It was a very dark night. I was sitting on the front steps of a brick building in the city, hidden in the shadow of a doorway. I could see a man coming up the street with his little daughter walking beside him. He had on a tan overcoat and a hat and tie. He looked like a businessman of some sort, as solid as they come. The little girl clutched one of her father’s fingers, and she kept dragging her heels, pointing at something back the way they came. She kept going on about a puppy she had seen. The man turned and crouched down, resting a gentle hand on her shoulder. “We’ll have to talk to mommy about it, okay?” The girl nodded, pressing a finger to her chin and looking back uncertainly.
I smiled at this interaction, but as they started away, the girl kept on about the dog, pleading and pouting, and the father’s manner began to change, devolving right in front of me. He began to snap at the girl, yelling at her in a spiteful, ugly way. “You’re never getting a dog. Just shut up about it!” He jerked roughly at her arm, dragging her with him. As they came under the beam of the streetlight at the corner, I could see that even his clothes had changed. His overcoat was ratty and wrinkled and full of holes. His hat was even gone now somehow, and his hair looked like he had just woken up. He teetered about drunkenly on wobbly legs. My whole sense of the girl’s safety and security vanished in an instant.
But yet, somehow she finally got him to agree to go back and see the puppy. She was leading him now, still clutching his finger, and he stumbled along, listlessly inebriated, all the fight gone out of him. And I watched them head back the way they came, and I had a feeling the girl would be alright. I could picture her back at the house where they’d seen the puppies, giggling and kneeling down in a warmly lit room and picking her favorite one. They would take to each other immediately, and the puppy would grow up big and strong. He’d growl when the father lost his temper like that. He’d get between them, baring his teeth. He’d look out for this girl in his simple, loyal way and things would be different. He’d keep her safe.