The little white dog romped in the wild, dormant grass along the side of the road while the man made a show of waiting impatiently for her, as if he were being kept from an important engagement; though, when the dog popped back out onto the road and started making her scattered, sniffing way forward again, the man’s slight smile belied this show of his as he kept a slow pace behind her, as if he were afraid to lose sight of her, as if she were some kind of jubilant roaming compass upon which his direction was dependent.
The dog darted back into the grass and all the man could tell of her existence was her rustling wake waving through the dried, graying growth. He growled at her to watch for ticks. She popped back out onto the road once again and, free from the constraints of the wild, quickly motored forward, this way and that. He was able to take only three or four slow strides before she caught another scent and was back, once again, into the grass, off on yet another hunt.
He stopped, growled something else at her, and then let his eyes fall on the expansive, bleak view. Row upon row of severed stalks, some upright and blunt, others twisted and mangled, ran all the way to the bottom of the hill. It seemed to him as if he were looking down upon an abandoned, rotting cemetery. An unseen sun was setting behind cold clouds that threatened the coming of snow. A chill overtook him and he tugged on the already tightened coat zipper. The old, puppy-happy dog, still frantic with scent, did not notice the car as it approached.
The man did and he watched in silence as it slowed and then stopped along side him. The window came down and he was taken aback somewhat, if not more, when the driver said in a sand-scraping voice, “Shouldn’t you have that little puppy of yours on a leash?”
It took him several seconds before he could fully comprehend what had been said. The words, at first, didn’t make any sense to him. Then he looked down hard at the woman. He was unable to make out her age, her dyed hair was that red. Plus, her hair was just about all he could make out of her. That, and the knotty, wrinkled hands that seemed to be at the extent of their reach as they gripped the steering wheel. How could she see the road to drive when it seemed she couldn’t even see over the dashboard, he wondered.
“Excuse me?” he growled in earnest.
“I’ve seen you out walking with your little puppy before, you know. She’s so tiny. Aren’t you afraid a little thing like that might get hit by a passing car?”
He looked down at the oblivious dog and calculated that she was an easy three feet off the road. He then slowly, intentionally, looked up and down the lifeless, windswept road. Finally, he looked back down on the woman and a sudden rush of who he used to be came over him. He tried unsuccessfully to keep his hands from tightening into hard, hammering fists. He took a step closer toward the open window.
The dog popped back out onto the road and looked up in panting anticipation at the man, her thirsty tongue bobbing up and down in time with her wagging tail.
The man knew exactly what the old dog wanted. He relaxed and bent down and scooped her up with gentle, protective hands.
It seemed as if he didn’t hear the woman when she asked again, this time in an even more urgent, condescending tone, “Shouldn’t you at least have her on a leash?”
He just turned and made a slow way back in the direction from which he and his old companion had come. His growling response, if there was one, was lost within the cold hum of the snow-scented headwind.