The Cost of Freedom

dog

After the rain stopped, a dog appeared from an alley.  It zig-zagged up the sidewalk, sniffed at a door with green paint that curled up in half-peels and then stopped to lap at a puddle of dirty water.

The dog was caramel colored with medium length hair that was darker in some areas where it gathered into mats between raw, bald spots. A frayed rope hung from its leather collar, a dangling reminder of the jail from which the dog had just escaped.

The dog moved with a heavy slowness, dragging the invisible weight of a broken spirit.  It had been too hungry, cold, and neglected for too long to start to heal in a day or two out of the yard.  In fact, freedom wasn’t so different from incarceration in the backyard where it had lived tied to a tractor tire for the past few years.  Either way, there wasn’t any food, clean water or anyone to give a damn if it lived or died.

He reflected the people living in the abandoned and dilapidated buildings along the cracked sidewalk.  They lumbered through life with their heads down, too sad, lonely and hopeless for too long.

No one came after the dog as it wandered into the distance, further from the yard and ever closer to an tenuous future that was certain to end with Animal Control or crumpled in an alleyway.  Still, freedom was worth it.

Double Take

witch

A tall man with a hooked beak for a nose and heavy eyebrows stared over the wooden slats of the fence.  He wore grey sweat pants pulled up over his hips and a thin long sleeve t-shirt that outlined sharp shoulder blades and bony shoulders. Thin wrists and long, pale hands stuck out from the ends of the sleeves.  He was like a scarecrow hanging onto the fence, scaring off the birds and small rodents.

“Mike, what are you doing?” a woman asked from behind him, suddenly arriving, and seemingly appearing from out of thin air.   She had shiny, black hair and wore a pair of neon green tennis shoes and a matching athletic top.  

He gasped and tried to step back.  He stumbled, finding he was already against the fence without any additional room for his long legs to stretch.  Then he realized several things; it was just Lani and she must have walked over, she therefore did not appear from out of thin air and in conclusion, he decided that witchcraft was likely not involved.  He felt relieved and relaxed back into his original watch over the fence.  

“Hey…” he gave a sheepish greeting at his exaggerated reaction.

Lani narrowed her eyes as she tried to understand what he was doing staring over the fence.  It was not lost on her that his neighbor, Shelly, was young, single, and often sunbathed in a very itty, bitty polka dot bikini.  Lani’s heart rate increased as she felt an anger rise from her gut into her chest as she watched him continue to peer over the fence without shame or remorse.

The sound of a wail, presumably Shelly, broke her chain of thoughts. 

“Princess,” she cried out.

Mike waved her forward and motioned with his heavy eyebrows to look over the fence. 

Lani crept up to the fence and saw that Shelly was not the target of the man’s attention.  Rather, it was a lump of fur that lay on its side in the grass. 

“Something’s wrong with Princess,” Mike whispered in an astute observation.

“Help!” Shelly called, perhaps sensing a nearby audience, “someone help me with Princess.”

Shelly knelt down next to the dog as Mike and Lani made their way around the fence, leaving one yard to enter another. 

“She just got back from the groomer and I let her out and the next thing I know she’s on her side breathing like that.”

The dog was on the smallish size but not so small to fit in a purse.  Its fur was longish but not long enough to get knotted, and it wore a bedazzled pink collar, not bedazzled enough for Dolly Parton, but bedazzled enough to suit a dog named Princess.

Princess lay on her side, she drew in ragged gasps of air.  Her side rose and fell as she stared straight ahead with unseeing, dull brown eyes.  

“This is not good,” Lani surmised as she knelt next to Shelly and the animal.

“What happened? What’s wrong, Princess?” Shelly asked, not believing the scene as it unfolded in front of her. 

The dog slowly breathed in and out and then gave one last puff of air.  Its side did not rise again as Shelly and Lani kneeled next to the animal and Mike towered above the gathering.

“Princess, princess, can you hear me? Hang in there with me.  Princess?” Shelly ran her hand along the dog’s side and held her head in her hand.  

“She needs CPR. Chest compressions.  Step back, Shelly.”

Lani crossed her index and middle fingers on the dog’s chest and pumped to the beat of “Stayin’ Alive” by the BeeGees, just like she learned for an infant in Beginner’s CPR.

“This isn’t working, I have to get her to the vet,” Shelly whimpered. “I’m going to get the car. Will you bring her out to the drive way?”  

Lani exchanged glances with Mike.

A vet was not going to help Princess, there was nothing shy of a water-into-wine, roll away the stone type of a miracle that would bring that dog back to life.  It wouldn’t be long before she started to stiffen up with rigor mortis, hopefully, the vet could break the news about the miracle shortage before that happened. 

After the car peeled out with the dead dog stowed away into the backseat, Lani turned to Mike.

“What happened back there, really?”

“Princess was barking and I was picking up twigs in the yard.  She barked and barked and barked and wouldn’t stop and I stood up and looked at her.  That’s all I did, I swear, and she just sort of stopped and fell over onto her side,” he raised one hand and placed the other over his heart in a solemn oath of truth.

“You killed Princess?” Lani asked.

Her tone changed and she narrowed her eyes for the second time and started walking backwards towards the road, away from this yard and this man and this clear case of evil intent.  She repeated herself but this time, there was no question about it.  It was a fact and a statement, “You killed Princess.”

 

The Cucumbers are Multiplying

cucs

The air has a chill to it this morning and the sun has yet to break through the darkness of night.  Fall is coming, slow and gentle, like it does every year to ease us into the misery of winter.  Soon it will be time to put away tank tops and shorts, swimsuits and flip flops in exchange for corduroys, sweaters and waterproof boots.

It is a problem that Midwesterners understand all too well, how to maintain two totally different wardrobes with only undergarments being seasonally interchangeable.  Residents of Hawaii, California and Florida, you have no idea what you are missing out on.  Unless of course, you escaped the weather of your home state after declaring to anyone who will listen, “This life of grey skies, chapped hands, and constant scarf wearing is no longer tolerable.”

I am nearing that state as my tolerance diminishes with each year.

Yet, I stay and dream of escape and an ocean breeze to cool my sun-kissed face, not ready for the change that a move would require.  And I work, like the rest of the sheeple that I know.  I work to pay utility bills and a mortgage, to buy food for my cats, husband, and self, and sometimes, I work just to get through to another season with the promise of better days.

As an offshoot of this working, I recently found myself as a defacto dog-sitter.

It started out as a one-time only situation, out of sheer necessity, and has since turned into a routine as natural as picking up the mail from the mailbox after work or taking out the trash on a Thursday night.  Whenever the owner of the hound leaves, he stops by the office with a leash and a bag of snacks.

“These are just in case she gets hungry.”

Gee, I thought they were a present for me.  I nod and wave the man off, I know the deal.  Take her out for a walk when she whines at the door, give her treat whenever she asks for one.  Easy.

The dog entrusted to my care is a mixture between Rottweiler and German shepherd and woe to the fool who messes with her.  Actually, she can’t be left alone without howling and trying to escape by hurling all seventy pounds or so repeatedly against the door which is how I ended up as her temporary custodian.  In summary, she is an emotionally dependent, fatty girl with missing teeth and bad breath, loyal to bacon strips and strangers who might be carriers of her beloved bacon strips.

Not that I mind her company.  After she gets dropped off, she flops herself down at my feet and patiently waits for a treat or for her owner to return.   The former always occurs before the latter.  When her owner does finally return for the beast, it is always with a generous payment in hand and gratitude.

Lately, I have been paid in cucumbers. Extraordinarily large, garden fresh cucumbers.

A worthy payment for services rendered and in the customary Hoosier spirit, he has given me more than I could ever eat.

Generosity: it’s one of the good problems that Midwesterners are all too familiar with, right after mastering the fine art of small talk about the weather.
Learning

The Path of Least Resistance

trailer

The severe weather warning sounded on my phone. I turned it off without looking down. Distractions were not appreciated as the sky turned dark and heavy rain started to pelt the windshield. I was heading to the safest place in Indiana under the predicted conditions; a trailer nestled in a park with many other trailers.

This was a visit that needed to be done before my vacation. I didn’t have time to wait out the storm or to reschedule for the next week. There was a quote about taking the path of least resistance that came to mind but I couldn’t remember the last part of it.

Anyways, if a tornado were to hit, there wouldn’t be any pesky foundation to stop us from going airborne. So taking the path of least resistance must be a good thing- I imagined if we were in the way of a tornado, we would be lifted up, swirled around and set back down. No bigs, right?

I arrived just as the sky turned an eerie green and the wind died leaving the trailer park silent. The tornado warning siren cut through the air, deafening all of the ears within hearing range.

On further consideration, this home visit was probably not going to have a great ending.

A ferocious honey colored dog greeted me at the screen door, snarling. Its teeth were barred and the fur between its shoulders stood straight up, stegosaurus style. My can of pepper spray was in the car where it could be most helpful to me in an attack/assault type of situation.  I sighed, this was really not going to end well.

Then a woman emerged from within the dwelling with a lit cigarette dangling from her thin lips. She grabbed the dog’s metal choke collar and pulled back with a yank.

She said, “Queenie, this is a good friend. Stop it.”

We had somehow completely skipped the acquaintance stage and gone straight to friends.  At that rate, we would be family by next week and the holidays were about to get very complicated.

“C’mon in and don’t mind our mess.”

Whenever someone says that, I know it means the home is either immaculate or a disaster zone. There is never a happy medium type of situation to back up that statement.

Once again, this proved to be true. I walked in cautiously and looked for a clear space to sit. We had paperwork to complete but the table was covered with Arby’s roastbeef sandwiches, foil, fries, and stacks of papers.

“You caught us in the middle of lunch,” she said stubbing out her smoke.

She picked up a half eaten sandwich to resume where she had last left off. Queenie growled at me from a rug by the door.

“Don’t worry about her. She takes a while to warm up to strangers,” the woman explained which did little to reassure me that Queenie wasn’t about to lunge for my throat.

The possibilities of this visit were endless, a dog bite, tornado ride, COPD/lung cancer, and then a new threat ran at top speed into the living room.

A small, dirty, shirtless boy with spikey hair charged out from a backroom with plastic Hulk hands on yelling, “Hulk smash!” as he ran towards a dozing woman sitting on a stained plaid couch.

He jumped onto the cushion next to the woman and started punching her with the gloves.  Surprisingly enough, the woman did not resist the Hulk inspired blows.  In a flat voice, she said, “No, don’t,” and weakly tried to defend herself.

What strange reality is this, I wondered.

An hour later, I left with the paperwork finished and about six Marlboro Red cigarettes smoked secondhand, completely unsure of the number of people who were there as different faces continued to appear and disappear from the backroom.

I was a cloud of smoke as I made my way back to my car, never so grateful for the fresh air.

In the meantime, the storm cleared and I remembered the rest of the quote.

The path of least resistance leads to crooked rivers and crooked men.

Or in this case, just a trailer full of smoke.