Bob had just put the hamburgers on the backyard barbecue grill and started the stopwatch on his cell phone to time them when Donna said, “You won’t believe what happened today. An officer from the city Animal Control Agency came by with a complaint about Ginger.”
He frowned. “Was she out of the yard or something?”
“No. They called in on Ginger’s behalf to complain about us.”
He stared at her, his mouth open. “Who was it?”
“She wouldn’t say.”
“The Animal Control officer was a woman.”
“Didn’t she have to tell you who complained?”
“She said she didn’t. Anyway, she said Ginger looked fine, and she’s going to report that everything’s OK.”
“Except it’s not OK, it’s malicious.”
“It’s probably somebody’s idea of a joke. Let’s not get carried away.”
He noticed the odor of the cooking burgers, and flipped them, a few seconds too late. They turned out OK, but he only ate half of his hamburger, and very little of the coleslaw and baked beans. He finished half of his beer.
It had been a perfect day up until Donna telling him about the Animal Control officer. The company where he was the comptroller had passed its external audit, and he’d decided to go home early as a reward. The air had smelled of freshly mown quarter-acre lawns as he’d driven into the neighborhood, with its hedges neatly trimmed, the flowerbeds impeccably weeded. Some day they would move into a wealthier neighborhood, but for now Forest Chapel was a subdivision that he could be proud of. There were five models of contemporary houses, all spacious, with brick or stone fronts. The only fences permitted in front yards were iron grillwork, which lent an air of elegance.
He’d played with Ginger before supper, and was thinking how well she’d turned out. When they rescued her from the animal shelter she was afraid of everything, and mistrusted everybody. He’d worked with her for months, and she’d turned out to be the dog he’d dreamed of having when he was a kid. She was a mixed-breed with a golden coat, looking part Labrador.
In the family room after supper Donna said, “I got the Animal Control officer’s card, if you want to call her.”
“Yeah. Good idea. Thanks.”
He called right then, but the officer was off duty. The next morning he was busy at the office, but finally got a chance to call the Animal Control Agency around ten o’clock. The officer was out, but got back to him an hour later.
“Yes sir, I remember your dog very well. Ginger. A beautiful animal. Your wife showed me your files on her. Very impressive. I could see there was no basis for any complaint.”
“What exactly was the complaint?”
“That Ginger was barking all night, that she was kept outside in the winter, that she was undernourished, and possibly had mange.”
“That’s ridiculous. I have her on a good diet. No junk snacks, either. She gets regular check-ups from the vet. I do let her run outside as much as she likes. When I first rescued her she seemed to have a problem with being enclosed. Even so, I try to bring her into the house on cold nights. She seems to prefer the garage. I leave the garage door open in the winter, so she can come and go as she likes. I keep a small space heater out there for her. And she hardly ever barks, and never all night. We have an invisible fence, and she’s learned not to leave our yard.”
“Yes sir, your wife explained all that. I think you’re doing a great job.”
“Who filed the complaint?”
“Like I said to your wife yesterday, we’ve found it’s better not to provide that information. I’ll be calling the complainant to let them know we found you in compliance with all laws and regulations.”
“Was it a man or a woman?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“But it was somebody in our subdivision.”
“Sir, I can’t tell you that.”
“Can I meet with you, so we can discuss this further?” He planned to pay her something for the information, but didn’t want to come out and say that over the phone.
“No sir. Let’s just let it go. I’m not going to give you any more information. Just enjoy your dog. She’s a beautiful animal.”
He talked more, but she wouldn’t yield. He asked for her supervisor, who also wouldn’t give any additional information. Bob could hear his own voice getting louder, and could feel his pulse pounding in his skull. He decided he’d better end the call.
Mark, the company’s CEO, came to the door of Bob’s office. “Everything all right, dude?”
“Some ass-hole complained to the city about me abusing my dog. An officer came out to investigate, and agreed there was no problem. But now they won’t tell me who complained.”
“Can you file a freedom of information request?”
“It takes forever in this damn town, if they ever respond at all. No worries. I’ll figure it out.”
Donna worked three twelve-hour shifts a week at the hospital. She was on duty that day. Bob got home earlier than her, and started supper like he usually did on her workdays. All day after the phone call to Animal Control he’d been thinking of a plan. When Donna got home a little after seven-thirty he was playing with Ginger in the yard.
“I talked to that Officer Luttrell.”
“The dog catcher. Boy, you’re right, she won’t give up anything about who complained.”
At first she looked at Bob like she didn’t know what he was talking about, then said, “Oh. Yeah. I guess that’s that, then.”
“We can’t let it go. Whoever did this will try something else. We have to confront them as soon as possible, to nip it in the bud.” He threw the ball hard as he said “nip it.” Ginger raced after it, grinning ecstatically.
“Since we don’t know who it is, how do we confront them?”
“I’m thinking we should go around the neighborhood and talk to everybody, and kind of feel them out.”
“Don’t do that, Bob. That’d look crazy.”
“No it wouldn’t. We can just explain it reasonably, and let everybody know our concerns.”
“Let me think about it. We don’t have to do it tonight, do we? I’m beat.”
“I guess not. Let’s eat supper. Spaghetti’s ready. I just have to warm the garlic bread.” He tried to sound upbeat, to hide his disappointment.
They didn’t talk about the Animal Control issue for a couple of days, until Donna was off work again.
“Are you game to go talk to the neighbors about Ginger? You’ve had all day to rest.”
“I guess. Do you think we both need to go?” She was sitting in the easy chair in the family room, with her feet propped up on the ottoman.
“I can use the moral support. And I think the guys might be friendlier if my good-looking wife is with me. A fat slob like me has trouble getting sympathy.” He and Donna had been a golden couple at their wedding, both tall and thin. He’d gotten fat since then, while Donna had stayed trim. She worked at it, and everybody talked about how good she looked. Most of their acquaintances were too polite to mention the contrast, but he felt like a lumbering ox next to her when they went out together.
“OK. Since you put it that way.”
They talked to eight households, including the three facing them across the street, the next-door neighbors on either side of their house, and the three houses behind. Back home afterward they sat down in the kitchen and compared notes.
“That went well,” she said. “I’d been worried about Bud and Kelly. We hardly ever talk to them. I thought you had offended them one time, but they were very nice.”
“When did I offend them?”
“A couple of years ago when we were talking across the fence in the backyard. You made some remark about hoping to move to a better neighborhood. They both frowned when you said that. I was talking to Kelly another time, and she said something about you looking down on Forest Chapel. I think they feel inferior because he’s a blue collar guy, and you’re an executive.”
“Bull. I respect Bud. He owns his own business. Nothing wrong with an HVAC guy.”
“I know, but sometimes you have a way of putting people off, not thinking about what you’re saying.”
“They seemed OK today. You always talk about how insensitive I am, but I think we had a good talk with them.”
“Oh, for sure, they were very supportive today. I don’t think Bud likes anybody calling the police on neighbors. I’m sure now nobody close by called Animal Control. We might as well forget about it.”
“Sounds like you’re looking for an excuse to give up.”
“I just don’t think it’s worth any more effort.” She finished her beer and got up from the table.
He kept going over in his mind people who might have a grudge against him, or have some reason for attacking him. The next morning at work he called his mother in Florida.
“This is a crazy question, and please don’t get mad, but did you make a complaint with the Knoxville Animal Control office about Ginger?”
“I’d understand if you did. I always feel bad about you not staying at our house when you visit, because of your allergies.”
“Bobby, I can’t believe you could think that I would try to get your dog in trouble.”
“Ginger’s not in trouble. Somebody complained to the city that I wasn’t taking good care of her. I thought maybe you wanted to have her taken away from me.” It sounded stupid as he said it now, although it had made perfect sense when he lay in bed thinking about it the previous night.
“Oh, honey, I know you always resented it because you couldn’t have a dog when you were a kid. I’m sorry, I just can’t stay in the same house with a dog. I think you’re projecting your resentment on to me.”
“I’m sorry, Mom. I should have known better. I’ve just been upset about this complaint from the city.”
“Are they going to take the dog away from you?”
“No, they sent an officer out, and found everything was OK.”
“Now it’s my turn to hope that you don’t get mad. Did Donna put you up to calling me?”
“No. Good grief, no. She doesn’t even know I’m calling you.”
“It’s OK, honey, you don’t have to cover for her. I know you wouldn’t have thought of this on your own. You know me better than that.”
“I did think of it myself, Mom. Donna told me to forget about this whole business. She didn’t tell me to call you.”
“It’s OK, honey. I ought to call and talk to her.”
“No, please, Mom, don’t do that. She had nothing to do with me calling you.”
“It’s all right.”
After he hung up he stared at his computer screen for a few minutes before finally being able to concentrate on work. He dreaded going home.
That night they were watching TV in the family room, Donna in her easy chair with matching ottoman, Bob in his leather recliner, both with beer and snacks on side tables. Bob took the opportunity during a commercial break to say, “Mom may call you. I called her about that Animal Control complaint. I got to thinking she might have been the one who reported us. She got upset, and started saying it was your fault that I called her. You know how she gets. I told her it wasn’t true. Did she call you by any chance?”
Donna said, “Don’t worry about it,” and got up and went into the kitchen.
Every evening when Bob came home now he talked about Ginger and who might have reported them. Usually he’d bring it up at the dinner table.
One night Donna said, “Well, if we don’t think the people living right around us did it, how can we figure it out? It could have been the postman, or a UPS driver, or some other guy coming into the neighborhood to service a house. Let’s just drop it.” She sounded firm, the way he imagined she would talk to an unruly patient.
“I’m thinking it’s bound to be somebody in the neighborhood. Maybe we could talk to more neighbors, the entire block, and maybe beyond.”
“That’s going overboard. I’m not visiting any more houses to talk about our dog.” She didn’t sound firm now, just mad.
They glared at each other. Then Bob said, “I’d think you’d want to support me when I’m under attack.”
“What do you mean ‘you’re under attack’? They didn’t complain about you by name. They complained about both of us. I’m as affected as you are, and I say it’s time to drop it.” She began clearing off the table. He went outside and played ball with Ginger until it was too dark to play.
On Saturday Donna was weeding the flowerbeds while Bob went to Kroger’s. He was at the dairy case picking up a tub of margarine when an old woman approached. He remembered the leathery skin and big nicotine- and coffee-stained teeth. He knew she lived in the subdivision, but was struggling to remember her name.
“Hello, Bob. How are you today?”
“Hi, Peg.” He’d remembered her name just in time.
“Where’s your bride?”
“She’s at home doing a little yard work.”
“We’ve been missing her at the pool.”
“Oh? I guess she’s been busy.”
“Dave Martinez looks lonely without her.”
“Who?” He didn’t recall a Dave Martinez.
“You must remember him, that good-looking American Airlines pilot? He always sits next to Donna at the pool. He has a crazy work schedule like hers, gone for days at a time, then back home for days.”
He couldn’t think of what to say. After an awkward silence Peg said, “Oh, I’m just playing with you. Don’t take me seriously. I’m kidding about Dave.”
He smiled, still not able to think of anything to say.
“You should come to the pool sometimes. It’s a good way to meet your neighbors. I never see you there.”
“I’m too tired after work, and I always seem to have something to do on weekends. I guess I should get over there more. I could use the exercise.”
“Well, I look forward to seeing you there. It was nice to see you, Bob. Say hello to Donna for me.”
“I sure will, Peg. See you.”
When Bob got back from the store Donna was still pulling weeds. He asked her if she felt like something to drink, and she said she wanted a Coke. After he came back out and handed her the cold can he kept standing there.
“Who’s this Dave Martinez?”
“The pilot? He lives over on Warner. Why?”
“I saw that old woman, Peg what’s her name, at Kroger’s. She said Dave looked lonely since you’ve not been coming to the pool.”
“That nosey old bitch. I see him at the pool sometimes. Peg likes to gossip.” “Really? The way Peg was talking you all are close friends. Do I know this guy?”
“You may have met him at the pool.”
“I don’t think so.” For a minute he looked at Ginger playing in the yard, then said, “I wonder if he knows anything about that call to Animal Control.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I asked him. He was a little offended by my asking, actually.” She sounded angry.
“Did you ask Peg about Animal Control?”
“No. It didn’t occur to me.”
“Why’d you ask this Dave? Is there some reason he’d be out to get me?”
“No. Peg said something that made me think Dave might have done it. I can’t remember what now. God, can we forget about this Animal Control business? Doesn’t that dog take up enough of our lives without worrying about some anonymous phone call?”
“I didn’t know Ginger bothered you so much.”
“She doesn’t bother me. It’s this constant worrying over the Animal Control thing. Aren’t there more important things in our life?”
“You say I’m insensitive and don’t care about anybody, now you criticize me for caring too much for Ginger.”
“Trying to find out who reported us has nothing to do with caring for Ginger. I’m not criticizing you for looking after her. You’ve been great about that. But, Jesus, forget about Animal Control.” She was pulling on an especially big clump of weeds that came out by the roots in one ferocious tug.
He stood there for a minute, then went back into the house. She finished weeding and went in.
Months later he was getting into his car in front of the house. Donna had to work, and he’d agreed to take care of the walk-through. A car pulled up behind his, and a middle-aged man in baggy shorts, a Sequoyah Museum T-shirt, and flip flops got out. Bob didn’t know who he was at first, just another graying, bald guy with a gut.
“Hi. I noticed you’ve taken down the for sale sign. Does that mean you’ve sold the house, or have you just given up on selling it?”
“It’s sold. I just did the walk-through with the new owners.”
“Great. I’ve been meaning to call you all, but never got around to it. Do you remember me?”
“I remember your face from the homeowners’ meetings, but I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten your name.”
“Clyde Willis. Anyway, when I saw the for sale sign a while back, that reminded me that I owed you all a call. Well, not really, but I did want to explain something. Probably doesn’t matter much. Do you ever go out to my end of the street, the 3100 block?”
“Not very often. We usually leave on Meadowlark.”
“Well, I had a neighbor who was bugging the heck out of me. Not him so much as his dog, barking all the time. It was skinny, and looked to me like it had mange. I spoke to him about it, and he got real nasty. He kept the poor dog outside all winter. I thought maybe it would shut up in the summer, figuring it was barking because of the cold. But it didn’t, it just kept barking all night, keeping my wife and me awake.
“I finally called the city, the animal people, whatever they call them. A week went by and nothing happened. I called the city again, and they said they’d been meaning to call me. They’d been out to check on the dog and there wasn’t a problem. I raised hell about it, and they finally had the officer who investigated it call me. She started giving me attitude, acting like I was a crank caller, saying the dog was well cared for. I was really tearing in to her. Then she said something about what a beautiful golden colored dog it was.
“I said, hell, the dog is solid black. We kept talking, and it turned out that whoever took my original complaint had written the address down as 3909, instead of 3109. We both took a deep breath, and she agreed to check out the right address.
“Anyway, long story short, she came out, gave my neighbor a ticket. He hit the roof. He guessed who’d called in on him, and came around threatening me. He finally moved out, though. He was a renter. Moved out in the country, Loudon County or someplace.
“I hope it didn’t cause you all any trouble. It wasn’t my fault, but the city’s. I kept meaning to tell you all about it, and just never got around to it.”
“It was no problem.”
“Where are you all moving to?”
“I’m moving out beyond Farragut, to a house with a big yard where my dog can run. Donna’s moving into one of those new condos downtown, in those converted warehouses.”
“Oh? Oh. Sorry. Anyway, good luck to you.”
Tom Ray asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.