“Dog Park Daze” by Debra Groves Harman
When my gyno asked me out, I wasn’t surprised. We see each other at the dog park every week. He watches me scooping poop for my Chihuahua Roxie. Dr. Slaytor tries to hides his staring, but I can tell--even as he watches his mini pinscher Fred prancing around on skinny legs. Fred’s a hoot, tiny but ferocious.
After my annual clinic visit, Doc said “Come to my place sometime and we’ll take a swim. You can bring Roxie.” He smiled at me on his way out the door, which was awkward as I was in one of those god-awful green gown things. Glad I shaved my legs?
It was a long hot summer, and the red cliffs of Sedona appeared bleached. The heat radiated off the road, and I drove with the top down on my convertible, a present to myself for my thirtieth birthday. I was too brown, and my black hair was getting reddish, so I slathered on sunscreen and stuck on a cap. Like most Arizonans, I loved the sun, the rocks, and the cactus. The dog park, however, I didn’t love. I went for Roxie, and perhaps to people-watch.
Doc Slaytor’s first name was Brett, and I said it aloud to listen to the sound, holding my tongue to the top of my mouth for the double t. He was perhaps forty, and attractive. Coincidentally, Brett passed me in his blue BMW convertible. His silvery black hair looked better with some wind in it. He was singing!
I smeared on some coral lipstick and adjusted my Raybans.
Brett looked in the rearview mirror as he changed lanes. That’s when he saw me. I smiled, and he looked shocked. Ha! Busted you singing a Lady Gaga song, Doc! We were listening to the same station. I’d seen him singing the Ro-mah-ro-mah-mah part.
Brett signaled me to pull off. I’d recently gone through a messy divorce and was trying to date again, but wasn’t eager to. What had e harmony gotten me? Three years bad luck with a hound dog, lyin’ all the time. My ex had left me nothing of value but our Chihuahua Roxie. In court, she’d clung to me and seemed afraid of him. I got custody.
Doc Slaytor came to the passenger side and smiled.
“Are you going to the dog park today?” he said. “Fred loves Roxie.”
I smiled. This man had his line worked out.
“I am. 4 p.m.?”
“Great. Interested in a swim afterward?”
I couldn’t refuse, and admittedly, I’d been watching him for months.
“I’d love that, Doctor Slaytor!”
“Call me Brett,” he said. Oh, I already was—to myself.
Brett, can you take the dogs out?
Brett, I fed the kids (dogs) already.
Brett, I love these Chihuahua earrings!
I imagined overnights with him and his dog. We’d watch movies, cuddle with the fur kids, watch them circle the bed making dog nests. We’d watch A Dog’s Purpose and I’d cry, stroking Roxie’s velvet ears. First things first, though.
The dog park was a bleak sand lot with a dry minefield of fossilized poop. Once there, chaos ensued, as always. About a dozen dogs chased each other, stealing toys and sniffing their formal inspections with rigid hindquarters.
A black-haired teenage boy wearing a Nirvana t-shirt sat on a bench. His black lab ran frantically while he stared at his phone. Doc said, “Uh oh. Dog park drama in progress.” I looked up from watching Roxie and Fred.
The rocker’s lab had hooked up with an elderly woman’s boxer, and she was screaming at it. The boy stared at his phone. The woman circled the dogs, upset. In the grand scheme of things, this was normal fare at the dog park. Always some sort of dog and pony show here.
Roxie and Fred were busy urinating on everything in sight. Meanwhile, the situation with the locked dogs wasn’t resolving. Brett squeezed my hand, and my heart jumped. He stood up and walked to the conjoined canines. Who better than a doctor to advise the woman about this beast with two backs?
“Down! That’s enough,” she shouted. She tapped the back of the lab with her cane. The lab looked guilty, its ears in remorse posture. The dog was stuck, plain and simple, and a little wooden cane wasn’t going to deflate matters. Not until the heat of the moment was over.
The teenager had headphones in. He did a lazy head bob to the music.
“Oh, boy,” Doc said to the woman, shaking his head. “Probably another fifteen minutes or so. Is your dog spayed?”
“No. She’s my daughter’s dog. She’s going to kill me!” The woman was upset. I was processing her logic: dog in heat, go to busy dog park. People were unbelievable.
Doc said, “You’re going to end up with puppies, it appears. Maybe talk with your daughter about getting her dog fixed.”
The teenage rocker began making a video of the dogs stuck together. Brett looked completely irritated. “Show some responsibility, kid,” he said in a low growl.
We left together in Brett’s car, with Roxie and Fred, and headed to his house. The chaos at the dog park had added depth to our relationship.
Our dogs relaxed together in the dog seat. Roxie’s brown eyes were calm, a good sign. Fred could be nervous in that mini pinscher way, but his snout poked out the window, which Brett rolled down slightly just for him.
Brett’s mansion in Sedona overlooked a swimming pool and cactus garden with pink blooms. He brought me a lemon drop with a wedge of lime. The man had class.
“So,” Brett said. “I’m a little nervous having you here, believe it or not.”
I believed it. While his manner seemed relaxed in the exam room and at the park, now he seemed jittery. Not so for Fred and Roxie. Our dogs curled up under a large umbrella by the side of the pool, on a refrigerated mat. The standalone air con near them gently blew.
“Let’s be friends, Brett. No expectations.” Candor was the best approach. He leaned in, a dogged look on his face.
“I don’t need more friends. I’m looking for a woman with a sense of humor and a good dog.” He blushed.
I paused, and said, “Let’s go slow. I have a swimsuit in my bag. Want to do that swim?” He nodded, relieved.
Poolside, I stood in my red bikini and white floppy hat holding Roxie. She shook a little when I took her swimming, but she loved being in the water. Brett held Fred, looking hilarious in doggie board shorts. Brett’s trunks matched Fred’s.
I waded into the shallow end, water cool on my legs, and we put the dogs on a giant whale floaty toy. We dog-paddled around the pool and they jumped in, their tiny legs chopping the water.
That was six months ago. We’re still taking things slow. Our dogs, on the other hand, are deeply in love. Now that we’re living together at Brett’s place, we don’t go to the dog park. Don’t need to. Roxie and Fred are our world—and our world is pretty doggone good.
© Debra Groves Harman
About the Author:: Debra Groves Harman writes creative nonfiction and is the author of forthcoming memoir Dancing in Circles: An Expatriate in Cambodia. A first chapter excerpt won second place with the Oregon Writers Colony 2018 competition. Her creative nonfiction story “Smoke” won third place in that competition, as well. Her writing appears in The Nasiona, and recently she became a CNF Submissions Reader for them. She has taught high school English for over fifteen years, and before that lived in Cambodia, where she and a partner established a publishing company that was highly regarded for nearly two decades. Debra has a B.A. (magna cum laude) in English from University of Oregon, and an M.Ed. from Portland State University, as well as a Cambridge certification in teaching ESL.