The Country/The Country

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4. Hark! Hark! The Dogs Do Bark

As a rule, Keel had no problem with dogs. His grandparents owned a couple of them when he was growing up. Walking the dog had been a childhood chore. As a young adult he watched his peers manage their dogs and picked up some useful habits from them as well as from his own experience of hiking country roads. If an unknown dog approached in an aggressive manner, barking and growling and making an ugly face in obedience to some cave-beast instinct of its own nature, he stooped and pretended to pick up a rock. The animal shied away. He also learned, if necessary, to tense his body into fighting posture, point aggressively at the dog’s gaping-ugly jaw and shout a command.

“Eat Chocolate!” he learned worked as well as “Go home!”

It was all in the body language, in the tone of voice. Keel could turn nasty -- or at least look and sound nasty -- if he had to.

Such encounters with territorial-protecting dogs were more likely to occur in rural or open districts than in a densely developed neighborhood such as his own. Yards were small in his west-side ‘lowlands’ section of town. Most of the houses were built during an era when demand for housing was high and expectations modest. The big house, large-lot developments built in more recent times in the areas outside the city were an abomination, Keel thought, consuming huge swaths of open space. In contrast, the small lots and modest quarters of his city neighborhood caused residents to be more aware of one another and curtail any activities neighbors would likely find bothersome. Proximity encouraged consideration. No loud family fights with the windows open. No raucous TV laughter despoiling the soft evenings of summer. The activities of children were generally monitored by adults.

Disturbances were rare, and life was civil.

Except for the Dormands.

Their corner lot was larger than anyone else’s; their house twice the size. The place had a classic ‘American farmhouse’ look to it, with cute touches. Pink window shutters. Bits of faux ‘Colonial’ molding or ironwork. A wrap-around porch no one used. A large patriotic flag flying (or, generally, hanging limply) in the front yard every day, as if one could never love one’s country enough. Political signs, always for the wrong candidate, blazed. On one occasion, at least, Lady Dormand ran for a local office herself unsuccessfully -- happily for Keel, who made certain to vote for her opponent.

These days the Dormands were, inevitably, “pigglies.”

None of this was a crime. The Dormands’ crime -- against public order, as Keel saw it -- was their determination to keep a pair of bored, uneasy canines penned up all day outdoors in a side yard along Pike Street. Where Keel passed by.

Today the dogs were out.

No surprise, they were out every day.

By the time he woke from his day-dream and realized where he was, it seemed cowardly in addition to inconvenient -- an absurd surrender of a basic human right -- to cross the street and continue. Why should he be forced to give up his citizen’s right to walk down a public way unmolested to avoid becoming the object of a nasty display by untrained, uncontrolled animals. He walked straight ahead. The dogs roused themselves from their canine stupor and began barking and snarling even before taking their first mad-dashing leaps toward the wire fence that separated yard from public space. Whoever approached, man, woman, child, or domestic mammal received the same treatment. The larger of the two enraged mutts, mostly white, semi-longhaired, threw himself at the chain-linked fence and tried to scrabble up it, all the while attacking the universe with bared teeth. The smaller, blacker one, leapt at its side, snagged the links with his claws and screamed its canine outrage. This display took place in exactly the same way every time Keel passed by.

Hark! Hark! The dogs do bark. The beggars are in town!

Keel was a peaceable, but not a passive person. And he was a citizen, not a beggar.

Nor was he an intruder. Who did the Dormands, master and mistress, think were walking past their house? Who were they to claim possession of the public sidewalk?

All this had happened dozens of times before, Keel determined to maintain his peaceable citizen’s right to walk down a public way, the dogs screaming their vile warning hatred, throwing themselves at the wire fence, trying to climb it to -- apparently -- get at him. Attack him.

“Fucking beasts! Fucking assholes!”

Oh, well. Too late to take it back.

He did not (not really) mean the dogs. Oh, he disliked them well enough for their mindless, machine-like conditioned responses. But it was the people, the so-called human beings, who allowed them to molest the innocent passerby in this way that he hated. Especially when that innocent passerby was Citizen Keel.

It was an engagement now. A quarrel.

He did what he never did before. He kicked the wire fence.

The fence rang out its complaint. The noise gave the dogs something to think about, a very brief pause for animals that were not strong on reflection. Soon enough they were barking again, their scrabbling claws against the metal diamonds of the fence, as they realized they had not been hurt by the blow of a kick against a fence. The smaller, blacker dog screamed a higher-pitch threat. The bigger, whiter dog snarled.

Keel stared at a line of round white landscaping stones, about the size of a baseball, lining the bottom of the fence. Thought of picking one up, but decided against it.

He swore at the dogs, not loudly. Aimed a few more kicks at their claws, then walked on, his mood thoroughly spoiled..

The next day, when he walked the same route, and when the same exact thing happened, Keel not only kicked the fence, he shouted.

“Keep your dogs inside! People have a right to walk on the sidewalk!”

No response came his way. He had no idea whether he could be heard inside the house. The day was mild, but the Dormands’ windows were closed. They probably had central A/C, one of those needless luxuries by which humankind was destroying the earth.

He shouted it again. “People have a right to walk here!”

The day after that when his eye fell on the white stones along the base of the fence, he picked one up. Maybe he would throw it at the dogs. Or, maybe, if he pounded it against a metal fence post, it would frighten them. The dogs saw him and bounded up and raced, howling their threats, throwing themselves against the chain links. Keel looked at the fence, he looked at the dogs. He raised his arm above his head, felt a brief spasm of resistance from a seldom used muscle, and hurled the rock.

His shoulder squealed with pain. He heard the rock hit.

He listened for the uniquely satisfying music of destruction. The chime of breaking glass.

Didn’t hear it.

Paused a second, though the dogs still rioted, straining against the fence.

Strange.

He was sure his missile had struck the house.

Keel walked smartly away. His arm hurt. The rest of him felt good, though a little voice told him what he had done was wrong, foolish.

And would have consequences.

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