Leveling the Score

Submitted into Contest #2 in response to: Write a story about someone who's haunted by their past.... view prompt



Our character is shaped by how we respond to specific events in our life. Everyone is challenged at one point or another to choose between right and wrong. I realize now I should have stopped the car when I hit the dog – but I didn’t. I was sixteen, and the ink on my driver’s license wasn’t even dry yet. Little did I know the events of that day would eventually dole out their punishment.

               The canine ran out in front of me, so I don’t feel guilty about hitting him. It was an accident, and I still believe it was unavoidable. It isn’t the accident that haunts me. It was my response and how I rationalized my actions afterwards. I sped away from the scene, leaving the dog on the pavement to die, but what was I supposed to do? Should I have honked my horn to alert the neighbors? For all I know, the dog was dead on impact, and sticking around wouldn’t have accomplished a darn thing. It was the owner’s fault, I told myself, the dog should have been locked up. The owner and his dog got what they deserved. When you adopt a pet, you take on the obligation to care and protect him.

               As I drove away, I wondered if some busybody might have seen the accident. I wasn’t more than two-hundred yards from my house when I heard the thud. Could one of the neighbors have recognized the car as belonging to my dad?

               As I pulled out of sight, I got out to examine the front bumper. There was no apparent damage and no blood as far as I could see. I drove another few blocks to my friend’s house. I stopped and honked. Auggie came running out with his bat and glove and a bag full of baseballs.

               I was still tingling from the accident as he got in. My mind was distracted by the possibility that I might get caught. That’s when it hit me; I needed someone who could say I didn’t hit the dog. Auggie would be the perfect patsy. “Can I run back home for a second?” I said, “I picked up the wrong mitt.”

               I retraced my route, making sure to come upon the carcus. This would make it look as if I were seeing the dog for the first time. As I turned down my street, I turned to Auggie and said, “What’s that in the middle of the road?”

               “It looks like a dog,” Auggie said. “Let’s stop and see if we can help.”

               I pulled over to the curb but stayed in the car. Auggie got out and ran over to offer assistance.

               “He’s still alive,” Auggie said.

               “What should we do?” I asked. I was sure he would have been dead by now.

               “Let’s knock on one of the houses and see if someone can help us.” Auggie ran across a lawn and knocked on a door. I recognized the homeowner. It was Mrs. Hernandez. Her son had gone to grammar school with me but had since moved away to live with his father. I remained in the car, not wanting to look at the suffering mutt.

               “We found a dog in the middle of the street,” Auggie said. “he’s badly hurt. Can you help us?”

               “I don’t want to get involved,” she said.

               “Do you know whose dog it is?”

               Mrs. Hernandez looked out the front door, “He might belong to the man across the street.”

               Auggie rushed across the street and knocked. An older man with a cane answered the door. “Can I help you, young man?”

               “A dog is lying in the middle of the road, and one of your neighbors thinks he might belong to you.”         

               “My dog’s in the backyard, but let’s see what we can do.” He cautiously made his way down the driveway. “Charlie, Charlie, is that you?” he said. He quickened his pace and almost stumbled as he stepped off the curb.

               I got out of the car and stood by the door, keeping my distance. Auggie was doing fine, and there was no need to get involved. Besides, I had no desire to watch the dog suffer.

               “Charlie,” the man said, “how did you get out of the yard?” He turned to Auggie, “Young man, can you lift him and put him in my back seat? I need to get him to the vet’s.”

               Auggie didn’t hesitate. He lifted the fifty-pound Labrador and walked him over to the man’s car. The man had difficulty unlocking the car door. I didn’t offer any assistance. I stood back and watched while he fumbled with the key.  Auggie placed the whimpering canine in the back seat. He had blood on his shirt, but that didn’t bother him at all. “I’ll drive you and Charlie,” Auggie said. “You’re in no condition to drive. My friend will follow us. Why don’t you sit in the back with him?”

               I followed Auggie to the vets. When we arrived, Auggie had trouble getting Charlie out of the car. The dog yelped at the slightest touch. A technician came out and took him from Auggie’s arms and carried him to back room. “His name is Charlie,” Auggie said.

                “Please stay here,” the technician said, “the doctor will come out and talk to you when he knows something.”

               The old man filled out some paperwork and then we sat for a half hour. The silence gave me a chance to think. I should have stopped. I know that now.  I thought about confessing, but the longer I waited, the tougher it got. Telling the old man that I was the one who had hit Charlie would only add to his anguish, and Auggie would never see me the same way again. No, it was better to keep my secret.

               The doctor came out and spoke to us. “Charlie’s lost a lot of blood, and he’s broken his hip. He’s an older dog, and I would suggest the humane thing would be to put him down.”

               The old man nodded without saying a word. He leaned over and placed his head on my shoulder. I don’t know why he chose me to comfort him; after all, it was Auggie who had helped him the most. I guess he was grateful to both of us.

               “Would you and your sons like to come in and say your goodbyes?” the doctor said.

               The old man didn’t correct him. I supporse in this moment of grief we were his family. My guilt grew with every passing second. The man struggled to his feet and held our arms as we ushered him into the room. Charlie was lying on a sterile table, and his breathing was labored.

               “Charlie,” the old man said, “Thank you for everything, my friend. After Martha left us, I wanted to die. I don’t know if I could have made it all these years if not for you. I had no idea when I woke up this morning that this would be our final day together. I pray there’s an afterlife for you and if there is, I’ll be seeing you shortly.” The vet shaved Charlie’s paw and wiped it with an anesthetic. He inserted a needle, and we waited for Charlie to take his final breath. It was the first time I remember seeing an adult cry.

               Grief overtook me, and I sobbed, but I still didn’t say anything. We asked the man if he had any family. Auggie called his daughter from the doctor’s office to tell her what had happened. We told her we were worried abot her father. The woman agreed to meet us at his house. We helped the man into the car and drove him home.

               The old man aged ten years that day. He limped up the drive. His cane was a poor implement for his current condition. His daughter met us at the door. “Come in,” she said, “Come in,”

               She held her father tightly. “Are you okay, dad?” The man nodded. His daughter invited us in. “I cannot thank you enough for the kindness you’ve shown my father. You are both outstanding young men, and I thank God you came along.” She offered us a soda, but we turned her down and said we had to be on our way.

               The old man said that if it hadn’t been for us, he wouldn’t have had the chance to say goodbye, and Charlie would have died alone. He offered us each twenty dollars for our kindness, which, we refused, He and then he hugged us. “Margie,” he said to his daughter, “These are two of the finest young men I have ever met. I wish you both a blessed and happy life.”

               It’s been sixty-five years since I saw that old man cry, and I have never forgotten it.


My wife stood over me and squeezed my shoulders as I knelt on the hot pavement. “What type of monster would run over a little dog and leave him in the street to die?” she said.

               “It must have been some kid. He was probably too scared to stick around.”

               “That’s no excuse,” she said, “If you hit a dog, you stop.

               “I suppose.”

               “Do you have any idea how Brownie ended up in the street?” she asked.

               “He must have crawled through the hole in the fence. I meant to fix it, but like so many things, I never got around to it.”

                “Honey, it’s not your fault. These things happen. He’s just a little dog. He wanted to run around and play. He didn’t know how dangerous it was out here. Do you remember the day we got him from the pound? He was scrawny, and his fur was all matted. He was one day from being put down, and you stood up and saved his life.”

               “He saved mine.” I choked on the words. “He saved mine.”

               “Honey, we need to take him to the vets. They’ll know what to do with him.”

               My eighty-one year old legs faltered as I picked up his limp body. I rose again and carried him to the garage. I wrapped him in a clean towel and got in the passenger’s seat. I rocked Brownie in my arms. My wife had gone inside to get her purse.

               I turned my eyes skyward. “I deserve this,” I said, “I get it. I did a bad thing all those years ago. I thought maybe you had forgotten. I have lived a blessed life as the old man wanted for me. But I guess there must be a time limit on blessings. Couldn’t you have just let it go? Did you have to take him to get back at me? Brownie never knew hate, he never judged me, and every day when I came home, whether I had done good or bad, he knew only to give me love. How could you take him without giving me the chance to say, goodbye?”


               My wife got in the car. “The person who did this will have to deal with it someday. Retribution has a way of hunting you down.

               “Amen to that,” I said. “Amen.”


August 15, 2019 23:56

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