By Jim Woessner

Even from a distance, I could feel the fear rising within me like mercury in a thermometer. Not that the dog was necessarily mean. I couldn’t tell from a hundred feet away. It just looked mean. And although it was on a leash, it wasn’t a particularly short leash. The dog could still attack. And here I was trapped between the street and a thorny hedge.

As they got closer, the dog and its owner, I thought of my recently deceased ex-wife. I don’t know why. There was no connection. I mean, it was an insane comparison. The dog didn’t look anything at all like her. Big and ugly versus petite and beautiful. They had nothing in common. On the other hand—I mean, if you believe in karma—she was crazy about dogs. She often said she was coming back as one. I always dismissed the notion as pure nonsense. But in this moment I wasn’t so sure.

When the dog got to within lunging distance, I could see that it was totally focused on me—its eyes on my eyes—like a death stare. Then it growled. The owner gave a quick jerk on the leash, smiled, and said that his dog didn’t bite. Yeah, like how am I supposed to know, I thought.  I backed into the hedge and got stuck on its thorns. The two of them stopped. Right next to me. I think the owner was trying to prove something. I can’t be sure. I never actually looked at the owner. I couldn’t tell you whether he was six-foot-four or four-foot-six. It was the dog that had my full attention. And I had his. He stood, staring at me, a mean stare followed by a faint but distinct growl. I thought, this is the end.

“She won’t bite,” the owner repeated. “She’s very friendly.”

She? That made me even more nervous. I reminded him that “she” was growling.

“Oh, that’s just the way she talks,” he said. “She’s talking to you right now.”

“Really,” I said, a few octaves higher than my normal voice. “What do you suppose she’s saying?”

Before he could answer, I saw that “she” had stopped “talking” and was now looking at my crotch. I put a hand over my vitals. Pure instinct. Then she looked at my face and at the same time started licking my knees. I was wearing shorts.

“She must really like you,” the owner said.

“That’s nice,” I said, unconvinced. I didn’t dare ask him for the dog’s name. What if it had been the same as my ex? “Hi, Dolores,” I imagined saying, before clearing the thought from my mind.

“Have a nice day,” the man said as both he and “she” continued their walk.

“You too,” I said, without meaning it.

When they were gone, I pried myself out the hedge and took some deep breaths. I took out a handkerchief and wiped the saliva off my knees. Strange as it sounds, I felt better. I’d gone from terrified to feeling not so bad in a matter of seconds. I can’t be sure but I think the good feeling was about my ex. It was as if all had been forgiven, not that I needed forgiving. I mean, I hadn’t done anything to be ashamed of or sorry. But if I had—just supposing—if I had done something I regretted, I felt forgiven. Because “she,” I mean the dog, licked my knees.

Jim Woessner works as a visual artist and writer living on the water in Sausalito, California. He has an MFA from Bennington College and his poetry and fiction have appeared in numerous online and print magazines, including California QuarterlyFlash FrontierClose to the Bone, Potato Soup Journal, and Academy of the Heart and Mind.

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