“Sennenhund” by Myfanwy Collins

I made the mistake of asking if his dog was a mutt, but he informed me that no, his dog was not a mutt. His dog was an Entlebucher Mountain Dog.

Do you know the Bernease Mountain Dogs? he asked.

Yes. He sort of looks like one. I bent and tried to pet the dog, but it backed away, growling.

Exactly, he said. He’s the smallest of the Sennenhunds. The Bernease is the largest.

The moon was out, my hot breath visible. I was shoveling out the mailbox when he stopped. Actually, he was pleasant, this man, and I knew the dog well. Had yelled at it, in fact, many times when it chased me as I went on my run. I bent to pet the dog, pretending that I was nice and not the woman who shrieked at him and his wife when their dog growled at me in the street. The dog shrunk away from my hand, unsure.

It’s my first dog, the man said.

No dogs as a child? I said and leaned against my shovel.

My mother had a bad experience, he said and did not elaborate. I pictured her backing away from dogs as they walked along the sidewalk. I saw her calling to him from the house, stay away from that dog. She was scared.

I knew about being scared. When I was a child we’d had a neighbor who had a phobia of dolls. We girls were under strict instruction not to bring our dolls out when Geeta was over for coffee.

In the basement, we would dare each other to walk through the room where Geeta was with a doll in our hands. The cruelty of children circles around humor.

I was always the chosen one. The youngest, I was also the least full of guile. Mostly, I was excited by the task. I wanted to see what would happen. So I did it.

I brought a doll into the living room during a party. Geeta backed up into the couch cushions, clutching at her husband’s arm, turning away. I felt the power of my presence. Another time, I brought a doll up the stairs from the basement while she visited with my mother in the kitchen. Geeta stood when she saw me and backed up to the door, her hand scrabbling for the handle.

My oldest sister had a nun doll. I kept it in the top of my closet and only dared touch it when I felt the world was most in order. I liked to lift up the heavy black fabric and see the smooth pink skin beneath. I would look into its glass eyes and imagine what Geeta would do if she saw it.

One of my sisters told us she’d learned why Geeta was afraid. There had been a fire in her house when she was a child and she had been trapped in her closet with her dolls, waiting for someone to find and save her.

I liked to pretend I was Geeta. I sat in my closet with the nun doll and pulled closed the door.  I waited for the fire. The warmth. The doll’s eyes lighting from within. The light coming to greet me.

I knelt down to the dog’s level and he maneuvered himself behind his master’s legs.

He’s skittish, the man said. I saw that the dog was scared. He would not hurt me.

It’s okay, I said. I won’t hurt you.

The man lifted his skittish dog up to me so that I might pet it. I took off my glove and felt its fur, soft as a puppy. The dog’s eyes searched for mine. I saw his fear aching away then, melting in our hot breath. He knew me now.

I wanted to tell the man about the dog that chased me when I was a child. A German shepherd owned by a childless Iranian couple. I often saw them through the cracks in their tall hedges, he sitting in a lawn chair smoking while she worked on the garden. In anticipation of the dog, I would start to run at the sign at the top of the street: Stop. The dog circled behind me, following but not fast enough to catch me.

The man put his dog down and it looked up at him, waiting for direction. I readied my shovel. The man smiled and said goodbye and they walked away, leaving me to study the prints they’d left.

I never looked into the face of the dog that chased me in my childhood. I kept my fear closed up and hidden. Had I looked, I might have seen that he was trying to make sure I made it home safely. Not a lamb to his wolf, I was a part of the flock.

More fiction at Used Furniture.

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Comments

  1. Gorgeous story. Love this: The cruelty of children circle around humor.

  2. What a beautiful story. Thank you!

  3. Kathy Fish says:

    Such a quietly powerful story and a perfect ending.

  4. Really good story!

  5. What a great story. When I was younger I was chased by a dog as well. I could really relate to the experience.

  6. Loved this story! Congrats to you and UFR both.

  7. Paul Lisicky says:

    “Not a lamb to his wolf…” I love this story, Myfanwy. The wonderful chain of associations, all the ways it travels outward and backward and comes back into the present. Thank you writing for it.

  8. Paula Schonauer says:

    I enjoyed this story, the image of Geeta hiding in the closet, surrounded by dolls. Chilling…

  9. Gosh! Thank you all ever so much for your generosity and kindness!

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