The Tigress

by Ruth Z Deming

Pieds-a-terre are expensive in Arlington, Virginia. Wendy and Don pooled their resources and moved from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, so they could live around their grandchildren. Six, so far. Don had a comfortable pension from the phone company and Wendy still sold her artistic creations on Etsy, such as cushions embroidered with the names of people. Back in Lancaster, they were dog breeders - Rottweilers - who they bred as guard dogs, not killers.

"Sweetheart," said Don, "let's try that new restaurant tonight. We can walk there."

"Sure, love," she said. "Gimme a minute while I change."

They heard the loud music as they approached on the cobblestone street. A doorman opened the bright green door for them.

They sat at a table near the bar. A young man in a white shirt and black pants took their order.

They sipped on an Old-Fashioned and Irish Whiskey. Wendy enjoyed sipping through a tiny red straw. The huge television over the bar played an old world tour by Ike and Tina Turner. What a contrast they were. Ike was skinny as a whip, while Tina was voluptuous, gyrating across the stage, long legs showing through a skimpy red dress.

This, of course, was before she finally left her man, tired of his endless affairs with other women. Not that she was an envious woman, but it was so disrespectful to herself, Ike's stellar band and her audience.

After eating their meal - Don had a roast beef on rye, while Wendy ate a green salad with spinach, walnuts and apples, with honey mustard dressing - they paid at the table, and left a five-dollar tip.

Don held her arm as they walked home under the stars.

"Sweetie," she said. "I can never remember which are the planets and which are the... "

"The stars," he interrupted, "they never move, like our sun."

Exhausted, they fell into bed, beneath photos of their grandchildren, sleeping until late morning.

The phone woke them up.

"Hope it's not bad news," said Wendy, grabbing the phone.

It was their grand-daughter Bethany, who said she was coming by, with her dog "Matches."

"Nice," said Don. "I miss the little tigress."

Matches was a real fighter. She was born with a type of epilepsy, the way some humans are. Bethany wanted to euthanize her, but her parents - dog breeders, after all - insisted Matches would outgrow it. And she did.

It was one of those beautiful fall days that made you feel as though you would live forever. Bethany, who resembled her mother, with her black hair and sparkling eyes, pulled up in her blue Toyota Corolla. Matches was barking with joy, her head out the passenger window.

Bethany pulled into the parking garage on a side street, then walked Matches into the house. She carried a pizza she had bought at Frank's Pizzeria.

"We love when you visit," said Don. "How 'bout a stroll outside. I'm sure Matches would welcome it."

Out onto the cobblestones they went. A few cars passed by, some with dogs barking out the window. So amusing!

"Oh, look!" said Wendy, pointing down the street. "There's Buddy, the shepherd. Looks tough but he's afraid of his shadow."

A small caravan of well-dressed men and women passed by. Were they diplomats? They nodded hello.

"Hello!" said young Mikaela and her sister Shannon, new friends who had moved to D.C. all the way from Minnesota.

The five of them chatted a few moments, remarking on the poor air quality, the revival of the coal industry by the president, and the necessity of more trash cans on the road. Part of a newspaper skittled along the street. They shook their heads. Mikaela ran off and captured it.

Matches led the way on her leash. Part beagle, part collie, her lush fur was a blend of black and brown. Yes, she was a real beauty, full of survival spunk.

Suddenly, coming around the corner were two dogs led on a leash by a tall man in a Baltimore Ravens' cap.

One of the dogs - a golden retriever - reared on her hind legs like a circus dog and began to attack Matches.

"Who do you think you are, the beauty queen of the neighborhood?" she seemed to say.

"Whoa, Peaches," said the owner. "Stop it! Stop it!"

Peaches sunk her teeth deep into Matches' fur.

Matches squealed in pain and looked around for help. Her family was frozen in terror.

Matches was on her own. She attacked Peaches low on the sidewalk, biting one leg, then the other. Undeterred, Peaches stood her ground. Matches threw herself against the retriever, then began attacking her eyes and then throat. Like Jack the Ripper, she bit intuitively the animal's throat.

Peaches lay in a bloody heap on the sidewalk. Dead or alive, no one knew.

Each owner took his animal to the vet.

Each animal survived.

Matches had a bandage over an eye like a pirate.

Back home in the Arlington pieds-a-terre, she was given a warm soothing bath.

"Of course you're the bestest dog there ever was," said Wendy, tears falling down her cheeks. "Absolutely the bestest!"

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