They were there again today, across the street near an empty recycling bin. They are there every morning, this well-groomed dust-mop of a dog and the perpetually bewildered old man holding the leash. They must be out for their morning walk, but they do not ever seem to walk. Mostly they stand: peacefully in the first-fallen sycamore leaves, or smiling inanely at the end of the neighbors’ driveway by the crepe myrtles.
One morning they were at the end of Maryl’s driveway. The old man grinned while he held up a hand in greeting, palm facing away from his chest. The dog sniffed around the neatly arranged river stones in the ditch. They shuffled out of the way just in time.
The dog is as white as the old man’s goatee, the sort of docile and unintelligent dog bred to sit on the laps of aristocracy. Her flowing white fur hides her eyes and legs and drags the pavement when she walks. Her nose is pink, like the wad of bubblegum you find stuck to the bottom of a desk.
The old man wears his white tube socks pulled up neatly and as high as they’ll reach. Some days a car stops to talk to him, and he leans in the passenger window the way southern folks of a certain generation always do. When he steps away the dark and freshly waxed cars speed out of the neighborhood, rolling up electric windows as they go.
“Yea, I’ve seen them,” Maryl said, “it’s really sad actually. Cecily told me his wife used to always walk the dog, but she died.”
He raises his hand at each car that drives by, and he smiles. It is not the brief cordial nod that the power walker in her well coordinated active wear gives, nor is it the impartial two fingers lifted from the steering wheel by the drivers of those freshly waxed cars not obligated by politeness. His smile is wide open and honest, and his hand stays there at heart level until the car is out of sight. Once, he even gave a thumbs up.
The gesture wraps itself around you, gives you the kind of safety and warmth that you felt before you learned that safety doesn’t really exist, and at the same time the gesture is so honest and inarguable that it is almost confrontational. It demands a choice, and no matter how fast we drive away or how half-heartedly we lift our fingers from the steering wheel, this man and his dog will be there each morning, standing by the park, smiling.