You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

This week I asked my Facebook followers at to give me an old saying for a writing prompt. I chose this one randomly, and I’d like to thank Karen Faris for her suggestion. Please enjoy the results below.

Helen Alewine didn’t know what was worse, waking up in the middle of the night and having to go to the bathroom, or tripping over her fat old Chihuahua, Cricket, in the darkness.
It was a real problem. Helen was eighty-four years old. Her night vision deteriorated over the years to where she could not even drive the seven blocks to go to choir practice in the wintertime when it was dark by five thirty. Choir practice was at seven o’clock, and during the Advent season running up to the big Christmas chorale her friends had to drop by and pick her up. She was the base of the soprano section, her still-clear vibrato one of the high points of the program each year, and she was not about to quit choir.
After sunset, Helen lit up her house like a landing strip. She left lights burning in each room so she wouldn’t slip on the edge of a rug, bump into a chair that she couldn’t see in the diminished light, or sit on Cricket whose tawny coat blended perfectly with the tan velour upholstery of her couch and armchairs. But at night when she went to bed, she needed the same darkness that kept her from driving (or having a lower electric bill) to go to sleep. And because Cricket was now too overweight to even go up the doggy steps to get to Helen’s bed, much less jump up there, he slept on the floor.
Helen made a pallet out of her old pillow and a worn pink blanket with a blue stripes and a rayon satin edge that she had never been able to stand. Cricket seemed to like it though, and would settle down on the makeshift bed while Helen sat up in hers reading the large print edition of a King James Holy Bible her Sunday School class gave her three years before. She read exactly one book a night, and was proud to say that she had read the Bible completely through at least sixteen times.
It was after she turned out her bedside light and turned over to go to sleep that the problem came.
She always placed Cricket’s pallet on the other side of her dark cherry vanity. It was in a corner and out of the way. But as soon as the light went out, the little dog got up and dragged the pillow and blanket closer to her bed by the window. There were many nights as she rose up to go to the bathroom that Helen stepped right on him, and she was afraid that one night she would either crush Cricket beneath her feet, or she was going to fall and break her hip. And she knew what would happen if she broke a hip- very few old ladies came back from the hospital after that sort of an accident. She couldn’t turn on the bedside light because it took her old eyes so long to adjust to the brightness that it made it difficult to go back to sleep.
So she took to doing anything to keep the little dog from moving his bed. At first she tried double-sided carpet tape, but Cricket pulled at the bedding until it was strewn from the dresser to underneath the window by where Helen slept. He tore out tacks, ripped through nails, and pushed aside books she piled in front of the pallet to keep him in the corner. Once she sewed the pallet down to the rug, which worked but she had to rip the stitches to wash the bedding, and it was just too difficult to get up and down to do that each week that she did the little dog’s laundry.
She even tried sleeping with a night light, but it disturbed her rest, and since her vision was so poor, it didn’t help much anyway. So she grew used to dangling her legs before she stepped on the floor, and scooting Cricket out of her way before she tottered to the bathroom.
It was on a very dark night near the new moon. Helen had already gone to the restroom and had settled back into her comfortable covers and drifted back into a deep sleep. Before she got back in bed she had opened the window slightly. She liked the bedroom a bit chilly, and it seemed to make her rest better. Around three o’clock in the morning, she heard Cricket yelping, growling, and barking. Helen sat straight up and turned on the light next to her.
When her eyes adjusted, she saw the window was wide open. She looked on the floor and there sat Cricket, a swatch of torn denim in his mouth. Helen quickly put two and two together as she examined the sill and shined a flashlight on the ground outside, revealing bootprints in the loose earth. Someone had tried to break into her bedroom, and when they came through the window, they stepped on Cricket. His cries and barking prevented a crime from happening.
“You know, Cricket?” She cuddled the old fat dog while she sat back on her bed. “I’m glad you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”


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