The White-Faced Dog
by Charles C. Cole
My supervisor, Lance, took bad news poorly. I was “temping” for a billing office while someone was out on maternity leave. Fortunately, Lance and I got along.
Until recently, I was told, Lance had a full head of hair. Then he began wearing a beret in the office, every day. About that time, he grew a beard. I felt sorry for him, not because of his baldness, but because he seemed overwhelmed by it.
Lance saw an ophthalmologist. He’d been having migraines. The verdict: he needed glasses. He went through the motions, bought a pair with conservative, “intellectual” frames, which he then kept in his drawer, never wearing them.
There was a nasty rain. We started workdays at six, so we had the office to ourselves for the first 90 minutes of the day. Lance was late, and I didn’t have a key. When he finally pulled in, I walked over to greet him. To my shock, his car had a new dent.
“Wake up on the wrong side of the road?” I teased.
“I’ll tell you all about it,” he said, unlocking the office. “Start the coffee, separate the reports. I’ll get donuts.”
And he was gone. I felt bad making light of his accident.
Minutes later, he returned. The printer, which I’d never been trained on fixing, was jammed. “We have a problem,” I called. When he didn’t answer, I went to find him. The donuts were in the lunchroom, but no Lance. More time passed. I heard him return and go straight to the printer room, so I followed.
“Wow!” I blurted at the first sight of his beardlessness. He must have shaved in the men’s room. His face looked smaller, paler. He looked younger, even with the circles under his eyes.
“I needed a change.”
“You have a chin,” I joked.
His mood darkened. “Ever been in an accident?”
“Do you want to talk?” I asked.
“Pour some coffee. I’ll fix the jam and meet you in the lunchroom.”
* * *
Lance leaned against the lunchroom counter.
“My head was pounding trying to see through this rain,” he said. “A car was coming the other way when this white-faced dog came flying out of a driveway. They tell you it’s better to hit the animal than to swerve and get in an accident, but they don’t tell you that hitting the animal is an accident. I didn’t stop. What was I supposed to do? Ring the door and say, ‘Sorry, I just killed your dog.’ What kind of dog has a white face and a light brown body?”
“An old golden retriever?”
“Something bigger. It was just a blur. I should have worn my glasses. It’s not the dog’s fault. I should go back and make the owner pay for damages. He ruined my day! I’m still shaking.”
“I could drive you home.”
“Better: just follow me.”
We weren’t far from work when an ambulance flew by in the opposite direction. Traffic slowed to a crawl as we neared police cruisers on both sides of the road, dome lights swirling. Lance advanced between the cruisers and stopped dead. A cop stood in the road, waving us through. Lance ignored him and climbed out of his car.
“You with the hat, get back in the car!”
I pulled over and jumped out.
“It’s my fault,” said Lance. “I hit the dog. I should have been wearing my glasses.”
Either to send Lance on his way or subdue him, the cop spun him around. That’s when Lance noticed the man and woman in the back seat of a cruiser. He swooped down on his prey.
“It was your fault!” he was yelling, taking the offensive. “Dogs aren’t supposed to run wild! There was a car coming the other way! What if I’d swerved? What if you’d found me lying over there, instead of . . .”
The explosion ceased because, where he pointed, Lance discovered an obscenely bent bicycle with a basket half-full of morning papers in little white plastic bags.
The policeman twisted his arms behind him and pushed his face against the roof of the car. Lance’s hat flopped off his head and fell upside-down in the rain.
“Calm down,” the officer said. “Do you know anything about this?” Lance nodded.
“But it was a dog — it came out of nowhere — a white-faced dog with a light brown body.”
“You mean a ten-year old girl in a light brown raincoat.”
“I would have stopped for a girl. It was a dog. Jimmy, tell him.”
The cop turned to me. “Were you with him?”
“No, he was talking about it when he got to work. He said he’d hit a dog.”
“What’s his name? Is he on anything?”
“Lance Freitag. No, sir.”
“Mr. Freitag, I’m letting go. Make any sudden moves or try to leave, I will subdue you. Understand?” Lance nodded again. “Let’s get you in the other cruiser before the little girl’s mom and dad realize who you are. You can tell me your side.”
Lance seemed deflated. One side of his face was dripping wet from being pressed against the car’s roof. It was the first time I’d seen Lance without his hat. I didn’t see the bald spot until he turned away. It looked like a white coin on the crown of his head.
“Can I have a moment?” Lance asked.
The cop gave me the once-over. “Don’t be stupid.”
“Tell the office I went home sick. Give me a day.” He wiped the water off his face. “And can you get my glasses? They’re in the car. I took them home last night. I put them on when I left the house, but they got watered-streaked walking to the car, so I took them off. What a pain! How do people deal with this stuff?”
I was afraid to say the wrong thing. How do people deal? Not always well. Sometimes not well. But I hope better than you, my friend.
Copyright © 2016 by Charles C. Cole