I submitted this 1,204 word piece and received a rejection, so I figured it can\\\’t hurt to share it here. Enjoy.
The garage was full of gadgets, sticks, and what all, each promising to make life easier for my dog owner self. A box nearly as tall and wide as my husband landed on the stoop and when he saw it, he grunted. ‘Whatchoo get this time?’
‘Nothin for you,’ I answered, hoping against hope it would be the last device I’d ever have to buy.
The dogs crowded around my knees as I cut open the box and pulled out what was advertised as the cleanup miracle, POOP emblazoned in bright blue letters on the side. I nudged past them and squeezed out the back screen door to try it out.
The sun was high in the sky. I held the handle with my left hand, shaded my eyes with the right and surveyed the job ahead as a trickle of sweat oozed down the back of my neck. I put the thing against the wall and took up handfuls of hair to twist it into a knot atop my head. After ensuring my crown was secured, I retrieved the scooper and started in. I’d mapped a path, from left to right, which made the most sense and fewest steps.
The thing was supposed to handle doo-doo like snow on a shovel and I felt like I was getting the hang of it, right from the first.
I walked to the left to the last pile and just as I lifted the handle, I heard a voice.
‘What’re ya doin?’
I turned and at first didn’t see anyone, but then spotted the neighbor’s six-year old’s son, peeking over the fence between our homes. Although we’d lived in our house longer than Barbara, we’d never chatted or had neighborly moments. This was my first time talking to her son.
‘Hi,’ I answered as I kept scooping. ‘I’m cleaning up after my dogs.’
He walked around the end of the fence and stood with his back against it. ‘My mom said your name is Victoria. Can I call you Vicky?’
Boy, who are you talking to like a grown person? I thought. Out loud I said, ‘Well, adults call me that. A person your age would call me Miss Vicky though.’
He cocked his head to the right. ‘Why?’
It’s hot and I’d disturbed the flies that had staked out the newer waste piles. A few had skipped across the hair on my bare arms, and I was ready to get inside. I looked over the top of my glasses, took a breath, and said, ‘Because little boys and girls don’t call grown folks by their first names.’
He laughed and started skipping in circles. ‘Vicky, Vicky!’ he sing-songed as he skipped.
I tried to ignore him and returned to my task as he continued to sing my name. After about the twentieth time, I turned back to him, ready to tell him to quit.
But I had no idea what his name is.
‘Son, son!’ I shouted to be heard over his squealing voice.
‘Stop yelling at my child!’
The boy’s tall, female twin walked around the end of the fence. ‘Why are you yelling at my son?’
In the moment, I forgot her name but then it came to me. I put on my best smile. ‘Hello, Barbara. I was out here, cleaning up and your boy –’
‘His name is Shane,’ she said.
‘Shane came around the fence. I was explaining that where I come from, little boys don’t call adults by their first names.’
She made a noise that sounded like she was sucking her teeth and laughing at the same time. ‘Old fashioned. We want our children to know they are respected. The only way to do that is to engage them on equal footing.’
I was not going to argue with this chick. I just wanted to get in the house and take a shower. ‘Well, that’s fine in your house. Your son came over here and started in. I was simply trying to get him to settle and stop so I could finish my work.’
Her mouth fell open. ‘Started in?’
Before either of us said another word, a man in uniform walked around the corner. ‘Hello?’
He was a police officer.
Barbara side stepped toward him. ‘Please help me. That woman was, I don’t know!’ She started to cry.
The officer put his hand on his hip. I dropped my cleanup tool and Shane snickered as its contents rolled out and into a haphazard pile near my right shoe. ‘Sir, this is a misunderstanding.’
He looked at Barbara and then at me. His glance first lingered on my hair and then followed a trail of sweat as it meandered down my neck and into the V of my T-shirt neckline. He looked down at the dog detritus on the ground next to me. ‘Don’t I know you?’ Dropping his hand away from his weapon, he said, ‘Yes, you’re Victoria, the one who arranged that interfaith event in the park last year. My wife and I volunteered with our church to help set up the tents and chairs.’
I didn’t recognize him but smiled broadly as if I did, hoping that it might make a difference in the moment. ‘Well, thank you so much for that, ah –’ I glanced at his badge. ‘Officer Taylor. We’re hoping to do it again next year.’
He ducked his head, as if he was torn between service to the community and duty to the badge. ‘Well,’ he said with his nose wrinkled as he locked eyes with me. ‘I’ll need to write you a ticket and you’ll need to clean that up.’
He pulled the ticket book and a pen from his shirt pocket. I saw him flinch as I snatched a plastic bag from my pocket, bent down, and used it to grab up the mess. I fanned the flies away, flipped the bag, spun it to tie a tight knot, and went around to the cans on the right side of the house to drop it in the bin. Barbara’s face was a rictus of disgust as I walked back toward where she was talking to the officer, her voice low and her glance furtive.
Taylor cleared his throat and handed me the slip of paper. ‘You can pay that online or come by the station.’
‘That’s it?’ Barbara was furious. ‘I mean, she basically assaulted my son!’
I open my mouth but before I can say anything, Officer Taylor spoke. ‘The boy wasn’t harmed. I gave Ms. Victoria a ticket. She’s cleaned up her yard. It’s done.’ To me he said, ‘Thank you. Hope you’ll let me and the missus know what we can do to help next year’s event,’ and walked back to his cruiser.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Barbara, whose eyes were bugged out. Without a glance toward her or her progeny, I picked up my dog doo tool, took it back to the garbage cans, dropped it in the largest one, and walked back inside the house. From the family room, my husband called, ‘How’d it work?’
‘Don’t ask,’ I answered as I turned on the hot water to wash my hands.