Such an event had never befallen our village. We were so remote, so peaceable, so good. Of course, we had heard of plagues, but they seem to have been generally a cataclysm of the past, wrought largely upon distant and deserving populations.
So, imagine our wonder when we awakened that morning to what seemed a fierce thunderstorm, droplets the size of ping pong balls that pattered and pounded, and winds that wheezed and whined. And when we peered anxiously out our windows, we were stunned.
There were Pekingese! Thousands upon thousands of them. They filled the streets. They flooded the parks. When we opened our doors, rampaging, snorting waves of them would surge across the threshold.
I called to my neighbor, Susan, over the snuffling, yapping din, “We must find Elder Clara. She will know what to do.”
“What?” Susan shouted back.
“The square!” I shrieked.
Together, we made our way through the village, shuffling carefully, our hands pressed to our ears. Quite a number of us must have come to the same conclusion, as many had already arrived at the town’s meeting place. Some were perched in trees; others sought refuge on benches and picnic tables, while a few of the more stoic among us just stood there, wincing, as the little bodies pummeled their shins.
With one voice we cried, “We have been visited by a plague of Pekingese. Help us! What have we done? What must we do?”
Elder Clara pondered these questions, despite the considerable distraction, and then announced with characteristic solemnity, “When life gives you Pekingese, you make,” here pausing for dramatic effect and for the yipping to abate somewhat, “You make do.”
Clearly, this was the answer to our woes. Not having time to assemble the council, Elder Clara began the appointments: Tony, the retired Navy Seal whose mother had been a vet tech was charged with Special Ops. Bette’s Hair Shoppe was appropriated as a grooming parlor. Doc Ralph was given command over Medical. I was hoping Elder Clara would call upon me to head up Arts and Entertainment, but that social climber Melissa practically dislocated her arm, waving with enthusiasm. Lisa and Erin, our village’s acclaimed culinary artists, would handle Nutrition. I was relegated to the usual, Misc. Luckily, I dodged the canon, Sanitation Engineer, which befell Hank, who already hated dogs. (I suppose Elder Clara, in her wisdom, determined that no fondness should be challenged with such a task.)
But no sooner did we embark upon our various missions than our plans began to unravel. Clearly, the Hair Shoppe was too small and the Pekes too numerous. Word spread that every villager must carry combs and brushes at all times, and whenever a little dog was within reach, which was always, we must swoop down and do our best to detangle the living mop. In a matter of days, most of us suffered a variety of orthopedic complaints—not to mention scratches and the occasional puncture wound.
Tony showed up with some boys from the rugby team and volunteered to herd a vast number of the dogs into the high school arena. We soon realized that this apparent altruism was less than authentic, but the little creatures yipped so piteously at their confinement—and their dread of scrimmages—that Tony reluctantly ordered them released.
Lisa and Erin were at their wits’ end because the beasties turned up what seemed to be their noses at every vegetarian dish (the practice of flesh eating was unknown to us) the couple so lovingly prepared: the Pekes spurned tofu, they rejected tempeh, they tried to bury tofurkey, and what they did to the spanikopita—well, just ask Hank.
Doc Ralph locked himself in his veterinary clinic and drew the blinds, grumbling that he couldn’t tell one end from the other, and, besides, he was a feline specialist.
Melissa determined that, with all the fur flying, we should start a village cottage industry: the entire community would learn to either knit, crochet, macramé, or weave, according to individual talent and inclination. We made tea cozies and planter hangers and sweaters and balaclavas and berets and key chains and pot holders and socks and rugs and, yes, even afghans (although those of us who did wept at the irony). Even Hank got into the action, feverishly working on creating covers for the municipal dumpsters.
Misc has always been a difficult category for me. But I had determined that a little discipline wouldn’t hurt. A Pekingese drill team seemed just the thing. Imagine thousands of them, arrayed by color, in serried ranks, trotting out incredibly ornate maneuvers—loud, panting little riderless Lippizaners. So perfectly misc. I summoned Tony and the team, and we once again herded a considerable number into the stadium. Naming them was out of the question; I thought that I could possibly get their attention by hollering through a megaphone, “Whites, to the Left! Sables, Center! Fawns, Forward!” But I had underestimated the intransigent nature of plagues.
Within a week, the pharmacy had run out of earplugs, the cats had all left town, sleep was quite impossible, and we were wearing fur mittens and scarves even though it was a particularly mild spring.
And then, suddenly, mysteriously, one morning they were gone. Silence. We walked, for the first time in days actually lifting our feet, to the edge of town and could see nothing but a billowing, milky cloud of dust that obliterated the horizon for what seemed miles. We were stunned. A few of the more sensitive among us felt decidedly forsaken. Then we heard it: the pattering, a snuffle, and a yip.
And there were Hank and Doc Ralph, dragged along by Woofinpoofs and Cussywop (as Elder Clara later declared them), two Pekingese they had managed to capture just as the departing migration began. We all fiercely loved the gentle, wise-eyed pair, and would publically celebrate them and each anniversary of their brethren’s miraculous occupation with poetry and dance and song. I’m happy to say that the little dogs stayed in the village with us to the end of their days, a reminder that plagues do happen, but that people—and Pekingese—are very resilient indeed.
Postscript: Many scholars maintain (somewhat stubbornly) that the pack arrived “en paw”—that it simply sounded like a hail storm, as the inhabitants obviously had no comparative experience for interpreting the racket. Others favor a meteorological interpretation of the phenomenon, largely based on this stanza from an old hymn:
Oh Woofinpoofs, oh Cussywop, why from heaven didst thee drop?
Oh Cussywop, oh Woofinpoofs, praise be God you spared our roofs.