Friday, January 07, 2005

dickie greenleaf

Out in the driveway a chocolate-colored sausage dog had the corner of a woman's sarong in its mouth and ran angrily around her feet. As the woman turned, the dog unwrapped her until she stood giggling in only her bikini and sandals.
“HONEY!” A man shouted. “HONEY, COME HERE!”
A mother and a small child playing in the driveway had stopped to watch the woman and the dog. But when the dog saw them it released the sarong and sprinted towards them, yapping ferociously.
The mother hoisted her child up above her head as the small angry animal tore around them on its shrunken legs. A brown man in white shorts appeared and scooped up the dog. It sat smugly in his arms, fixing dull brown eyes on the child.
“I do apologise,” said the tanned man. “She won’t bite.”
“Oh, he’s not afraid,” the mother said. She smiled at the child. “Are you, sweetheart?”
The child coolly eyed the animal. He had seen bigger dogs.
“You live here,” the man observed, having watched the mother from his balcony during the afternoon. She had been hanging out her washing in a denim miniskirt and her bikini top. Her hair was in two bunches at her neck and was lighter on the ends.
“Yes,” the mother said. “You’re holidaying?”
“Just lobbed in for the week,” he said, nodding in the direction of the holiday units behind her house. He cocked his head at the child. “He’s very good at walking.”
“I know,” the mother rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe how much energy they have, when they’re so much smaller than us!” The man rolled his eyes in sympathy.
“You have kids yourself?”
“Yes, a son,” the man said. The mother asked how old. The man said his son was seventeen.
The mother was shocked. “You don’t look old enough!”
“Surgery,” the man chuckled. The man and his dog walked the mother and her child back up the driveway.
“Any plans for any more?” the mother asked, out of curiosity.
“Kids, or surgery?” grinned the man. “I don't know. Perhaps I haven’t met the right woman yet.”
“Tall, dark, handsome and single,” the mother joked as she steered the child inside. “Well, see you later.”
The mother was a writer, and as she cooked the baby’s dinner she idly thought about the man and how it was a shame she hadn’t been the one to come up with the character name Dickie Greenleaf because it was the only possible name for the man. He had a clean, smoothness about him that suggested hours of preening. The mother was not attracted to vain men.
After she had put the child to bed, she unfolded a chair in the bathroom near the back door so she could look out at the night, and she thought she might write in her notebook for a while.
It was a few minutes later that the barking began.
Dickie Greenleaf’s dog had obviously been locked inside while Dickie had gone to dinner at one of the local establishments that catered to men of his ilk. Meanwhile, unable to comprehend that its agonising solitude was only temporary, the dog screeched and screeched for its beloved master. The mother gritted her teeth and tried to write, but she felt each bark like a whip across her shoulders. From the balconies surrounding her house she heard angry complaints. She put the notebook down in frustration.
The mother tried to read some Flannery. His shirt was green but so faded that the cowboy charging across the front of it was only a shadow--how she loved the details! But the dog’s barks punctuated the sentences in odd places. She shut the book and stared at the photo on the jacket. Flannery is smiling and gazing off out of the frame, as if she’s been telling you a story and has paused because her attention has been captured by some small detail she has seen or thought of and she’s filing it away to use someday.
Up at Dickie Greenleaf’s holiday rental, the dog barked, and barked, and barked. A neighbor began throwing things at the animal’s fence, as if fear would silence the animal. The dog became only more terrified—-it was alone in a strange place, people where shouting at it and throwing things at it--and the barking increased in volume and pitch. The mother considered calling the pound; perhaps they could come and tranquillise the wretched animal.
“How could you leave that animal like that!” she silently yelled at an absent man. “You’ve got more dollars than sense!” The mother distracted herself by calculating that the difference between her and most of her neighbours was roughly eighteen hundred and fifty dollars a week.
The mother rehearsed what she would say to Dickie Greenleaf tomorrow. “Last night,” she would say icily, “your dog was driving us all insane!” But she felt that Dickie Greenleaf would merely shrug and grin, and explain the dog just got a little upset when it was away from home, as if that made it alright.
“Right, that’s it,” she heard a steely-voiced neighbour say, and a door banged with such force that she feared for the animal’s safety. The barking stopped. The neighborhood seemed to hold its breath. But a car started up and was driven off and the barking resumed with renewed determination.
“Shut the fuck up, you stupid fucking animal, shut the fuck up!” the mother raged silently in her head as Dickie Greenleaf’s dog barked and howled. The mother half-wanted her baby to wake, so that its indignant cries would add to the general misery of the situation and Dickie Greenleaf could later be made to feel even guiltier. But the baby did not wake. He had been well worn out at the beach this afternoon, chasing seagulls. The birds would hop a few metres away and the baby would follow, and then when the birds finally flew a long way away, he gave them a look as if to say, “Hey, that’s not playing fair!”
Hours seemed to pass and then the mother could not take it any longer. She wrenched open her back door and stumbled out into the darkness with the intention of screaming out to no-one in particular, “DICKIE GREENLEAF, YOUR DOG IS DRIVING ME INSANE!” She thought she would feel better after that, but the words were forgotten when she looked up into the night sky and saw all the stars had gathered around the moon as if in earnest conference.
It had been a long time since she had looked at the stars.
The mother remembered a friend had once told her how she liked to moonbake. The mother took a towel off the line and spread it out on the buffalo and she laid down on it. She put on her sunglasses and peeled down her bikini top straps and looked up at the moon but she could not make out its face.
After a few minutes she became aware the dog had stopped barking. There was an expectant silence as the mother and the moon and the stars and the angry neighbours all waited to see if the silence was going to hold.
The mother noticed how it wasn’t just silence they were listening to. She could also hear crickets and the roar of the ocean as it threw itself against the beach, and there was a car being driven urgently somewhere in the distance.
It was then that the mother saw the moon’s face.
The mother got up and went inside and just then Dickie Greenleaf’s car pulled up and the dog began barking again, but this time with hysterical joy, and the mother switched on her computer and began typing this post.