Sean had always enjoyed walking, particularly in the evening. One could walk into Leederville, go down Oxford Street, and come back around Lake Monger, as the sun set over the water and the ducks and swans settled down to sleep along the shore. It was but a short distance from the lake, through the suburbs and back to his apartment.
He lived next to Herdsman Parade. Herdsman parade: busy street, cars come around the corner, fast, you don’t know they are there until just before they are. Maybe for a pedestrian you can anticipate the movement of the traffic, and skip over the road, between the cars. But if you’ve got a slower turning circle, the wait for a place can be torturous. In the mornings and around knock-off time, sections of the parade would become grid locked, such was the flow of vehicles.
He always forgot about the dog behind the fence. As it barked, he jumped and flashed eye daggers at the black poodle. He waited at the road.
At the Laundromat, in front of the apartment complex, three middle-aged Sri Lankans stood by their car and waited for their washing to dry.
At what must have been the driveway entrance to the apartment block he lived at, he could see a man crossing the road with a pram. The man was very fat, with a sizeable beer gut, and he pushed the perambulator at a slow pace. From down the driveway appeared a dog and it ran after the man. Sean watched with vague interest as he waited. The fat man made it to the medium strip and the dog chased after him. The dog was brown and fluffy and small, with a drooping hanging tail. A car turned the corner and bore down on the animal. The dog chose to outrun the car and the front bumper missed it by mere inches. The fat man looked over his shoulder as he pushed the pram onto the pavement with little strength. The dog bounced after him and ran along the front gardens, sniffing at the flowers and grass. Its tail was firmly between its legs. The man looked at the dog with some concern. Sean felt like asking the man if he looked after his baby as much as he did the dog. The Sri Lankans watched the proceeding as indifferent outsiders.
He was listening to music and he saw the woman in white before hearing her speak. She wore no shoes, had a green, poorly inked tattoo on her shoulder. She wore a boob tube and motioned to Sean with her hands, measuring something not more than two feet tall.
He smiled and removed his headphones and earnestly waited for her to speak. Her forehead was a picture of stress. Her speech was dull and clipped.
“Have you seen a little dog?”
“Brown and white.”
Sean nodded. “I have actually! I just saw him.”
He stopped walking and pointed in the direction of Herdsman Parade.
“I’ll show you.”
The woman in white followed Sean at a hurry. They turned around the clothesline area, on the path that led back to the main street.
“Is he more brown than white?”
“I thought he was with this man with a pram.”
“Wha – ”
“He was nearly hit by a car!”
“Oh my god!” she cried in a high shriek.
The woman in white ran in front of him. He saw the flower tattoo on her ankle and the faded bruises that ran up her naked legs. They had a direct line of sight to the road. He pointed.
“I saw him right over there… is that the dog?”
The fluffy brown dog was on the opposite side of the Parade.
“Oh there he is!” she said with relief.
“Wait. Don’t call out his name?”
The woman stopped and turned at Sean, confused. “What?”
“Cross the road and get him.”
“He was nearly hit by a car. If you call out his name he’ll run to you and cross the road again.”
The woman in white dully regarded him. She didn’t seem to be quite with it.
She turned back to the road and screamed at the dog.
Sean didn’t know whether to call out “stop!” or “no!” or “don’t move!” The dog looked at her and ran, frantic. Time slowed down. It jumped over the curb and crossed the first lane. The medium strip was under its paws for only a moment but it could have been a lifetime. The next lane would have taken four or five steps for a person, maybe twice as many for a small, fluffy, brown and white dog, more brown than white, lost and scared and looking for its owner, and the apartment buildings on either side made a perfect frame for them to see the dog touch the curb with its front paw as the green car came into view, hit its brakes, skid and roll over the animal. The car, maybe it was the tires, made a loud pop and crunch and the dog screamed as the vehicle dragged it out of view.
Now it was the woman’s turn to scream.
“OH MY GOD!”
She sunk to her knees and screamed again.
Sean raised his hands to his head, his jaw slack, not knowing where to look or what to say or do.
Three or four neighbours from the other side of the street exited their houses and spilled onto the front lawns. They milled together and pointed at something that he could not see. Sean knew that he would next have to see the little, brown and red body. Or worse: a half-dead dog, squashed and crying and about to die.
From around the corner the dog ran into view, its tail firmly between its back legs. Sean stopped dead and pointed, lost for words, amazed, now confused. The woman turned at what he pointed at. The dog, whimpering and shaking and frantic, ran around them in a figure of eight. She meekly grabbed for it but the animal would not let her catch it. She looked up at Sean and he dumbly stared back at her. She found the words first.
“Can you help?”
“No, no, you should grab him.”
The dog ran around Sean, whimpering and crying the whole time. He reached down and touched its coat, trying to pat it in an attempt to calm the frightened animal. The dog eluded his grasp.
“Please, help me!”
He slowly walked after the dog – its bum couldn’t be any closer to the ground if it tried – and it switch-backed and ran around him, his fingers inches from grabbing its collar. The dog ran for the woman, still on her knees, and on the second pass she grabbed it around its back legs. It stopped running and she patted and stroked it. Its eyes were wide and wet, and it shook violently. There was no blood or marks on its body. The woman screamed for someone.
At the sound of her scream, the dog tried to bolt but she held it too tight for it to escape. In the distance a teenager walked toward Sean and the woman in white. She screamed again at the boy.
From inside one of the apartment complexes came a woman in an all-black summer dress. She wore no shoes.
“Are you ok? Do you want me to call someone?”
The woman shook her head.
“Do you want me to call someone, babe?”
“No, thank you,” her trembling voice replied.
“Are you sure?”
Sean answered her, his voice an attempt at calm.
“No, the dog seems to be ok.”
He looked toward the road.
“I’m more worried about the motorist now.”
He made his way to the sight of the accident. He didn’t want to see if the dog was really unmarked. The woman in black nervously scratched her face, a butterfly tattoo in the crook of her thumb and index finger, and looked at the woman in white, not sure what was going on.
Only three people remained on the front lawns. They were all shell-shocked. Sean walked slowly. As he came to Herdsman Parade he looked up and down the street. He couldn’t find the car in question anywhere. One of the neighbours walked back into their house. An Italian woman and an older Asian man – he reminded Sean of a film projectionist he once knew, who was born in Burma – remained. They stared at each other.
“A car just hit a dog! Where’s the car? Is the car ok?”
The Burmese man picked up a piece of plastic from off the bitumen.
“This broke off, I think that’s what hit it.”
“Is that the bumper?”
“Yeah, it looks like the moulding. I think that’s what hit it.”
“Looks like it.”
Sean looked down the road but still couldn’t see the car. There were more pieces of plastic.
“What happened to the dog?” asked the woman.
“The dog’s ok. I told her… I told the owner where the dog was, and I told her not to shout his name, but she did, and the dog was hit by the car!”
The Burmese man laughed.
“But the dog looks fine.”
“Oh no,” disagreed the woman. “No, he won’t be.”
“Well, he just ran over to us, right after, and seemed alright?”
Sean and the Italian woman looked at each for a moment.
“What type of dog was it?”
“He looked like a cock spaniel crossed with something.”
“Oh!” She shut her eyes tight and looked away, as she thought about the dog being run over.
“He really seems to be ok.”
The Burmese man laughed again. Sean shrugged his shoulders in amazement. The man grinned and went back inside his house. The woman stood on the curb staring away into the distance. He waited for a lull in traffic and crossed the road.
In front of the Laundromat, the Sri Lankans watched Sean, their faces passive, and blank, trying to find some meaning in what had happened. He pulled on his headphones and whistled along as Warren Zevon told him about two outlaws named Frank and Jesse James.