I pushed my foot deep into the mud and watched it surround the sides of my shoe. I could feel the temperature change through my thick sock, and it queued me to look up, directly into the sun. My eyes shut, and for a few seconds I stared at the back of my closed eyelids for no apparent reason, other than to cheat the sun out of deterring my gaze.
It was a somewhat cold day, and the dog was doing what he always did – walking from tree to tree, sniffing, and calking his left or right leg. It was a choreographed ballet of scent finding, cancelling, and marking.
The cold fresh air pulled into my lungs as I retrieved my foot from the mud, all the time wondering what had possessed me to experiment with it at the expense of my blue nylon running shoe – that I never used for running. The mud would dry and flake off before I got home; there was no reason to give it much thought. It was just one of those things that a person did during their moments of contemplation or cathartic limbo. Sometimes my dog-walks took it upon themselves to become more than just an exercise routine. A life with forced participation in animal husbandry can sometimes reap unexpected experiences, and today was one such day.
I rocked my mud-foot from side-to-side on the cold, wet, dead, grass – pulling the tendons of my ankle loose. It was my trick ankle, the one I sprained on a trip to the CNE one year when I was 13. I stepped out of the car so excited to be there that I caught the edge of the sole on my cheap sandal and rolled my foot almost perpendicular. I limped for the next week and found myself in nauseating pain for a good half of my day at the EX. Today the ankle still gives out on occasion. I sprained it a second time drunk, climbing a second storey balcony, and falling feet-first into a large terracotta flowerpot that I shattered on impact.
The dog was a good distance away, somewhat further than I liked, but lately I had been more lenient than usual with my level of control and command. I had returned to work outside of the home, and had been harbouring guilt over leaving him alone more that he was used to.
Bruno was gifted with a completely ordinary and capable dog brain. One that functioned with a central core dedicated to capitalizing on opportunity. He had no cognitive perception of my empathy, he only saw a window of opportunity and took it at face value. He used it to push the boundaries between us and shift it into more time of doing what his dog brain told him to, rather than doing what my human brain tried to tell him to.
His conditioning and training was eroding over time. It was cumulative and aggregate. I was starting to get pangs of frustration over his lack of responsiveness. It made me angry at myself for not administering a more rigorous regimented series of conditioning exercises to keep him tuned in, and tuned up. It was like he had started to regress and it was hard not to see it as defiance rather that mere opportunistic. I was fallible on all fronts and he, infallible in every way.
Walking on a large open flat field with hard-packed dead grass on a grey day under the open sky can make a person feel vulnerable. Add to that, the irritability I was feeling due to the fact that Bruno was politely ignoring me just enough to affirm my lack of control over the world and you get what I like to call a flare of irrationality.
Anger arrives at the strangest, most unexpected moments, like an unwanted guest that shows up at random and turns your plans upside down. Anger swept up from behind me at breakneck speed. It slammed into the back of my head and burst out through my face with an open mouthed involuntary scream.
The dog looks up, but not will full intent. He continues to multitask, sniffing, walking, and what I imagine as listening, for my next outburst and how to read it.
I am glaring at him now, and walking forward faster that I was. I feel the weight difference on my feet due to the mud that is still clinging to my one shoe. It makes me angrier. The walk turns into work, and life becomes dark and laborious. I take a few more blind steps towards Bruno, and realize a change in my footing that triggers me to freeze in my tracks.
Looking down I see my clean shoe fully embedded in the middle of a deep pile of greasy light-brown dog feces. It is a sizeable pile of dung, recent enough to be pliable, and it yields fully to my weight.
I stay still for a few seconds and look down. Life is unfair. Life is toil and unrest. Life is unsatisfying and cruel. Life is very different now that this has happened, and for some reason it becomes Bruno’s fault.
My dog is many yards away, but I lay blame on him for this. I blame him for not coming. I blame him for distracting me. I blame him for my own blind stupidity. Bruno is filled with spite and he has caused this travesty through his lack of respect and interest in me.
“Jesus – FUCK!”
I pull my shoe out of the shit and it is now much heavier than the other one. It slips on the dead grass as I put it back down on a clean spot, out of the shit pile now behind me. The dog continues to sniff, switching trees and legs oblivious of my angst.
I begin to skate on the grass. I start an elegantly choreographed series of moves and gestures that are a byproduct of me trying to remove the vile ichor that has surrounded my foot. I glide and spin. My foot extends and arches gracefully as I spin, dragging my shit-laden shoe across a surface of flat dead un-absorbing grass. I continue to move like a drunk ballerina on crack cocaine in the middle of a field. One foot magnetized to the ground.
It goes on for a few minutes until I am out of breath and my anger has been consumed by humiliation. If only there was a tap near by, or a deep puddle, or a river, even half a cup of cold coffee that I could pour over the scathing pestilence that has overtaken my appendage.
Then at once I give up. I compose myself. I start walking backwards, trying to keep my foot downwind to avoid the toxic gas emanating from my shoe. I call Bruno and he comes straight away. It is as if he knows something is awry.
We walk home in silence and I stop a few times to let him sniff. I feel bad. We get home and I go into the back yard and wash my shoes off with the hose. It is too cold to be hosing things, but there is no way I am bringing this shit into the house.
After spending way too long watering my shoe I go inside, leaving them outside for the night. When I get in the dog is asleep in his bed, and life goes back to normal.
I forget everything except the fact that if feels so good to have warm hands again.