Today's Reading

NO ONE KNEW that Frida lived in the Place du Trocadéro, but she did. Frida was an elegant German shorthaired pointer, ticked all over, but with a brown head and two brown patches on her back. She sat proudly here and there about the Place, making believe that she belonged to this human or that one and was simply waiting to be taken home after a nice walk. There were so many crowds around the Place du Trocadéro that no one noticed her, and so much food thrown out that maintaining her figure was as easy as could be. She was also careful to groom herself from top to bottom every day. Frida was intimately familiar with the Place, because her former owner, Jacques, spent a lot of time there—seven roads entered a nice roundabout that encircled a small green space with plenty of trees and bushes, which meant that the cars had to slow down, which meant that Jacques was more likely to receive a contribution. Up the hill was a crowded cemetery where Jacques liked to sleep when the weather was warm; Frida went up there in the evenings. Two large buildings separated by a slippery exposed area that Frida didn't like (Jacques called it the Palais de Chaillot) overlooked a large park full of paths and trees that swept down to the river. This meant that there was always a place to run around, and plenty of humans strolling here and there—also good for contributions. Frida bathed regularly in the pool below "the Palais." You could not be a dog in Paris and be dirty or smelly—if you were, the gendarmerie would take you in for sure.

Frida had never been taken in by the gendarmerie. Jacques had impressed on her that such a fate was unspeakable—every time he even saw a police car or a policeman in the distance, he got up off the pavement, picked up his dish, his mat, and his guitar, and led Frida into some alley or other. Jacques knew every alley, every courtyard, and every cemetery, especially on the west side of the river, and he and Frida had slept in many of them. And then, one morning, in a courtyard a little ways down the river, he didn't wake up, and here came the gendarmerie, and Frida slipped away. She watched from a distance as they picked him up, put him in a van, and drove him off, and she never understood that. They left his guitar behind. Frida visited it twice and sniffed it for evidence of what had happened, but she could not figure it out. It was hot and bright and the leaves were all over the trees when they took him away, and now it was getting cold and the leaves had fallen, and Frida had to admit that, in spite of the occasional pats she got from passersby, she was a lonely dog, and not quite sure what to do. Jacques had been her only friend, and Jacques had had no friends. How to make a friend, either dog or human, was a mystery to her. It was not only that Jacques had been solitary and protective, it was also that dogs in Paris, on leashes, neatly garbed, kept to themselves. If Frida approached one, it barked instantly, loudly, reporting her misbehavior.

Which is not to say that when she saw Paras by the light of dawn, cropping grass inside the fence of the Place du Trocadéro, Frida knew that they were going to be friends. She knew nothing at all except that she had never seen such a thing before. Here was a horse, not attached to a carriage, a light, graceful-looking horse, wolfing down the grass. Frida plopped down on her haunches as if Jacques had ordered, "Frida! Assieds." Frida stared. Frida barked two barks. The horse's ears twitched, but it didn't lift its head.

A dog had to be careful around horses. They had big feet and big teeth, and they could be quick or they could be clumsy. Jacques had sometimes liked to give the white carriage-horses a bit of apple when the drivers weren't looking, but he had never allowed Frida to sniff or explore them. Even so, Frida finally stood up and hopped over the little fence and approached the horse, not so much to sniff the horse itself, but to investigate that item near to it, an item that looked very much like a leather purse. As far as Frida was concerned, there was nothing quite as fascinating as a leather purse. Humans carried them all the time—big and small, fragrant and not so fragrant, always clutched tight. Out of leather purses came all sorts of things, but most especially coins. When Frida and Jacques positioned themselves carefully on the street, Jacques picking tunes on his guitar and Frida looking alert and friendly, the coins had rained into their dish. Frida had come to understand that they were good things, mostly by watching Jacques smile as he counted them every evening.

Frida slid in her quietest and most bird-stalking manner toward the purse, nose out, head down, ears pricked. The horse continued to munch the grass.

Maybe if the purse had had a zipper Frida would never have been able to open it, and this story would have happened differently—Delphine would have found Paras and taken her home to Maisons-Laffitte, and Frida would have had to think of some other way to gain a friend.

But in fact the purse had a magnetic snap, and opened quite easily. Once the flap was open, Frida pushed the purse a little bit with her nose, so that the contents were revealed, and what she saw in there was money. Yes, there was also a lip gloss and a hairbrush, but mostly there was money, made of paper, in all shades (a dog sees red as brown and blue as blue, green as pale yellow). She knew which ones Jacques found exciting—Frida did not have much experience with the palest ones, but once, outside Saint-Michel Station, when Jacques had been playing and singing, a tall man in pointed-toed boots and a big hat had walked by, stopped to listen to the entire song, and said, "Thanks, brother," then dropped one of those pale notes into the bowl. Jacques had to snatch it up before it blew away. Now Frida nudged the flap closed and stepped back.
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