It is a small terrier, as near as I can place the type, and being walked on one of those extending leads where the owner can let it roam ahead in great arcs of sniffing and peeing. The couple with the dog are elderly, she using a stick and he keeping a matched slow pace, not out of caring attachment but because of his own lack of speed. The pet’s wandering is essentially random and free, the lead proving no more than an illusion of control.
That is evident when the mutt tries a bite as our paths cross, me overtaking the sluggishness of the couple’s strolling and the dog moving over from its lengthy slack.
‘Oh, I don’t know why he did that,’ she bursts out after me, the excuse of this being an abnormal action rather than an unreserved apology getting on my nerves immediately.
‘Bad dog,’ the man mumbles, seemingly unable to reel the pooch back in, a mechanism of the lead having lost whatever taut coiled spring is meant to oversee its existential distances.
I stop and wait for them to catch up. The dog is now sticking his nose into the grass on the other side of the path, its small mongrel’s aggression already subsided, or just forgotten.
‘I get this a lot,’ I say. ‘And I don’t know why,’ not angrily, but annoyed. Upset even.
‘But’s in not like our Charlie to do that,’ the lady tells me, unconvincingly.
‘There’s a woman who lived up the lane from me whose dog used to attack whenever I was out walking there. It was a Jack Russell and old and always came snarling and snapping at me.’
I don’t mention she also had a useless, variable lead or the fact she ushered her pet alongside a mobility scooter. If I did that, I’d have to add how she would gingerly step out to pick the mad thing up if it was becoming too aggressive, and this increased my disgust.
‘She’s moved away but I’ve not recovered from it. I’ve always loved dogs but that experience of meeting her nasty one a few times has got to me. I’m cautious now. Maybe also a little scared.’
‘Oh Charlie isn’t mean or aggressive,’ the woman says.
I give her a look of incredulity rather than trying to explain. The couple’s dog now saunters back over to me, tail wagging.
‘You see?’ the man asks.
‘He’s come over to say hello and sorry for being grumpy,’ the woman drools.
I bend down slowly, not entirely giving up on dogs. I raise my hand gradually, carefully, and then move it over the now friendly head, resting my thumb and a single finger behind each ear to massage gently in the way my border collie from years ago found soothing and comforting.
The man and woman look on smiling and appeased; comfortable as well.
The dog yelps – squeals, in fact – and snaps at me, but I have moved my hand quickly and am already striding away. I hear it snarling and the man snapping too,
‘Bad dog, bad dog.’
I think it is the woman who calls after me,
‘We are sorry. He never normally acts like that,’ I just catch her saying, but I am quickly beyond any clarity.
Whilst I don’t play all that much these days, the guitar fingernails are still long on my petting hand, and I stuck the index one hard and quick into the soft spot behind the dog’s right ear.
We can all be little shits at any point in any day, wandering out in our individual arcs of random give and take.