SOMETIMES WHEN ALLAN STONNIER DROVE OUT AND the dogs were there, he revved up and aimed. He had an agreement with them that no matter how disdainfully they stood their ground, they would at the last moment lurch out of range if he went no more than a certain speed. The time he brushed McCoors’s brown dog he felt bad about it, but the dog hadn’t cooperated. The dog was too cocky. Stonnier had nothing against it. How could a man have anything against a dog? After that, when he revved up he was ready to brake, fast.
McCoors was coming through his woodlot and saw Stonnier drive at the dogs. He said, “If you ever hit one of my dogs, I’ll break your fucking head.”
“I wouldn’t hit your dogs. I just want to scare them, keep your dogs off my property. You have land.”
“I’ll break your fucking head.”
“I’ll be where you can find me.”
That was a long time ago, when you could still talk to people about their dogs.
This morning Stonnier was out early, and running. It was a typical Cape Cod spring, more evident on calendars from the hardware store than on the land. A dry northeaster thrashed the roadside picket of unleafed oak, cherry, and locust. A patch of melting snow, sprawled like a dirty old sheep dog on the lee side of a downed pine, drained toward the dozer cut that had made Stonnier’s lane forty years ago. Stonnier’s running shoes threw wet sand from the runnels. He took in all the air his chest would hold; he had been a runner since making the mile relay team at Nauset Regional, and had known ever since that even when the air was foul you had to fill up.
The air held the thaw of dog shit banked over the winter by neighbor dogs on his paths and driveway lane, in his mown field and kitchen garden—butts and drools and knobs, clumped grains and hamburgers, indistinguishable except in shape from their previous incarnation in bags and cans. Stonnier couldn’t see how a dog took any nourishment from such food. It looked the same coming as going. No wonder they used so much. From time to time deposits were withdrawn on Stonnier’s rakes and shoes, were wheeled into the garage on the tires of his Ford hatchback. Verna’s gloves gathered the stuff in the seagrass mulch on the asparagus. He would have been better off to have set out a little later, when the sun was high enough to define the footing better.
He looked as if he had seventy or so disciplined years on him; he was a man of medium height, bony, with a cleaving profile—a fisherman before he had the stake to buy The Fish & Chips. He loped along the lane evasively, like a football player training on a course of automobile tires.
When it still was possible to speak to people about their dogs, Verna had said, “You could talk to him. He probably doesn’t realize what his dogs do when he isn’t looking.”
But why not? He knew the dogs ran all day while he and his wife were away in their store. What did he think the dogs did with what had been put in them when they were turned out in the morning?
McCoors said, “I don’t think my dogs did it.” He said he would keep an eye on them. He tied them. They barked. They barked from eight o’clock, when he left, to six, when he came home and let them run until dark. Stonnier skipped a stone at them a couple of times, to let them know he didn’t want them near his house. They stayed beyond the turn in the driveway so he wouldn’t see them.
Stonnier encountered McCoors one day when they both were looking for their property bounds. Stonnier mentioned that the dogs barked all day and McCoors might not know it because he was away.
McCoors said. “If you tie up dogs, they bark.” He tied them up to please Stonnier. Now Stonnier was complaining again. McCoors broke off the conversation and walked away. McCoors had a tough body, and eyes that quickly turned mean.
Stonnier told Verna that the man reminded him of a prison guard. “I guess there are all-kinds-of-looking prison guards, but McCoors is what I think of. That’s nothing against prison guards.” Stonnier always tried to be fair.
Deakler, another two-dog man, bought the place on the other side of the hill. His dogs came over to find out about McCoors’s dogs at the same time McCoors’s dogs came over to investigate the new neighbors. They met on Stonnier’s driveway where it joined the Association lane, smelled each other, peed on the young azaleas Stonnier had raised from cuttings in tin cans, and agreed to meet there each day when their food was sufficiently digested. Wahlerson’s half chow and Paul’s black Newfie heard about the club and came up the Association lane to join.
Stonnier spoke to Deakler.
Deakler was an affable man who had been the sales vice-president of a generator-reconditioning company and knew how to get along while not giving in. “Well, you know how it is with dogs. You don’t want to keep a dog tied up all the time. That’s why we moved out here.”
“I shouldn’t have to take care of other people’s dog dirt.”
“Shoo them off if they bother you. Do them good.”
“They scare my granddaughter when she visits. They charge.”
“They never bit anybody. People have dogs. She should get used to them.”
“That’s up to her, if she wants to get used to dogs charging and growling at her. I had dogs. I like dogs. I have nothing against your dogs. They should stay on their own property. Is that a communist idea?”
Deakler looked at him speculatively, as if it might be.
“I don’t like to quarrel with neighbors,” Stonnier said. “We’ll have to see. There’s a leash law. I don’t like to be talking law.”
Stonnier already knew from the small-animal officer that if you couldn’t keep a dog off your property, you had to catch it before you called for somebody to take it away.
“You don’t have to catch your own bank robbers,” Stonnier had said.
The SAO had cut him down. “That’s how the town wants it—don’t talk to me.”
“Laws are one thing,” Deakler said. “This is all Association property. Private property. You don’t have to leash your dog if it’s on private property.”
Deakler told him something he hadn’t thought about. The leash law didn’t even apply to members of the Association, because the Association was made up of private properties, including the beach and the roads that all the private-property owners owned in common.
“That’s why I came out here,” Deakler said. “It isn’t all closed in, like it is in town.”
STONNIER BROUGHT IT UP AT THE ASSOCIATION MEETing in July. Oh, that was twenty-four years ago—how time flies. He remembered getting up to speak to the others on Giusti’s patio. He had not in his lifetime before—or later—often spoken in meetings of that size. He thought he could remember every time. Three times at town meeting—about the algae on the pond and the proposed parking ordinance and the newspaper not printing what the Otter River Bank was doing on mortgages—and at the Board of Trade, about extending town water to the new subdivisions. Subjects that affected him. His house. His business. That’s how the world worked. You spoke for yourself, and if you made sense, others voted with you even when that went a little against their own interests. That’s how he always voted. He didn’t sign petitions for things like the new children’s park, but he voted for the park. The Taxpayers’ Association said the park would put points on the tax bill. That was all right—it still made sense that the kids have a place with a fence around it, where dogs couldn’t get in. That was what he would want for his own grandchildren if they lived in town. A few years back he would have asked, “Why don’t they fence in the dogs, and let the kids run?” but you couldn’t ask anything like that anymore.
Mostly he jogged these days. He paced an easy 120, waiting for his body to tell him how hard he could run. It wasn’t his heart, it was his back: were the tendons and nerves lined up so that the jolt passed through like smoke and went off into the air, or would it jam somewhere on his hip or fourth vertebra? He told Verna, “He says it’s in the vertebra, but that’s not where I feel it.” They knew all about hearts, but they didn’t know anything about backs except to rest them. They told his father and his grandfather the same thing. He felt secure, and let out to 130.
He had thought his statement—that he had nothing against dogs but that the town leash law ought to prevail in the Association—would appeal to reasonable people. The dogs tramped down the lettuce, shat so that you couldn’t trust where to walk after dark, chased cars, growled at strangers. He didn’t say “shat,” he said “did their business.” Somebody said, “They doo-doo on your Brooks Brothers shoes,” a reference to a man who at that time was running for President of the USA, and everybody laughed except Morrison and Dannels, who were large contributors to the candidate’s committee. Halfway along into the laughter Stonnier caught on and joined to show his fellowship, although he sensed that the joke took the edge off the seriousness of his argument.
He had expected David Haseley would say something. Haseley had several times mentioned to him—or agreed with him—that the dogs were out of hand. As a retired high officer of a very large business in Cleveland, Haseley was usually taken seriously, but he chose not to speak to the motion. Only Larry Henry’s widow, Marcia, spoke for it. Verna had been good to Marcia, shopped for her, looked in on her when she was laid up.
Sensing the anger of their neighbors, who spoke of liberties being taken from people everywhere, and now this, the summer people kept quiet or voted with the dog people. The ayes lacked the assertive spine of the nays. Stonnier thought that most members hadn’t voted and that a written ballot might have turned out better. Bur that didn’t seem to be the way to press an issue among neighbors.
In a spirit of good will members unanimously supported a resolution that people were responsible for their own dogs. It did not specify how the responsibility should be manifested.
After the meeting Stonnier said to Haseley that he had thought more people would support the leash law. Haseley nodded in the meditative, prudential manner that had earned him his good name and said, “Yes, that’s so.” He might have meant “I agree with you, that’s what you thought.” People didn’t use words like they used to. “Speak up and say as best you can what you mean, so people know what’s in your mind,” Stonnier’s mother had said to him. Now you had to be sure you asked the right question, or you might not find out what they really thought.
Stonnier hadn’t pressed Haseley, toward whom he felt diffident not only because of his bearing but also because the older man was of the management class—as were all the others in the Association but himself. They were vicepresidents, deans, professors, accountants, lawyers; immigrants from Providence, Amherst, Ohio, Pennsylvania; taxed, many of them, in Florida, which the Stonniers had visited in their camper but had not been taken by sufficiently to give it six months and a day every year. The others had all gone beyond high school.
“I still don’t know how he voted,” he said to Verna.
Allan and Verna Stonnier were second-generation Cape Cod, the only native-born in the West Bay Association, the first to raise children there and see them bused to school in Orleans and then go out on their own. Allan had done well with The Fish & Chips—better than such a modest-looking enterprise had implied—but he remained somewhat apart from the others. His three-acre parcel on the waterfront had cost under three thousand dollars, but that was when you had to bounce a half mile in a rut to get out there. After the fire at The Fish & Chips, ten years ago, a real-estate woman who called about buying the lot asked about the house, too. She had a customer she thought would pay more than a million dollars for it if Allan would consider selling. They thought he would sell his house and get out, but nothing could make him move after the fire. He was so set that Verna had to make it half a joke when she said that with a million dollars and the insurance from the fire they could live anywhere they wanted. By now the house might be worth two million, the way prices were. He knew it as well as she did, and if he wanted to talk about it, he would say so. “It’s the whole country,” he said. “Everywhere. You might as well deal with it where you are.” A million dollars after tax wasn’t all that much anymore anyhow.
McCoors’s two dogs came out to yap at him. He said, “Yah,” and raised his elbow, and they shut up and backed off while he padded on toward the wider, graveled lane that looped through the fifty-three properties in the West Bay Association and carried their owners’ cars to the blacktop and town.
Shoeman’s black-and-white sort-of spitz bitch met him there and trotted with him companionably. Stonnier considered her a friend. Some mornings she stayed with him past three or four properties, but this morning the collie next door came out and growled and she stopped at the line. “Yah,” Stonnier growled back at the collie; he raised his elbow and jogged on.
AFTER ONE SPRING THAW STONNIER DUG A PIT NEAR the line close to McCoors’s driveway. McCoors was quick to defend the integrity of his property. He had taken his neighbor on the other side to court in a rightof-way dispute. McCoors asked Stonnier what he was doing. He was going to bury dog shit.
“You don’t have to do that here,” McCoors said.
“It’s your dogs’,” Stonnier said.
That afternoon a man from the Board of Health drove up to the house. Allan was down at The Fish & Chips, watching some workmen shingle a new roof. The man told Verna that burying garbage was against the law. He told her about the hazard to the groundwater supply. He said the fine could be fifty dollars a day as long as the nuisance continued unabated. He left a red notice. This unsettled Verna, because she had always thought ways could be found to work things out.
Allan went to the board and said they were off base. A human being had to get a porcelain bowl and running water and an expensive piping system to get rid of his waste, but a dog could leave it anywhere. Their ruling was off base. The health officer said he didn’t write the laws, he enforced them, and Allan better close the pit and not open another one. The newspaper carried a story under the headline “PRIVATE DUMP OWNER THREATENED WITH FINE.” Stonnier thought it gave the idea that he was trying to get away with something.
He wrote a letter to the editor. Melvin Brate didn’t print it. Stonnier thought that Brate was still peeved about a letter he had written earlier, saying that the Otter River Bank was using small type to sneak foreclosures over on people, trying to get out of old, low interest rates into the new crazy rates. Stonnier knew about that because they had done it to his cousin. In his letter to the editor Stonnier gave the names of the man who ran the bank and the men who were on its investment committee and said that was no way for neighbors to act when they had signed their names to a contract. The bank was the biggest advertiser in the paper, so naturally Melvin Brate didn’t print the letter. Allan got up at town meeting in non-agenda time and read his bank letter to the voters to let them know what was going on. This was the first time he had ever gotten to his feet to talk to more than a thousand people, and it was no harder than holding your hand in a fire.
Melvin Brate sat with his arms folded and looked hard at the floor while Allan spoke about his newspaper’s not saying anything about what the bank was doing. Just that day Brate had published an editorial titled “Your Free Press: Bastion of Liberty,” which he counted on for an award from the League of Weekly Publishers, and here was this fried-clam peddler carrying on. It wasn’t surprising that Brate didn’t print the dog-shit letter either, even though Stonnier called the stuff “scat.”
Verna was secretly glad that the letter wasn’t published. She thought a way could be found to deal with the problem so that dog owners wouldn’t get upset and people wouldn’t look at her sideways and stop going to The Fish & Chips. She knew that speaking to Allan was useless unless she could say it in another way, and she couldn’t think of any. He had been such a usual man when she married him, and people were getting the idea he was an oddball. She couldn’t clearly see why that was, because he had a right to complain about the dogs; nevertheless, he ought to do it a different way for his own sake, and not write to the paper or take it up at town meeting. It irritated people.
ONE DAY STONNIER COUNTED EIGHTEEN DOGS AT the juncture of his land and the Association lane.
The Association lane went into the blacktop that wound and rolled toward the town. The houses on either side were on the required acreage and fully suited to their purposes. Once home to cranberry farmers, fuel dealers, printers, boat builders, lobstermen—Stonnier knew the names that went with the oldest properties—they had been bid away in the sixties and seventies by retirement and stock-market bankrolls at stiff prices. The new owners had the means to dormer up and lay on wings and garages. On some properties two and three houses stood where before there had been a single low shingle house, a big garden, and woods. The newcomers followed the traditional styles of the Chatham Road, rendered for art shows on the high school green—saltboxes, houses-and-a-half, Greek revival, all well shrubbed and fenced. One ghost of gnawed and mossy shingles had withstood all tenders to purchase and a siege of trumpet vines, rampant lilacs, and fattening cedars intent on taking it down.
Only the jolly French house looked as though it ought to have been in the old town, along with other houses of the style built by managers of the company that had laid the telephone cable to France; indeed, it had been trucked from town in the deal with the architectural commission that had licensed the Cable Station Motel to be built. To Stonnier, the French house’s journey down the Chatham Road at two miles an hour, with outriders from the telephone company and the electric company and the police, was the most memorable event since the passage of the great glacier, which he had not witnessed. Had he not come into money so late, this would have been the house Stonnier built for his family. The French house sat square on the ground and knew how to shed water off its hat. It looked like a toby jug; it was gold and blue, its cornice was striped with purple, and the door was gunpowder red.
“It’s different,” he said to Verna, who thought it was a rather queer house that would fit in better if it were white. “You just like things one way or another,” he said. He liked the moment of coming out on the blacktop around the corner from West Bay and finding himself two weeks further into spring, jogging by the French house with the long hedge of breaking forsythia skirted with daffodils and crocuses. The air here stank too. Some of it was spring rot coming out of ground. Most of it was dog.
Ahead on the long straight stretch Gordon’s basset (that dog must be a hundred years old), carrying his skin like a soaked blanket, turned and turned in the middle of the road, trying to find a way to let his rear end down and create the right precedent for the rest of him. He slept there every morning for an hour or two, unless the snow was a foot deep. Regular drivers knew to watch for him, and the Lord protected Sam the basset against everybody else. That dog was going to get it one day. The driver who did it better have a good head start and not ask around whose dog it was so that he could tell them he was sorry but he had passed another car and there the dog was, in the middle of the road, and he had done his best to avoid him, he was sorry, he knew what it was to lose a dog, he had two himself, don’t shoot, please don’t shoot. You couldn’t know anymore what to expect if there was a dog in it. Juries looked at those dog people out there. If you ran for sheriff, you took questions at public meetings and the dog people heard your answers. Senators wanted some of that dog-PAC money, especially because the dog-PAC people said that what they were really interested in wasn’t dogs but good government. If a dog question was coming up at town meeting, you saw people voting you never saw anywhere else. They went home after voting on dogs, and left the rest to find a quorum for the payroll and potholes.
Allan Stonnier was the only human being afoot on the Chatham Road. His red sweatshirt was well known at this hour. Most of the sparse traffic was pickups, with elbows crooked out the windows, wheels crunching and kicking up cans, wrappers, cups, laid down by the pickups that had gone that way earlier, tools and dogs riding behind. He saw Dexter Reddick’s green pickup, with the sunburst on the radiator. Without being too obvious, Stonnier adjusted course to the edge of the road. He couldn’t be absolutely sure Reddick wouldn’t take a swerve at him for the hell of it. He prepared to break from the shoulder for the grass slope. Reddick went by with angry eyes, threw up a finger. Reflexively, Stonnier gave it back. He heard the pickup brake hard behind him and push hard in reverse as it came back. He kept going. Reddick passed, got twenty feet beyond, and put his head out the window.
“What did I see you do?”
“The same as you.” By then he was past the truck, and Reddick had to grind back again to talk to him.
“Let me see you do that again, you fuckhead. You old fart. You can’t get it up. You firebug. I’ll burn your ass.” Stonnier kept going. Barricaded behind shovels, rakes, and lawnmowers, Reddick’s Labs yammered and spittled at him. Reddick jack-started a groove in the blacktop and went on his way. Stonnier decided to take the side road that went toward the dump.
Pilliard’s pack of huskies, brought back from Alaska last year, saw him coming and started their manic racket. Pilliard had one-upped everybody at the Landing Bar with that one. Jesus, twelve huskies, did you ever see such dogs? You could hide your arm in the fur. The strut and drive of those legs. They had Chinese faces as if they were people. Those people fucked their dogs. Pilliard had them in the cyclone-fenced stockade he had put up to hold his cords when he was in the stovewood business. Ten feet high, and ground area about as big as any factory you would find in a place like Cape Cod—lots of room even for twelve huskies.
Pilliard’s idea was to take them to fairs and show them, for a good price, pulling a sled he’d fitted with siliconed nylon runners that slipped over turf. Take your picture with a real team of Eskimo huskies. Children’s birthday parties. Beats ponies all hollow. Fourth of July parades. He brought Santa Claus to the Mall. Altogether, the bookings amounted to only a dozen brief outings all year. The dogs were used to doing miles of work in cold weather. In the stockade they hung around. At night they could be heard barking for hours for their own reasons, and the sound carried to West Bay.
Verna thought Allan must be running on the dump road, because he would be there about now, and there went Pilliard’s huskies. They didn’t often see people go by on foot. They acknowledged pedestrians and slow drivers by lunging at the fence, climbing, piling on, snarling, yelping powerfully. Allan had driven her by, and slowed the car so she could hear it up close. It scared her. It was more like mad screaming than barking, all of them exciting each other. Some things Verna wished Allan wouldn’t do, and one of them was to run past Pilliard’s huskies.
“Run someplace else,” Pilliard said. “You don’t like dogs and they know it, and they don’t like you, so why don’t you run someplace else.”
What was the use explaining to a man who already knew it that Stonnier was running on a public road, and he was there before the dogs anyhow. And even if he wasn’t . . .
Stonnier left them yelping, went over the crest of the rise and around the next corner, running, feeling good, well sweated as he went toward halfway. It was the dumb part of the route, the mall and the file of flat-roofed taxpayers and show-windowed front porches of old downtown; service stations, eating places, clothes shops, music stores, cleaners, laundries, drugstores elbowing to be seen along the old bypassed highway number.
He could have gone around by the marsh road and avoided town, but one thing could be said for Main Street. It smelled better than anywhere else. Better than West Bay behind the dunes, where the ocean lost its innocence; better than the Chatham Road and all the lived-on lanes and roads from the bridge to Province Lands. He had never thought he’d live to see the day when downtown smelled better than the countryside. If a stray wandered into the mall, the small-animal officer showed up fast and snared him into the cage mounted on his police wagon. The merchants saw to it. You couldn’t let a leashed dog step onto one of those neat rectangles of shrubbery if you didn’t want a ticket. If a dog hunched to empty out, you had to drag him to the library lawn. Even the dog people understood the deal. You left the merchants alone, they left you alone.
Soon after dawn old downtown could have been a movie set in storage. The cars and service trucks of early risers were parked in front of Annie O, who opened first, for the fishermen. The overnight lights in the stores and the streetlights watched him go by. Stanchions of sulfur light guarded the plaza of Canine City, with its eleven veterinarians, four cosmetologists, several outfitters; the portrait studio featured the work of fifteen internationally known dog artists; an architect displayed model residences: cape, half-cape, Federal, Victorian, Bauwowhaus, duplex, ranch.
The stoplight turned irrationally against him, as if programmed to recognize a man of ordinary size in a red sweatshirt running in from the west. The wind batted through the open cross street and went back again behind the solid buffer of storefronts until it came to the empty lot on the cove where The Fish & Chips had been. He faced into it, running in place, when he got there.
THE REAL-ESTATE PEOPLE NEVER STOPPED BRINGing him offers. He was going to leave that up to his daughter to decide. The land was money in the bank. “That’s what everybody needs, Verna—something in back of him so no matter how hard he’s pushed he doesn’t have to give in to others. That’s what it’s all about. More people could be like that if they didn’t want too much.”
The Conservation Commission asked, If he wasn’t going to use it, would he consider deeding it to them for the honor of his name in Melvin Brate’s paper and the tax deduction? They thought a price might be worked out if he met them halfway. He thought about it. He got as far as thinking about what kind of sign he would require them to put up if he sold them the land, but he could never get the wording right. He knew if he got it right they wouldn’t do it. He neatened up the section of burned-out foundation the building inspector allowed, and let the lot sit there with the sign.
SITE OF THE FISH & CHIPS RESTAURANT. BURNED DOWN BY VANDALS A.D. 2002 IN HONOR OF THEIR DOGS.
Someone stole the sign the first night. He wasn’t going to fool with them; he went right to a concrete monument, anchored with bent iron rods into a six-foot-square concrete pad. They tried to jump it out with a chain but they would have needed a dozer and they never got that far. They hit it with a hammer now and then. They painted out the inscription. He used to go back a few times a year to put it in shape, but he hadn’t had to touch it for two years now. The old generations had lost interest, and not even the young Reddicks cared much unless something happened to stir them up.
Coming on their first glimpse of salt water in twenty miles, visitors swung onto the apron and reached for their cameras. Alert to station their wives at the photo opportunity where George Washington watered his horse and the salt water beckoned, they walked over to read the legend about the restaurant and the vandals and the dogs. They would throw up their hands. What’s that all about? Stonnier himself wasn’t satisfied with the statement, but after so many years the story was boring to anybody but himself anyhow.
He had kept a dozen clipped mallards for his own table in a chicken-wire pen half in and half out of the water, the way you penned ducks if you had a waterfront. He had heard a terrible squawking, and when he looked out from the kitchen door the two dogs that patroled Reddick’s garage at night were running wild in the pen, breaking wings and necks, tossing every duck they could get their jaws on. He hollered at them, but you couldn’t call a dog off anything like that. He got his shotgun and drove a charge into the side of one; the other ran off, and Reddick came over from his garage, goddamning him.
The paper said that Reddick was there to get his dogs, and Stonnier threatened him with the gun to keep him off, and he shot the dog.
A week later a southerly breeze pulled an early-morning fire out of the rubbish trailer onto the shingle. Flame was all through The Fish & Chips by the time the pumper got there. His was the fourth restaurant that went up that fall, and the arson investigator from the state asked him how his business had been. They went over his records at the bank. The insurance company took two years to pay up.
HE RAN WHERE HE STOOD WHILE HE LOOKED around and checked out the site. It was as usual. The fresh northeaster gusted at him out of a mist that lay up to the land at the water’s edge. A gull stalked the tidal drain looking for garbage. Another, unseen, cried as if lost. On the scrim of fog his memory raised the shed of The Fish & Chips, with the huge lobster standing guard, and then the new Fish & Chips with the Cape Cod roof and the kitchen wing. He was looking out the back window and saw Reddick’s dogs in the pen and went after them. A charred beam leaned on a course of cement block that had been the foundation. Ravined and grainy, the blacktop was being worked by frost and roots. Spindly cedars had found footing. He remembered when they had poured the blacktop: four inches, and four of gravel under it, and then sand, and the cedars had found enough to grow on down there. He felt himself already cooling out, and took off at a 120 jog back through town, wiping sweat from his forehead with the flat of his hand.
The last thing he discussed with himself as he went up the rise at the mall and turned again toward Pilliard’s was how his daughter and her children could be made to keep their minds on being positioned not to give in to others. All he could do was leave them the land; they had to understand what it was for. If they sold it, they would have the money, and if you had money, you had all kinds of duties to it. You had to see that you didn’t lose any of it, and you had to get the best interest for it, and you bought things you didn’t need that brought you new duties, like a place in Florida. The land would stay there to back you up. He didn’t stop thinking about that until he got into range of Pilliard’s huskies and they started in on him again. Pilliard was carrying an armful of pipe, fence posts maybe, and spat a word he couldn’t hear. He kept going.
The wind off the bay blew some of the sound away, but Verna heard the pack distinctly again. She threw a last handful of cracked corn for the quail and jays and listened. She wore untied walking shoes for slippers and a nubby white robe over her nightgown. She had brushed her hair but not in detail, and its style was a simple black-speckled gray flare cut off at her earlobe. She took her wristwatch out of the robe pocket but couldn’t read it. Her glasses were still inside, on the table. If that was Allan, he would be nine or ten minutes. Then he would shower and she would be dressed and have breakfast on. It wasn’t an egg day. He might want tuna on toast.
The dogs went on. She wasn’t dressed to stay out, but the dogs kept barking. She picked up a dead branch, carefully positioned it, and flicked a dog divot into the rough. All the deposits over which oak leaves had settled stirred and gave off a tribal odor, as if they were a single living thing giving warning. She threw another handful of corn without noticing exactly what she was doing. Pilliard’s dogs sounded louder, but that couldn’t be. They were where they were. In the tops of the scratch pines the wind had not changed. Individual voices could be distinguished rising out of the wild yammer of the pack.
Were Pilliard’s dogs out? He leashed and ran them sometimes in the back of the dump, but that was farther, not nearer, and never this early. She felt nervous and wished to know something. She started toward the house to look up Pilliard’s name and telephone him but knew immediately that was not the thing to do. The thing to do was to get in the car and drive over there.
She was not constrained now by any civilized notion that she should not be seen, even by herself, to overreact. She suddenly wished to act as quickly and as arbitrarily as she knew how and to get over to the dump road. The Ford spurted back out of the garage, skidded while she pulled on the wheel to get it around, and went out the lane faster than McCoors’s dogs had ever seen it come at them. They couldn’t believe it was going that fast until it kicked the big kind-of airedale into the ditch. She had no time for regret or succor and pushed the gas harder. The wheels jumped out of potholes and ruts, clawing air, and jolted down. She was frightened by her speed. She held on as if she were a passenger. Coming to the fork at the blacktop she judged—willed, rather—that she could beat the blue car, and cut it off. Its horn lectured her past Sam the basset, sitting on the stripe with his back to her, knowing she wouldn’t dare, until she lost the sound at the turn beyond the straightaway.
A quarter mile up toward Pilliard’s she saw them on the road. She looked for a human figure but could see only the pack and whatever it was they were larking around on the road. She kept her hand on the horn and drove at them, not thinking any longer that he could possibly have gone another way, or got up a tree, or even gone into Pilliard’s house. She put the pedal on the floor. She was angry at Allan for getting himself into anything like this. He could have lived his life like other people. But he hadn’t, and that’s how it was, and, enraged, she owed him as many of them as she could get her wheels into. □