This post is sent to me via her blog Nightbook (see sidebar) by Charlotte Holmes, a former WCU professor who has lived and taught in Pennsylvania for more years than I want to tally. Charlotte is a brilliant fiction writer (you can look her up!) and this short essay about taking her dog Erland for a walk is a mere taste of her talent. I've come to enjoy her blog very much; I think you will, too.
"It is what it is," I tell the dog tethered to the other end of the black nylon leash wrapped three times around my hand. Erland wags his tail, but his attention is elsewhere. He stares into the middle distance of the neighbor's backyard, where a squirrel he doesn't see darts down the gravel driveway. He puts his nose to the ground and breathes in the smell of leaf mold and mud.
Erland receives much of the junk that floats around inside my head. Sometimes a word leaks out, inadvertently: expedient, photogravure, evolutionary. They are all the same to him--words that do not mean it's time to go out or time for dinner. His tail wags at the sound of my voice, and sometimes, he turns and focuses his large brown eyes on this person at the other end of the leash. I speak freely as we make our way down the back alley, something I would not have done even a few years ago. Now, if anyone sees or hears, I expect they think Bluetooth is my invisible companion. "Not that I care," I tell Erland, who hesitates over something oily mashed into the asphalt, then flicks his tail and trots on.
A narrow charcoal line behind my house, the alley connects to the cross streets drawn in bolder strokes north and south across the map of this small town. In the alley, potholes fill with rain, freeze to circles of ice in winter. Erland and I step lightly around them. He walks ahead, nose to the ground. When he stops to breathe in the scents lodged in the telephone pole, I tug him back on track. When he smells a neighbor approaching a row of plastic cans with a bag of trash, his hackles rise, he barks, and strains against the leash as if he would attack this man whose name I do not know, though I've lived on this street for sixteen years. The man says what nearly all men of a certain type say when barked at by my dog: "Yeah, yeah, I hear ya, buddy, you're a real tough customer, arentcha?"
Erland is small. Erland is a dachshund. Erland has a bark that sometimes startles me when it erupts out of his muscular throat and shatters the room's quiet. Erland stops for a moment, scrutinizing the man banging the lid back down on the trash can, then resumes barking with renewed force, with something like rage. He would bite the man if the man approached, but the man thinks Erland is both cute and ridiculous. "Yeah, yeah," he says again, in a mocking voice, as I pull Erland away.
We walk down behind the deaf woman's house, and past the backyard of the restaurant magnate, where the entire space is a paved terrace with statuary and a plashing fountain. "Nouveau," I tell Erland, but he is too busy to pay attention, sniffing carefully at the low stone wall that must serve as a kind of message board for those who know the world primarily through their sense of smell. He is too short to lift his leg, so he squats at the base of the wall, and takes a long, meditative piss. "Good boy," I say, and he stares up at me, tolerant of my condescending ways. "What she always says," he is possibly thinking.
"Silly, huh?" I ask, but there at the other end of the leash, he's distracted again, nose already lifted in the air in pursuit of a new scent. He paws the ground half-heartedly, then pulls me along with him, searching for its source.