This dirty little dog, whatever the hell breed it was, was slinking between some bushes near the side of a long brown ranch-style house. The house lacked curtains and the back porch was just an empty slab of concrete. I stood near the road to make sure the dog didn’t run out into the street and get hit by a car. My wife Lisa was stalking the dog across burned out grass making kissy sounds and cooing “That’s a good dog. That’s a precious pooch. Come here little lover.”
“I think you’re coming on too strong,” I said.
“Wish I had those Snausages from the cupboard.”
“I doubt that would work either. He’s clearly scared.”
“And, hungry no doubt.”
“Just tackle ‘em,” shouted a man standing on his porch on the other side of the street. I gave him a dirty look. He responded by taking a picture of us with his camera phone.
Several more neighbors from across the street trickled outside to watch Lisa creep and crawl on all fours toward the dog. The neighbors all kept their distance, except the man with the camera phone. He was quite curious.
My wife made another lunge and tried to corral the little guy. He barely evaded her grasp, then ran in circles before inching close enough to me that I could grab his little fluffy tail. He yelped, and the shock stopped the dog long enough for Lisa to grab him. He bucked and squirmed and growled but then slowly calmed as Lisa whispered in his ear, “There’s my good dog. That’s a good puppy.”
“Anyone got a spare leash?” I asked our growing audience.
There was mostly awkward looking around and mumbling. One neighbor now
had a lawn chair and a Miller High Life. I felt like a spectator sport. “I might have a length of rope in the garage somewhere,” said the man with the camera phone. Then, he turned to the house and shouted, “Hey, Carol! We got any rope in the garage? Carol?”
Seconds later a lady appeared in the doorway. She had messy red hair and a large tattoo of what looked like a bird on her arm. “In the garage,” she said.
“Bring it out. Need it to tie up a dog.”
The man was pale and had a big belly that poured over his belt. His hair was short and gray. There were freckles on his arms and a big scar on the left forearm. He hobbled over to us. “This’ll do?”
“Yes,” I said. “I appreciate it.”
He looked me up and down and smiled. “I’m Cliff,” he said, extending his hand. I shook it. His grip made my fingers throb.
“Bill,” I said. “This is my wife, Lisa.”
Cliff sized looked Lisa up and down, too. He walked over and inspected the dog. Then he leaned in a smelled him. “He’s a cute little bugger, ain’t he?”
“Under all that dirt is a handsome puppy,” Lisa said.
“Hey Carol, come see this dog. He’s cute as sin,” Cliff said. Carol lumbered over. She was so wobbly I suspected she was drunk.
“That little rat. He is just a ball of nothing. I love him!” Carol said.
“I think it’s a her,” Lisa said. She lifted the dog up and looked between its legs.
“Yep. A her.” Cliff’s eyes widened and his face washed bright red.
“Just a little rat,” Carol said.
“So, you guys on our street?” Cliff asked.
“Other side of the neighborhood. Near Highway Nine.”
“And you way over here?” Cliff asked. Cliff went to pet the white dog, making her growl. “Someone thinks he’s a little prince now. All uppity.”
“She’s just scared,” Lisa said.
“We walk every night,” I said. “Sometimes we come this way, hit Miller Parkway and circle back.”
“That’s a lot of walking nowhere special,” Cliff said.
“It’s just exercise,” I said. Cliff inhaled, looked up the road from where we came, and motor boated his lips for an entire breath.
Carol leaned in close to the dog’s face. “And where’s your mommy and daddy?” she said. Then she switched to a bad British accent. “A hard knock life for you ain’t it?” She paused like she was thinking, then she said, “Gov-en-ah.”
By now the other neighbors had gone back inside and we were standing on the side of the road, in a patch of dirt where the grass had died, alone with Cliff and Carol.
Cliff looked at my wife, then me. Then he was staring only at my wife, or the dog, or maybe both. Lisa cradled the little pooch, who was calm, but panting. “She seems thirsty,” Lisa said after the dog licked her arm.
“I can get him a drink,” Carol said. “Come on.” Lisa put the rope around the dog’s little neck and set her down. She handed me the other end of the rope and then went with Carol toward the house. Lisa followed when Carol went in, leaving the dog and me standing there with Cliff. He sized me up again. “You used to wrestle?”
“Chin up bar?”
“Not really.” I noticed Cliff had a tattoo of a dragon on his left arm and another tattoo inside his wrist. It read: Lover in a fancy script.
“You got ink,” I said, nodding at his wrist. Lisa hated tattoos and repeatedly shot down my dreams of getting a Kokopelli on my right shoulder blade.
“Military ink. I was in Iraq with the Arabs,” Cliff said.
“Ah, thanks for that.”
“For what? Babysitting a bunch of rag heads?”
“For serving your country. My country. You know, America.”
“It almost got me killed.”
“Well, at least you got those bad-ass tats, right?”
Cliff spit into the dirt. He looked toward his house and leaned close to me. “Your wife has pretty hands. Soft. Long fingers. I like that.”
“Her hands. They’re sexy. My wife had good hands back when. They’re not much now. Too much hard work made them dried up like jerky and all the salt makes them swell up and bulge like sausages. But that woman of yours, her hands are nice.”
Cliff was smirking now. I noticed he had a chipped tooth on the right side of his mouth. His teeth were dull and brown. “Carol has nice boobs though still. More than what your lady has.”
“I don’t want to discuss this with you,” I said. I inched away from the man. He took a deep breath and sighed. I watched the house and waited for Lisa to emerge with water. It seemed like forever.
“I let my wife have sex with a black guy once. I watched it and everything. Got some pictures on my phone.” Cliff focused on his phone, squinting at the screen, his thumb wildly pressing buttons.
I walked toward the house to get away from Cliff. “You know, I should see where Lisa is. We need to get going before the sun sets.” I crossed the street with Cliff following. He caught up to me and grabbed my shoulder.
“No need to get embarrassed. It’s just man talk. For example, I can tell you my wife likes hot candle wax and honey. Now you share. What does Lisa like? Does she get manicures? Pedicures?”
“There’s nothing left to talk about, Cliff.” I stood in Cliff’s front yard and shouted for Lisa. She quickly came trotting out with the water. “What’s going on?”
“Babe, we should go.”
“But Carol was showing me her collection of Starbucks mugs. She’s been to a Starbucks in nine different cities.”
“That’s great. Let’s go.”
“Lisa!” I shouted. Lisa narrowed her eyes at me. I widened mine. Cliff burped.
“Well, we ought to get back,” Lisa said. “Figure out what we’re going to do with the dog. It was great seeing your mugs, Carol. That was really nice.”
Cliff walked over to Lisa and took her hand. He leaned forward and kissed it. Lisa smiled. “Why thank you, Cliff. Such a gentleman.”
“Pleasures all mine,” Cliff said, broken toothed smile wide as ever.
I grabbed Lisa’s elbow and pulled her toward the street, the little dog following along with us. We walked quietly for a few moments. “That Cliff seemed nice,” she said. “Didn’t you think so, babe?” I looked back and he was still standing there watching us. His arm was around Carol.
I didn’t respond to Lisa.
I didn’t hold her hand either, not once on the walk home.
Coe Douglas is a writer and editor in Jacksonville, Florida. His work has recently appeared in the anthology 396 Hours. He’s working on an MFA at the University of Tampa and writing a feature film. Follow him on twitter @coewrote or online at coedouglas.com.
–Art by Bostjan Tacol