by Charles C. Cole
In the sunny city park across the street, a tan, short-haired, three-legged mutt happily and energetically chased and retrieved a Frisbee tossed by his ponytailed owner. There was not a whiff of self-pity as the pup ran in tight circles and sprinted about. Heck, the dog-athlete’s tongue hung low enough, almost, to appear as a sort of spare forelimb.
Clearly, this dog, an unofficial role model to other domestic pets about town, was capable of doing so much more than that sluggish, football-with-a-tail, purebred rat terrier down the block. If one made lemonade from lemons, this superior specimen of a dog was lemon sherry cocktail.
Weekend curtain-twitcher Dollard Haxenbough monitored park activity from his second floor bedroom window. To be perfectly honest, Dollard loathed the unselfconscious dog and its instinctive resilience. He judged the fat dog more, but the three-legged dog was way too immodest in public performance, given its woeful circumstances.
Clearly, the dog was incapable of moping in the face of adversity. Humans mope. There’s always a convenient window of opportunity before getting out of bed in the morning and again, before closing one’s eyes at night, to reflect on life’s ceaseless and insurmountable struggles. Dollard knew how to mope exceptionally well.
Dollard, with all his original limbs still attached and functioning, worked software support from home. Not coincidentally, his job didn’t require him to mingle with the unwashed masses on any regular basis. Painfully inhibited and habitually reclusive, Dollard had an ailment of his own: as much as he tried, he could not see his reflection. No, he was not a vampire. Yes, he cast a shadow.
Dollard had been raised on a remote farm with modest, hardworking people of the land for whom a mirror was deemed an implement of the worst form of idolatry: the worship of self before God. Years later, when he had escaped to join the modern world, some might say unsuccessfully, a specialist had explained to Dollard the cause of his “problem” was deep in his mind, like ego-related cataracts. Did he see headless and handless clothes? No, nothing; his mind filled in the space where he should be with “more of the same background.” He compensated.
It was a rather subtle, recondite disease. Dollard could look down the length of his body directly, at his ample tummy, his thin arms and his pale legs; he was not invisible. But mirrors and windows and even pond surfaces didn’t work for him as they did for others. Fortunately, there really was no life-sustaining need to see oneself in real time, he rationalized, except to coif one’s hair — he was conveniently bald — or doublecheck one’s teeth after snacking on popcorn, which he never ate. So, unlike the dog, which all could see was “plainly different,” nobody but Dollard could see his internal difference, a mere deviation of his visual perception.
The porch bell rang. There was no delivery truck outside. He considered ignoring the unexpected caller, but he needed to head down for coffee anyway, and the front door was along his route. And his current software patch would still take several minutes to finish downloading to his remote client.
The bell rang again, more insistently. Why had he never replaced the shrill alarm with something more musical, like Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”? A task for another day, to be added to his long list of future tasks.
Dollard rushed along the stairs, grateful he had thought to change out of his pyjamas that morning. He unlocked the door and threw the thing open with far more gusto than required, as much to get the interruption quickly over with as anything. The visitor gasped, then laughed.
“That’s a fine how-do-you-do!” she said. The woman before him was early 30s, with shoulder-length red hair and a perky floral outfit that suggested either she had just left church on a scavenger hunt to find the most new members or she was on her way to a prom but had stopped on account of a flat tire for which she was ill-prepared.
“I’m looking for my cat,” she said.
“He’s a Bronze Egyptian Mau.”
“Still not here.”
“He’s probably scared, hiding. He’s not used to being outside. He apparently climbed up a long package I had delivered and out my mail slot. He might be hiding under your bushes.”
“You’re welcome to look.”
She stared a moment longer than was polite. “You look like someone I dated in high school.”
“I get that a lot,” he joked.
She smiled. “Thank you for not chasing me away with a broom. The deaf old lady next door thought I was there to grab her antique silverware.”
“It happened once, about five years ago. Botched job. She’s never gotten over it.”
“Thank you again.” She grabbed his hand and gave it a quick squeeze.
Dollard felt ice-cold water course down his back. He winced.
“I’m sorry; did that hurt?”
“You don’t have a Taser hidden in your hand, do you?”
“Never. I’m more the kick-them-in-their-monkey-business type of damsel in distress. Don’t let the girly dress fool you; I can handle myself.”
“Just not good at finding cats.”
“We all have our foibles.”
“Not to be forward,” he asked, “but can I ask your number, in case I see something?”
“You’d call me? Wonderful! I wish we were closer neighbors. We’d look out for each other, I know it.”
She handed him a business card from her wallet. There was a picture of a red barn above her name. “I’m just around the block. I’m always home, except Sunday mornings. I write text for catalogues.”
“Someone’s got to do it,” Dollard managed, though he was feeling a bit tongue-tied.
“If you hear or see anything, give me a call. Even if you don’t.” She smiled again. One tear fell. “Sorry: nerves of jelly.”
She squeezed his hand again. No jolt. As he looked deeply into her vulnerable eyes, Dollard thought he saw a bald-headed man smiling back.
Copyright © 2019 by Charles C. Cole