The Man in the Maroon Pickup Truck...A True Short Story
It was a perfect spring afternoon in New England. The tender green of the grass and vitality of new life and scents embraced the senses. These were beautiful, seductive days, as if Mother Nature encouraged us to join hands with all living things. Winter’s bitter trespass had been forgiven.
Taking walks on such days was a ritual my dog, Sunny, particularly relished. She could barely contain her excitement as I attached her leash to the D-ring in her collar.
Sunny was part Basenji, slightly built with a silky coat of chestnut red and a white blaze across her strong chest and legs. Her corkscrew tail curved over her back like a wayward ribbon. Basenjis are commonly known as the ‘barkless dogs’ from Africa. Due to the shape of Sunny's larynx, she sounded like a yodeling rooster whenever she howled, and barely managed a muted “Warf!” when trying to bark. Despite these similar attributes, her black tongue and puppy-like muzzle betrayed any further ancestry. As with other rescue dogs from the ASPCA, mixed breeding had claimed the honor of her parentage.
True to her Basenji DNA, Sunny was a consummate hunter. We lived at the end of a mile-long, dead-end country road that wound its way through woods, marshland and fields. Despite our efforts, the wild country provided an irresistible enticement that would cause her to disappear on one of her rare safaris. We’d later find her, lounging in the middle of the driveway next to a dead raccoon, proudly showing off her hunting skills and ‘gifts’ to the family.
I’ve never known a dog to be so affectionate. Sunny’s enthusiasm for independence was matched by her love for people. Young or old, stranger or friend, it didn’t matter. She adored everyone, including her veterinarian. The moment she was placed on his examining table for checkups and routine vaccinations, she’d snuggle up to him, pressing her head and muzzle against his white lab coat as if to say, “I know this might hurt but I love you anyway.”
Our walk that afternoon began like many others. When we reached the end of the driveway, I opened the gate as Sunny jiggle-danced with happy anticipation. To the left, the road raised up to a hill before slopping downward and ending at Slocum's River. A swath of muddy beach served as a landing or slipway for small outboard skiffs that could be launched into the water from trailers if the tide was high enough. Local residents used this access for fishing and crabbing on the river. Traffic was barely a trickle since only eight families lived along the entire stretch of road.
We turned right and had walked several yards down the road when a maroon pickup truck appeared over the hill behind us. It slowed to a stop next to where we were standing. I didn’t recognize the vehicle or the man driving it and assumed he was lost.
I was startled when the stranger looked at Sunny and called out, “Hey, Red!” He slipped his gearshift into park, slid over to the passenger side and opened the door.
The instant his thick-soled work boots touched the asphalt, Sunny backed away from him and edged closer to me. Every muscle in her body appeared to tense as she stood at full alert. Something was definitely off. The words, “What’s the matter, girl?” formed in my mind but traveled no further. Instinct seemed to lead me in a direction I didn't understand.
The man appeared to be in his mid to late 30’s. He had a medium build, and wore a grey, long-sleeved shirt tucked inside of his jeans. A plain, dark blue baseball cap covered dark hair that peeked beneath the brim and cap.
“Red and I are old friends. I see her sometimes when I’m fishing,” he said, gesturing toward the landing. He reached into the back of his truck and retrieved a milk bone dog biscuit. Smiling, he knelt down in front of Sunny and extended his hand with the treat under her muzzle. It bothered me that he didn’t know his “old friend” disliked these biscuits…she never ate them.
Sunny lowered her head and kept her eyes fixed on his, gingerly taking hold of the bone with her teeth. She made no attempt to eat it, but instead clenched it in her strong jaws as she continued to stare at him without a blink.
From where I was standing, I had a clear view of the back of the truck and its contents. There were no signs of a dog or any fishing equipment. Aside from a bucket filled with dog biscuits, the only other items were an old shovel and a blue plastic tarp, neatly folded. Cracked speckles of dried white paint and mud dotted the edges of the tarp. The floor appeared to have been swept clean.
The stranger didn’t introduce himself, and neither did I. There was an oddness to it all that made me a little uneasy. I said nothing and nodded politely as my hand tightened around the handle of Sunny’s leash.
After glancing down the road, the man tugged at the visor of his cap and stood up. “Well…I’ve gotta get going,” he said to the ground.
With the nervous haste of someone who had knocked on the wrong door, he jumped into his truck and drove off with a wave of his hand that swiped the air. I was relieved, but not surprised, when Sunny dropped the dog biscuit from her mouth. The two of us stood at the side of the road, watching the stranger until he disappeared from view around a narrow bend that cut through a tunnel of trees. The rear of his truck revealed Mass. plates, but no trailer hitch.
I sighed, leaned over and stroked Sunny’s forehead. “He’s gone, girl. It’s time to go." She looked up, licked my hand and gave the curve in the road a final look before turning to walk beside me as we headed home.
I never saw the man again.
Years have passed since that brief encounter, yet I still wonder about it. Sometimes when worlds pass by our own, they graze the edges before moving on. All that remains are questions that linger in the mind. Had I been rude and overly cautious in my interactions with this fellow? Did Sunny pick up an unusual scent that put her off or was it something more ominous? Was he a trespasser whose friendly gesture was spurred by the beauty of nature’s moment and surroundings? I’ll never know.
Nature’s moments set to the instrumental theme of "The Cider House Rules."
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© Copyright 2014 by Genna Eastman (Genna East). All rights reserved.