Today we present “At The Dog Park” by Yasmina Madden, the latest story in our New Voices series. In this funny but dark tale, a woman discovers a kinship with the eccentric dog owners at her local dog park. From its humorous beginning to its touching end, “At The Dog Park” examines how much we care about each other, in spite of a world that offers evidence to the contrary.
“…it takes an altogether different kind of beast to kick a dog when he’s down.”
At the dog park I pull in behind a gold SUV with a bumper sticker that reads: “Don’t let this fool you, my real treasure is in Heaven.” Additional stickers read: “The Spirit Moves Me” and “ReJOYce.” I know the woman who drives the car. She tells me her daughters don’t like her, but she has many friends at the park and often whips out her cell to load up someone’s digits. ReJOYce wears expensive jogging suits, and her dog has its very own quilted down vest with a fashionable collar that turns up. My dog, Oscar, looks at me with his pleading, brown, Cleopatra eyes when he sees ReJOYce and her yappy Jack Russell, Portia. Oscar is a large, gentle Golden Retriever, and dogs like Portia make both of us nervous: her shrill bark and sprightly dance steps—back and forth and around—forever moving.
I will admit that I sometimes walk around the park with ReJOYce. She tells me about making Mega Nachos and watching football with her husband. ReJOYce even gives me the recipe for the nachos and I nod enthusiastically as if I’m going to make them. And then I do make them. I don’t watch football, and my husband isn’t home, so I eat the nachos right off the tray, standing at my kitchen counter, listening to a story on the radio about a group of kids who, it seems just because they can, leave a man to die in a well.
At the dog park there is a dog named Satan. He is part Shar Pei and part Boxer, and he is wrinkled and earnest. Satan, one might say, is eager to please. I often walk the park with Satan’s master, who is bearded, large, and very friendly. He borders on gleeful when he introduces his dog to someone new at the park. Sometimes ReJOYce, Satan’s Master, and I walk together with our dogs. It would be nice if one day Satan’s Master asked ReJOYce about her real treasure in Heaven, but only so much can happen at the dog park.
At the dog park, it does sometimes happen that Satan’s Master, ReJOYce, a Philosophy Professor, and I all round the path at the same time. We walk together, a loosely tethered pack. The Professor doesn’t talk to us much, but when he does, he always gesticulates wildly. Most of the time he texts while he walks. His dog, Heidi, short for Heidegger (of course), is an affable mutt. After I hear the story about the kids who leave the man at the bottom of a well, I ask the Professor to explain to me how it’s possible for people, even children, to do something so horrid. He talks first of compassion and empathy and then about mankind’s capacity to find wonder and even pleasure in evil acts. He throws some phrases at me: The normalization of deviance is one of them. I want to get more examples of how people find pleasure in evil, and I’d like to get his opinion on whether he thinks my husband might qualify as one of these types of people, but before I get a chance Portia nips Satan, and our group disintegrates.