A Story by Winner of the “Is Your Dog a Nana?” Contest, Linda Noblin
It was hot, Louisiana hot. Sweat saturated the damp tendrils of loose brunette hair that framed Suzanne’s face and dripped down her neck and between her breasts. It was hot, humid hot. A monotonous, steady buzz of cicadas singing as they cracked through their outgrown shells filled the pine forest competing from time to time with a mockingbird’s languid song or a wasps blurry buzz. It was intolerably hot; it was stifling hot. Suzanne lethargically brushed away the gnats that floated on the still, humid air around her eyes as she pushed the porch swing back and forth in the wake of the impotent breeze made by a box fan she had brought outside. The latest volume of the Reader’s Digest Condensed Book lay closed beside her, dog eared and finished.
Rex stretched out seeking his own cool spot on the porch’s cement floor. Most of the family’s dogs were strays found abandoned on the rural span of highway a mile away. Rex was different than most, however. Likely a German Shepherd/Collie mix, he was bright with curiosity and luminous with love. He was courageous too, and his tail never scuttled between his legs. Unlike so many of the others, he must have at least been loved enough to know how to love back even from the beginning.
He had not have been much more than a year old when Suzanne’s father brought him home. Even then, Rex was handsome, splattered with a mottled coat of browns and grays and blacks. He had quickly won the family’s hearts and now he lay on the porch sleeping as Suzanne quietly rocked the swing. Periodically his legs would jerk and a low deep growl would rumble from deep within as he slept. Perhaps he was chasing a skunk into the blackberry bramble again. “Better in his dreams than for real,” Suzanne thought. Or perhaps he was corralling the neighbor’s young pups who were surreptitiously chasing the calves, a dangerous game that often led to blood letting and death.
A mud dabber flew down from the rafter; it’s nest half sealed. Annoyed, Suzanne got up. She had been reading all day; while her imagination had been going full steam ahead, her body had definitely rusted into stiffness. It was almost 3 p.m.
She would need to cook dinner soon, but that was an hour or so later.
Calling Rex to her side, she walked to the hurricane fence gate, unlatched it and walked gingerly and quickly on the hot cement walk way. The grass was filled with stickers, but the red clay dirt road that led to her uncle’s place was soft under her bare feet.
It was a quarter of a mile up the road to the old shotgun house. Suzanne ran under the six pecan trees which framed the road and then past the rows and rows of almost ready to be harvested corn ripe with golden ears dripping with rusty tendrils of corn silk. Sweat stung her eyes as she gazed at the ground immediately before. Her feet were now speckled with red dust darkened here and there with drops of sweat.
There was a rhythm to her running as her feet patted the ground. And in counterpoint, Rex ran before her in ever widening circles returning to her side and then running out again to snap at a bee or sniff a scrubby weed by the road side.
Suzanne moved on lost in her thoughts, restless, lethargic, moving towards what she could not imagine, when she stumbled and fell back. Instead of circling her, Rex had raced straight at her knocking her to the ground. Angrily flailing about, dusting herself off, she started to admonish the dog when she looked up and saw about six feet in front of her a large timber rattler curled and ready to strike.