It was the first day in a month that the temperature dipped below 80 degrees even after dark, and Nana was happy to be wearing her shawl as she watered her plants on the front porch in the predawn quiet. It was still pretty dark, and she still had her silk hair wrap on, which was not collecting sweat for the first time in a month as she went about her morning watering routine.
Nana was rounding 78 years old and starting to get tired of the increasing heat of the summers in her hometown. There was no relief from the heat, not even in the early morning, not even when it rained. This “cold snap” was a godsend.
She heard the neighbor lady before she saw her, arguing out loud with a big yellow dog on a lead.
“No,” the neighbor lady was saying, “no cats! Gemma! No!”
The dog was struggling against the leash, pulling backwards. The lead went over the dog’s nose and neck, but was just loose enough that the dog broke free.
“No!” the neighbor lady cried as the dog bolted for the SUV across the street from Nana’s house.
The neighbor lady was tall and thin and white, with a perfectly messy blonde updo and long fake eyelashes, all tucked up into an expensive-looking athletic outfit. Her leggings had cutouts; her top was nothing more than a sports bra with mesh in strategic places. Nana assumed she was from California or New York, just like all the other rich white people who had taken over the neighborhood in the past few years. They were moving into the neighborhood for the ample space and comparatively cheap prices, driving up property values and therefore taxes on the families that had lived there for generations. Nana’s house was falling apart around her, but she’d lived there her whole life and would be damned before she sold it to some yuppie from Silicon Valley.
The neighbor lady was exasperated at the dog, and was darting clumsily back and forth to try and catch it. She and the dog circled the SUV, and Nana saw the prey — a young black cat that had sprung up among the neighborhood strays lately — dart out from under the SUV and cross the street in Nana’s direction.
The dog circled the SUV once more, with the neighbor lady following in vain, calling “Gemma, Gemma, no, Gemma!” while she fruitlessly tried to put the leash back on. “The cat’s gone, Gemma, let’s go!” As if by the woman’s suggestion, the dog appeared to notice the cat’s absence and darted into the street, heading towards Nana, nose to the ground like it was a bloodhound tracking its prey.
“Now, you come here,” Nana said, trying to corral the yellow dog who was now sniffing on her property. She waved her arms at the dog.
The dog stood where it was, raised its hackles, and barked at her. Nana recoiled naturally in fear. Was this dog trained to attack, she felt herself wondering?
“Stop that, Gemma!” the neighbor lady called, following as quickly as she could in the dog’s footsteps. “I am so sorry!”
The dog stopped barking and took off in another direction, neighbor lady on its heels.
“Does it bite?” Nana asked the neighbor lady. Her adrenaline was racing. She wondered if she would have a heart attack. But she moved towards the dog, trying to help as best she could.
“No,” the neighbor lady said over her shoulder, still frantically trying to keep up with her pet. “She’s just trying to get the cat!”
Jeffrey, Nana’s grandson, stepped out the front door, having heard the commotion. “What’s going on?” he asked, as Nana watched the neighbor lady chase the dog down the street, finally catching the yellow beast when it stopped to sniff a bush and allowed the leash to be put back securely over its nose.
“Some neighbor lady just lost her dog for a minute,” Nana said, turning back to her watering can and plants.
“Are you okay?” Jeffrey asked, reaching out to his grandmother to examine her. “Did it bite you? I heard it barking.”
“I’m fine,” Nana said. She breathed deeply to calm herself, brushing the encounter off. “The dog was just excited.” She puttered back toward the porch.
“Just excited?” Jeffrey repeated. “She shouldn’t just be letting her dog off the leash like that! It could have attacked you!”
The neighbor lady was walking away, still talking to the dog, admonishing it like it was a child rather than an animal that had instincts that needed to be trained.
* * * *
The next morning when Nana went out to tend to her plants she found a small white envelope propped against the screen door. She paused, thinking about the package bombs that had gone off on unsuspecting neighbors’ porches just the summer previous. Could this be such a device? Or perhaps anthrax or something that destructive people sent through the mail? It wasn’t out of the question. There were crazies all over the city, sending bombs to perfectly nice people for no reason other than hatred and ignorance.
She bent over, aching at the bend in her waist, and picked the card up. Nothing exploded. On the envelope, it said “for my neighbor” with a heart.
Nana shook her head and opened it up. It was a small white card with a cartoonish drawing of a dog on the front, under the words “DOGGONE IT — I’M SO SORRY” in thick black font.
“Dear neighbor,” she read slowly in the dim light of the porch light. “I am so sorry for yesterday! My mommy says I can’t run off my leash and bark at people like that. I’m afraid of hats and I think yours scared me! But I promise not to do it again. Love, Gemma, 1201 B.”
The neighbor lady’s handwriting was childish-looking and stunted. She had drawn a paw print after the signature.
Nana rolled her eyes and shook her head and put the card in her pocket. After she’d watered her plants, she put the card on the kitchen table, trying to decide what to do with it. Jeffrey picked it up as he ate his breakfast.
“What is this?” he asked.
“It’s an apology note,” Nana explained, pouring herself a cup of tea.
“From whom?” Jeffrey asked, turning it over to inspect it.
“That neighbor lady,” Nana said. “Or her dog. I don’t know.”
“An apology note?” Jeffrey said to himself as he opened the card and looked at it. “Huh,” he huffed, shaking his head, turning it over to look for anything on the back of the card. “What kind of promise is this? She didn’t even introduce herself. She should just get rid of the dog if she can’t train it.”
Nana shrugged as she sat down in her armchair. “None of these white kids train their dogs,” she said. “They have them instead of children. I’ll bet that dog has its own bedroom.”
Jeffrey laughed. “Probably,” he agreed.
* * * *
When the neighbor lady went to take Gemma for a walk the next morning (at a later hour, hoping there would be fewer cats even if it was 10 degrees warmer out than before dawn), she noticed someone had spray painted something on the concrete in front of her house.
“I’M SO SORRY” it said in quick black letters.
She looked around but didn’t see anyone. Had someone painted that because of what had happened with the old lady? She felt embarrassed and paranoid. She wanted to yell, “I wrote her a card!”
But there wasn’t anyone around to hear it.