On good days, Marlborough Park field was just the right side of pretty. Sun glinted off fences and goalposts while bright, bushy grass hid litter and dog excrement from immediate view. Although Marlborough Park was just off a main road, the traffic was strangely muffled, and walking one’s dog around the park’s perimeter was often surprisingly meditative. One could almost, almost, be somewhere other than a field with a large amount of dog excrement. On bad days, like today, Marlborough Park was hell. Rain beat down on Susie’s glasses while wind whipped her hood off her head. Her left Wellington boot had resigned its duties and she could feel mud seeping through her sock. She could hardly hear traffic, but that was only because the wind howled as it flew through the park, lashing rain in every direction as thunder clapped in the distance.
Diana, Susie’s large mastiff-crossed-with-something-else-big, had bounded into the car that morning without a second thought, while Susie pulled on a raincoat and gritted her teeth. Diana was the only dog Susie had ever come across who preferred rain to sunshine, and as Susie trudged to the halfway point of their walk, Diana trotted happily along the fence line, tail wagging. Susie stopped to wipe rain from her glasses – she would probably see better without them at this point – and realised Diana had bounded ahead to meet someone coming in the opposite direction. She wriggled her toes to check they hadn’t frozen off and caught a whiff of something.
It was not mud in her sock after all.
Of course it wasn’t.
As the person ahead drew closer, Susie realised she recognised both the dog and the human. The former was a chubby brown Jack Russell, the latter a skinny blonde lady with an orange spray tan and pink rain mac. A rolled-up umbrella hung from her hand just as Susie’s did; they had both concluded that using one in wind this strong was an easy way to lose an eye.
‘Morning!’ Susie called, although she wasn’t sure they were close enough to hear her. She waved instead just as Diana reached them, and the lady waved her umbrella back. She even waved at Diana – wait. That was not a wave. Mrs. Spray Tan swooped down and picked up the Jack Russell, which had started to yap. Susie hurried forward as Diana let out a bark. She did not bark often, but when she did you could feel it in your ribs.
‘Get your dog away from me!’ Mrs. Spray Tan shrieked. In one hand she grasped her dog, in the other she brandished her umbrella.
‘Diana, come back! Excuse me!’ Susie called as she hurried closer. Why, why was it so hard to walk into the wind? Diana might not even be able to hear her. Mrs. Spray Tan clearly couldn’t.
‘Your dog’s dangerous!’ Spray Tan shrieked. She held the Jack Russell as high off the ground as she could, which wasn’t very high at all. He was squirming to get out of her clasp. ‘I’ve seen you here before! You can’t control it!’
‘Diana’s a she,’ Susie said firmly as she finally reached them and grasped Diana’s collar. Her dog was growling and straining, but not in the direction of the Mrs. Spray Tan. She was straining to run away. ‘And she’s not on the lead because she’s friendly.’ Unlike you, she wanted to add. ‘What was the problem?’
‘Your dog attacked my dog!’
‘Was that before or after you waved an umbrella in her face? She’s a rescue, and she’s always hated sticks and umbrellas. We think she was raised by someone who hit her with them.’ Mrs. Spray Tan blinked.
‘Your dog ran up and attacked my dog! What was I supposed to do?’
‘Put your dog on a lead. Walk in the other direction. If you’ve seen us before and you don’t like us, why did you head straight for us?’ Mrs. Spray Tan blinked again.
‘Your dog attacked my dog!’
‘You keep saying that,’ Susanna agreed. ‘But all I saw was Diana go toward you, and you panic. If you hadn’t picked up your dog, she wouldn’t have come closer to find out what was going on. She wouldn’t even have barked if you hadn’t brandished your umbrella close to her face. She was reacting because she was scared.’
Susie made to put Diana’s lead back on. It was a strong rope lead; Diana was too big for one of those retractable leashes, and it was easy to loop the lead back around her neck. ‘Come on, Diana, let’s get home -’
‘I’m reporting you for owning a dangerous dog that you can’t control.’
Susie stiffened. She could feel Diana stiffen too, several kilograms of mastiff-crossed-with-something-big. All I need to do, she thought, is train my dog to go for people. That’s all I would need to do to make her properly dangerous. The alternative, of course, was something far less cruel and far less time-consuming.
Susie removed the lead from Diana’s neck and the Jack Russell from Mrs. Spray Tan’s arms. The dogs sniffed each other warily but as Susie suspected, they were perfectly happy when left to their own devices. Susanna then looped the lead around Mrs. Spray Tan’s neck and pulled it until she could see the spray tan flake off her skin. Diana and the Jack Russell watched.
Then she picked up the Jack Russell’s lead, removed her own from Mrs. Spray Tan’s twitching corpse and put it back on Diana, and took the dogs home for treats and a cup of tea. The rain let up just as they were leaving the field.
Thank you Liz for critiquing.
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