The judgmental glare of the sun pierces as you walk over to the neighbor’s house, anxious yet excited for your first time babysitting. To be fair nobody was paying you, but you volunteered your valuable twelve year old time to watch your six year old friend, an altruistic deed if ever there was one. His parents and your parents were going to watch the game together over at your place, so your nobility also happily got you out of the house for the real entertaining. You didn't know this wrinkle at the time.
You did know that trust wasn't entirely with you though, because you weren't supposed to go in the house or the back yard. Brown oak doors marked off the boundaries of your domain, as did the white picket fence leading to the pool out back. It was tarped down anyway, despite the heat of mid April, but you were disappointed that you couldn't run back and forth across the straining plastic, daring it to fail like a crumbling bridge in a hidden temple.
There’s a limit to the fun you can have with a six year old. Two person hide-and-seek is rather dull when your competitor thinks behind the tree is a good spot to wait out your hunt. And maybe he had a lot of fun with his parents with only one super soaker, but it’s not exactly thrilling to let a little kid spray you with a gun bigger than he is or else cry when you dodge the blasts. If he was cute, you didn't see it.
He piqued your curiosity, however, when he said doggy.
You had a dog. A little terrier with white fur and one splotch of chocolate brown just around his eyes. When someone opened a door he would yap and jump His tail looked like the bottom of a pogo stick when he landed, always on his hind legs.
This was not the dog who came out of the brown oak doors unbarred by your six year old friend. Instead, practically jumping over the giddy brat, was a German Shepherd. Muscles rippled through its beastly body, its ears at ninety degree angles, the tips pointed and black. The rest of its coat was a mix of brown, black and beige. If there had been any green, it would have looked just like camouflage. And for some reason it’s barreling down at you like a boulder rolling toward the thief of its gold idol.
You run right away, veering toward the back of a pickup truck in the driveway. But it cuts off your only escape route — the invisible fence at the curb. You turn the other way around the truck, there’s a big oak and you break for it, but the dog is too close as you pass the low branch, you don’t have time to haul yourself up so you run past it. A dead sprint. The black pavement is fast approaching as you flatten a flower bed under you. You’re right there when you feel the teeth sink in and the weight of the boulder knocks you down against the hot gravel onto your stomach. The pressure quickly vanishes, the fence doing its job, though just barely.
That’s what you remember at least, sniffling through the end of your sobs in your mother’s arms. Your father’s arms are crossed stiff against his chest, and he calmly asks your neighbors Did it have all its shots? The neighbors nod, sputtering through apologies. You've never seen adults this flustered, this confused and in conflict.
You sob some more, it did hurt after all.
The following morning you get your shots and go to the Walgreens. Your mom buys you ice cream. Any Flavor you like dear. You pick Phish Food. At the dinner table that night, you are asked to recount your escape by your sister who just got back from college. Your parents discuss calling animal control. Your mom says That dog isn't trained, it needs to be put down. Your dad says It at least can’t be out front like that. Your back throbs slightly, the dull ache similar to the sensation you get after throwing the ball too hard playing catch. Nobody notices when you don’t eat your peas.
A van pulls up to your six year old friend’s house the day after that, you can see it from under the basketball hoop in your driveway. Big men in olive green shirts jump out. They’re both wearing sunglasses, and one of them has on a tan brimmed hat, as if to beat out a distant desert sun. They knock on the door and your friend opens with a confused look on his face. His father is there a second later, nodding a few times and slowly moving back into the house.
He reappears with the dog.
Its sharp black ears are drooped now, meek as its downturned head. You can’t be sure from where you’re standing but when it looks at the men and then at your neighbor you can hear the small Rarruu? of confused inquiry. The men take a curving piece of plastic out of a bag and quickly fasten it around the dog’s neck like a reverse dunce cap. It doesn't protest. Your friend is beginning to cry, your neighbor crouches down and hugs him as the men take the dog — now on a leash — and lead it toward the van. As the men pull out of the driveway, you turn away, in case it’s watching.
About twenty minutes later, your neighbor walks across the black top and into your driveway as you’re retrieving your ball. In his hand is a big bucket filled with candy. Hershey’s kisses and kit kats, gummi worms and sourpatch kids. There’s even a kinder egg he somehow got his hands on. He crouches down, a little less so than with your six year old friend, and puts his hand on your shoulder. His eyes are a little red, and he asks you How are you feeling? You say that you’re doing better, though it still hurts. He nods again, and hands you the candy. I’m so sorry. You say it’s ok, and he smiles weakly, rustling your hair before walking back across the black top.
You dig into the candy.