Only later, walking back—after he attacks—do I realize that earlier, the first time by, I marked this tawny pit just as he raised his paw-lain head beside his seated keeper. Both sat porch-fixed-safe behind a fenced-in yard—and before a rough brick, two-story duplex, dormers and posts Reconstruction-made. Brow twitching, mouth shutting, the dog (like me) must have heard the woman whisper, “Now, Killer.” His glare more than reimbursed her: You’re too close. Get on by. I mean it. I complied, quick-stepping, the danger flinching on my skin as though I’d stirred a serpent. Again, only post-assault, do I register the woman: piloting a lawn chair, tank top, cut-offs, self-clipped hair, red-nailed fingers clutching a Slurpee, her ungrassed yard tufted with dandelions and one ax-felled stump. I didn’t hear her name (why would I?) but her order was clear. She stilled the hound, his stone-soul face badged, aside his mouth, with a wedge of white. Besides, she huffed, this loner? He’s nothing; he doesn’t know if he’s coming or going. Hold tight, boy. I’ll let you know when.
But then, just two yards past the pair, I looked back and saw the other man—let’s call his substance my shadow—who goes after Killer and Honey Boo-Boo. Snapped at, he leaps the silver bar and meets the mongrel full-on. His mastiff hands ring the dog’s neck and, with thumbs like snow plows, press and bend the hyoid bone until the pooch is wheezing, suffocating, impaled on the ground, and the woman, up on her Hello Kitty! flip-flops, is screaming to high hell, pulling the screen door handle, and thinking, oh shit, the cellphone’s dead, running into the house to bolt the door, but no, bolts through and out the rear and across the backyard where a swinging gate brings a raven-masked neighbor, AR-15-loaded, one unpoliced bullet, dead on. In the movie comic I imagined, Killer’s thought bubble appeared: You think strangling me means I don’t know how this ends? Prodding me on, by Payday Loan and Appliance City, the bullying wind insisted, every single thing is tissue thin. And twinned.
In “East Coker,” T.S. Eliot writes, “there is yet faith / But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.”
When I come round the block again, this time Killer does attack. (What did I do to invite him? Touch a fencepost? Trip on a dislodged brick? Overthink him?) Bomb-blown, he rockets forth, his front paws dirt-spray-stop at the fence. His teeth, bared, pink-rimmed and piss-yellowed, bite at the chain link. I jump back. Jesus Christ! I shout at the woman. Call off your Goddamn dog! Killer yelps, snarls, his marble eyes murderous under his bedpan skull. I cut between parked cars, hustle across the street, shake a defiant fist at the woman. I want to rush back and curse her cinematically, middle-finger their human-pet bond. I want as well to outrun my own flight, skin quivering, way down the DNA abyss, Neanderthal-ish. Now, motel room locked, I’m swept by the unexpected. I thought the woman’s will retarded Killer’s urgency. Not by a longshot. His pump-fake assured her she was in command. While I: I call on Eliot and faith, and the waiting—where belief lies and where believing in anything is useless. The dog trued me. He startled awake this misplaced knowing. He reasoned the second I first appeared he’d feign his attack. Just to fuck with me. The way all this seeking a maker stalls and unleashes the one who’s none. Still, the gap between the other in Killer and the other in me. Its majesty, its revelation. How swarthy, how unheeled, is man’s best friend. My enemy, my captain.
Journalist, critic, and memoirist, Thomas Larson is the author of three books: The Sanctuary of Illness: A Memoir of Heart Disease, The Saddest Music Ever Written: The Story of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” and The Memoir and the Memoirist: Reading and Writing Personal Narrative. He is a longtime staff writer for the San Diego Reader, now its Critic-At-Large, and Book Reviews editor for River Teeth. Larson teaches in the MFA Program at Ashland University, Ashland, Ohio. His website is www.thomaslarson.com