Man and Dogs
The elderly gentleman approached
with measured steps and conscious carriage
precisely in pace with two golden retrievers
old dogs on slack leads
well-fed sleekly groomed
resigned to their constitutional hour.
They raised their heads at my approach
and one even lifted a hopeful tail.
I stopped. I love dogs.
'May I touch them?' I asked.
'Certainly,' replied the gentleman
in a clipped but not unkind voice.
I knelt and fondled the two silken heads
rubbing their ears, making doggie talk
as they pressed into my lap.
I glanced up, smiling.
The man was standing patiently
his face polite but closed
and I said, 'Would you like a pat, too?'
The words flipped out of my mouth
My bold humour will be
the death of me some day.
And he's ENGLISH!
His eyes glazed over
as I kept my smile glued -
it was an intimate joke with a stranger
what do I do now -
Then his pupils sparked
his face broke rank and he laughed,
'No, thank you. I'm fine.'
He gathered in his dogs gracefully
their tails wagging leashes straining.
and we parted
the moment finished.
This past autumn one of his dogs died.
Their footsteps are even slower now
just man and dog.
We always nod in passing
but not smiling.
The dog does not lift its head.
I have never stopped again
nor presumed to speak.
But each time I wonder,
'Who will be gone next?'
and I feel a pang
as though I really know him.
Cynthia Buell Thomas
from a series called 'Brief Encounters'