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The Dog on the Route

by Bill Metcalfe


         The Main Post Office in Washington, DC, had cast us out of our soft jobs. Usually, our days were spent nesting before wooden pigeonholes with our hands holding envelopes up to our eyes. One glance at an address to flip it into the proper slot for its final destination. Our only problem was sleep. A brightly colored stamp did nothing to prevent slumber. After an hour or so of shuffling mail, eyelids would droop and chance controlled the sorting.  The following day, curious neighbors could enjoy counting the dunning letters from credit agencies addressed to their next-door neighbors. Inadvertently, we were letting the news out.

         Perhaps as punishment for our somnolence, we learned that, for the day, the four of us were being sent to a smaller, neighborhood post office. To prove the post office was integrated, I was the token white. Each of us would have his own route for the day. Once there we were to walk on the sidewalks to deliver mail to the real recipients rather than to the imaginary ones who dwelt in our dusty pigeonholes.

         As we drove away from the Post Office, a huge, old stone building with thick wooden floors and beams, we felt free. In its confines, we felt like mice in a labyrinth. God knows what the POís resident mice really thought of the place.

         While walking the streets delivering the mail, we felt like we were being transported into a Hollywood musical, with the sound off. There were elderly couples shuffling along the streets for their daily exercise. Ecstatically happy babies leaned forward and clutched the sides of their strollers as if to break into song. Their smiles were magically transferred to their mothers. The dogs, whose wagging tails could propel them to the moon. Older kids, jumping out of school buses, marking their escape with a silent song. Like life in an animated movie, I imagined the flowers dipping and swaying to the beat of the sunís rays. Slogging along with our bags of mail, we couldnít believe that mailmen were paid for this. If we were rewarded with a dollar for every smile bestowed on us, the day would finish with a five star meal at a high-priced restaurant.

         At the end of a day tripping through this pleasant neighborhood with manicured lawns, artistically shaped trees and houses unstained by the dust of the cityís center, we glumly gathered at the small post office for the ride back to our dungeon, the main post office.

         After we had seated ourselves comfortably in the car, one of my co-workers held our attention by narrating a frightening incident on his route. He described walking to the end house in a quiet cul-de-sac. When he reached its gate, his right hand held the occupantsí mail. But, before his other hand could grasp the latch, he noticed a large dog, with paws crossed under his jaws, sleeping on the uncut grass. The slumbering dog looked as worrisome as a wax statue in a museum. Still, he hesitated, but, fortified with the old saying of ďlet sleeping dogs lie," he carefully squeezed the latch. The silence was shattered by a high-pitched, metallic squeak. Swiftly, the dog raised his head and glared at the postman, who now was paralyzed with fear. The awake dog was alert and menacing. Its focused eyes and ragged line of teeth were not that of your friendly doggy.

         While he hesitated over the fate of the mail in his hand, the dog made its move. In a heart-beat, he growled and leapt towards the gate. The oncoming open jaw, loaded with razor-sharp teeth, pointed upwards towards the postmanís neck. Hoping to distract this raging beast, he tossed the mail over the fence. After a swift about face, he quickly fled the cul-de-sac.

         Naturally, we didnít believe his scary story. He had made it up for our benefit. Our experience had been that of wandering in the cinematic fantasy of a small town. We had just missed the happy picnics that had been held on the yards we crossed while doing our job. Our imaginations had created imaginary people, gladly  passing the picnic basket to others. As we had approached the mail slots in doors, the envelopes in our hands were transformed into small bunches of flowers. All that was lacking was a fresh, floral scent. Any dogs we had encountered were so friendly that we considered inviting them join us for lunch.

         While we teased our co-worker, he refused to be goaded into a retort as we had hoped. He sunk back into the rear seat without saying a word, until we approached the cul-de-sac. Then he begged and intreated us to turn up that short street. The proof of his story would be there. With a brief nod of the head, the driver turned onto the street and continued until we faced the house with the ďhound from hellĒ.

         When the car stopped, all of us leaned towards the closest window to the yard. General agreement was reached. There was no dog. But, the man in the shotgun seat pointed towards a strip of dark brown fur, barely higher than the uncut grass.

         Our co-worker rolled down his window and stuck his head out for a better view. As he did so, the strip of fur rose and became transformed into a massive beast. Its fury body was almost as long as the carrierís who had been attacked. Before we able to focus on this monster, it leapt over the three foot high fence in one fluid movement. Later, all of us swore that the beast vaulted over the fence as it abruptly rose from rest, as if it had been thrown over by the tall grass. When its paws touched the sidewalk, it quickly bounded towards us with its lips pulled back to expose again its razor-sharp canines. With each leap, the dogís snarls surged in volume smothering the song from the carís radio, but not our screams.

         From where I sat I could clearly see both the approaching dog and my terrified co-worker. As the blood fled from his face, his skin lightened. His fearful face bleached from a chocolate tone to a muddy tan. I couldnít see his hands. I could tell from how the contours of his face were strained that he was making a final desperate effort to seal the car by raising the window. The fearsome hound smashed into the glass with a force, so strong as to almost shatter it. Then, as the driver hit the gas, the car fled so fast that the dogís face was smeared briefly onto the window before it fell to the ground. Then the shrill screech of the carís tires was the only sound heard in that cul-de-sac.

         Soon we were back on the main drag, speeding through traffic towards the protection of our mundane, but harmless job, confronting pigeonholes.

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