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Identity -- insisting doggedly

Big family of boys across the river, and I always have trouble telling them apart. Probably if they lined up I'd know, but one at a time I can't tell Joe from Ed and Pete and the others. They clam now and then down on our shore, and when I see one of them going by in his pickup truck I always wonder which he is. Then one day I noticed the dog. Smart-looking little pooch not quite setter-size , but there's not much setter there anyway. Good mid-coast extraction. He was standing in the back of the pickup truck, braced against the whimsical engineering of our private roadway, and he was in full possession of the world in general. Dog-fashion, he was taking care of every little thing except the taxes, and I could see he was mighty proud to have so much responsibility. When I asked which of the Blethen boys had a black dog I learned that was Fred. So this day I'm telling about I saw a pickup going down to clam with a black dog in back, and I was reasonably sure the driver was Fred.

July was dry in these parts, and I was pleased that day to hear the old National radio in my shop begin to sputter with static. A most welcome shower seemed to be making up, and after a bit the static drowned out my music and I shut the thing off. Now I could hear thunder toward the west and the sky was getting dark. Seemed to me there was promise of a good wetting for the sass, and maybe the heat would be toned down a notch. Because of the heat I hadn't been doing anything much anyway, so I folded my jackknife and kicked the stool over by the lift-door - meaning to sit there and watch the shower materialize. By now the thunder-bumpers were just over the knoll, and as I was sitting down a whopper tore the precinct apart and just about pushed the stool from under me. Close enough for that whiff of brimstone. Then came the rain. Downpour. How glad the tomatoes and corn and cukes would be!

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Whereupon, in comes the little black dog belonging to Fred Blethen, with celerity that carried him smack against my workbench in the back. He shook off the blow, and also a pail of water, and stood there a-tremble with fright at the thunder. Good many dogs are like that. This one looked about to make sure he was in safe harbor, and then carefully came toward me, cringing at every toot from the sky. ''It's all right, Old Boy,'' I said, and he came to put his head on my thigh in so intimate and comfortable a manner that you'd swear we'd been pals for years. He stayed right there, his only movement being his dog's pant with his tongue run out on my knee. I could feel a twitch with each thunder, but with the assurance of being close to me he was no longer scairt by it. Wet as he was, I patted his back and he cuddled closer. There we sat out the shower.

The rain would have driven Fred Blethen off the clam flats, and now that it had stopped he came up the road in his pickup. I waved as he passed, and pointed at his dog, still leaning against me and grateful for comfort and affection. Fred waved back, looked at the dog, nodded, and kept on going.

''Well, there!'' I said to the dog.''Look's-if your master forgot you were aboard! Guess you're gonna hafta walk home!''

That wasn't the right of it at all.

The dog stayed close to me because there was still some thunder in the distance, and after a bit Fred came backing his pickup. He stopped by the door and got out. ''You waved?'' he asked.

''Forgot your dog,'' I said.

Fred looked puzzled. I said, ''He was sure some old shook up about the thunder! Came barging in and just about climbed in my lap. I'd seen you drive down, so I knew whose dog he was.''

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''He ain't my dog,'' said Fred.

The dog had just left me to run out and hop into the back of the pickup, so I said, ''Acts like your dog, Fred.''

''I ain't Fred. Fred was down clamming, but he ain't come up yet. This is Fred's dog. I'm Burt. I don't keep no dog.''

So we chewed the rag awhile, and along comes Fred in his pickup, and he had quite a time persuading his dog to get out of Burt's pickup and into his. I noticed then that both boys had the same model trucks. And Burt and Fred looked enough like Fred and Burt to be Fred and Burt.

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