As the sun set, the park emptied. A hand reached from the sky and slowly lowered, covering the trees, shadowing the strollers, hovering over teenagers necking in the shade. And the darker it grew, the colder it became.
The old woman looked around, rearranged the rags on her arms, tugged on her hose, hoisted her breasts. Then leaning on her cart, she stood up. Her aim was sure, her intent clear. She narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips. Then she spat at the guy and his dog.
Meanwhile the dog danced. Hopping on three legs while the guy played music, jumping when a sucker threw a treat. Folks just ate it up, tossing cash into his Little Lord Fauntleroy hat, saying isn’t he cute could he be any cuter while the old woman scurried along the sidewalk chasing the rolling coins.
Once, he was a pup chasing cars. Once, he raced squirrels and lived the American dream. Good Lord, thought the dog, is this all there is? I need a new gig fast.
If there were an Olympics for suffering, thought the guy, San Francisco would be the host city. He pushed the button on the cassette player while stragglers dribbled by. The Rolling Stones proved a people pleaser. “Jumping Jack Flash.” “Satisfaction.” “Honky Tonk Women.” The best investment he ever made was that flea-ridden mongrel. All the guy had to do was tilt his head, roll his eyes, and grin. He could count on the dog for the rest. That dog took to the stage like a Broadway star, shimmying and shaking like there was a spotlight, like there was an award for canine contortions and he was raring for gold.
Soon it grew colder. And while the dog danced, the old woman suffered. Last year, the folks at the clinic took off half a cancerous ear. This year, thanks to her sugar problem, she lost three toes. Her husband was a lying thief, her children ingrates. Whatever did it take to compete with that dog?
Overhead, an oak tree observed the situation. The wind was whipping and two last leaves held on. We’re brown and brittle and sure to fall, said the first leaf. Whatever will happen to us then?
Only God knows, said the second.
Then a gust as fierce as a fist came down from the heavens and pummeled the tree. Next a boom of thunder and a flash of light. For a few bleak seconds, the sky disappeared. The world was dark and dank without a hint of color. The air choked smoke and exhaled fear.
Run for it! someone shouted. There was barely time to grab a final glance. The old lady shivered, and the dog was still dancing while two leaves skimmed the ground.