Thursday, March 25, 2010

Scene with dog

A woman in a baggy jean jacket is walking down a semi rural road. With her hands in the side pockets, she's hunched around her thoughts. Ear-bud wires frame her cheeks.

Suddenly, a dog is running furiously towards her. It stops just a foot before her and barks. The woman rears as the barks dissolve into a threatening growl.

The dog falls silent and wags its tail. It is shaggy with mottled brown fur, medium size. Ugly, thinks the woman as she goes to step around it, but the dog lurches, growls again and bares its teeth. The woman stops. The dog falls silent and its tail sweeps back and forth.

In her softest voice, the woman says, "Good boy." The dog pants and sits. She steps forward, but again, the dog jumps and menaces.

The woman is paralyzed as she waits to hear a voice--any voice--call to the dog, but the street is dead silent. A handful of seconds seem to stretch on and on as anger and humiliation redden the woman's cheeks. The dog alternately pants with its dog smile, then growls and bares its teeth, its tail wagging intermittently. The woman has never felt more alone.

She inches her hand from her pocket, extracting a small handgun. Before the elements of the equation fully register, a shot rings and the dog drops. The silence that follows is confusing and unrealistic. Uncertainty washes over the woman.


A girl in a stained tee with stripes the colors of Necco wafers, bounds from an adjacent yard and kneels before the wounded dog.

"I ... He ..." the woman stammers.

"Jayjay?" repeats the girl as the dog lifts its head, it's tail thumping weakly on the asphalt.

It is a completely different animal than the one that had stood before the woman just moments ago, with meek eyes and spindly legs. The girl pets the whimpering dog. She gently touches the dark spot of wet fur in the dog's middle and looks at her bloodied fingers in disbelief. The girl raises her eyes to the woman, who is standing speechless and slack-jawed, the gun dangling from her hand.

"Desi? " calls a woman as she steps from the nearest house, her hands worrying a dishtowel. "Desi? What was it? What happened, baby?"

* * *


Shaina said...


Lauren said...

Did you actually witness this happen? I don't even know where to begin. The rate at which this turned from a humorous encounter to one of violence leaves me at a loss. Did this woman have to pay consequences for her actions?

Bill said...

As I've said before, several times, you really know how to write!

That story reminds me of Jimmy Carter and the rabbit!

Sean Craven said...

Understand that this is coming from someone in the process of helping to edit a magazine, someone suffering from slush fever.

This makes me want to read more.

jford said...

Compelling and depressing.

Chrissy said...

Is this little girl you? or has your writing taken off...This definitely caught us all by surprise..

Anonymous said...

"Desi takes the gun, shoots the woman.
Momma dries the casserole dish."


Anonymous said...

I like it. I would like more description of the girl--more childlike to accentuate the loss.I don't know what a Necco wafer is--is that a midwest thing?

Also--does a tail thump on asphalt?

Erin O'Brien said...

This is fiction. I wanted to write about a benign moment that turns devastating.

Also, I love all that percolates between the lines:

The dog may or may not have been dangerous, whether it was a pet or not (the woman didn't know).

The dog probably should have been leashed, but a person walking semi-rural roads should expect to see dogs.

A person minding their own biz shouldn't be intimidated by another person's pet.

A dog shouldn't be shot for barking and growling.

Imagine this was the forth dog the family owned in three years, all of the others killed by vehicles as they ran in the street.

If the woman defended herself against a human attacker with the gun, she would have been a hero among the 2nd amendment advocates.

If she hadn't had the gun, I wonder how long she would have been cornered by the dog. The dog would be alive, but the woman may have suffered a bite.

The scene would have a completely different feel in an urban setting.

It goes on and on. No one is right. No one is wrong. Everyone is right. Everyone is wrong. Everyone loses.

Anyhow, sorry to throw you all, but different stuff floats in my head. Sometimes it makes its way over here to the Owner's Manual.

ps: RJ! Go to your room!

Erin O'Brien said...

Before Amy gets here: I meant "fourth." ; )

Big Mark 243 said...

Very compelling. And I felt that the explination you gave was dead on. I know that the feeling of ambigiousness that the woman had to experience in that situation.

But rural area or not, what is she doing carrying a gun?

Erin O'Brien said...

Jemison, Neccos are pastel colored disc candy, very classic. I thought they were universal. I put that detail in in lieu of her age. Perhaps I should have made the girl's stripes the colors of m&m's.

LimesNow said...

Erin, this is very, very different from any of your work I've read. It is jaw-droppingly good. And, by the way, I'm badgered by dogs in my 3:00-5:00 a.m. trudge every day. I'm small, alone and in the dark. I do not carry a gun. You knew none of those facts, but wrote a piece that stabbed me right in the gut. I've been there.

Erin O'Brien said...

Mark, the question of why a gun is a big point of the story. The woman is benign to the point of invisibility. But with concealed carry these days, it's completely plausible that she might have a loaded weapon. It's legal here in Ohio and some 40 other states.

Perhaps this is what she thinks when she loads the gun for her daily walk: No miserable SOB is going to muscle me into the back of a car. Nope. They won't find me laying dead in a ditch.


Now you guys are making me think I should write a whole story.

Truth is, peeps, I didn't have much success in the fiction realm, which is why I let it fade away.

Erin O'Brien said...

Limes (aka High Priestess the Gray Fort): Thanks for that. One day I will tell my nonfiction dog stories.

Amy L. Hanna said...

@ Lauren: Welcome to The Craft Of Which Is The Eminence Of the EOB Owner's Manual for Human Beings.

@ Erin: :-D

Kirk Jusko said...

We're all prisoners of our own perceptions.

Colleen said...

Erin, you and I are on the same wavelength sometimes. After months of writing everyday, ho-hum nonfiction, I've decided to introduce a new series called "Fiction Fridays" on my blog. Scene with Dog would fit in very well. I enjoyed the story and your comments, which take the reader by the hand and dive in between the lines. Very thought-provoking.

Once Known as The Badger said...

I used to live in Wyoming, where large dogs often run loose. Two Rottweilers came bounding from a house way out of town while I was on my bike (I'm a cyclist) and double teamed me on a steep hill. One sunk his teeth into my calf, drawing blood, while the other circled around to get me from my blind side. I stopped the bike, drew a pistol and shot the dog in the chest. I don't regret it for a minute.

LimesNow said...

@ The Badger ~ I WONDERED if you'd tell that story!

DogsDontPurr said... made me cry. And just before work....and just as our house guest (who I've never met) arrived. (He's Alan's old school chum) Erf.

Must buy waterproof mascara!

Me said...

More, please.


The Expatresse said...

I think a very similar incident happened in Miami a few years ago.

There is a famous incident in Moscow about a deranged fashion model and her accessory dog. The accessory dog barked at a well-known (amongst the locals) street dog, and the model stabbed the street dog to death with a knife she had in her purse. The street dog died, and the model was locked up in the psych ward. The community erected a status in memory of the street dog.

dean said...

Truth is, peeps, I didn't have much success in the fiction realm, which is why I let it fade away.

Speaking as someone who has read as much of your fiction as is readily available, I think maybe you gave up too soon.

talesNtypos said...

I'm so sleepy I could fall to the floor with it.I read this though, that's gotta mean something.

Judy said...

She had a gun because it is smart to have a gun when out walking by yourself, rural or urban...

Erin O'Brien said...

Thanks for all of the comments and stories. You cannot know how lifted I am to see that this imperfect bit of flash fiction was so evocative.

Erin O'Brien said...

Badge, I am fascinated by your story. I take it you shot one of the two dogs. Did you leave immediately after that? What happened to the other dog?

Once Known as The Badger said...

Erin, I shot the one as he was already airborne, attacking me. When I fired, the other dog ran away as fast as he possibly could. I got back on my bike and climbed the rest of that hill faster than one would think possible. Later, on the radio, I heard of a court case where a dog had invaded someone's back yard and attacked a person. The dog was shot, and ruled justified. People have a responsibility to control their animals, and Rottweilers are known to be dangerous dogs, and they hunt in packs. This pair was over a half mile away from their home when they attacked me. BTW, the police in Wyoming said that "not only was it legal for me to carry a gun while riding, but advisable."

Doug said...

It's Chekhov's gun ;)

What struck me was the woman's ignorance of dogs. I've never had to deal with a rabid dog, but I have had to "make nice" with aggressive dogs. In my experience it's not that tough to avoid a nasty situation.

It also occurred to me that this is a woman who has no business carrying a weapon. But I guess that's true of a lot of people who conceal weapons.

Strong work, O'Brien.

Anonymous said...

i'm all very much about philosophical ideas in fiction writing...perhaps even more so over the actual mechanics of constructing a piece.

what i found interesting was the behaviour of the dog: when the woman was at rest, the animal was friendly. when not, the animal turned aggressive. i like the idea of that; i like the exploration of that particular point and actually i sort of remained at that point in the story. perhaps not something you, as a writer, would like to hear but it is what it is. you held me there, at that point.

for me, that point was the typical existential dilemma. that was the part at which Sisyphus realizes the absurdity of life, and the boulder rolls back down the mountain.

Erin O'Brien said...

Last few thoughts on this:

When I asked this amazing croc advocate--a guy that routinely works in croc infested billabongs--what animal he feared, he said the domestic dog. He said dogs are unpredictable.

I agree with that. So often owners are affably saying "don't worry, he just wants to say hello," while Cujo is coming at you in full bark mode like he wants to take a royal bite out of your ass.

Once a woman was saying just that to me as her dog actually was nipping at my ass.

I see so many flaws in this piece of flash now. I should have let it cook for a day or two before posting. The upside is that the interest all of you have shown has made me really want to shake out the whole short story.