Ever since she was three years old she hated dogs. Not only hated, but feared with unreasonable obsession. Sarah repeated over and over to her father the scary story of Cron. Cron–who stood as tall as she did. Cron—who paced back and forth, baring his teeth, snarling behind the wood slat fence. Cron—who waited to ravage her as if she were a leather moccasin. Cron—who barked so loud it took her breath away. Her father listened, but only for so long. He cut her off in a playful way each time she mentioned Cron. “Not Cron again” he laughed with a shake of his head. He looked at his little daughter with curiosity, wondering, and trying to break her habit. Soon Sarah stopped talking about Cron.
But Sarah’s fears never left her. Blackie came into her life. The feisty cocker spaniel had a monstrous ego when he defended, what he thought was, his territory. Sarah jumped off the school bus, and looked both ways to see if Blackie was loose. But his telescope eyes had already spotted her as soon as her feet hit the sidewalk. She was his target. He chased her for her life, as if she were a ball. He only stopped his terrorizing bark to nip her heels. Sarah ran and ran. Her heart thumped in her chest until she reached her front door where her mother waited for her. Her mother. The mother who had been near death when she was born–too ill to lavish love on her at birth. The mother who hadn’t been there during Sarah’s first three years. The mother who never knew Cron.
Cron and Blackie now ancient memories, Sarah moved to a neighbourhood where she met a friend, Jessica. One winter day, Jessica developed back pain and asked Sarah for help walking her two dogs. Willing to help Jessica, Sarah agreed with reservation to take one of the leads. She begged for the more placid dog. “This is my dog therapy”, mused Sarah, as she became more comfortable in her new role. One afternoon, Jessica watched Sarah smile as she stooped to harness Harriet.
“For someone who doesn’t like dogs, you’re doing a great job with Harriet.”Jessica remarked. Sarah plucked at the leash as they walked into the forest trails. Then she admitted to Jessica that she wouldn’t want to meet doberman or pitbull breeds along the way. Sarah’s attitude to dogs and her fears had mellowed, but she still didn’t understand the point of owning a dog. Hairy leftovers on her pants, dog smells inside her friend’s house, brown dog poop on her lawn convinced her of that.
* * *
Sarah’s grey hairs flopped on her temples, wrinkles lined her brow. Loneliness lurked around her skinny shadow. Early one morning, she lumbered slower than usual to the garden to rake fallen leaves. Her body bent over, she teetered on the handle of the rake. Her muscles creaked and groaned. She sighed. That day she felt as if she carried an empty basket inside her chest, sensed a hole that needed filling. When Sarah leaned over to gather fallen maple leaves, she heard a muffled sound behind her. Then, suddenly, two white shapes ran towards her from the path in the forest–Harriet and Molly. They licked, woofed welcomes, and wagged tails like windshield wipers. Sarah dropped her rake, placed her hands on the dogs, roughed up their curly fur. Her tight lips changed into a smile, then a laugh, then she called out, “Oh, it’s so good to see you!” Time stopped.
She was back at the circus on the antique carousel in the arms of her mother. Up and down. Round and round. They lurched together on the painted toy horse as coloured streamers flew by . Children squealed and laughed. So did Sarah. Bright music played above their heads. Her mother held her in a tight caress, he perfume lingered in the air.
Photo by Ozvaldo Florez on Unsplash