Their dogs run around wildly, leashes dragging behind them. It isn’t accidental, this leaving on of leashes. It’s strategic. If the dogs get into a fight, the owners want to catch at the leash quickly, yank the animals away from each other with a sharp pull at the neck that shocks the air and bark out of them. It’s cruel, sure, but efficient. Technically, they’re not supposed to let the dogs off the leash in the park either, so it’s a way to get around the rules, sort of.
Ida’s dog is small, lean and brown with perky chopped ears and a mouth bigger and louder than all hell. He’s a sweetheart when he keeps it shut, but he gets high strung and barks at people too often. Some think he’s mean, and she spends half her Saturdays with him fighting her arthritic knees in order to run after his leash when he gets too barky around little kids who don’t like it. Little kids these days, she always thinks, have been raised too soft, like melting marshmallows. Squeeze ’em, and the soft stuff in the middle will pour right out. It’s the reason she prefers her dog to her own grandchildren. She never utters such a blasphemous confession, barely admits it to herself, because she loves her kids’ kids, of course she does. She just doesn’t have a lot of patience for them. They’re too spoiled, their lips wobble so easily, they want and want and want.
Ruth feels Johannes’ arm’s weight on her shoulders and keeps her mouth zipped. She doesn’t tell him to take it off, that she’s warm, that it’s heavy, that he’s making her uncomfortable. They just moved in together, it’s their first weekend sitting outside with the dog, it’s too early for so much criticism. He’s a sweetheart, but he’s so proud of her in public that it’s hard to bear some days. She sees the old woman sitting to the bench on her left, past Johannes’ skinny little body, and wants to sit with her instead, to be a woman among women. Her dog is female, a gorgeous collie she got for free from a friend who couldn’t sell the runt of the litter. She’s named her Posy, a terribly sappy name, yes, but it suits the fluffy dog. Ruth is sometimes childish like this. Johannes isn’t, is the problem. He never wants to go out with a picnic basket and lie in the sun all day, or play with the dog. He wants to hold onto Ruth and sit stoically with her on a bench, a picture-perfect couple of yuppies. He wants to take her out to dinner at fancy restaurants where he gets to wear loafers and nice pants with a gap in between to show off his socks. He’s the kind of person who cares about what socks he wears. Ruth’s socks are all old, holey, and often mismatched.
Ida calls her dog over and he doesn’t come. She leans back on the bench. He’ll come when he’s ready. She sees him playing with the collie that belongs to the couple next to her. She’s pretty sure they’re new in the neighborhood, at least in the park. Though the dog is familiar, that collie. Maybe one of them is new? She doesn’t recognize them together, anyhow. They have that glow, she thinks, that smug us-against-the-world glow that young couples have. It’s tender, but so thin a veneer that she could pop it with a needle. Not that she keeps needles on her, or anything else sharp for that matter. It’s safe being an aging lady in this town. She’s thankful for that.
Johannes’ stomach rumbles. He leans his chin on Ruth’s hair and rubs it around. She makes a sound in her throat which he takes for satisfaction, although it is impatience. He asks her if she’s ready to go have lunch yet. You go, she tells him. She wants to play with the dog a little. He says nothing, but he stays.