Walking the Dog Without Umbrella
A Short Story
Agatha posed in the mirror and took a selfie, with her orange beret and her dog, who was cradled uncomfortably in her arms. The dog was wearing the artistic leash she had stitched the day before, made from some torn colorful blouses she used to wear, when she was still with him. He was gone now, the bastard, taken off with some young chick who probably laughed at all his old jokes and found him oh so interesting, the older man who could play the violin and make you cry, and would tell stories of how he used to hang out with Mick Jagger, who was not at all what you would think. In the beginning she believed those stories as well, but now, after all the lies, she was not so sure anymore. Anyway, good riddance. Hello new life, hello dog, she said to herself while she snapped one more photo, because she was looking good, still. Maybe for Facebook, later.
She stepped outside, closed the door, and walked down the long narrow path to the sidewalk. Agatha stopped halfway, turned on her left toes with her free hand raised above her head in classical ballet fashion and looked back at the house. Fifteen years. Fifteen years in that house with him, the handsome musician, the slow lover, the artist, the sensitive soul, the fucking asshole. “It’s not your fault,” she said to the house. She had lived there well before him and she always had loved it, the artwork inside, the trees, the lawn, the flowers and the sounds of the forest bordering her garden. “And you are going to love it here too, Sax!” she called out to the small white rescue dog of undefined pedigree, who duly ignored her and was straining at the leash to get to that spot in the grass where some fox had peed the night before.
She stepped onto the pavement and looked up to the sky. Perhaps she should go back to get an umbrella. “No, let’s take a risk and live a little,” she said to the dog and started walking, sometimes skipping, to the intersection with the main road, about three quarters of a mile due south. There she would stop by the ‘dead end’ sign, tell Sax to sit and stay and explain to her that cars are dangerous. But for now, she was happy just to look at the sky and the trees, at her cute puppy and think about her friends and her life and all the things that mattered, telling herself that she did not miss him, not at all.
The street was quiet. There were few cars and just one other person walking an ugly black dog, far off in the distance, coming toward her.
At the same time Agatha stepped out of her house without umbrella, Roger had opened the front door, as he was about to leave to walk his dog. Roger lived two homes in from the main road and loved to walk the dog up the street toward the cul-de-sac and let him enjoy a bit of the forest smells there. “You should take an umbrella, Rodgie,” his wife screamed at him from the bedroom upstairs. “Yesss”, he acknowledged and slammed the door behind him, without umbrella, just to piss off his wife.
He had retired from the insurance company just a few years ago and now dreaded every day he woke up next to her. Going to the office before had been necessary, somebody had to make money, but he realized now that it had also been a haven, safe from her drunk nagging, self-centered bitching and utter laziness. It wasn’t so bad when the kids were still at home, he thought. Roger guessed she had done an OK job, getting them out of bed, feeding them and putting them on the school bus on time. But for the rest she did nothing. She never learned how to cook properly and did not lift a finger to keep the house clean. Instead, she supervised the once-a-week cleaning ladies from behind a trashy magazine and a skim-milk latte, that he had to get from the Starbucks around the corner, because she could not be bothered changing her pajamas and slippers for jeans and a pair of shoes.
“Let’s get out of here, Tucker. Ready for some peace and quiet?” he said to his dog, a 12 year old mix of German shepherd and black poodle. Tucker hung his head and came along with just enough spring in his step to keep up. Roger took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, half-whistling. He listened to the noise of the main road behind him, getting more distant with every step towards the trees. He heard a few birds. There, the song of a male cardinal, trying to impress his mate probably.
Roger had not felt the need to impress his mate, his wife, in a dozen years or so. Any desire to mate had left him long ago, anyway. Rare were the days he would feel an erection as he woke up, which would wane as soon he was conscious of his surroundings. His wife had turned ugly, but he would never say that to her, ever. Tucker stopped to sniff out some other dog’s olfactory markings. Roger sighed and had to admit to himself that Tucker was probably happier than he was. “Tucker, tell me buddy: can one live and die in hate? Or without love?” he asked. Tucker looked at him with droopy eyes. “I guess that means no then.”
He had tried to talk to his wife every now and then, asking her to do a bit more, exercise, drink less, try a therapist, discover a hobby, learn to cook, go on a trip or something, anything. The outcome had always been the same. Soaked in booze, she would shout at him first, then scream and cry, accusing him (falsely) of having affairs, of not loving her anymore for who she was.
He knew full well that, in fact, it was her who did not love herself for what she had become. Yet, it always made him feel like a loser. Any attempt to get close or hug her was rebuffed. She would run upstairs, lock herself in her bedroom and drink herself to sleep. Those nights Roger would sleep on the sofa, with one hand on Tucker sleeping beside him on the floor. And, as always, the following morning would arrive as if nothing had happened.
His thoughts were interrupted by a tug on the leash. Tucker had stopped to empty his bowels, right by a ‘real estate for sale’ sign. Roger pulled out a plastic bag, a used one from the supermarket down town, and looked around while waiting for the dog to finish his business. The sky had turned a bit darker, but no sign of rain yet. The street was empty, except for a lady in an orange hat with a small dog coming towards him on the same side of the street. Roger did not feel like a lengthy mutual sniffing session by the dogs and the inevitable dog small talk between humans. He crossed the road after cleaning up after Tucker. He wondered how it always seemed that there was more coming out of his dog then went in.
“Sax!” she screamed after the dog, who ran across the street towards Tucker, because Sax managed to pull hard enough for the flimsy leash to tear and break. Sax had put herself squarely in front of Tucker. She wagged frenetically, barked twice and put her front paws up on Tucker’s shoulders. Agatha ran across the street, holding on to her beret, while pleading with her dog who, naturally, would not listen. Tucker was not going to have any of this lack of respect. He snarled and showed his teeth and, when this did not deter the young dog, put his jaws around the little dog’s head and smacked her down on the pavement.
Until that moment, Roger was not really paying much attention to the whole thing. Hundreds of dogs had come up to Tucker and it never got out of hand. Now it did and he had to do something. He jerked Tucker’s leash with one hand to pull him back. With the other hand he managed to get a finger under Sax’s collar, just as Agatha arrived at the scene. She picked up her dog and held her close to her chest.
“I am sorry,” said Roger, “this has never happened before. Is he OK?”
“She. It’s a she, and she is bleeding! Oh my God! Can’t you keep your dog under control?”
“Again, I am sorry. Let me have a look,” Roger said, avoiding the question, and bent over to look at Sax, while holding Tucker on a short leash behind him. “It doesn’t look so bad, just a little mark. He … she should be fine.”
“Poor baby,” Agatha sighed while kissing the dog on the forehead. She looked at Roger with a vexed look. “Your dog is vicious!”
“No mam, he is not. He is old and doesn’t like to be jumped at, like anyone else. Besides, he was on a leash, but your dog was running free. You call that a leash?”
“Yes,” she said feebly, defending her artistic work. “Well, I suppose it wasn’t strong enough. Colorful, yes, but not strong enough.”
“Forgive me for asking, but why don’t you get a normal leather or canvas leash?”
“My dog needs some color in her life and I had these old blouses I was never going to wear anyway, so that’s why.”
“Looks like expensive cloth. Why would you not wear these anymore? Out of fashion? Money to spare?” That last bit came out a bit too sarcastically, he thought. All he wanted was to calm this lady down, so in spite of himself, he now was trying some small talk.”
“These blouses were from another time in my life. None of your business. How old is your dog?”
“Umh … since your leash is broken, I guess you need to walk back now, carrying your dog. There is not much traffic, but enough to worry about.”
“Yeah, I’ll walk back now.” Agatha started looking left and right and she crossed the road without paying any further attention to this man and his mean dog.
They were now all going in the same direction, towards the cul-de-sac. Roger had no intention of going back early. In any event, Tucker needed his daily dose of forest smells. He looked at the lady with the small dog across the street. She was slim and attractive, but way too flamboyant for his taste. Who on earth would make a leash from old blouses? Weird.
“Excuse me!” he said in a loud voice across the divide. “I did not catch your name.”
“Well, I didn’t throw it at you, did I now? But it’s Agatha. You?”
“Roger. This is Tucker,” he said pointing at his dog.
“Roger, it was not nice to meet you. This one, the hurt one, thanks to Tucker, is Sax, With an a.”
Roger was taken aback by Agatha’s honesty. You rarely ever say it’s not nice to meet someone. In any event, he was not going to apologize again. He did too much of that already at home.
“Okay then. How old is Sax?”
“Don’t know. Two years maybe? She was a rescue.”
They walked on in silence. A sudden gust of wind announced a rain that fell in thin and infrequent drops. Roger hated it when his wife was right. It was not too bad, if the rain didn’t get any stronger his coat would manage to keep him dry. He looked at Agatha, who had started to walk faster.
“Sorry Agatha, I am curious. Why didn’t you bring an umbrella? You’d be dry and comfy.”
“Because I believe that life is boring if you do not take a little risk now and then. Funny question, why do you ask?”
“I just wondered. I think I wanted to annoy my wife, who was nagging me to take one. Now I am getting wet and she will give the ‘I told you so’ after I get home.”
“There, you see, you took a little risk. But in your case, I think, it’s not going to make your life any less boring. Maybe you should take a bigger risk.”
That one hit Roger by surprise and shut him up. He had never thought about doing anything drastic. His life could be better, but it had its comforts too. Wasn’t it a bit impolite of this Agatha lady to lecture him, an insurance man, whose life had always been about risk? Look at her. She had left her home without an umbrella, wearing a light jacket in some blueish green hue, fashionable no doubt, but it wouldn’t handle this rain at all.
“Maybe you should have taken no risks, going out in the rain with a jacket like that.”
“Look up, Roger,” she answered, ignoring the comment.
“Look up to the sky.”
Roger stopped and looked up to the sky. The clouds overhead were low in the sky, not a spot of blue, and the rain stung his face.
“What am I looking at?”
“Keep looking, but now close your eyes.” Agatha had stopped walking as well.
Roger was about to protest. How can you look with your eyes closed? But he looked up and waited. Then, he understood. Through the wind in his ears and the rain on his skin, he felt something in his heart, a confirmation of some kind. Through the darkness, he could sense the sting of the rain, lighting up parts of his skin in unexpected ways, his heart beating behind his eyes. However brief it was, it was there and clear: he was alive, he stood on this earth alone and he was slowly getting wet and a bit dizzy. He opened his eyes.
“Well, did you see it?”
“No, I didn’t. But I felt it, don’t know how to call it, perhaps like a chord on a piano that echoed in my brain and in my heart. Plus, my face was getting wet, which was kind of refreshing.”
“You see, my dear, sometimes you just need to look up, no matter what the weather is. And an umbrella is always getting in the way. I gotta run now. Bye!”
The rain had become more intense, drenching them both. Agatha was clutching her dog and quickly made for her driveway, her house and a hot shower and dry clothes inside. And then she would pamper poor Sax, since there was no one else.
Roger looked at Tucker, who was clearly not happy. He turned around and headed for home. Is that why his wife wanted him to take an umbrella, so he would not be looking up and feel the rain on his face, or see the sun breaking through the clouds when it was over? Maybe this Agatha woman was right. He looked over his shoulder to see an orange beret disappear behind the trees. He wondered about that other life she mentioned, probably with another man or woman, but that was really none of his business, as she had said.
Maybe he should take a bigger risk. Or let’s start with taking any risk to begin with, without any insurance. His life was boring, annoying really, if you thought about it. He should look up more often, like she said. He kept thinking about this on his way home and by the time he opened the front door, he was actually in a good mood.
Agatha stepped out of the shower and dried herself off. What a bizarre moment that was, with that guy on the street, she thought. Poor man, didn’t seem to have much of a life. Agatha put on some sweatpants and a T shirt and switched on her IPad. Luckily, Sax seemed to be okay, she thought as she followed the dog with her eyes. Sax was happily running around the house with the retired leash in her mouth as a trophy, oblivious of the memories of him at every corner. Enough already. She posted the picture she took earlier on Facebook and then opened her web browser to look up that real estate company, whose signs she had seen on the street.
Rodger duly accepted his wife’s ‘I told you so’s’, put on the kettle for a cup of tea later and climbed up the stairs to take a shower. He now wished that the showerhead was a little higher up, so he could let the hot water run over his face like the rain did earlier today. Now he had to bend his old knees (which still hurt from the cold) to feel the same thing, one of many things he seemed to have missed in his life. He stepped out of the shower and got dressed. He needed to get some new socks, this pair (like most others) had holes in them, but he had no time to think about that now. He stepped by his desk and took out his wallet and car keys. Back in the kitchen he switched off the tea kettle and opened the door to the garage.
“Where you going, Rodgie?” His wife must have heard him from her usual spot on the sofa.
“We are low on tea, darling, just going out to get some from the supermarket.”
He closed the door and got into his car. He followed the automatic garage doors with his eyes as they opened and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Take a little risk, she had said – so he decided to laugh. Maybe the folks at the airport would have a laugh too, when he would take off his shoes at the security checkpoint and his naked toes would be there for all to see, looking up, without umbrella or insurance.