When the Pocket Collapses
Words by Jason Roemer Illustration by David Huyck
By the time Alex realized the ball the neighbor dogs were playing with was not a ball at all but Mr. Singh’s toy poodle Tiddlewinx, it was too late. The dogs had already popped Tiddlewinx’s head free from his body and were gnawing at his matted skull. Alex froze, failing to notice the glistening trail that ran like a rope up the busted sidewalk to Mr. Singh’s house. The dogs had dragged poor Tiddlewinx half way down the block to the tall grass of their yard and settled under one of the neighborhood’s last remaining Elm trees to finish the job. This is why he shouldn’t come home from work early, Alex thought. Ever.
Studying the flower bed that had gone to seed, Alex concentrated on his breathing; flat, lifeless breaths that stretched out over the yard and made him feel small. After a few long moments, the sounds of the neighborhood slowed down till they were indistinguishable from the throbbing of blood that beat through his veins.
In a split second the scene snapped into focus: Mr. Singh running screaming down the street in his cover-alls; several neighbor ladies opening their front doors to see what was the matter; and those two dogs rolling that ball around with their long brown paws. All down the block, people emerged from their front doors, mostly housewives, moms and kids of all shapes and sizes. The late afternoon sky was still a hazy blue as sunlight filtered through crispy orange leaves and the neighborhood glowed like a magical kingdom from some old fantastic book.
Mr. Singh ran towards Alex and the yard where the dogs had ripped his dear friend apart. “Bastards!” he yelled. “You evil fucking bastards!” Several by-standers cried out to Mr. Singh from their porches, yelling at him to stay back for Christ’s sake, but it was no use. He continued down the street speaking in broken, half Pakistani, half English phrases bent on exacting some kind of ancient revenge.
The neighborlady Mrs. Carner snatched up her youngest and held his face close to her chest as soon as she realized what the fuss was all about. Alex motioned with his hand for them to come over, though the gesture was completely lost on her and she turned and disappeared into her house with a snap of the screen door.
Ordinarily, Alex would have risen to this sort of occasion. He’d have some answers, knowing exactly what needed doing. Instead, he couldn’t help feeling nothing. The world rushed past him and there was nothing to do but watch it go by in all its brilliant colors. Even this, Alex thought, was out of control, nothing to do but watch.
Despite what he’d been told by family and friends in recent months, he understood that for the most part, there was nothing to be learned from the things that caused so much pain. Just put a little something away for yourself and move on. Take this dog for example, he thought. What was to be extrapolated from Tiddlewinx’s loose furry face? Wasn’t this the way the world worked? That’s just the way it goes.
Tough shit, dog.
Suddenly aware of the bulging file folder under his arm, Alex ducked into the house to stow his work under the staircase, then returned to the porch. The street had filled up with squad cars and a van with two men who were both white and wore blue baseball caps with an embroidered gold insignia. The van itself was long and bright like some cosmic tampon and outfitted with several doors and compartments that were accessible from the outside. Mrs. Carner must have called Animal Control, Alex assumed.
Still more sirens could be heard echoing down the tree-lined corridors until they were everywhere at once, a constant stream of sound swirling in the wind. Without thinking too much about it, Alex shifted his weight onto his left foot and let one rip — a real whopper that caused him to crack a smile. The Carner boy turned to look at him from the next door porch. Alex winked and waved at the kid, then re-fixed his gaze on the men in the white van readying themselves for the task at hand.
One of the officers looked to be a bodybuilder, with sleeves rolled up tight revealing his substantial girth, while the other officer was much squattier, with softer arms that were covered all the way down to his elbow. Together, they donned helmets and armed themselves with two long and robust metal poles that had a noose on either end. The men looked a little silly and out of place. This was a neighborhood after all. Children played football and street hockey where these armed men now stood.
As the officers scurried through several of the compartments, making a few last minute adjustments, and several announcements about standing back and giving them room, their badges flashed with sunlight. Alex scanned the scene for Mr. Singh, thinking he may have thrown himself in harm’s way. He was relieved to spot him up the street a few houses sitting in the back seat of a squad car where a red-headed policewoman was trying to calm him down.
The van partially obscured Alex’s view of the two dogs, so he walked to the edge of his porch where he could see past the hood. Alex and his wife used to have a white Chevy just like it. They’d inherited it from her parents who’d called it a conversion van. Alex jokingly referred to it as the Albino Sex Machine. He and his wife had once taken it all the way to Florida and camped in it for an entire week where it rained cats and dogs, though he wasn’t thinking about that now.
Instead, he watched the officers perform their well-choreographed moves and admired their technique and steeliness in the face of such danger. Having secured the area, the taller, more muscular officer worked the scene methodically, being careful to mimic the squattier officer step for step. Each man moved to the opposite side of the yard, keeping the dogs equidistant from the other. You could hear them talking gently, hypnotically, as they extended their nooses. Sensing the sudden change in pressure, the dogs stopped their gnawing and began to rear up on their haunches.
Without hesitating, the two officers lunged and snatched the dogs by their thick necks. Like that they were on the line and kicking ferociously, unfurling a barrage of corrosive barks and growls the likes of which Alex had never heard before. In fact, the whole neighborhood could hear them, because except for the hostile canine strains, the street had become as quiet as a frozen lake.
With little effort, the men hoisted the dogs into the back of the van one by one. Only Tiddlewinx still remained in the yard, and it was all the red-headed policewoman could do to keep Mr. Singh away.
Still hanging off the edge of his porch, Alex was struck with an urge to sit down. It was as if the sky had clouded over, then cleared up again and the dog men were not men at all, rather tiny bushes, and the van in the street melted away into a puddle of cool blue water. And for that brief moment in time, he was enchanted by his own failures. Through half-opened eyes, Alex could almost see to the other side of the block, where the houses got a little bigger and he watched as the world gave a little and began to bend around him for a change. And for the time being, it didn’t seem that bad. Not that bad at all.
Illustration by David Huyck
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