Not long ago, I saw a man fight a dog. I was on the homestretch of a run, tired and bright red, and turned on a block near my house. The man was about my age, walking a big black mastiff, muscular and tall enough that his head was level with the man’s ribcage. Something startled the mastiff – I didn’t see what. Maybe a squirrel or a bird. It lurched away from the sidewalk and into the grass, and the man jerked with it. Dogs of this size can be graceful and gentle, but in an instant, it was all brawn and power.
I stopped running. I told myself I was not afraid of big dogs. But years ago a pit bull bit me while I was volunteering at an animal shelter. I had been alone in a big field walking this dog, and realized by the second or third bite that he was not going to stop, and had to run for it. Now, as cars in rush hour traffic shot past me on the street, I stood back.
The dog’s teeth flashed, and with its paws raised it was almost as tall as the man. Was the dog playing? I thought. Was the dog about to tear into the man’s face?
The man grabbed the dog by the neck, yelling words I could not hear because of the headphones in my ears. He body-slammed the dog down onto the hard sidewalk, yanked on the collar, tightening it. In profile, his face was purple.
I was not afraid of the dog anymore.
I remembered every man who had ever grabbed me in public. Every man who had forced me to leave a room or run into a crowd. Every man whose threatening gaze made me turn onto a new block or cross the street. Every time I had to stay silent because I was outnumbered or outsized.
I wanted to tell this man he shouldn’t treat his dog that way, but I was afraid of the anger that had fueled him enough to throw a dog to the ground. How easily this anger could transfer to me. I could imagine him knocking me into the grass. Another poor creature that didn’t behave.
The man let the dog get up. They slowly started walking again together. As though he had not yet made his point clear, the man smacked the mastiff across the flanks one more time.
I remembered how, at the animal shelter, after I made it to the other side of the fence the pit bull looked at me through the chain-link with baleful brown eyes and whimpered, as though apologizing. He had not known his own strength.
I started running again. As I passed by, the man pulls the dog over to one side, and inclined his head slightly in my direction. Perhaps he had known I was there, watching his cruelty unfold from a safe distance. I wanted him to feel embarrassed, but how could he when I had said nothing? Did my silence make me complicit? Still, I could picture him, his face inches from mine, a rush of blood to his head changing the color of his cheeks, and me standing before him, unsure of whether to fight or fly or cower beneath his hand with my tail between my legs.
Maura Lammers's fiction and nonfiction have previously been published in The Riveter, The Quaker, and Nib Magazine. She is pursuing an MFA in creative nonfiction at Eastern Washington University and lives in Spokane. In the past, she has read submissions for The Missouri Review, Fjords Review, and Memorious Magazine, and currently reads for Willow Springs. She was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri.