the true stories
People sometimes ask me why I have little brass jingle bells on my key chain. I sound like a Sioux Grass Dancer when I'm coming down the sidewalk. This wasn't always the case. It began shortly after the incident I'll relate here which occurred in my first year of delivering mail.
My position was a sick relief letter carrier and as such I did a different route everyday. On this particular day I was in the lower teen avenues off Fraser St. in East Vancouver. I had finally been issued a proper uniform and was feeling pretty good about life in general.
The neighborhood was comprised of tight-packed low-income houses with rusty gates and rotten stairs. I had a fair load that day with lots of parcels but the weather was good and the bits of blue between the cottony clouds went far to absorb the cares of the road.
I pried open an ancient gate and pushed against the oxidized spring. It snapped shut behind me like a leg-hold trap as I mounted the bowed wooden steps up to the front door. I had a parcel for this place and I fished into my pouch for the little box when I got on the porch. I had noticed a fig tree in the yard and had guessed at an Italian household.
As I checked the name on the package and confirmed the address as well as the heritage of the recipient, I heard it. A light tapping in unison with muffled thumps. These sounds were accompanied by the flat tinkle of cheap metal on the off-beats. I knew this sound well, indeed.
It was a fair sized canine and the unseen animal was approaching at a trot from the back yard down the right-hand side of the house. I turned to the direction of the sound just as a second set of similar sounds fell into the auditory information I was receiving.
As soon as my brain had processed what it was, the other thoughts began in earnest. What kind of dogs were they? How big? Why wasn't there a sign on the gate?
Two of these questions were answered immediately of me having asked them. They were Doberman Pincers. A female was in the lead with a non-castrated male a body length behind her. As the girl rounded the corner to climb the stairs, she slowed her pace and showed all her teeth. The male joined her off to the side and now a half body length in arrears.
I faced the two slavering maws and took three baby steps backwards til my back came to rest on the front door of the house. I tapped three times as loud as I dared. I fumbled for the bell and as I realized that no one was home to defuse the situation, the female began to come up the stairs very slowly.
Her walk was an obscene dance of the macabre. I put the package on top of one of my pouches and slid the straps to make the bulk cover my tender bits as best as possible. I flattened myself against the door and time ceased for this cowboy.
The bitch crept up one stair at a time with a pause at each landing. The male stayed down at the bottom to cut off any retreat, should such tactics be called for in the operation. The counterpoise of their soft floppy gums pulled back in maniac grimaces, copious flowing drool and cold white fangs was the perfect accompaniment for the massive dose of adrenaline that was by now dumping into my bloodstream.
I remember stealing a brief look at a blue patch of sky after ascertaining the relative positions of my two attackers and asking the fleeting question, “Why today, why here?”
My next concern was one of dignity. I didn't want my ancestors to suffer a humiliating spectacle. I was one hundred percent sure that I was experiencing the I-Ching hexagram known as The Pit. It is a situation in which any action will serve to worsen the odds of survival. I decided consciously to stand as rigid as a tree no matter what would ensue. Try as I may, I could not conjure a vision of two dogs tearing apart an inanimate vertical object. That is not how it works. I became an inanimate vertical object.
The female stood on the porch now quivering with constipated rage, fear and aggression. The boy was halfway up and moaning a series of low register growls as if he was in mortal pain. A person passed by the opposite side of the street oblivious to the drama only thirty yards away. My predicament precluded any sudden noises or movements which I reckoned would pull the trigger of my foes.
Time now started to move in reverse, that is my experience of it. I remembered watching professional military guard dog trainers at work in Sugarland, Texas when I was a boy. It was a weekly visit to my own Malamute pup, which my father had placed in such capable hands. His office was getting robbed at gunpoint nearly three times a week and he had had enough.
I watched a man dressed from head to toe in a thick leather padded suit, threaten, antagonize and terrify a young pup. When necessary, the dog was struck with a stick in order to elicit the proper response. It was clear to me after two visits that man's best friend, is just that. The amount of abuse necessary to get a dog to be homicidal is staggering, depending on the pedigree.
A normal hunting animal is something quite different from the gibbering, slavering mass of fear-fueled hate that is an attack trained dog. The berserker behaviour can be turned off with a word or a gesture just like a light switch. Such animals are not anything more than automatons, their spirits are broken in their making.
The female was inches from my body and wound up tighter than a bull's ass in fly time. The male was holding steady at the mid-point of the stairs and beginning to whine between growls as if seeking relief from the stress of the situation. Every piece on the chessboard promised blood.
It occurred to me that I may have to hold fast til the people returned from work, which was near seven hours into a future that lived in a realm where time stretched like Silly Putty. I became impatient for a conclusion. I upbraided myself for losing focus. A compromise ensued.
Glacially slow, I extended my right hand, fingers tight together and pointing down. It consumed several eternities to cover the six inches distance to the top of the head of the hysterical Cerberus before me. My fingertip contacted the shiny fur between her shorn ears. The response was immediate and quite unexpected by me.
The girl whipped around ass-end first as if struck by an invisible stick and placed herself in a stiff, strict heel position to my left. Her cacophony of snarls, whimpers and guttural mewling ceased. The boy came to the same position on my right, so quickly that he slammed into my leg with some force. I placed my hands on both their napes and stroked slowly.
The three of us, deadly silent, now scanned the street out front for any enemy. I stifled the giggle of “a man unhinged by fear.” We remained this way for some time. I spoke softly to them while waiting for an idea to come into my mind. I dare not try many of the things which paraded through my thoughts. I really wished for a smoke or a sip of water. Presently I could wait no longer.
I began very methodically, to dismount the stairs. The dogs kept their cheeks pressed tight to my thighs, just as their training demanded. They were absolutely tranquil beasts, now that Form fit Expectations.
We waltzed down like tight-rope walkers traversing the Grand Canyon and crossed the five yards to the old gate. I commanded the pair to Sit and Stay. I opened the gate and stepped into the rest of my life. The gate slammed shut on its hefty spring.
Two things happened simultaneously at this juncture. The dogs, seeing me on the other side of the chain-link, realized that they had been duped. The display of hellish snarling and gnashing of teeth was beyond what I had already been witness to while inside their lair. They gnawed on the metal gate, nipped at each other and carried on like God-forsaken Banshees.
I saw and heard it all from only inches away on the good side of the fence. My legs had turned to aspic with the closing of the gate hasp and I lay unceremoniously on the sidewalk not more than a foot away from those who would do me harm. I shook uncontrollably as the unused adrenaline spent itself in muscle contractions.
When I finished laughing, I began to cuss in earnest. I spewed a random multilingual string of expletives that would have cowed a Phoenician stevedore. After a smoke and a sip of water, I thanked my Creator for my life. I bought the brass jingles on Commercial Drive very soon after that so any dog fit enough to be a worry can hear me long before I open a gate.
Copyright © 2015 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.