A short story by William Hrdina
Jerry knew the look when he saw it. He got it every day around dusk. It was time to walk. Dogs were creatures of habit- and Jerry's was no exception. As much as he didn't want to do it- Jerry knew he would have to get up- it wasn't smart to ignore Crunchy. Doing so pretty much guaranteed a poop on the living room rug- at best. Crunchy was a small white Shih Tzu with black spots who seemed to live under the delusion she was a much larger dog than she actually was. The fur around her mouth was always brown and crusted with a substance Jerry was never really able to identify.
With a groan and a small fart- Jerry got up off of the sofa and went to get the dog's leash from its hook by the back door. As he stood above the dog, staring at its dirty muzzle and trying to untangle the small body harness- he cursed his ex-wife Sheila for the millionth time. The stupid name- and the stupid dog- were both her handiwork.
"It isn't your fault that you're stupid." He told the dog.
Crunchy only knew she was being addressed- and was happy for the attention. Her little stubby tail wagged a mile a minute and she let rip the dog equivalent of Fran Drescher's voice- a high yipping capable of instantly putting Jerry on edge.
Dusk rapidly faded into darkness- the day had already been gloomy due to a heavy cloud cover. By the time Jerry walked Crunchy the half a block to the dog trail, it was dark enough to cause him to turn on the flashlight on his cell phone. The flashlight helped him identify potential snacks Crunchy might want to snag from the ground- snacks like discarded Cheetos and cat poop- the ultimate delicacy to the nasty little rat-dog. It made him more visible too- which prevented people from crashing into him in the darkness.
The dog trail was one of the things that led Jerry and Sheila to buy their house, back before she decided she'd rather be living with Thomas, the guy who taught her poetry class at the junior college. The full trail was twenty miles long, but the length and breadth of their daily journey was well established by habit and tradition. The whole trip was 0.97 miles. Jerry measured it once by wearing a pedometer.
The trail itself was a narrow paved strip lined closely on both sides by alternating patches of trees and weeds so thick they effectively created a wall on either side. This mini-wilderness lasted for about 50 yards in either direction before giving way to the suburbs that surrounded the trail.
When Jerry saw the dog trail for the first time, he pictured himself walking with a Labrador or a golden retriever. He never pictured himself with a Shih Tzu. Jerry had never liked little dogs. But Sheila threw a fit when they went to the animal shelter, literally falling down on her knees in tears in front of the dog who would eventually bear the moniker Crunchy. Jerry gave in just to stop her desperate sobbing- right in front of the big-haired lady whose name tag was so festooned with animal stickers- you couldn't actually read her name.