Grady was an Alaskan Husky born and raised at a sled dog kennel in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Initially trained for the legendary Iditarod sled dog race, Grady ran lesser races in the Midwest and then pulled sleds full of tourists through the north woods. Then, when he was eight, he seemed to lose his zest for pulling and the kennel owners put him up for adoption.
Scrolling through Facebook one afternoon, Irene zeroed in on Grady’s picture. Of the ten dogs being retired, he was the one. Underneath his photo read “Grady is the happiest dog we’ve ever known.” Irene wanted a happy dog. With her kids grown and gone, her husband, Frank, traveling much of the time for his business, a happy dog could enliven her, maybe make her happy. Two weeks later, she brought Grady to his new home on Lake Superior.
Irene loved Grady right away. He was so handsome, tall with long legs, big sled dog feet, and a high bushy tail. His coat was white with red and brown patches, his face wolflike with a bronze mask, brown eyes with tiny gold lashes. That he was beautiful was one reason Irene loved him but Grady was also confident, calm, and gentle, taking treats from her fingers like a jeweler picking up rare diamonds with padded tongs.
When she took him for walks on the beach, he would pull hard as if still attached to a sled. “Don’t let him loose,” the kennel owner told her, “until he knows you’re his people. Too soon, and he’ll be running back to us.” So Irene kept him on a leash all that first summer and winter and then the next summer, she unsnapped the lead and he took off running down the beach but stopped right away when she called his name. When he stopped for her, Irene would pet Grady’s head and kiss him on his wolfie cheeks. And he would seem to her wild and tame at the same time.
In the three years since Irene had adopted Grady, she learned by accident that he would obey two commands instantly. The first was WAIT! And the second was THIS WAY! Grady stopped mid-stride when he heard WAIT! And he looked back on THIS WAY! to see where she was pointing and then hurtled himself in that direction. That Grady did these things, responded to her in this way, made her feel accomplished and wise, capable and sure of herself. Grady would never run away, she knew that. She had become his people.
Irene used these commands on the Lake Superior beach in front of her house when Grady would run hard over the rocks and sand, more for the joy of it than for any reason. He never chased birds or balls. He ran because it was what he remembered. And then he would stop and turn back, his tail high and wagging, his mouth open, panting, as if waiting for a piece of frozen fish before starting to run again. The two of them spent hours on the beach. Frank was gone now, almost all the time, opening a new office for his company in Brussels. A weekly Facetime call was what had become of their marriage. Now she was just a woman with a dog and a lake, always the lake.
That August day on the beach was like most except the water was high and roiling. The cool wind out of the northwest reminded Irene of the winter storms that buffeted the beach, creating ten-foot-high ice walls at the shore. It was late summer now but those times weren’t far off. Lake Superior always had winter in its pocket.
Grady ran ahead, far ahead, and she saw him stop at the water for a drink. The heavy wave startled him and he jumped back, trotting down the beach to where the waves were lower. He waded in again, this time up to his chest. Irene had never seen him go that far into the water and she puzzled over what would have drawn him there. A dead fish maybe? Lake Superior wasn’t like that though. It was clean and clear. But the lake was different today, alien, emitting something, a scent, a taste, something wild that pulled her dog into the water. While she thought this, the wave hit, knocking Grady off his feet. The next wave sucked him under.