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There was one familiar face there, but I tried to avoid it. His name is Wilson Greene. He introduced me to Grant, he hasn’t quite gotten over the fact that something came of that introduction, I haven’t quite forgiven him for starting the rolling snowball of events.When I saw him coming, I tried to duck.

Meanwhile I was thinking, this is all wrong. Crashing surf and strains of classical music. In my family, we had organ music and a lot of screaming and crying. This is way too genteel. My thoughts become disjointed in stress situations.

Wilson put his hand on my arm.
“We have to talk, Ellen.”
“Funny, we never did before.”
“About the will. I’m the executor, you know.”
“You? Not his wife?” Please don’t tell me which one she is.
“Maybe because of this odd situation…”
“Are you saying Grant left me money? I am not going to sit in on a reading of the will and watch the look on his wife’s face. I’m sorry. Tell them I died.” A slight exaggeration. Please don’t tell me which one she is.
“It’s not money.” Real property, a car, a personal effect of some sort. A problem, either way. Then it hit me. I knew it was true, because it matched the look on Wilson’s face. “Oh, God. The dog.”
“You knew about it.”
“What does his wife think about that?”
“She hates the dog.”

That doesn’t entirely answer the question. Please don’t tell me which one she is. “What’s the dog’s name?”
“You never met his dog?”
“Where exactly is this dog right now?”
“In a private kennel. See, technically he’s in probate. I think they said his name was Dandy. Something like that.”

Dandy? Grant’s dog? I think not. “So, listen,Wilson.” I put an arm around his shoulder, turned him back to face the stately congregation. “Tell me.Which one is his wife?”

They cross the fence line together. She unclips the leash. Since leaving Grant, she’s moved to a rural locale. Life here is not as simple as she had hoped. For the first time, they see cattle. Glimpses of them lumbering between scrawny pine and scrub oak. Foraging. Dante gathers like a crossbow. Launches. In the second of gathering, she notices his build. His chest. Rangy but muscular. Such a powerful machine. It frightens her, even though he’s on her side. A loaded gun in her hand would be on her side, but its potential would frighten her.

She screams his name.

This is private grazing land, they shouldn’t, technically, be here. But she can’t take the dog around other animals, and he needs to run. And Dwight said she could. Dwight, he stays in the caretaker’s cabin.He’s a close friend, Dwight. Very close. He said she could, if the dog doesn’t run cattle.

“If he runs cattle, keep him home or I’ll have to shoot him.”
“If he runs cattle I’ll keep him home.”

As she crashes through the brush, screaming his name, he comes crawling back. Her voice is like an earthquake to him. Slithering through pine needles and poison oak on his belly, showing his teeth. She’s still not comfortable with that, though it’s clearly passive. Grovels at her feet, licking her shoes. She never yelled at him before, and now she wonders if he’ll ever get over it.

They walk on to Dwight’s cabin, Dante bounding ahead. A short parade of cattle wander across the road. Dante freezes, stares at the dirt close-range until they survey him and move on.

They arrive at Dwight’s cabin, Dwight meets them out front.

Dante puts his head down, growls low in his throat. She has yet to find someone Dante likes, but he likes Dwight less than most. Already.
“Well,” she says. “He doesn’t run cattle, that’s for sure.”
“Good watchdog.”
“I’ll say.” She has begun to fear that, in Dante’s presence, nothing bad, or good, will ever happen to her.

Dwight approaches carefully, one hand extended. Goes down on one knee. Speaking low. Offers the back of his hand. Dante’s lip peels back, very differently. He snarls, leaps forward to attack the air, biting down less than an inch from Dwight’s hand. More show of teeth, and a long, rolling growl. Dwight pulls back in slow motion. White-faced.

Dante sits at Ellen’s heel, leaning.

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of the story collection Earthquake Weather as well as numerous novels, including Pay it Forward (which was adapted for film and has been translated into 20 languages),Chasing Windmills (Doubleday, Spring '08) and The Day I Killed James (Knopf, Summer '08).

Photograph by Marcy Robinson

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