Earlier in the day (yes, Sunday), I'd been puttering around the yard killing weeds, cutting brances, picking citrus. Although a bit chilly, it was, in this neck of the Florida woods, a sunny, beautiful portent of the coming spring, with the azaleas in full riot and citrus blooms coming in behind the fruit still on the tree. Yes, I'm eating fresh citrus every day off my own trees and you're not. I even took some pictures to prove it. Here are the azaleas, the day lilies, and the hibiscus:
And here's a shot of the grapefruit tree that will last me into April. I've got oranges and tangelos too:
Anyway, it was nice out. People were jogging, bicycling, walking their dogs, and by about four in the afternoon I'm sitting at the computer living the cultivated life of an internet surfer so that I won't have to grade papers. I remember staring at the picture of the snowladen fingers of evergreen branches that seemed to be reaching for TSO's dog as he trudged through what looked to be about a foot of the white stuff. Or maybe I was contemplating the Summamamas threat to go silent, or preparing to improve my mind by reading some old divines' attack on the Deists archived by Lydia's husband. I can't remember where I was when I heard the screaming through the window. Or was it squealing? Nothing to check out. Kids go by now and then, shrieking in their play. But then came my wife's voice, "Bill." It ended on a rising note. It's funny how a human inflection, a mere tone, can so fill a word that it no longer means what it signifies.
"What?" I asked. I didn't want to be bothered. As usual.
Seconds later it came again. This time she was yelling. " Bill! Oh no!"
I was out of the chair and running for the kitchen, where I found her pointing out the window. In the yard across the street, two houses up, I saw a blur of hushed and urgent chaos, people on the ground, limbs in desperate motion, and the screaming of course. I don't think I broke stride except to open the back door before hitting the lawn running, and in the seconds before I got there, while crossing the street, I could see that a burly tan dog of some kind had another smaller white dog by the throat. The little dog was on its back flailing with its paws while the big one held its grip and shook its head, like a croc tearing meat off a carcass. In the ease with which he did it, the little one was like a weightless stuffed toy in his jaws. There was a man on the big dog's back trying to wrestle him away and hold him still, and on the ground beside them a woman, the little dog's owner, trying to help. I knew she was the owner because she kept screaming, "God! Oh God! He's going to kill my dog."
When I got there I hesitated, and saw in the instant that it was a pit bull, beautiful shiny coat, purebred as far as I could tell, and no collar. For some reason I noticed that, and then I jumped on the dog and started trying to help the other man pull him off. The other man turned out to be the mayor, who lives a few houses up, out for his afternoon jog. A third man (a doctor, I think) in whose yard this was taking place, came out of his house. He joined in, the woman screaming the whole time. I don't know if she believes in God, but she mentioned his name a lot. There were people gathering on the periphery, so every now and then one of us yelled, "Whose dog is this?" - thinking of course that the owner could bring it to an end.
Which would have been nice because we couldn't pull him off. While the mayor pulled on his shoulders, the doctor kicked him. I gave up on the pulling and grabbed the dog by the throat, digging my fingers in. I thought I had a good grip on his windpipe and pulled and twisted, trying to at least break it if I couldn't tear it out. If I had done this to any human being, that person would most likely be dead. The dog didn't seem to notice. Then I took to pummeling his ribs with my fists, like a boxer hitting the heavy bag, and surmise now that if I'd done this to any normal man for this length of time, he'd have been left with broken ribs. But the dog didn't notice. Then I stood up and joined the doctor in kicking him. I kicked fast and as hard as I could, in the ribs again, which, again, would most likely have left a human with organ rupture. The dog didn't notice. I went around to the other side and took hold of the little white dog - paws still flailing but getting weaker, the woman still screaming as though her own child were under attack - knowing the risk, that pulling on him might pull his throat out, but nothing was working and this was a death grip if I'd ever seen one. Maybe just his skin would tear but it would set him free. Maybe.
The doctor disappeared for a moment and returned with a long wooden stake, sharpened at the tip, like a tomato plant stake, and I thought, "Good, he's going to run him through." Then I lost my grip on the little dog and fell back on the pavement. As I regained my footing, so to speak (I was on my knees), the little dog was suddenly free. To this moment, neither I nor anyone knows why he was let go. Maybe one of us did something right by accident. Stunned, I just looked at him, noticing for the first time it was a Jack Russell terrier, and remembered the two ladies who lived nearby the golf course I used to work and how they'd walk their Jack Russell puppy down the fourteenth fairway in the morning dew. I'd jump off my greens mower machine and he'd come running over as if he'd known me all his days.
"Pick him up!" screamed the woman, who was by now exhausted, as were the two men, as was the little dog who could not seem to move. But the mayor held the pit just long enough for me to lunge forward and grab the terrier while rising to my feet. The mayor, understandably, must have let the pit go, for who wants to wrestle one if there's no need, and they must have been wondering throughout, along with me, "What if he lets go the terrier and goes for me?" Which I had to wonder one more time because the pit was following me, snarling and making little jumps as if to go for the terrier again. I turned my back and walked but he followed. Once, briefly, I looked down into his eyes and what I saw there didn't seem like bloodlust, just a brightly gleaming golden focus. He didn't seem interested in people but was all fixed on the terrier. He had to kill this dog. It was his duty, his compulsion. Or so it seemed. The doctor opened a gate to his backyard and I went through it and pulled it shut. The little dog was not entirely limp in my hands, but pretty much dead weight. He had nothing left. There were holes in his throat and some blood, but at least it wasn't pouring out. He just stared straight ahead, but not panting heavily. The worry was that his windpipe was broken. Maybe he just couldn't breathe heavily, everything having been taken out of him.
When I came back out the gate, the mayor and the doctor had the dog trotting back up the street away from us. The doctor never struck with his stake, but I can't say I blame him. What if you miss and the dog latches on to you instead? The street was full of people, men and women and a few children who had come out to watch. The terrier's owner cried that she needed to get him to an emergency vet, could anyone take her? A second's pause, no one answered, so I said I'd do it. I yelled to Mary Helyn to get the car open and headed home with the dog. I got the lady into the passenger side and then handed her the dog. That's when I discovered that the little fellow, in the aftermath of his terror, had crapped on my hand. I went inside and washed up, then grabbed keys and wallet and got in the car. Before we left Mary Helyn told me the police were on their way.
Like people, dogs go into shock, and this little fellow was in it. His eyes were open but sleepy. He breathed gently. I wondered if shock could kill him. He'd probably never known a day like this in his whole life. I reached over to stroke his head now and then to keep him awake. He had soulful eyes, as many dogs do. Before we got to the clinic, he started bleeding from his nose, not a good sign I gather, and his mistress became even more distressed, though not quite panicked. When I left them at the vet's, the terrier was still alive and able, with her support, to sit on his haunches in the examining room.
When I got home, animal control was there and already had the pit bull in custody. He'd wandered into a neighbor's garage and the door pulled down to close him in. The control officer had had no problem. The dog seemed obedient to people. He bore no scars, no missing tufts of fur or pieces of ear that would indicate he'd been trained to fight. As of now, we don't know if he was abandoned in the neighborhood or simply wandered away from someone's house. Several neighbors had wondered aloud, "What if he'd gone for a child?"
Most will take their evening walks casting a cautious eye before them. For a while, at any rate, and then with time they'll forget that life can go from civilized to savage in the blink of an eye.
If you've ever thought that the reports of the strength in a pit bull's jaws must be exaggerated, don't think it anymore.
I saw on the TV news the other day that more people are purchasing and adopting pets than are having children. Something's awry, all right. But any of you who have one know how they do become members of the family. If these creatures are worthless, why did God make us to love them so? We seem built for it.
The mayor's a Democrat, so there's a limit to the terms of my admiration, but he reacted at once and did the right thing when it needed doing.
I wish I could tell you the terrier's fate, but as of now I still haven't heard. His lady owner had said in the vet's office she'd stop by later to give me a progress report. It hasn't happened yet. Maybe there was surgery, maybe she's at home nursing him and can't get away. Or maybe he died. I'll let you know when I find out. Like a sap, I said a brief prayer for him last night while wondering if an animal's suffering is worth anything in this world. I suppose not, but neither do I know.
Anyway, life's resettled in its normal surface. I'm at the computer again, scribbling in notebooks, reading articles and books. Just finished a novel a friend in Georgia sent me, set shortly into the future and a time when, as he puts it, "the government's gone Darwin." He's quite a craftsman, and I hope soon to tell you more about him.
I think today I might even grade some papers.