Running the dogs

You don’t want to write. You want to have written, I admonished the overgrown puppy straining against the leash.

Every other day, we took the two mutts on chew-proof chains to the dead end of the street, then cut across the yard of an unoccupied house, went through a hole in a grown-up hedge and came out onto the concrete lot of an abandoned warehouse, where we let them loose. It was November in Mississippi. The right-angled insurgency was yellowing in the cracks. Seeds sprang from pods at the slightest provocation.

The lot was bordered by a watery ditch (they called it a bayou, rhymes with “hey you”) across which someone had thrown a narrow board bridge. The trick to keeping the dogs out of the mud was to lead by example, dashing eagerly over the bridge and up onto the old railroad bed beyond. It usually worked.

The railroad bed was a wide no-man’s-land dividing what used to be the exclusively white side of town from the black side of town; the yards and houses on the far side of the former tracks remained noticeably poorer and more brightly colored. The right-of-way — if you could still call it that — bore signs of an on-going struggle over its fate: here, some ambitious speculator had planted survey stakes. There, someone from the far side had planted and half-harvested a small plot of okra. Two private visions of paradise. But what about the public?

The dogs raced back and forth, got into everything. The white one was dumb as a bucket of rocks. Sometimes her front legs couldn’t go fast enough to keep up with her strong hind legs, and she went rolling, ass over teacup. But the brown one — an adopted stray — was plenty smart, and had learned a basic version of hide-and-seek. Eva would duck down in the tall grass and have me yell, “Where’s Eva?” in a panicked voice, and the brown dog would come barreling like a runaway locomotive back from wherever her nose had taken her. Sleuthing consisted of running in circles until the quarry made some exasperated noise.

Work on your listening. School yourself in surprise. That’s all there is to it! The white dog squatted and assumed a thoughtful look.

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