dontravis.com blog post #347
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I received a surprisingly good reception for my tentative step into the world of poetry. At least nobody snickered… on the Internet, at least.
This week I get back to home ground with a piece of flash fiction. Hope you like the story that follows. It was prompted by seeing a handsome young man with his guide dog strolling down East Central with what seemed—to me at least—an unusual amount of vigor and confidence. The black and tan shephard accompanying him was a beautiful animal.
By Don Travis
I regained my independence the day Bony came into my life. Bony—or more properly Bonaparte—was a black and tan German Shepherd with a long, wet, inquisitive nose and sharply pointed, upright ears. Bony, you see, was my guide dog, my eyes, my guardian.
Let me explain. My name is Russell Gordon, and for twenty-two years I was your ordinary, run-of-the-mill, garden variety hunk, a golden-haired, violet-eyed, buffed, woman-chasing, over-achieving WASP. I had life by the balls and was squeezing hard when life got tired of it and squeezed back. Pushed back. Hell, it shoved me off the board. I came down with a rare exotic fever and damned near died. I recovered… except for my eyesight. Blind as a bat… well, not quite. I see shades of gray and glimpse mysterious, amorphous shapes now and then. But blind, all right, although no one would suspect unless I blundered into a chair or something.
My eyes, they tell me, look normal. I should probably wear dark glasses and carry a white cane, so I won’t shock strangers when they tumble to my affliction. I can always tell the moment it happens because everything changes… speech, attitude, everything. And I hate it. I’m the same guy I always was, so dammit, don’t treat me differently.
For two years, I hid out in my house—a small adobe in the university neighborhood of Albuquerque—eating, sleeping, sulking, and constantly working out on my exercise machine, awaiting the day the middle tissues behind the sclera straightened up and gave me my sight back. When that happened, I wasn’t returning to society a flabby weakling. I’d re-enter the sighted world the way I left it, a physically fit human being.
The doctors warned me against such high expectations, but I stubbornly refused to accept reality. After twenty-four months, I ventured outside with a cane… and experienced a paralyzing mortification. The cane was a symbol of helplessness, at least in my eyes…no pun intended. I put the damned thing aside for good when one solid citizen glared into my perfect, sightless eyes and indignantly admonished me for mimicking a blind man.
Finally acknowledging my handicap, I contacted the Association for the Blind, who helped bring me out of denial into acceptance and sent me to New Jersey where Bony entered my life. When he was a year and a half old, Bony underwent sixteen weeks of rigorous training. After we were carefully paired by the Seeing Eye staff, we spent another twenty days training as a team. Those folks did a whale of a job on both of us; we were a perfect match.
In the six months we’d been together, I’d learned to trust his judgment and accept his friendship—no, his love and devotion. For some odd reason, venturing out into the real world with a guide dog is less intimidating than relying on a white cane, at least for me. Not only do I have someone to guide me, I have a constant, agreeable companion, as well.
About three weeks ago, Bony surprised me with his first act of ‘intelligent disobedience.’ Returning from the library with some new audio books, we got off the city bus four blocks from my house. I customarily take a shortcut down an alleyway, but this time, Bony balked. When I urged him on, he blocked me with his seventy-pound bulk. Unaccustomed to being thwarted by my new friend, I groused a little and stepped around him. He stubbornly held his ground, growling low in his throat. Impatient to be on my way, I tugged on his harness and ordered him forward. My friend accompanied me down that alley, albeit unwillingly. Within twenty-five steps, I caught the odor of marijuana and understood his reluctance.
“Hey, bro!” said a voice from somewhere in front of me. “Neat dog. How come he’s got that harness thing on? You steal him from some blind slob?”
Giggles. A growl from Bony.
“Ought not rob our blind brothers,” a throaty rasp came from the left.
Bony snarled and shifted. I perceived a faint shadow step back hastily.
“No, he’s all mine. I have this problem. I can’t see.”
“You don’t look like no blind dude. Eyes look okay to me. Kinda pretty, ya know. Ain’t he got pretty eyes?”
“Real purty,” someone agreed. “Say, purty boy, how about you loan us a few bills. We getting low on Mary Jane.”
“Sorry, don’t carry money on me.” That much was true; it was safely zippered in one of Bony’s saddlebags.
“You don’t mind if we check it out for ourselves. You know, you being blind and all, might be some on you that you can’t see.”
His buddy’s laughter at the joke, raised my hackles. Shivers worked down my spine. When a hand fell on my hip, I flinched. Bony snapped; the hand went away.
“Better get that mutt under control, else I’m gonna have to cut him,” the front voice threatened.
I had no idea how Bony would react in a physical confrontation. Nonetheless, I put some steel in my voice. “Better get yourself under control, or you’ll be the one needing stitches.”
Before I understood what was happening, all hell broke loose. Bony lunged, jerking his halter from my grip. Someone cried out in pain. A hand grasped my waist and fumbled on my buttock for a wallet. Blindly, I loosed a roundhouse at a shadow… and connected. Almost three years of frustration and months of over-compensating physical exercise sent the thug sprawling on his butt. In moments, there was the sound of headlong, panicked flight with Bony hard on their heels. I shouted a command, and he returned to my side, panting slightly.
My heart skittering like a covey of frightened quail, I knelt and pulled him to me, singing his praises. I held him against my chest until my nerves settled. Bony took advantage of the moment to wash my face with wet kisses.
We made it home safely, and I grabbed a beer for me and a popsicle for Bony from the fridge before collapsing into my recliner to analyze what had happened. I was afraid I’d have fresh doubts about venturing into the sighted world ever again, Instead, I found my confidence firmly in place. Bony and I made a formidable pair. The dog was awesome and had proved he would fight for me.
Bonaparte Shepherd… guardian.
Lots easier than writing a poem, I can tell you. Hope you liked it.
Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!
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See you next week.
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