I’d been bitten by the dogs before so I already didn’t like them a whole lot. They didn’t scare me so much when I was already home inside looking down at them from my window on the top floor. But on the street Todd always said, ‘here they are little buddy,’ when one would go strolling by looking for garbage or another ass to sniff with the stray dog look. ‘They’re coming for you. They must’ve heard you were here.’ And he would laugh and giggle.
To tell you the truth for a while I absolutely hated them, no two ways about it. And I can honestly say that one day I even wondered, with that creeping feeling inside that comes at very serious grave revelation, if I was a bad person. Only bad people could hate stray dogs.
When we walked to the metro there was a drunk out cold on the grass and a few steps farther on a stray. It was the stray that got me. ‘That must be a sign,’ Todd said. ‘Stay far away from that grass. I bet there’s a bird up here too.’ He wasn’t so far off though. In the winter the snow on this grass always melted even in thirty below. But that wasn’t what got me, it was the dog. I really hated them. And then further on there was a dead bird…
Later I was cutting through the park to Ben’s and in the centre two strays were up on the flower beds. One of them was eating the yellow pansies that had just been planted that morning and the other was pissing on the blue ones. That made me really angry. Cheeky bastards. Even angrier than when they barked at me for no reason, but just because they were assholes. I looked around and there was no one on the benches that were usually surrounded by people drinking and no empties on the ground. And I got the feeling of foreboding. But I started to run too late. And that’s when they bit me the first time. And I had to get the forty shots in the stomach, though I knew they weren’t rabid, they were just assholes. I swear to God, the next time I walked by they were laughing at me because I swear they understood the forty shots, and they also understood, just as well, that in this city stray dogs are protected by law and can’t be destroyed. If they could have smoked they would have been leaning against the flowerbed smoking and laughing their stray asses off.
So I never laughed when Todd said, ‘ooppah, here they come little buddy.’ Though it really was funny. I just ran. But they didn’t bother him. I guess there was some truth in what he said, ‘animals and humans respect strength and not you.’ Then he giggled and pointed at a pigeon that was all scraggly and limping and ostracized by the other pigeons and said, ‘look little buddy, it’s you! It’s pigeon you! Jesus Christ!’ And he just about exploded with the laughter.
Winter rolled around, the snow by the metro didn’t melt, the news reported that a pack of wild dogs had attacked an old women who died on the scene, and a middle aged man who managed to fight them off but was then taken to hospital with some pretty serious wounds, and as usual I had to walk home from work every night.
Sometimes I saw Todd.
He was happy. He laughed. We stood in the snow and drank beer and I always caught colds after though he never did. And this made him laugh too.
After one such incident, on the day before catching the corresponding cold, I was walking home, towards my house, towards the window where I could look out at the dogs and listen to them howl and be hungry; it was about eleven o’clock at night.
There was a lot of snow, and under the snow it was icy. Anyone who has lived in Russia will know how it works. The temperature rises, the snow starts to melt, then the temperature drops and freezes, and nobody does anything with the ice, just like nobody did anything with the snow. Walking down the sidewalk is carnage, like Vietnam, Grannies go down left and right, and your occasional Brit.
As I was saying it was about eleven, or later, and I was walking down the sidewalk, sliding down, breathing in deeply while I could, before the cold came tomorrow with the cough and the ticklishness in the lungs, and I heard the howls. Big empty things that said, ‘here we come little buddy,’ and I looked up and there they were. There were about thirty of them. All different sizes. And that was all I could see before the first one, a little black mutt, came whipping towards me like he’d been shot out of a mean shotgun with his teeth bared and the thrill of the hunt on him.
I never would have noticed how close I was to the really slippery ice if he hadn’t gone flying past me on it, making a last ditch attempt to close his jaws on the sleeve of my coat, but understanding as well as I that he had failed. Then I turned and looked at the rest, who were just behind him. Though the first three or four followed in his footsteps, they couldn’t all miss me, and in the end they would come up from behind, sobered by defeat, and more vindictive for it, planting big vindictive bites in my luck. But it was funny. They all went flying by. Whoosh. I thought of Todd and I laughed. I felt bad for him because he would feel really bad when he found out the dogs had done me in. ‘Don’t worry about it, buddy,’ I said out loud, ‘it’s even funnier that way. You’re prophetic, that’s all. Nothing shameful in the truth.’
And as I was preparing to cross myself and cry and lose my cool I heard something and looked up. There was a granny out and she had a stick and a three legged dog on a leash. She lifted her stick in the air, the dog lifted its one foreleg in the air, and they both shouted together, and the effect was the same as “by the castle greyskull,” or whatever it is he-man says, and the most important thing – the dogs were gone. I looked and they were gone. Not by magic, there was no magic, they just ran away so fast it seemed like magic, and they all went in different directions, every man for himself.
I stood there and the old woman came walking towards me, and when she got close the three legged dog started to growl and wanted to jump all over me. I tried to thank her, but the three legged dog drowned out my words and she just scowled and walked past, yanking the leash and pulling the three legged dog with her. He wasn’t happy, he wanted a piece of me, but he went anyway.
I was afraid on the way home that the dogs would come back, so I hurried through the snow, but they never came.
That night I couldn’t even hear them howling in the street. They didn’t wake me up in the middle of the night, and I didn’t hear anybody screaming as if they were being attacked. They seemed to have left the area.
Todd didn’t believe me about the three legged dog, he didn’t believe any of the story but he said the three legged dog part was just stupid.
‘It’s not stupid,’ I said, ‘how can you call anything that’s true stupid?’
He thought that was stupid too.
For the summer I went away and rented out my apartment to a friend. In September I came back and my friend met me at the airport with a car and took me home. We were standing on the balcony talking about the summer and way down below the old woman was walking by with the three legged dog. I pointed at her excitedly. I could hardly speak.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I know her.’
‘What do you mean? She saved my life. I owe her my life, she saved me.’
‘Yeah, well, she came after mine. I was walking home one night from the bar, not really sober, and I passed her and the next thing I know I’m lying on the ground and the three legged dog is jumping all over me snarling and she’s shaking her stick. She knocked me out with her stick. She’s crazy. I’m serious.’
‘I’m not sure that really fit’s her character…maybe you did something to make her believe the three legged dog was at risk? Perhaps you were swaying all over the place and accidentally swayed into her?’
‘The three legged dog can take care of itself. Sure I was swaying, that’s what I do, but I don’t think that gives someone the right to try and crack me on the noggin with a stick. That’s a big stick. And as for her character…’
I told that story to Todd and he said it was much better than my story and that now he liked the three legged dog. He didn’t really like my friend.
‘Lets go walk around your area and see if we can find the three legged dog,’ he would say every time I saw him, ‘I want to meet him.’ And he would start to crack up laughing. But we could never find him when we went looking for him and after a few months we gave up.