Lunch Hour Frame Narrative
“Saw an old woman bite a dog Friday morning,” he said to the man across the table, his large, rough hands the color of sawdust and groping to pull a thin napkin from the dispenser without it tearing. “Right up on the snout. Drew blood.”
They had both finished eating and each was nursing a cup of black coffee. Across the street the construction site sat quietly, uncut wood piled high, wheelbarrows on their sides, shovels standing upright, their blades resting in the ground. The two men had ten minutes left.
“You mean a dog bit an old woman.” The other man replied.
He leaned back and wiped his hands with the napkin. “Naw. Mean just what I said. You know Trudy Cahill. Lives down the road from my house.”
“Know the name. What house she live in?”
“Stone’s throw from my driveway. Kinda back in the woods a ways, green like cheap outdoor carpet with a white porch. Least ways it used to be white. She was in my mama’s Sunday school ‘til she had to stay home and take care of her boy.” He sipped his coffee and put it down.
“I’m turning outta my driveway ‘bout quarter of six, and I see her walking her little Shitzu; calls it Cotton after some old time preacher, she says. She was wearing a flowery nightgown under an old white coat (gets cold to her even in July, I reckon. Ain’t no surprise; she’s poor as a whipporwill. Cain’t see how a woman who cooks good as she does can get so damn skinny).”
“It’s always cold at six in the morning, even if it ain’t cold,” the other said absently, eyeing the empty plate.
He nodded. “Reckon so. I wave to her and she waves back, smiling. She walks that dog when she gets up every morning. Does it pretty regular, too. I see her two, three times a week. Funny little dog, long soft hair, white. When it moves it does it fast, like it’s prancing. You ain’t never seen a woman love a dog that way. Dotes on it like it was a little young’un. Washes it every week, whether it needs it or not, and her creeping up on seventy.”
The other man sipped coffee. “What she bite it for, then?”
He sucked on his teeth and looked across the table sourly. “She didn’t bite her dog. She bit one that bit her dog. Sooner, I reckon. I couldn’t a been a quarter mile down the road when I hear her yelling at the top of her lungs. Lucky I ride with the window down; hardly heard her as it was, just enough a noise to make me look in the mirror, and I see her tugging on the leash, that sooner eating that little dog up. I could make out that she was yelling for help by this time.
“If I’da been thinking I would a threw it in reverse and hit the gas, but I didn’t. I just hit the breaks, jumped out, and went to running. Left my door open. Got close enough to make out was going on: the sooner looked a little like a lab, but ragged. He was whipping his head from side to side real fast with that little dog’s ear in his teeth. Lord, she was making a racket so loud it sounded like she was dying. Then all of a sudden she stops yelling and gets down on her knees, real slow and careful, putting her hands on that sooner’s back. Then she leans down and catches it by the head, holds it still, and bites it’s snout up by the eyes. Didn’t let it go, neither, it growling and whimpering, still holding her dog in its mouth.
“That’s when I hear G. D. (that’s her son) call out, ‘I’m coming Mama!’ He ain’t been able to walk for seven or eight years. Got in a wreck and had to move back in with Miss Trudy. Used to be friends when we was young’uns. Hunted rabbit and squirrel in the woods in back of our house. He won’t a liar ‘til that accident; started telling stories ‘bout how he was a fireman and a rafter fell on him in a burning drugstore, knowing everybody and his brother knew he just fell asleep coming home from work. Cain’t feel nothing below his arms.
“So he’s yelling that he’s coming to his mama, but he was in too much of a hurry. They ain’t got a real ramp going down those old concrete steps, just a loose piece of pressboard. Miss Trudy always holds it still so he can wheel down it. Well, he gets to rolling down and it slips off that top step and he tumbles out of his chair hard. Fell face down in the dirt.
“By this time I’m almost to her. Whole thing couldn’t’ve taken more than a few seconds. Don’t you know that that old woman was snarling just like a dog, biting down hard as she could. Reckon it was a good thing she had her dentures in. If she hadn’t, she’d have had to gum him, and that dog had mange something fierce. Just before I got there, that sooner turned her dog aloose and made a whimpering growl, and tried to jerk away from her. It came up and tried to nip at her, and I knew I’d better put on the speed ‘fore it shook her off.
“And poor G. D. was crawling on his belly like a lizard. Reckon he figured he couldn’t do nothing but yell, so I here him shout, ‘Bear down on him, Mama! Bear down on him!’
“Got there just in time. Sooner got aloose and was coming at her when I kicked it right up under the ribs. Black bastard. Took off then, let me tell you.
“Miss Trudy was a mess. Always keeps her hair in a neat bun in back of her head, but it come undone and was hanging all around her head and face. Had dirt on her knees and blood on her chin; at first I thought that sooner had got her, but I reckon it was the dog’s blood, cause she won’t cut, it seemed like. I take out my handkerchief and try to wipe it from her mouth, but she’d scooped up that little dog and was loving up on it, calling it her baby and so on. She was carrying on and crying, as I’d expect a woman to in that situation, even one tough enough to take a pound of flesh out of a dog as big as her with her own teeth. I cleaned her up some and put my arm ‘round her shoulder; Lord she was shaking. So I smile at her and say, ‘Miss Trudy, damned if you ain’t got the guts of a bear and the teeth to match,’ and that calmed her down a little until she saw G. D. trying to upright his chair.
“That dog was a bloody mess, but she put it down quick and ran to G. D. He was dragging himself up that ramp and pulling that chair down. She tried to help him but he cussed her, and she sat back on her heels, waiting. He got the chair upright and that’s when I saw that he’d messed the seat of his pants. They cain’t control that, you know. And he was carrying on a lot worse than his mama, a lot worse. I ain’t never seen a grown man cry like that, like his face had gotten so red and swelled with tears that it was cracking and they was starting to come through all over.
“I came up and put my hands under his arms and was about to pick him up when he cusses at me and says it would be best for me to let him alone, ‘less I wanna get whooped by a cripple. Now he’s got strong arms, I know it. He puts himself in that chair every morning, I reckon, but he was crying so hard he couldn’t pull himself up. His mama reached out to him and asked to let me help, but he shrugged her off and kept trying. Then he tipped that chair over on himself and I…”
He looked down at his now empty coffee cup. “I was late for work and that dog about to bite that old woman had scared me too, so I just really didn’t care whether he wanted me to help him or not. I reach down and pick him up under the arms and he goes limp. I had to drag him up into that chair all on my own. Just before I put him down I thought that maybe he ort not to have to sit in his own mess, but then I remembered that he couldn’t feel it anyway.” His fingers tapped the plastic tabletop. “I felt real bad about thinking that, later. A man ort not to have to sit in his own mess, cripple or not. But I was gonna be late for work. I just got a little mad at him I reckon for crying like that, if that makes any sense.” He paused. “Which it don’t.”
“His mama asked me to hold the ramp still so she could wheel him into the house, and G. D. just sat there looking like his face was dead; all the red and tears was gone out of it. I held it and she wheeled him up, and I heard him say, ‘Ain’t no dignity. Ain’t no dignity in nothing.’” He looked out the window and then down at his hands, now tearing at his napkin. “At the time I couldn’t see why he was carrying on in any such a way, but later… later I wished I hadn’t made him let me help him.”
The other man sipped the last of the coffee and looked at the clock on the wall. “Maybe it was ‘cause his mama needed help and all he could manage was to tip over and shit himself.”
He was chewing the inside of his cheek as he folded and unfolded the bill. “Felt so bad I went back Sunday afternoon and built him a good ramp. Me and my boy did it. Had a good size pine pressboard left over from when I built my tool shed, so we went over and put it up next to those old steps so he could roll down it with his mama walking beside him. Miss Trudy came out and thanked us; gave us cookies and lemonade. G. D. just sat at the window looking through the blinds. My boy waved and he moved to where we couldn’t see him.” He paused. “I should’ve built that ramp the day he got outta the hospital. Some things is too easy to have taken, and too hard to give back.”
“It’s near ‘bout time. You ready?” the other man said.
They stood, each paid his bill, and they crossed the street to go back to work.