The good news was she got Route 19. It cut the volume of mail she had to deliver in half.
The bad news was it was a sketchy neighborhood. Even her cohorts at the postal service (who never gave a rat’s ass about her) told her to stay alert.
So she did. She did her new route, alert and efficient. She would park, open the back of the truck, load her bag with that block’s mail, deliver it as quickly as possible, then drive to the next block and do it all over again. It was easy enough; and although the neighborhood was held together with duct tape and desperation, she managed to work this route every day pretty much without incident.
Until the day everything changed.
An early October day it was, crisp, overcast, with a sting in the breeze--winter’s early passive-aggressive threat. She pulled up to the first block, found a good spot at the corner and parked. She was just opening the back when she felt it--a presence behind her.
All senses sharpened, she stayed calm and proceeded to load her bag with the mail. She turned her head just enough to catch, out of the corner of her eye, the shape of a massive, loose pit bull, no collar, watching her.
Chiara had always been attuned to dogs in a spooky way. A friend of hers once posited that while in heaven (as an impending puppy), she was directed toward the canine chute, jumped in, and almost reached her destination on earth. But someone jostled her halfway down and, like a train on tracks that have shifted, she became a human instead.
Seeing this big dog with a reputation for hair-trigger viciousness, she knew enough not to make eye contact. She just kept putting mail into the bag. Maybe even slowed down a little. Kept her back to him, showing no concern whatsoever. One of the letters fell to the ground. She moved smoothly to pick it up, pausing a little when she was crouched so he could smell the side of her face--no words, no sentimental interaction, no bullshit. Just baseline respect. You’re a being. I’m a being. There’s no problem here.
Then it was time to hoist her bag up on her shoulder and get going. She locked the truck and started walking. Dog came with. He followed her all the way around the block. He ran next to the vehicle when she drove to the following section.
Every morning when she arrived, he was waiting for her. There was an area of about five, six blocks that the dog considered his own, and he walked her through it. When they knew each other well enough, she broke the rules and let him ride by her side in the truck through his part of her route. Each grateful in their own way for the presence of the other. When they’d reached the outer boundaries of his territory, she kept going and he stayed.
As time went by, she gave him the name Tonto. She eventually found out who he belonged to, and that his name was Rusty. But he would always be her Tonto.
It’s decades later, and she wonders now whether some unseen intelligence didn’t watch her going into Route 19 with nothing but her wits, and decide she could use an “associate.”
Just in case.
Ray Bradbury had an idea for how to get your own education in writing. It’s the 1000-day MFA. I learned about this from Shaunta Grimes. The idea is to read a poem, an essay and a short story every night before bed for 1000 days. And during this same period, write a short story every week. This is the first of my 143 short stories that I’ll be writing during the next 1000 days. Hope you enjoy them.