This is one of my very first short stories. I thought it would be appropriate to share now since it takes place on a windy, autumn day. I included some blurbs for my other stories at the end. Hope you like this story as much as I had fun writing it!
She had devoted her life to her family. They had demoted her to dog walker.
Trip whined through the back door. She had jingled the leash that signaled his daily walk, but she still waited in the kitchen. This was the time of day her daughters sometimes called to complain about professors or other college matters. But they had not called. She finally plugged the cell phone into its charger and left it on the countertop. For decades, she had been the most important person in their lives, and she did not know why things had to change.
Trip whined again. She opened the back door and silently repeated her old exhortations. Dogs were not meant to exist inside the house. Dogs were dirty and smelly and obnoxious. Dogs did not have needs or wants or identity. She laughed. Her kids would probably say the same about her. She'd gone to college, read Anita Shreve and Anne Tyler and Arlie Hoschild, witnessed her own mother's journey, and she had promised herself that she would not turn out useless, uninteresting, cloying, and yet had done so anyway. Accidently, but with wholeheartedness. She felt embarrassed now, faced with the loss of her family—with two college-aged daughters and a husband's growing career.
The demotion wasn't supposed to have happened, yet it stared at her with: a sloppy grin, and a wagging tail, and wattled ears, and a head as thick as a brick, and legs as unsteady as her mother's had been before that last fall. Steps caused nine-year-old Trip to hesitate, and uneven ground caused him to miscalculate. Of course, that didn't make him any less eager for a walk.
She preferred cats. Her favorite cat, a stray, had shown up in her childhood apartment patio, meowing at the glass door. The white-tipped, black fur stood straight out, and so she named the cat Static. It had dark blue eyes, black pads and nose, and a tongue that liked to rasp her fingertips. About a month later, her father said the neighbor's dog had killed it. Years later her mother confessed he had gotten rid of Static for spraying, but by that time she'd blamed dogs for too long to go back.
Her husband had not believed her fear of dogs while they were dating and surprised her with his parents' 15-year-old golden retriever. In her tiny one-bedroom apartment, the dog looked the size of a horse. It took huge snorting breaths as it leapt from the hooked rug her aunt had made, and then bumped its head into her knees. It smelled like old shoes and fat gone rancid, and its eyes were filmed over in grey. She screamed and fled to the kitchen. She didn't speak to her future husband for the rest of the night, but he made fun of her cowardice for the rest of their marriage.
Her sister loved dogs and, after their mother died, kept three in her house. They were supposed to be championship English springer spaniels. The youngest one—with blond streaks shot through the ears like highlights from a trendy salon—was 'the jumper.' One time she had worn her favorite, buttoned, purple, angora sweater. Her sister opened the door and this mass had flown at her. Its ears fanned back and its long fur spread out like a crown and, just like that, it tore two buttons off, and swallowed them both, and her sister had the temerity to accuse her of purposely wearing rabbit. Her sister went to the vet to spend who knows how much money to get the buttons out, which her sister had yet to return or replace or apologize for.
Just once she had left three-year-old Nicole at her sister's. She had returned to find Nicole's face bloodied. "Just a scratch!" her sister kept yelling. But at the sight of blood she swept her child away and locked the two of them in the bathroom. The dog had bitten the skin just underneath Nicole's eye; a shallow cut that bled profusely until she held an ice pack against it. The wound scarred into a shiny patch of skin she still noticed.
Nicole was the one who had brought Trip home. She told Nicole they were driving right back to the mall and returning the ugly pit-bull puppy, and then had been awed by Nicole's teenage ferocity: it was her fifteenth birthday, she'd paid for the puppy with her babysitting money, she would take care of everything, she wanted to become a vet, and why was Mom trying to ruin her career? The puppy's licking, his running, his clumsy use of his legs, his desire to be as close as possible to everyone meant he was constantly tripping people: hence his name. She had lost the war, but she did win one last battle—the dog was banished to the outside after the first heirloom-rug-peeing incident.
She zipped her jacket, snapped the leash onto Trip's collar, grabbed a poop bag, and then latched the gate behind them. She caught a leaf flying through the air and heard the crackle of tearing cellulose, like burnt paper falling apart in her hands. The fall air was crisp with cold and the sky was overcast and the wind immediately dried out her eyes.
They started down the block at a nice clip, though Trip could not keep that pace for long. Still, he liked to pretend at the beginning that he was younger, so she let him. The wind gusted so hard it was impossible for her to hear anything but the chimes that were the hallmark of her neighborhood's decorational preferences. Wood chimes, metal chimes, bell chimes. Her 1940s-era neighborhood must have looked cookie-cutter uniform once, but age had done wonders for the place: crooked oaks, weeping willows, evergreens, citrus, fast-growing mulberries. Rarely did someone change the driveway and garage, so all those faced each other like white-teethed mouths with white tongues hanging out, the sidewalk gutter stopping soapy water and oil slicks from spilling onto the street.
The wind-ruined the leaf piles like there were a dozen three-year-olds at play, and she thought of her children, both far away at college, and she thought of her husband working another long day. She covered her eyes for a moment and let the dust swirl around her.
She opened her eyes and saw the street was empty of cars and people. This was normal for the time of day, but the wind made the emptiness feel severe. Another gust tore through the tops of the street's two-story trees, bowing limbs and creating sounds akin to a dozen animals rustling above her head.
Trip barked and pulled at the leash.
"Sorry." They continued and she felt glad for her gloves and layers of clothing. Wood banged on metal and she jumped at the sound. Then she saw it was an open fence gate the wind had slammed against a garbage can and relaxed. Trip didn't seem to have noticed; he was focused on something ahead.
Wind invaded her jacket. She reached up to press her collar closer together. Trip took that moment to pull and he jerked the leash out of her hand.
"Trip!" she yelled. He took off at what was, for him, a running gait. She hurried after, worried that this burst of energy would encourage the limp that had cropped up now and again when they walked more than their standard mile. The leash moved along the asphalt like a worm flopping and gasping for air, Trip having dragged it through a gutter puddle.
He stopped in the middle of the street with ears perked toward a green bungalow. She scooped up the leash, wiped her muddied gloves on her pants, was about to pull Trip onwards, and then noticed what had captured his attention.
The bungalow had a low porch that connected the driveway to the front door. In the middle of the driveway was that white-haired dog she hated. It stood over—something. She held the leash with one hand and rested her other hand on Trip's mottled-colored head for a moment, taking comfort in his broad blockiness.
The horrible dog's hair curled like her grandmother's had just after a perm. It ruffled in the wind and made the dog look twice its size. It had a pointed snout, a stunted tail, and long legs. Its nose was grey and its tongue was the color of a watermelon. No owner in sight. A gust of wind tore against her back and brought their scent to the driveway. The dog looked up at her and its brown eyes felt more human than not, especially with the white curls framing its face.
Something bright red covered its muzzle. As she processed the color, she took a step closer. The dog also moved closer, its white nails scratching the cement driveway, clicking like lobster claws, and then it growled, beaming red teeth.
YOU ARE READING
A middle-aged woman, left with an empty nest and a dog, Trip, she never wanted, despairs in her new role as his sole caretaker. But when they walk their deserted neighborhood on a windy, autumn day, she must confront a violent group of dogs and her...