Mom’s electric Beamer glides smoothly over the bumps on Highway 101 as we head south from Harbor Vista toward the prison, I mean boarding school that Dad found for me. Wandering Pines Academy? Seriously? I should have made a run for it. Too late now. At least they’ll let me keep my golden retriever there, or so they say. I smile at Jenny sitting attentively behind me next to my grandfather’s beat up fiddle case.
“Hey Mom, you probably shouldn’t trust this jail to keep me under control if it can’t even keep its trees rooted where they belong.”
“Very funny, Ella, but this is not a jail. Your dad says Wandering Pines is a very well respected boarding school. It’s sent tons of kids to Whitman and Pomona, not to mention Brecken.”
“Oh really, I read that all their graduates go on to live naked in the woods and eat nuts and berries.” Mom rolls her eyes and lets the auto-steer take over so she can check the fade rate of her new Face Tats in the mirror. “You don’t need to be controlled, dear, and getting outdoors every once in a while will be good for you. You spend too much time in your room alone with that fiddle.”
“Well, maybe I wouldn’t have to if you and Dad weren’t fighting all the time.”
“Honey. We’ve been over this. Talk to your father about that. He’s the one who just has to move up to Humboldt.”
“And he built you a very nice studio there next to his new farm.”
“With no light and no ocean view. I like where I am right now, thank you very much. If he and his Brecken buddies want to grow pot, they can do it just as well in the campus lab. Why do I have to move up north to the boonies?”
“No, they can’t, Mom. His business is too big. And it’s not just pot. It’s Enlightenment. It’s different. Besides, he’s not with his Brecken buddies anymore. They were the ones who were going to kill Jenny, remember?”
Mom glances at Jenny in the rearview mirror. “It’s not different enough that it’s okay that you stole some off his desk and vaped it, and don’t let him fool you. He calls those Brecken people up for advice all the time.”
“He does not. Dad’s doing just fine on his own. Don’t you follow his company on your glasses feed? Besides, doing Enlightenment freed me from substances and device addiction, so you should be happy. That’s why everyone loves it, by the way. Don’t you get it? Enlightenment? I can’t believe you haven’t tried it. No matter. You’re all set now. No daughter to take care of, no husband to argue with, and no Jenny to pester you in the studio all day long while I’m at school. I hope you enjoy it.”
“Guilting me is not going to change my mind, Ella. This is as much for you as it is for the family. You know that. Vista High was way too easy for you.”
“If you’re sending me to this dump to get me away from James, you needn’t spend the money. We broke up weeks ago.”
“It’s not about your social life, and you know it. Did he break up with you or did you break up with him?”
“Vista High was not too easy for me. I read a ton of books there.”
“None the school assigned you.”
“So, it’s time for you to put yourself out there, learn from some people who are smarter than you for once.”
“James was smart.”
“I’m talking about something more creative than boy toys and football plays.”
“You underestimate him, and you think playing music is easy?”
“No, but being alone in your room is stifling. Creativity requires more interaction than watching fiddle holograms on YouTube.”
“Oh, right. Like all the University guys that hang around your studio all the time.”
“Exactly! Artists need other artists to keep them stimulated.”
“Stimulated, huh? Well, at least they paid attention to Jenny, gave her some of their precious stimulation.”
“And got her hair everywhere. Can’t say I’ll miss that.”
Mom flips down her phoneglasses, and I lean my head against the window and watch the rows of grape vines flash by like a mind-warp video. College preparatory boarding school. Isn’t this what always happens to rich kids from broken families? Leave it to my parents to find the weirdest one in California, though.
I look behind me at my fiddle resting in its ragged brown case that still smells sweetly of my granddad. The old German violin was his favorite possession, and he gave it to me before he died since his son, my dad, didn’t have a musical bone in his body. “I always thought of you with love when I played Lenore, Ella dear. Now you can learn from her and think of me sometimes,” he said from his sick bed. I never cried so much in my life when he died, but it’s true. I do always think of him when I play, like his heart lives on in the intricate wood of Lenore somehow.
Thinking about Lenore makes my fingertips tingle and reminds me that I need to practice the new version of “Mississippi Sawyer” I just learned. Not likely I’ll be able to do that anytime soon at the prison. Jenny is excited that I turned around to look at her. She smiles at me droopy-eyed and licks Lenore’s case knowingly. She’ll probably really like Wandering Pines – more room to run around.
A restaurant billboard with a drawing of some weirdo using a huge sledgehammer to crush a little bean appears from behind a hill on the right. What the hell is that all about? I thought our fine progressive state had laws against old-fashioned billboards now that phoneglass holograms make ads appear majestically on any vista. I look at the eyesore and shake my head. Do promotions like that still work in 2026? Around here, apparently. This school really is in the boonies. I stifle a pfff so Mom will keep her attention on her glasses.
We roll past another stupid restaurant billboard and Jenny sends me an urgent scent. It fills my olfactory nerves with a deeply penetrating lemon flavor and notes of urine. As usual, before I even have a chance to interpret the meaning, the visual kicks in to make it easier to figure out. Here’s what I see in a sort of film screen over my eyes:
Note: Reedsy's software cannot display the illustration here, so imagine a picture here of a sculpture of a dog peeing on a fire hydrant. (Download this book to see this and all 51 illustrations that make up Jenny's side of conversations.)
Amazing, huh? Don’t ask me how she does it. Dad won’t tell me anything other than to keep it a secret. It’s all the quantum communications stuff they implanted in her brain at Brecken before they decided to kill her off as a dud. Those Brecken freaks made her mind scintillate with brilliance and then they gave up on her, probably because she was smart enough to hide it from them. That’s my theory, anyway. They had their chance. Their loss. They can try their bio-genetic psycho-physics wizardry on some other poor lab animal they don’t really care about. Jenny’s secret is forever safe with me. I smile at her in the back seat.
Sometimes, frankly, it would be easier if Mom knew about Jenny. Not only because owning a genius dog is a tough secret to keep from her, but also because, as an artist, she would probably really appreciate seeing the cool visuals. They can be pretty intense, and instead of my having to hold my nose and cover up my eyes all the time and pretend that nothing is happening, she’d see that I have an artistic side too – if sensing how to interpret images for hidden dog meaning counts as creativity. That’s an art, isn’t it? I think so. When I first got Jenny, , I was terrible at it. I thought that smoking Enlightenment had blown my mind, and I didn’t even realize the visions were coming from her, but Jenny was patient with me, and now I read her pretty accurately most of the time, even when her messages are sometimes symbolically complicated and hard to decipher. I can interpret Mom’s paintings pretty accurately too, but I usually don’t embarrass her by informing her what they mean. Psychology was never her thing, and she doesn’t read as much as I do.
Fortunately for my sanity, Jenny does make a sincere effort to communicate clearly. Most of the time her smell transmissions carry images of paintings whose meanings would be obvious to anyone who pays attention in school. Mom was so happy when I decided to take art history as an elective last year. “I’m just thrilled that you are finally interested in paintings!” she said, but I didn’t tell her it was really just to understand Jenny’s messages better without having to reach for my phoneglasses all the time. I look over at her behind the wheel absorbed by a flashing holo-video playing on her glasses screen. She would probably be pissed to know that she has had more of an influence on my dog’s artistic education than she’s had on mine. Jenny had to hang around her studio. I didn’t, thank goodness.
The hardest scents Jenny transmits are usually random less-than-famous art pieces, even cartoons. Rarer still, but sometimes, the smells transform into bits of music, usually pop or indie, but occasionally whole symphonies. Jenny, who doesn’t miss much, picked up on music because Mom is addicted to Pandora when she paints. When she decides to send them, Jenny’s musical smells can take a while to process, mainly because they come when I am expecting an image and instead my ears fill with sound. That can be challenging if I am talking to someone. I’ve really honed my social acting skills pretending nothing is happening to me when Jenny takes over my senses and starts tripping out my brain. For sure I’ll never be one of those people who go for the new holograph-disguised Apple earrings where Siri whispers unsolicited information to you about what you are seeing all day long. I already have enough interference in my brain, thank you.
Jenny sends the lemon/urine smell again and vocalizes a whine in the back seat, probably to bolster her case with Mom. The image of the dog sculpture lifting its leg pulses again on my eyeballs.
“Mom, can we stop at that stupid soup restaurant? Jenny has to go. Me too, actually.” As soon as I said that, Jenny lets the image fade enough for me to see the world again. The exit is just ahead on the right.
“Sure, time for something to eat anyway. I hope they have a Starbucks in there.”
“Don’t count on it. They probably still make coffee around here in tin pots over a campfire.”
I know my mom actually liked James, by the way, because they both adore Starbucks. She’s simple in that way, trust me. Jenny didn’t like James at all, however, the little traitor. The smells she sent me when James was around were disgusting and violent. I could barely even see him enough to kiss him at times. But what does she know about love? She’s a dog. James was hot. I’m pretty hot too, actually, except for being a little overweight. I still don’t know why he dropped me. Did he sense, somehow, that Jenny didn’t like him? I’ll probably never know now. He’ll move on, that’s for sure. Every girl at Vista High had a crush on him. At least the cheerleaders did, the ones he could never stop eyeing. I’m glad I didn’t tell him about Jenny.
We pull into the restaurant and auto-park next to Buicks, Winnebagos, and other newly electrified classics driven by doddering old people willing to be sucked in by billboards offering bean gruel and flatulence. Jenny’s out in a flash and finds a gnarly oak tree to pee behind. She looks back at us to make sure the tree hides her well enough. Remarkably self-conscious for an animal. Next thing you know she’ll be begging me for clothes to wear. Jenny must have guessed what I was thinking because she immediately sends me a strong scent of laundry soap. Here’s the image that appears in my eyes:
Note: Reedsy's software cannot display the illustration here, so imagine a picture here of a dog dressed up to look like Harry Potter. (Download this book to see this and all 51 illustrations that make up Jenny's side of conversations.)
“You’re way more beautiful and talented than that dog is, Jenny,” I said to her when she returns from the tree and jumps back into the car. I could tell she wants nothing to do with the inside of the tourist trap feeding trough. I pat her knobby head and pour some water into her bowl on the seat before closing the door. We leave the windows open for her. She’ll probably meditate the whole time we’re gone.
“What dog?” said Mom flipping her phoneglasses up and looking around.
“You didn’t see it,” I said. “Let’s go get souped.”