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Menacing Dog

November 14, 2015
Don and Gert's house.  Burlington Avenue neighbor.

Don and Gert’s house. Burlington Avenue neighbor.

November 11, 2015

Living near downtown Billings, Montana, makes living easier. We sometimes walk to the Good Food Store for wine and granola and freeze-dried pea soup. Just a jaunt down the street, around a couple of corners, then south two blocks. We sometimes get dark chocolate and breakfast wraps. Their beer is expensive, tasty. At least the one bottle I bought was. I always look at their beer, but end up buying wine.

Tonight we strolled down to a restaurant about four blocks from home. An expensive place doesn’t have to break the budget because we get stuff like hamburgers. Okay. We don’t even have a budget anymore. Anyway, I’m not worried about expensive. Now I’ll admit it. I’m retired and I have been forced by unfortunate events to work almost full time.

I don’t want to work so much, but they need me because everyone but me and three others quit work within the space of a few days. That means I am there more than the usual one day a week. I neither want nor need extra work days, what with my government pension, but since I’ve got the paychecks, we — well — we walk downtown and eat in a restaurant.

At Commons 1882, a converted bungalow on Fourth Avenue North, P. and I sat down to eat a hamburger and some ribs. Also cabbage. Some smoked chicken soup. Smoked! Delicious. Apparently they smoke their chickens out back behind the restaurant. The way my friend and I used to smoke my mother’s cigarettes behind the garage and in the alley. I mean almost surreptitiously. Our waiter said they smoke almost 24-7.

We walked home after declining desert. We had each had one glass of wine. As we walked I mused how I had asked our server for “two glasses of your finest pinot noir.”

Robert (for that was our server’s name) looked shocked. “Are you sure? Our finest? Some of our bottles are, like, $100.” P. started to object, but I held up my hand.

“Not a bottle, just two of what you have by the glassful,” I pushed the wine menu toward him. I chose the p.noir from Oregon.

Robert’s eyebrows lifted as he said, “Won’t you get a bottle? Will just one glass apiece be enough?”

“Yes.”

She and I walked hand-in-hand past the First Interstate where the windspeed always increases. I mentioned it.

P. wondered what time it was. She guessed seven. The electronic sign on the corner in front of the Transwestern One building told us the recent activity of the stock market, but no time or temp. Oh, I felt vaguely comforted to know the Nasdaq had risen 105, even if the Dow was down 4. We own some, but not very much, stock in something or other but, as I have mentioned, I have a government pension. I thought about my cell phone, I bought it for less than $16 a year or two ago. I flipped it open: 7:12.

The crosswalk by the YMCA has heavy traffic. The “don’t walk” shone across an empty street with not much coming. Nevertheless, a car exited the parking lot. We waited for the signal. I found it odd how few others we encountered walking downtown.

Half a block later we walked past the Church of Christ Scientists at Division and Burlington, our street. A lovely cream and light green building with lovely windows. An open door let out a slant of light. The interior had muted colors and natural woodwork. Light from sconces seemed to invite the lofty conversations that scientists might have about — I don’t know? Christ? Religious books or Sunday school? Do scientists, as we ordinarily think about them, you know the kind, slaving in laboratories with white coats, flasks of bubbling colored liquids coursing through a network of tubes and curlycues, talk about the stuff that might be talked about in the Church of Christ Scientists? I doubt. Still, the building is so attractive!

Anyway, by then we had walked past. I tried, but couldn’t read the Christian Science marquee, which sometimes has a puzzling message, such as: “The Spirit is Everything You Can’t See.” I’m all, really? Helium? The other side of the moon? The back of my own head when I don’t have two mirrors?

Burlington Avenue has old-fashioned streetlights, spaced far enough apart that one trips on the uneven cracks in between. The houses have their memories for us, the place where the crazy dog used to strain on his leash, barking, drooling, almost ecstatic with ferocity. A woman would come to the door and scream at him. Of course, he ignored her, and her screaming simply added to the pandemonium. I thought how the dog was within the three foot minimum distance for the owner to be charged with having a menacing dog, even if her dog was about the size of a cat. A cat and a half, really. I thought, she is renting that little place, and I doubt if she would be able to afford the $400 the city would charge her for having a MENACING DOG!

By the time these memories had passed through my consciousness we crossed to the 100 block. I thought I heard someone speaking, but I couldn’t find the source. Most of the houses on this part of our street are bungalows, built in the early 1920s. Some are older, like the house of the angry woman who lives across our street, playing her flute. Beautifully, for such an enigmatic soul. She is a good neighbor despite the anger she has toward the mourning doves cooing gently in the alley.

A rental house a couple from the end of the block is one of those side-way bungalows with the front sloping over the wide porch. I remark how I like the houses that look like that. By God, I do. I think I had a childhood friend in Missoula, once, who lived in one. We used to go upstairs and look out the window in the summer. She had comic books, too.

The neighbor three doors east has been fixing up his yard. I noticed that the gravel from the cement contractor was spilled across the sidewalk. As we passed by our next door neighbor I saw their dog, “Susie,” sitting alert in the doorway. A pretty picture. Unfortunately, this last statement was a lie. I saw “Susie” tonight as we drove away, not when we walked home.

There. I just wrote some fiction.

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