Stray

Rain clamored down on the tin roof protecting the restaurant entrance making it difficult to hear.

“Taxi, dammit!” the man shouted following a brief but loud whistle.

“It’s no use” muttered the woman softly, knowing she could not be heard.

“Every time,” he continued, “Every time I take you out, it rains. It’s like clockwork.”

He never had trouble alienating people with words. The tone of his voice alone was enough to belittle most. He paced back and forth, looking for a reason to swear. Not finding one, he turned to his wife who was leaning against the glass window that looked in to the dozens of couples sitting across from each other – enjoying themselves.

“I’m gonna go inside and call a cab. Wait out here in case one comes, will ya?”

She nodded, but did not move otherwise as her husband opened the swinging glass door and walked inside. Her eyes began to wander.

Across the street a ragged man sat propped against a brick wall, a black lab with an oily coat rest its head in the homeless man’s torn denim lap. It had probably been ages, if ever, since the two of them had seen the likes of an inviting bed. They would most likely never graduate from the concrete ground and brick walls of the city streets. The woman conceded to herself that the pair would be back to begging for loose change in the morning. Somehow, though, in that moment they both seemed perfectly content.

Through the restaurant window, the man, leaning forward on the host stand, talked to the employee. Turning her back to her husband, and with a bit of hesitation, the woman crossed the street.

By the time she reached the far side of the pavement, two cars had passed, splashing her each time with the sordid mixture of rain and public roadway grime. Dirty now, and feeling on par with the old man, she encountered him humbly.

“What’s his name?” she enquired as if the meeting was not completely out of the ordinary.

The old man looked up at her, startled. “Huh?” he grunted after hesitation.

“His name. What is his name?” she repeated politely.

Still confused, but not meaning to be disrespectful, he managed a reply. “Jake” he stated. Jake lifted his ears in anticipation.

“That’s a lovely name. Hi Jake, I’m Jacqueline.” She patted the dog on the top of the head gently. “Beautiful weather we’re having, isn’t it?” She was proficient in the art of small talk.

“Darn fine. Me ‘n Jake’ll get through it though. We seen worse.” The dog licked his hand.

The door of the restaurant opened across the street. “What in the hell are you doing over there? Come here goddammit.” Her husband’s demeanor had not changed.

Focusing her eyes back on the homeless pair, she knelt. “I guess this is it.” She stroked the dog across his back twice, gave the old man a ten-dollar bill, and started back to her husband. “Thank you, sir. Thank you, Jake.”

Jacqueline refused to explain herself to her husband as they waited for the cab to arrive. She couldn’t keep her eyes off the destitute pair; how they needed each other.

During the ride home, she and her husband sat silently. Not a word was spoken unless it was directed at the driver. When the cab stopped at a traffic light, a small pet store became visible through the foggy window of the car. The lights were off, but inside, she imagined birds chirping, gerbils running in wheels, and puppies in corners of cages without laps to rest their heads on, dirty or otherwise.

September 26, 2007

Stray

Steven Fischer

Joined March 2008

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