My neighbor is a crazy lady who yells at her dogs. In thinking about it, I guess every town has at least one. At first, her rantings merely had a high entertainment value. That all changed one day in the hottest July on record. A stifling day that ended in a rock-the-house thunderstorm springing from the gunmetal gray, anvil-shaped clouds which had been building all afternoon.
Gertie Boswell had lived in the ramshackle semi-Victorian house as long as I could remember. When I was young, a wide berth to the creepy dwelling was given while walking home from school. As far as I know, school kids still cross the street to avoid going near the place. It did have kind of a haunted look to it. Of course, rumors swirled around Oakville that Old Mrs. Boswell had some skeletons in her closet – and a few buried in the back yard. When I inherited my childhood home, I would still peek over the fence at her back yard. Weathered wood, ivy taking over in a slow strangle. My own morbid fascination and curiosity, searching for some kind of satisfaction.
On warm summer evenings I could usually be found on my back porch, listening to my beloved Red Sox as they struggled through nine innings. Brother Gil would come around and we’d polish off a six pack or so of Grilstein’s Ale from the cooler while we bickered back and forth about the pitching and what our sucky Sox should be doing differently. Twice a week without fail, Gertie would bring her two dogs out to her creaky (creepy) porch and dive into her tirade.
Max and Sam were a couple of Heinz 57 strays that Gertie picked up about three years ago. Near as I could tell, they were good dogs. They didn’t poop on my lawn anyway. No late night barking at the moon sessions either. They would sit on the porch, tails wagging and Gertie would let them have it. She would always start with, “You damned dogs!” and it would go downhill from there.
On the nights that Brother Gil was there, we would look at each other and grin while we watched the verbal beat-down. Man, she would get so into it. She would look each of them in the eye, the whole time her finger wagging at them, a quickly hastening metronome that would crescendo until her entire hand was violently shaking up and down.
The word track was different every time but there were some common phrases: “I don’t know how many times I’ve told you two…” Heh. I didn’t know how many times either, but trust me friends and neighbors, it was a lot. And you know, the whole time those two dogs would sit there with the same expressions on their faces. Tongues hanging out of their mouths, eye’s intent on the raging finger being waved at them, tails a waggin’.
This would go on for nearly a half hour each time. I was always amazed that she could hold their attention for that long, but the dogs never wavered. When Gertie finished up, she’d stand, put her hands on her hips and then direct them back into the house, shaking her head all the while. They’d happily oblige, tails wagging away as they sauntered into the house.
On the July night in question, I heard the ancient screen door slam. I grabbed a cold one and sat back to watch the festivities. Brother Gil had a rare date so it was all on me. Christ, I wish he had been there. Not that it would have made any difference but sometimes things happen and you wish for another human to be at your side.
This was one of those times.
The tirade began in earnest, as it had so many times. I could sense something was different, though. Nothing different about Gertie, but there was something about the dogs. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on it. Something subtle, something… Aw, hell. Their tails weren’t wagging. Not at all.
Max stood up. Gertie’s finger stopped mid wag, her mouth hanging open. She was too shocked to react. Hell, so was I. Max stepped off the porch and headed to a corner of the yard, next to a stack of dirty and broken red clay flower pots. Gertie stood to go and fetch Max. That’s when Sam rose, looked at Gertie and bared his yellowed teeth. I could hear his low, guttural growl. Gertie froze and just stood at the top of the porch, blinking in disbelief.
Max dug with fury at the dirt next to the pots, soft growling and grunts intertwined with the “fwump” of the larger dirt clods landing behind him as his feverish scratching continued. The scratching stopped. The soft growling did not. Max had something in his mouth. I could see him twisting his head as he tried to pull his find out of the ground.
Gertie screamed, “NOOOOO!!!” and tried a run at Max. Sam was on her instantly. Sam didn’t bite her, he just knocked her to the ground and held her at bay. Max walked over, still growling. He dropped his find, almost hitting Gertie on the head. She lifted her head and looked at the femur Max had unearthed. She started weeping and dropped her head back on the grass.
The next few weeks were kind of crazy. Lots of police, blue tarps and yellow crime scene tape. Even now, a few months later, reporters knock on my door sniffing for yet another story from the neighbor who lived next to a murderous crazy lady.
I took in Max and Sam. They had no where else to go.
They are good dogs.
Even so, I’m finding more and more that I need to take them out back. And yell at them.