A two-story house abuts the line separating it from our property. Covered in asphalt shingle siding, it is an early structure, you can tell, nineteenth century at least. An educated guess says there’s clapboard under the asphalt, and the door on the other side, the front, has a pleasing curvilinear shape to it, double arches the likes of which one never sees these days anywhere. Faded lettering above the pretty door suggests commerce went on there once upon a time. But that is on the side we can’t see from our house and yard.
Rumor has it the chimney on the back of the house trespasses onto our land, but it is a rumor only a bona fide surveyor can settle. The house is full of junk, piles of things, observable through matching sets of uncurtained windows on either side of the chimney, a pair of them upstairs and another one down. A forlorn garage stands only a few feet to the side of it, where squirrels are wont to scurry up and down the roof line until the dog following their antics is driven to vexation.
In front of these two structures and further from the encroached-upon property line, rises another two-story one, a bungalow-style home occupied by a person one might assume is the neighborhood eccentric, we’re not sure. More rumors. We do know she lives alone, and that she does not wish to engage, a truth revealed last fall on a sunny afternoon when our eyes locked, when she was gathering sticks and small tree limbs, and then lobbing them over a rusted wire fence and down into the Walloomsac River below, while I waited for an intimidated dog to take care of business. I waved hello to her, but she turned and walked away without a word or a gesture.
It is our fate, and Scout’s, that the best place for doing what needs to be done is just this side of the Asphalt House chimney that may, or may not, encroach upon our land. When the snow is deep, David-the-Chef shovels a pathway that cuts a long diagonal swath across the yard and to the business spot. And most of the time, most days and most nights, the dog has the place to himself, save a few squirrels and maybe an errant bird—less vexing because they are pointless to chase in the first place. But what joy to run along that pathway and then to bound through the snowy yard like a dervish, kicking up the snow (which reaches to your armpits) and then diving headlong into it, again and again, until you are so out of breath you begin to cough, and then you say to your humans it is time to go inside.
But today, silent woman was hanging out clothing on a line, a mystery to us in the cold and damp, but there she was doing it just the same. And the hanging out of the clothing occurred very close to the place of business. When you have been cooped up inside for a while, and you need to take care of business, and a person is hanging menacing clothing whose sleeves flap this way and that in the wind, you must do something, and it is this: you must bark, and bark loudly. You must stand your ground, throw back your head, and bay like a hound even though you are not one, at the flapping sleeves and the clothes-hanging woman. Your human will apologize to the woman and try to shush you, but it is to no avail, because this action is incumbent upon you.
And although you have forgotten to take care of that thing you came outside to do, or perhaps you are bitterly disappointed knowing it is no good now anyway—that is how a shy dog informs the neighbor woman.