Quiet River

By on Sep 12, 2011 in Fiction

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Quiet River graphic

There weren’t many people on the street as I walked through the center of town.  It was hot enough to keep everyone behind their fans and their air-conditioning.  As I approached Whitaker Cafe down State Street, I could see the young stranger’s dusty dog sitting on the porch of the cafe.  It was the same dog I had met that morning, and as I mounted the steps to the cafe, I reached my hand out to pat her head. She didn’t make a sound, didn’t even raise her nose from where it lay on her paws, but she looked into my eyes again, and her look was enough to freeze my hand in mid-pet.  This dog did not want to be touched.

I opened the door to the cafe and walked into thick, refreshing, cool air.  The bell jingled as I closed the door, and I took my usual seat right inside, at the counter.  I could see the young traveler at the far end of the counter, drinking a cup of coffee and staring into his saucer.  George Whitaker gave me a nod from behind the counter and set a huge, cold glass of his home-brewed iced tea in front of me.  “How’s fishin’, Earl?” he asked me.

“Not a nibble, Whit.  Not a nibble.”  He was standing in front of me, at the very end of the lunch counter.  As I watched him work, he kept leaning back and looking out the front window.  From where I sat, I could see he was looking at the dog on his porch. I ordered a ham sandwich, because I was mad at fish.  As I ate, I couldn’t help but watch my old friend’s strange behavior.  He would work a bit, cooking or cleaning something, then return to his position in front of me and lean back so he could look at the dog.  I noticed that he didn’t pay the stranger much mind at all, but the dog had piqued his interest.  And every time he looked out the window, his brow became a bit more knotted.  Finally, I couldn’t stand it any more.  “Whit, what the hell is the matter with you?”

He looked at me, shook his head a bit, leaned back, looked outside and shook his head some more.  He stared at me for a time without saying anything, just shaking his head slowly.  “Earl,” he started, “we been friends a long time, yeah?”

“Longer’n I care to admit, sure.”  I sipped my tea.

“And you know I’m no crazier’n anyone else here.  We go to the same church … went to the same school…”

“Sure, Whit.  What’s going on?”

“Well.” He started to lean back again, stopped himself, and looked at the floor.  “Earl, it’s that goddamn dog!”  He looked deep into my eyes, gauging my reaction.

I had no idea what was making him so agitated. He started pacing back and forth in front of me. “What in God’s name are you on about?” I asked him.

“Don’t you recognize that dog, you old fart?”  His voice was rising, quivering, and we both turned and looked at the stranger down at the far end of the counter, but he just sipped his coffee and stared straight out in front of him, at nothing.  I leaned over and looked out the window myself.  The dog lay as it had when I first came in, with her nose on her front paws.  As I watched, not once did her legs kick, nor her ears twitch.  She didn’t shift or groan or move the slightest bit.  But she was not familiar.

“I don’t, actually.  I still don’t know what you’re babbling about, Whit.”  He rolled his eyes and threw his arms up in exasperation.  He checked the stranger again with a dramatic sidelong glance and leaned over to whisper in my ear.  

“It’s the Taylor dog!”  He hissed.

I stopped chewing my sandwich and tried to remember who he was talking about.  “Whit, the only Taylors I know of around here was Lee Taylor and his family, but… well… ”  Now my brow was knitted up, and I leaned clear across the counter and looked outside.  “Now come on, Whit!”

He was nodding his head at me.  “I’m tellin ya’!  I know it, Earl.  I been chewing it over and over for thirty minutes before you come in here, and I’m telling ya’, it is the goddamn Taylor dog!”  

“But…”  As I tried to understand what I was being told, the stranger stood up from his stool.  He pulled a few, rumpled dollars from his pocket and threw them on the counter, picked his rucksack up from where it lay on the floor at his feet, and clumped his way past us toward the door.

“Thank ya’, now,” Whit called after him.  The young stranger nodded at us and jingled his way outside.  On the porch we saw him hitch his pack up on his back and make his way south on State Street, back toward the river.  I couldn’t hear the soft whistle from inside, but the dog hopped up and trotted off, close to the man’s left leg.

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Richard R. DiPirro is a writer, a husband, and a father who works and lives in Savannah, Georgia. Richard has been published in several magazines, including Calliope and Fiction Reader, and in the online journals Fringe and Raving Dove. He was the winner of the 2000 Lillian Spencer Award for Fiction and the Jones Scholarship at Armstrong Atlantic State University and was the second place winner of the 2008 Baltimore Review Short Fiction Contest.