I could hear the growling before I saw the dog. My children and I were taking a walk in a grove of trees, the space between the thick, straight trunks choked with blackberry brambles and other undergrowth; a green island in a suburban sea. My wife was preparing dinner and needed quiet time. I had finished a day’s work and needed to be outside. A perfect marriage.
The brown face of the dog appeared soon after I first heard him, a large brute as high as my youngest was tall, with curly hair, a throaty snarl and a mouthful of very large teeth. It seemed as if I could count every one of them too, as he raced towards us.
I was never brave, and had run from fights when I was young. When combat was unavoidable I would simply lose the experience of time and memory, and awaken at the end of it all either victorious or beaten. Courageous was an adjective used to describe others. But here there was nowhere to hide. It was the dog against my children and me.
We were evenly matched; the dog with his teeth and claws and me with my own. Pulling my children behind me I crouched, snarling and baring my own teeth, and prepared to meet the dog’s challenge. A second before impact the dog’s owner appeared from behind the undergrowth, ashen-faced and breathing heavy. She called her dog, which had been obviously confused by my dog-like response, and the beast stopped and returned to her. The leash that should have been there all along was quickly applied to the dog and the two moved off down the path.
We returned home to dinner. The kids quickly forgot the incident, as kids do. I uttered a prayer of thanks that night that I wasn’t somebody else’s dinner that day.