervously taken that horrid plastic Army man she’d named Brady into her mouth.
Well, in this family laughter was encouraged! Last night, when Josh had goosed her with his
GameBoy, she’d shot a spray of toothpaste across the mirror an d they’d all cracked up, rolling
around on the floor with Goochie, and Josh had said, such nostalgia in his voice, “Mom,
remember when Goochie was a puppy?” Which was when Abbie had burst into tears, because,
being only five, she had no memory of Goochie a s a puppy. Hence this Family Mission. And as far as Robert? Oh, God bless Robert! There was a man. He
would have no problem whatsoever with this Family Mission. She loved the way he had of
saying “Ho HO!” whenever she brought home something new and unexpec ted.
“Ho HO!” Robert had said, coming home to find the iguana. “Ho HO!” he had said, coming
home to find the ferret trying to get into the iguana cage. “We appear to be the happy operators
of a menagerie!”
She loved him for his playfulness — you could bring home a hippo you’d put on a credit card
(both the ferret and the iguana had gone on credit cards) and he’d just say “Ho HO!” and ask
what the creature ate and what hours it slept and what the heck they were going to name the little
In the back seat , Josh made the git – git – git sound he always made when his Baker was in Baking
Mode, trying to get his Loaves into the oven while fighting off various Hungry Denizens, such as
a Fox with a distended stomach; such as a fey Robin that would improbably carry t he Loaf away,
speared on its beak, whenever it had succeeded in dropping a Clonking Rock on your Baker — all
of which Marie had learned over the summer by studying the Noble Baker manual while Josh
And it had helped, it really had. Josh was less withdrawn lately, and when she came up behind
him now while he was playing and said, like, “Wow, honey, I didn’t know you could do
Pumpernickel,” or “Sweetie, try Serrated Blade, it cuts quicker. Try it while doing Latch the
Window,” he would reach back wi th his non – controlling hand and swat at her affectionately, and
yesterday they’d shared a good laugh when he’d accidentally knocked off her glasses.
So her mother could go right ahead and claim that she was spoiling the kids. These were not
spoiled kids. T hese were well – loved kids. At least she’d never left one of them standing in a
blizzard for two hours after a junior – high dance. At least she’d never drunkenly snapped at one
of them, “I hardly consider you college material.” At least she’d never locked on e of them in a
closet (a closet!) while entertaining a literal ditchdigger in the parlor.
Oh, God, what a beautiful world! The autumn colors, that glinting river, that lead – colored cloud
pointing down like a rounded arrow at that half – remodelled McDonald’s standing above I – 90 like
This time would be different, she was sure of it. The kids would care for this pet themselves,
since a puppy wasn’t scaly and didn’t bite. (“Ho HO!” Robert had said the first time the iguana
bit him. “I see you have an opinion on the matter!”)
Thank you, Lord, she thought, as the Lexus flew through the cornfield. You have given me so
much: struggles and the strength to overcome them; grace, and ne w chances every day to spread
that grace around. And in her mind she sang out, as she sometimes did when feeling that the
world was good and she had at last found her place in it, “Ho HO, ho HO!”
Callie pulled back the blind. Yes. Awesome. It was still sol ved so perfect .
There was plenty for him to do back there. A yard could be a whole world, like her yard when
she was a kid had been a whole world. From the three holes in her wood fence she’d been able to
see Exxon (Hole One) and Accident Corner (Hole Two) , and Hole Three was actually two holes
that if you lined them up right your eyes would do this weird crossing thing and you could play
Oh My God I Am So High by staggering away with your eyes crossed, going “Peace, man,
When Bo got older, it would be different. Then he’d need his freedom. But now he just needed
not to get killed. Once they found him way over on Testament. And that was across I – 90. How
had he crossed I – 90? She knew how. Darted. That’s how he crossed streets. Once a total stranger
ca lled them from Hightown Plaza. Even Dr. Brile had said it: “Callie, this boy is going to end up
dead if you don’t get this under control. Is he taking the medication?”
Well, sometimes he was and sometimes he wasn’t. The meds made him grind hi s teeth and his
fist would suddenly pound down. He’d broken plates that way, and once a glass tabletop and got
four stitches in his wrist.
Today he didn’t need the medication because he was safe in the yard, because she’d fixed it so
He was out th ere practicing pitching by filling his Yankees helmet with pebbles and winging
them at the tree.
He looked up and saw her and did the thing where he blew a kiss.
Sweet little man.
Now all she had to worry about was the pup. She hoped the lady who’d called would actually
show up. It was a nice pup. White, with brown around one eye. Cute. If the lady showed up,
she’d definitely want it. And if she took it Jimmy was off the hook. He’d hated doing it that time
with the kittens. But if no one took the pup he’d d o it. He’d have to. Because his feeling was,
when you said you were going to do a thing and didn’t do it, that was how kids got into drugs.
Plus, he’d been raised on a farm, or near a farm anyways, and anybody raised on a farm knew
that you had to do what you had to do in terms of sick animals or extra animals — the pup being
not sick, just extra.
That time with the kittens, Jessi and Mollie had called him a murderer, getting Bo all worked up,
and Jimmy had yelled, “Look, you kids, I was raised on a farm and you got to do what you got to
do!” Then he’d cried in bed, saying how the kittens had mewed in the bag all the way to the
pond, and how he wished he’d never been raised on a farm, and she’d almost said, “You mean
near a farm” (his dad had run a car wash ou tside Cortland), but sometimes when she got too
smart – assed he would do this hard pinching thing on her arm while waltzing her around the bedroom, as if the place where he was pinching were like her handle, going, “I’m not sure I
totally heard what you jus t said to me.”
So, that time after the kittens, she’d only said, “Oh, honey, you did what you had to do.”
And he’d said, “I guess I did, but it’s sure not easy raising kids the right way.”
And then, because she hadn’t made his life harder by being a smart – ass, they had lain there
making plans, like why not sell this place and move to Arizona and buy a car wash, why not buy
the kids “Hooked on Phonics,” why not plant tomatoes, and then they’d got to wrestling around
and (she had no idea why she remembered th is) he had done this thing of, while holding her
close, bursting this sudden laugh/despair snort into her hair, like a sneeze, or like he was about to
Which had made her feel special, him trusting her with that.
So what she would love, for to night? Was getting the pup sold, putting the kids to bed early, and
then, Jimmy seeing her as all organized in terms of the pup, they could mess around and
afterward lie there making plans, and he could do that laugh/snort thing in her hair again.
Why that laugh/snort meant so much to her she had no freaking idea. It was just one of the weird
things about the Wonder That Was Her, ha ha ha.
Outside, Bo hopped to his feet, suddenly curious, because (here we go) the lady who’d called
had just pulled up?
Yep, a nd in a nice car, too, which meant too bad she’d put “Cheap” in the ad.
Abbie squealed, “I love it, Mommy, I want it!,” as the puppy looked up dimly from its shoebox
and the lady of the house went trudging away and one – two – three – four plucked up four dog tu rds
from the rug.
Well, wow, what a super field trip for the kids, Marie thought, ha ha (the filth, the mildew smell,
the dry aquarium holding the single encyclopedia volume, the pasta pot on the bookshelf with an
inflatable candy cane inexplicably sticking out of it), and although some might have been
disgusted (by the spare tire on the dining – room table , by the way the glum mother dog, the
presumed in – hou se pooper, was dragging its rear over the pile of clothing in the corner, in a
sitting position, splay – legged, a moronic look of pleasure on her face), Marie realized (resisting
the urge to rush to the sink and wash her hands, in part because the sink had a basketball in it )
that what this really was was deeply sad.
Please do not touch anything, please do not touch , she said to Josh and Abbie, but just in her
head, wanting to give the children a chance to observe her being democratic and accepting, and
afte rward they could all wash up at the half – remodelled McDonald’s, as long as they just please
please kept their hands out of their mouths, and God forbid they should rub their eyes. The phone rang, and the lady of the house plodded into the kitchen, placing the daintily held,
paper – towel – wrapped turds on the counter .
“Mommy, I want it,” Abbie said.
“I will definitely walk him like twice a day,” Josh said.
“Don’t say ‘like,’ ” Marie said.
“I will definitely walk him twice a day,” Josh said.
O.K., then, all right, they would adopt a white – trash dog. Ha ha. They could name it Zeke, buy it
a little corncob pipe and a straw hat. She imagined the puppy, having crapped on the rug, looking
up at h er, going, Cain’t hep it. But no. Had she come from a perfect place? Everything was
transmutable. She imagined the puppy grown up, entertaining some friends, speaking to them in
a British accent: My family of origin was, um, rather not, shall we say, of th e most respectable . .
Ha ha, wow, the mind was amazing, always cranking out these —
Marie stepped to the window and, anthropologically pulling the blind aside, was shocked, so
shocked that she dropped the blind and shook her head, as if trying to wake he rself, shocked to
see a young boy, just a few years younger than Josh, harnessed and chained to a tree, via some
sort of doohickey by which — she pulled the blind back again, sure she could not have seen what
she thought she had —
When the boy ran, the chain spooled out. He was running now, looking back at her, showing off.
When he reached the end of the chain, it jerked and he dropped as if shot.
He rose to a sitting position, railed against the chain, whipped it back and forth, crawled to a
bowl of water, an d, lifting it to his lips, took a drink: a drink from a dog’s bowl .
Video From The New Yorker
Dogs Are People, Too
Josh joined her at the window. She let him look. He should know that the world was not all
lessons and iguanas and Nintendo. It was also this muddy simple boy tethered like an animal.
She remembered coming out of the closet to find her mother’s scattered lingerie and the
ditchdigger’ s metal hanger full of orange flags. She remembered waiting outside the junior high
in the bitter cold, the snow falling harder, as she counted over and over to two hundred, promising herself each time that when she reached two hundred she would begin the long walk
God, she would have killed for just one righteous adult to confront her mother, shake her, and
say, “You idiot, this is your child, your child you’re — ”
“So what were you guys thinking of naming him?” the woman said, coming out of the kitche n.
The cruelty and ignorance just radiated from her fat face, with its little smear of lipstick.
“I’m afraid we won’t be taking him after all,” Marie said coldly.
Such an uproar from Abbie! But Josh — she would have to praise him later, maybe buy him the
Ita lian Loaves Expansion Pak — hissed something to Abbie, and then they were moving out
through the trashed kitchen (past some kind of crankshaft on a cookie sheet, past a partial red
pepper afloat in a can of green paint ) while the lady of the house scuttled a fter them, saying,
wait, wait, they could have it for free, please take it — she really wanted them to have it.
No, Marie said, it would not be possible for them to take it at this time, her feeling being that one
really shouldn’t possess something if one wa sn’t up to properly caring for it.
“Oh,” the woman said, slumping in the doorway, the scrambling pup on one shoulder.
Out in the Lexus, Abbie began to cry softly, saying, “Really, that was the perfect pup for me.”
And it was a nice pup, but Marie was not g oing to contribute to a situation like this in even the
Simply was not going to do it.
The boy came to the fence. If only she could have said to him, with a single look, Life will not
necessarily always be like this. Your life could suddenly blossom into something wonderful. It
can happen. It happened to me.
But secret looks, looks that conveyed a world of meaning with their subtle blah blah blah — that
was all bullshit. What was not bullshit was a call to Child Welfare, where she knew Linda
Ber ling, a very no – nonsense lady who would snatch this poor kid away so fast it would make that
fat mother’s thick head spin.
Callie shouted, “Bo, back in a sec!,” and, swiping the corn out of the way with her non – pup arm,
walked until there was nothing but c orn and sky.
It was so small it didn’t move when she set it down, just sniffed and tumped over.
Well, what did it matter, drowned in a bag or starved in the corn? This way Jimmy wouldn’t
have to do it. He had enough to worry about. The boy she’d first met with hair to his waist was now this old man shrunk with worry. As far as the money, she had sixty hidden away. She’d give
him twenty of that and go, “The people who bought the pup were super – nice.”
Don’t look back, don’t look back , she said in her head as she raced away through the corn.
Then she was walking along Teallback Road like a sportwalker, like some lady who walked
every night to get slim, except that she was nowhere near slim, she knew that, and she also knew
that when sportwalking you did not wear jeans and unlaced hiking boots. Ha ha! She wasn’t
stupid. She just made bad choices. She remembered Sister Carol saying, “Callie, you are bright
enough but you incline toward th at which does not benefit you.” Yep, well, Sister, you got that
right , she said to the nun in her mind. But what the hell. What the heck. When things got easier
moneywise, she’d get some decent tennis shoes and start walking and get slim. And start night
s chool. Slimmer. Maybe medical technology. She was never going to be really slim. But Jimmy
liked her the way she was, and she liked him the way he was, which maybe that’s what love was,
liking someone how he was and doing things to help him get even better .
Like right now she was helping Jimmy by making his life easier by killing something so he — no.
All she was doing was walking, walking away from —
Pushing the words killing puppy out of her head, she put in her head the words beautiful sunny
day wow I’m lov ing this beautiful sunny day so much —
What had she just said? That had been good. Love was liking someone how he was and doing
things to help him get better.
Like Bo wasn’t perfect, but she loved him how he was and tried to help him get better. If they
cou ld keep him safe, maybe he’d mellow out as he got older. If he mellowed out, maybe he
could someday have a family. Like there he was now in the yard, sitting quietly, looking at
flowers. Tapping with his bat, happy enough. He looked up, waved the bat at he r, gave her that
smile. Yesterday he’d been stuck in the house, all miserable. He’d ended the day screaming in
bed, so frustrated. Today he was looking at flowers. Who was it that thought up that idea, the
idea that had made today better than yesterday? Wh o loved him enough to think that up? Who
loved him more than anyone else in the world loved him?
She did. ♦
Published in the print edition of the May 28, 2007 , issue.
George Saunders first contributed to The New Yorker in 1992. His book “ Lincoln in the Ba rdo:
A Novel ” won the Man Booker Prize in 2017.