Darwinian Life With Dogs
My daughter asked why the knife. I deposited something more greeting card than truth in her mailbox eyes. The Darwinian answer is a letter made of steel never sent in my pocket and folded to the hilt. I used to have a pocketknife the length of my pinky with a Model T embossed on it. My brother had a way of flipping out the blade from pocket to palm. One move. I was alone when I tried it, fumbling for it, nose to nose with a loose dog growling. I was six. I learned then the power of running and climbing, stronger than words or watches, pens or penknives.Once when I was sick my grandmother made me eat. My brother watched Mr. Spock grip someone to his knees without even raising a Dracula brow. Our German Shepherd watched me reeling from the hotdog soup until I couldn’t take it anymore. Ubergeben. Gypsy at those hotdogs given over, over-given, is a picture never taken that I can never delete.
I did not love the girlfriend I had when we got the dog I would name and teach to sit and then never see again. That dog is a roving nightmare, looking for me along craggy mountaintops like Victor Frankenstein’s creation, threatening to come for me on my wedding night to hear me call its name.
None of that mattered at the shelter when the Whippet-Beagle dogged me with those melting brown eyes and licked my fingers where they grazed the links of her cage as I inspected the toughguy Boxer next door, who showed no interest. Toughguys hedge their bets. I could and probably would and actually did leave without him.
Then came days of walking trails, sniffing woods and wagging tails, playing the petite gone vicious on wayward sticks and running wet nosed inter-furr-ence wherever love flared up in our home.
One day while walking came a mastiff, mad at the world and blaming us. He lunged and bit. She squealed and scurried. I circled and pulled her bleeding, away from that four-legged insinkerator irate in the middle of the road. I kicked but it didn’t care, sick with Mr. Spock’s death grip in its mouth. We ran toward the busier road.
I was waving, murder in the Darwinian degree at my side. Toughguys in trucks waved back—the flick of sarcastic hands say so much. Gathering breath and slack we sprinted across the street. The Mastiff followed. I thought I would have to release my little rocket and maybe never see her again, having failed to lead her out of harm’s ubiquitous way.
And then, came a woman, middle aged, blond hair. I’ll stop him so you can get away, she said, brandishing a stick, her hazards blinking. We ran clear for a while. By the time I collapsed us through the door, it had caught up, cursing us from the lawn. My dog quivering violently, I screamed at people over the phone guilty only of sitting safe at work. Safe as houses.
When we returned from the vet, the knife was in my pocket. The Mastiff was put down the next day. To avoid a fine, the couple who owned it paid my bill. They brought a dogtoy with a check and sad faces. The man looked me in the eye to inflict his Darwinian apology. I smiled at the woman and said thank you.
< originally published in Shadowbox (Summer 2013) >