Friday, March 1, 2013

Encounter with Yellow Dog

I wrote this memoir several years ago, about another big yellow dog I crossed paths with at a K-mart. It was one of those chance encounters that when you write about it, it becomes sort of permanent. Sasha was just a puppy at the time. She was still taking me for a walk instead of the other way around. Anyway, it's called "Encounter with Yellow Dog".

Thunder rolled like a freight train across the summertime sky. There was a blue-green diffused light that I always associated with severe weather. The treetops, heavy with early summer leaves were lunging back and forth in the circular wind.

I found myself in the car on this early stormy summer evening. Dog food. I should have written it on the grocery list the week before. I ended up making my weekly trip to the store on Sunday and forgot the dog food. I had just enough for Sasha’s early morning bowl. My forgetfulness meant that I had to venture out on this windblown evening. 

The storm began in earnest when I was about half way through Lexington. It was about then that it was clear that this was not an ordinary summer shower. It looked dangerous and the safest place was inside. Huge drops of rain, the size of grapes, pelted my windshield making it difficult to see. I switched the wipers to high. Low clouds, full of moisture raced across the darkening sky as I pulled into the crowded parking lot. There was an open space fairly close to the entrance and I hustled to get inside before I got too wet. The worst was yet to come – and it was coming fast.

As I walked through the wind and rain I shielded my eyes and hung my face low to avoid getting the rain in my eyes. It was chilly for this time of year. I felt goose bumps race across my arms and back. Unexpected movement to my left startled me as I approached the overhang to the store entrance.

An old ragged dog cowered behind some canoes chained together outside the store. It wasn’t much shelter but the dog managed to crawl partway under the lowest canoe to shield itself from the fiercest of the storm.

It was a big dog, about the size of Sasha, my yellow labrador retriever. It wore no collar. It was thin and bedraggled. Its ribs arched outward from a grubby yellowish coat. Its tail was tucked firmly between its legs and our eyes met for a brief moment before it looked away and settled into the shelter of the boats. One eye was slightly larger than the other and one of the ears had a huge tear in it. It was an old wound for it had healed leaving a wedge shaped hole in the tip. Bleary eyed and tired looking, the dog looked quickly away and slunk lower to the cement. It did not want contact.

I looked around to see if there was an owner nearby, not expecting to see anyone. I didn’t. This was a stray, its owner long gone. I wondered about the dog. Where had it been? How did it get here? What would become of it? I turned into the bright warmth of the store.

The image of the dog stayed with me as I walked through the aisles of the busy store, despite my efforts to think of something else. The storm raged outside. Occasional thunder rumbled through the ceiling and we could hear the roar of heavy raindrops as they pounded the roof. Overhead lights flickered occasionally. Customers gasped each time, expecting the power to go out.

The store manager, a huge, soft, fussy man with beads of sweat standing out on his upper lip, traversed the front of the store quickly looking important, barking orders to the cashiers and stockers. Walking back and forth, commanding his minions. He was nervous. He was in charge. He had the power.

The manager had the kind of eyeglasses that made his eyes look large and his big stomach bounced up and down as he walked from one area to another – giving orders. Power.

At one point our paths crossed as I was searching the signs above the grocery section for dog food and dog biscuits. When I asked him for the location of these he didn’t answer me or even look in my direction. Instead, he ordered a young man who was busy stocking the shelves to take me there. He had a vest on. “How may I help you?” was silk screened onto the back of the blue vest.

“That’s OK,” I said. “Just tell me what aisle.”

When I completed my shopping and was standing in the checkout line the lights flickered once, twice and finally the power went out altogether. There was no panic but the shrill voice of the store manager rose above the commotion, “Be calm, everyone!” he screamed in a terrified voice. “The backup lights will be on within a few moments. I repeat, BE CALM!” He brushed past me importantly, smelling strongly of cologne and sweat. I could faintly see that the doors had been stuck in the open position when the electricity went out. While it was stormy and dark outdoors, the darkness inside was so complete that the rushing clouds could be seen clearly. People were silhouetted against the storm outside. 

As some moved toward the front of the store, toward the doors, a couple of Wal-Mart employees stood close by asking people not to leave until the electricity came back on – just to be sure that everyone had checked out and that no one was shoplifting.

As suddenly as the lights went out, the electricity came back on with a loud hum. The bright lights dazzled our eyes and the manager heaved a sigh of relief, mopping his forehead with a large red handkerchief pulled from his back pocket. As I stood back in the checkout line I saw a disturbing sight. There were red blotches all around the floor at the front of the store. As my eyes adjusted to the glare of the overhead lights I could see that the uneven spots on the floor were actually bloody paw prints in a path which led round and round on the shiny linoleum floor. 

“There it is!” screamed a woman in the front of a checkout lane. Cowering in a corner near where the ice machine met the wall was the yellow dog I had seen earlier. Girl dog. Totally soaked, tail between her legs, head down in a defensive posture. It was shaking with cold and fear. It held up its right front paw, which was dripping blood – it looked black – onto the otherwise spotless floor.

“Get that filthy thing out of here! Get it out of here!” yelled the manager frantically. He was waving his hands around like he was swatting some unseen flies. None of the store employees made a move to follow his command. His eyes looked even larger now and I could see sweat stains under his arms. Two of the cashiers slowly came forward and approached the big yellow dog. It crouched lower and looked at them menacingly. They were afraid. Big Yellow Dog was afraid. Blood dripped from the upraised paw. Silence. For a few moments everyone in the place was staring at the wet, shivering, wounded creature.

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