Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Catch in the Park

It had been a quiet night with hardly any noise except the sound of the world getting ready to snow, the last of the leaves seeming to vibrate under the delicate touch of a snow so fine it's not even visible, except as a half-imagined mist. I put on my heavy blue coat, the one with the drawstring hood, and we'd walked without incident around the baseball quads, up through the playground and past the Owl Tree, finally landing on the edge of the skatepark. The temperature had dropped sharply earlier in the afternoon and the sky had clouded over, tinging the world in the orange haze of the street lamps, which wore halos in the sudden frigid humidity. It seemed darker than usual and as we came over the hill, I had to squint into the lights on Bowles to see. The park was completely empty and I'd dropped the leash so Duncan could trot freely at my side while we walked.

It was here that Duncan made his catch.

It was the first time we had the skate park all to ourselves. It seems there's always at least one kid there, like they've assigned shifts or something to some thuggish looking brute of a twelve year old who smokes and who on more than one occasion has asked me to buy him beer. Normally the skate park is packed, with all shapes and sizes of teenagers–most of them androgynous in their baggy clothes–or the younger kids whose parents have driven them over and are sitting on the perimeter watching and trying to ignore the swearing, groping and making out which goes on all around. It's not my favorite place to walk (I always feel old and square–do people even still say "square?") but when I saw it abandoned tonight I thought it would be fun to play in the maze-like flow of sunken concrete.

Duncan followed me to the edge and we got our first look. The entire thing sits on the edge of a hill overlooking one of the long double soccer fields and is submerged fifteen feet or so. It rises and falls in smooth waves and has built-in railings to ride, along with steps and every other manner of object a young skater could hope to vandalize in any regular parking lot or open space. I tossed Duncan his ball and stepped after him into the pit. His nails scratched across the concrete as he scrambled down one side and slid halfway up the next. We explored and played for several minutes, until Duncan finally became bored and grew curious near the grass at the far lip of one of the halfpipes.

I watched him sniff for a moment, the ball dropping from his mouth and rolling down near where I stood. As I reached for it and looked back up I saw his sniffing had become more frantic and Dunc was circling back and forth, big clouds of his breath rising up before him. Oh no, I thought, rushing up the side to grab at his leash before something darted away, taking my excited dog with it. Just as I reached the lip, my hand grabbing for the leash, I saw him lunge at the grass, snatch something up in his jaws and shake his head powerfully from side to side.

"Duncan," I cried, leaping forward, catching him by the collar.

It was as though he was something else, something not my dog at all, something operating completely on instinct. His head shook back and forth and this strange growl came from deep down in his chest.

And then I saw it. It was pale, with two long, unmoving limbs that looked like bones swaying loosely , or perhaps limp pale ears coming down from a darker, hairy body. It's already dead, I thought, Nothing alive hangs so limp. And then I remembered the story earlier in the summer of the discovery of Bubonic Plague in several squirrels and rabbits around the metro area, including Littleton. We'd been at The Breakers when the story broke and only a few days later Duncan and I had stumbled across a dead squirrel in the grass outside one of the apartment buildings. Duncan had nudged the thing and when it didn't move he'd looked up at me forlornly, as if confused about why it didn't want to play and scamper up the nearest tree. I'd pulled him away, concerned he'd come into contact with the fleas. For days, even after the squirrel had been removed, he'd sniffed at the spot, always looking at me from under those expressive eyebrows as though he needed an explanation. All this flashed through my mind in the blink of an eye

"Duncan," I yelled, lowering my voice to what I imagined was a suitable disapproving alpha male tone. "Drop it!" When he didn't and shook the thing even harder I made the demand again, imagining a repeat of last year, but instead of 500 feet of swallowed yarn it would be an expensive treatment for The Plague, the pandemic which reduced the world's population by one third in only four years. The Black Death, sleeping in my bed, cuddling on the couch.

Before I knew what I was doing, I was reached toward him, clamped my fingers into the place where his jaws come together and using his lips, pried his mouth open. With my other hand I grasped at the rabbit, my stomach tightening as my mouth filled with saliva. My hand curled around what I thought was a limp and dangling ear and as I grasped it I thought It's so smooth. And cold. Duncan dropped it as I pulled it free, and as I prepared to fling it aside I caught a glimpse of thick dark hair pulled back in... a ponytail?... and a small body covered in... what was that, a mini skirt?

Duncan sat down on the edge of the concrete, his tongue hanging out of his mouth watching me gag down my revulsion at holding the mangled and disease-ridden body of Jade, a Bratz™ Princess doll. His tail thumped twice and he almost seemed to smile.

1 comment:

Ruth said...

You gave it back to him, right?