provenance: unknown


It was a thump, a sort of muffled crash sickeningly muted, something hard breaking on something too, too soft. And then spinning, screeching, roaring off. Away.

Fifty feet away he could already feel the nausea, smell the burn. Did they still make tires out of real rubber?

Phil wouldn't be able to remember driving that fifty feet. He remembered stopping behind the man, his hazards already flashing. He popped the trunk and grabbed his cell.

The man was kneeling over the ground, his back to him. His posture was wrong, or, not wrong enough. He almost looked OK. Phil knelt beside him, asked if he was.

He hadn't been hit, it had been a dog. An old, frazzled mutt, barely breathing. Sick-looking, but not visibly injured. Phil had never heard a car hit a body; he didn't know how hard a collision it might have been. Anyway, it was just a dog.

The man didn't respond to him. He seemed grief-stricken — he was actually talking to the dog. Maybe he knew the dog; it looked like a stray, though it wasn't all that dirty. It had been a fairly big dog, but was skinny, its coat long but almost threadbare, and its canines, as far as Phil could tell, worn and decaying — an ugly brown color. But this man was holding the thing, almost hugging it, even putting his face against it.

He waited a few minutes, but the man didn't get up. He sat on the curb and watched him. He should just leave, he thought. He didn't want to leave his car sticking into the traffic lane; he'd just had it retouched, too. And the guy was just oblivious. But, still, he couldn't just leave him in the street, could he? He hoped the guy wouldn't want to move the dog. No way was he going to touch it. He had his cell, though. Who were you supposed to call to clean up this kind of thing?

He went back to the man. The dog didn't seem to be breathing; maybe he could convince him to leave now. Phil kneeled in front of him, about to suggest they get off of the street, when the dog shuddered, pawing at the air and tightening its mouth in an ugly snarl. Scared that it would lunge, Phil almost fell back, but the dog didn't move again.

The man carressed the dog's face, loosening her snarl, and then sat back, still looking at her. Phil looked at him; his eyes were bleery and his face drawn. The man seemed to want to speak, but, tight-jawed, couldn't let the words out.

"Look, we have to get out of the street. I don't want to get my car totaled."

The man just kept on looking down at the damn dog. This was going nowhere; he had to try something.

"Was it yours? The dog — did it belong to you?"

Finally the man looked up. He nodded. He was paying attention. Phil stood up and put his hand on the man's shoulder.

"We really have to get out of the street. I can call 9-1-1 on my cell. But it's not safe here."

The man didn't nod this time, but he got up. Phil couldn't even tell if he appreciated his help, he was so wacked out about the dog. But he slowly walked him the few steps to the curb. His watch beeped: 4:00. He should go.

"She was beautiful, you know." The words were choked, but the man was speaking.

"I'm sorry?" Phil was lost for a second. "Oh, I'm sure she was. Man's best friend and all, right? Not much of a dog person myself, though."

A cruiser had pulled up behind Phil's sedan. Phil sat the man down on the curb and walked over. The cop was getting out, so Phil just called over: "Guy's dog got hit, but he's OK."


Copyright ©2001 Matt Pfeffer


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