Someone moved out and they moved in. First they were friendly, like any good neighbor, they said, “Hello,” and “How are you doing today?” But it changed as the seasons changed. They changed. Mr Tackett, an ex-police officer, became silent, moody, much like our father, but we had gotten rid of him and now were stuck with a new version; a stocky, salt and peppered grinch, with a wire fence between us as our only protection. In no time he’d bought two German Shepherds and let them loose in his yard to bark and snarl at us kids as we played. We had faith they’d never get free, and we laughed and jumped and ran about, until one day we saw they could jump. Perhaps he’d trained them—I don't know. I’ve never again seen dogs jump like that in my life. Never before and never since. They’d clear that fence as if springs were in their flanks, and come right for us, teeth bared.
Our mother marched right over there. “Do you know your dogs almost bit my kids?”
“They were taunting them. Poor things. They aren’t used to kids that wild.”
“My children are not wild, Mr Tackett. Your dogs are vicious. Tie them up.”
“No, Mam. I’m afraid you’ll have to teach your children not to jump about like that.”
We tiptoed. We whispered. We subdued all childish whim. But alas, those dogs still wanted to kill us.
“Ahhhh! Run for the house, quick!”
“I can’t make it! They’re on my heel!”
“Then get on top of the play-set. Hurry!”
Screams sounded and blasted all across the neighborhood, and the only one who wasn't at their back door watching, was Mr Tackett himself.
Of course, there was a Mrs. Tackett, for every killjoy has its mate. “Oh Steeee-ven. Do you want Salisbury Steak for dinner tonight, or fried chicken?”
“Leave me alone, Maria, I’m trying to tie these knots!”
“But what about dessert? Should I make Jello?” Her painted nails and high heels all matched with the same blood red.
“OK, then. I’ll just put in some tv dinners.”
The dogs ate better than Mr. Tackett. They needed the stamina.
Another day went by with us running for our lives. We could have just stayed inside, but kids aren’t like that. They will face bad weather, bullies, disease, rusted nails, and killer dogs all in the favor of some vitamin D and fresh air. One particular day, the whole block was on our swing-set and had been for about half an hour. The German Shepherds were jumping at our feet and Mom was at the back door wringing her hands.
“Run for the house!” she yelled, in between blood-lusting growls.
“No, Mom. They’ll kill us!”
“Can’t you try?”
Um, no. I’d personally have to rip my bellbottom out of one of their fangs and jump right into the action—and lord, I’d just seen Jaws and hadn’t stopped having nightmares. I shook my head. “Can't!”
“I’m calling the cops then!”
She did. She actually called the cops. And they came, and Mr Tackett had a fine conversation about his old days on the force, and could he get a ride around town in one of those new Buicks, and all the while his dogs were still trying to eat us for lunch, and Mrs. Tackett was prancing around the front garden in her heels with a hose in her hand.
He had to build a higher fence—one that didn’t push over like a melted stick of butter when his dogs jumped against it. And he, well, he had to act nicer. And we got to play again. But there were memories that lingered, that kept us from ever being wild and free again. We’d been trained, like dogs, to act still, be calm, obey. Because Mr. Tackett had desired it be so. He watched from his back screen door. He watched, and smiled.