An Army of Dogs
by T.O. Davis
Mac checked his phone; it was almost time to pick up his daughter. He walked out into the sticky afternoon. He did not put on shoes, and the sidewalk was cold, damp and then rough and hot – stinging his soles until they were numb. He would have to pay for this infraction. His daughter, Alicia, would give him the usual eye roll, take him by the hand, and quietly escort him into the house to prevent further embarrassment. He would not let her arrest him so quickly today. He had a mission. He had to talk to the bus driver today and not that filler bull shit. Not the Hi-how-are-you-white-people-robo speech. He had to tell the bus driver how he felt about her. Alicia would probably never forgive him, but Mac knew – or forced himself to believe – that she had a lifetime to get over it.
Mac was still worried about what to say. He had taken on a more doughy, rubinesque appearance since his halcyon days when he actually gave a fuck about his life and the world around him, which started as a hurricane-sized romance known as Amy Mercado. Then the war happened, and he left and came back and left again. A tire iron to the head brought him back to Amy, but cancer took her away, but not before she gave him Alicia.
Some days, when he is waiting for the bus to arrive, he can feel Amy’s hand on his back, but it is only the wind or a ray of sunlight. He doesn’t tell Alicia about these “tremors,” but he wants to think what life would have been like had he not gone over there. Then a cloud covers the sun or the breeze dies and the moment passes and Mac hears the bus and opens his eyes just in time to see her – the bus driver.
Years before, the bus driver had been an old man, Jack or Joe, whom Mac had not paid much attention except that Alicia talked about him. Then one day, Alicia said it was Jack’s last day and they would have a new bus driver. Mac didn’t think much about it until he saw her. Maybe it was the way the early morning, amber light glinted off her mirror shades, which bathed her angular face and auburn hair in such a way that Mac was still standing there wrapped in diesel fumes not realizing the bus had left.
From that point – despite his rotund appearance – Mac made an effort to wave and distribute the niceties. He had not had the “talk” with Alicia. He dreaded that. His own sexual history had been a series of fumbled grope fests, a health class where a nurse showed pictures of scarred and wart encrusted genitalia and, as a gift on his fourteenth birthday, a few Club magazines and a bottle of lotion from his oldest brother. Ralph now practiced law in Winston. After the funeral, Ralph advised Mac to take a trip out West, and go hit up the Mustang Ranch.
Ralph checked in on Mac from time to time, but it was more an obligation, Mac felt, a to-do list item, but Mac didn’t mind these conversations. Lately he had been thinking his whole concept of reality was wrong. As though he were in a race he could never win. Mac often dreamed of a rooftop. He was running across it trying to catch his daughter. Then there was an explosion. A mushroom cloud and then nothing. This dream was not new; he had this dream all his life. He called it a bi-product of growing up in the Reagan Administration. However, the thing he was chasing was always different. Sometimes, something was chasing him across that roof; a pack of Chow Chows that used to roam his neighborhood when Mac was a kid. He kept this dream, like the phantasms, to himself – it was his secret. Perhaps it defined him? He did not know. It would be the one thing he would take to the grave or maybe he would tell Alicia about it when she was old enough. He couldn’t believe she’d be driving in the next few years. He already eyed his neighbors suspiciously, or any man, and he had the app for locating sex offenders, but it wasn’t enough.
Mac looked at his phone again; the bus was late, but she was never really consistent, which Mac loved about her even though he only mustered up a polite wave and smile, which she always returned. Mac was sure there was something there in the ether between the bus driver – he still didn’t know her name – and himself, but what would he say? He felt as though an army of dogs had been released in his heart, nipping and shredding it to pieces, and then he heard the squeal of air brakes and the rumble of a diesel engine as it was gunned to help the bus make the corner.
Mac opened his eyes and she was there. The bus driver smiled and Mac waved, weakly, and she returned his wave, but there was something in her eyes, which Mac neither understood nor could he. He felt a chasm between where he stood on the curb and the open door of the bus.
What could be taking Alicia so long? He thought, but then he saw her standing in the aisle and he looked back at the bus driver; she was still smiling and talking to the kids as they disembarked, and Mac felt those dogs dig their way deeper into his heart. He felt like he was having that roof top dream again, but he knew what was happening right now was real.
T. O. Davis has a Masters of Fine Arts in fiction from Boise State University, and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Idaho State University. Although he was born in Alabama, he grew up in High Point, North Carolina. After his discharge from the U. S. Army in 2001, he moved to Idaho with his family (his wife, Jennifer, is from Idaho). He has recently returned to North Carolina after a 15 year break. T. O. has been teaching writing for seven years, and his writing has appeared in The Storyteller, Black Rock and Sage, Plain Spoke, Cold-Drill, Shotgun Honey, Flash: The International Short-Story Magazine, and The Slag Review. He currently teaches for Halifax Community College and lives in Greenville, North Carolina.