The mansion across the street had stood
empty since the All-Star break, and now it was nearly time for
the World Series. So we were relieved when a moving truck finally
pulled into our dead-end street, a mile north of downtown Columbus,
Ohio. Our dog, Pudge, noticed it first—not the truck, but the dog
sitting erect and regal between the two dark men in the front seat.
Broad-shouldered and shaggy as a wolf, the dog was taller when
seated than the passenger on his right, and just a little shorter
than the driver, who was so lanky that he had to duck his head
to peer under the sun flap.
Pudge thrust his boxy head through the
porch balusters and barked at the wolf-dog as he would at any intruder.
After the mansion was taken from the previous neighbors—either repossessed by the bank, or seized as part of a meth bust, depending on who you asked—Pudge’s
territory had grown to include not just the brick mansion and pillared
front porch, but also the yard with its bare patches under pine
trees, its sagging white fence, its cracked sidewalk next to the
weed-choked grass along the curb, and even a length of the street
where the moving truck had now pulled up and stopped.
The cab door opened, and the driver dropped soundlessly to the street. Standing upright, he was as long-limbed as a catalog model, and he was dressed in the fall collection: khaki slacks and a beige corduroy jacket over a matching turtleneck sweater. The fall colors continued into his face and hands, whose skin was tawny as an oak leaf.
The passenger—shorter and darker, wearing jeans and a black leather car coat—jumped down from the far side of the truck and landed heavily on the curb. He fastened the wolf-dog’s leash and led it through the white picket gate into the back yard. Tail high, the wolf-dog trotted imperiously around the inside of the fence, sniffed the crabgrass as though sampling the house merlot, and raised its leg approvingly against a white pine near the house’s
Pudge’s barking rose to an hysterical
“Pudge!” My husband Brad stood up, wiping his hands on his jeans. He’d been stuffing wet maple leaves into a paper yard sack. “Pudge, that’s
I leaned forward on the porch swing
to grab Pudge collar. Or I tried to: like an air bag, my pregnant
belly kept me from reaching very far. “Do you want to play?” I asked Pudge. “Do
you want to meet the big doggy dog?”
“Wants to kill him, looks like,” Brad
I stood, then crouched open-kneed to
pull Pudge back from the railing. His nails scrabbled on the concrete. “Don’t listen to Brad. Brad’s
just grouchy because the Red Sox are losing.”
“You call this grouchy?” Brad crimped the mouth of the yard sack. “If the Sox lose again tonight, there are men in Boston who won’t
say a pleasant word until spring.”
“Let’s greet our new neighbors, then.” I led Pudge down the stairs and took Brad’s damp hand. “While there’s
Pudge tugged us across the street, and we reached the moving truck just as the tall driver finished raising the door on the cargo bay. The passenger stood in the back yard, making the wolf-dog sit before he opened the gate.
“Hi,” I said. “Need a hand?”
When the driver saw my belly his eyes
widened. He raised his palm. “We are all right.” No one ever accepts
help from a pregnant woman.
“We live across the street,” I said. “I’m
Vickie. This is Brad.”
“I am Faisal.” The tall man shook Brad’s hand and nodded at me. The shorter man closed the yard gate and joined us. “And
this is my brother Samir.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Brad said. “So.
Where you from?”
“Boston,” Faisal said.
“I mean originally.”
I shot Brad a glance, but he wasn’t
looking at me.
“Of course.” Faisal smiled. “We are
from Cairo. But it is seven years since we left.”
“Really?” Brad said. “What brought you
“We were students,” Faisal said. “I
trained at M.I.T. as a civil engineer. Samir works in computer
Brad nodded. I could see he was about
to ask another question, so I broke in. “I’m a lawyer,” I said. “I work downtown at a family law firm. Brad writes a column for a sports website.” The column was a minor part of Brad’s
job; he spent most of his time managing relationships with advertisers.
But Brad had just started the column, after months of wheedling
his boss, and it was the only aspect of the job that he wanted
to talk about.
Samir scowled. “Web advertising,” he said, as though he knew what Brad really did for a living. “Many
security issues there. Click fraud. Denial of service attacks.”
“That’s right.” Brad nodded, impressed. “You
looking for a job, Samir?”
Samir shook his head irritably. I dug
my nails into Brad’s palm.
“Where do you work, then?” Brad asked.
I interrupted. “Did you say you were from Boston? Brad’s
from Boston, too. Grew up in the western suburbs. Newton.”
“Ah, Newton.” Faisal nodded and smiled broadly, as though the name brought back fond memories. “We
lived more centrally, near Fenway Park.”
“Fenway Park?” Brad brightened. “Are you watching the Sox tonight?” He looked at his watch. “Game
four starts in half an hour.”
“Unfortunately, no.” Faisal said. “Even
were we to unpack our television, our cable service is not yet
“You can watch with us,” I said. “Come for dinner. We’re having pork chops.” The Muslims exchanged glances, and I felt my face redden. “Or
something else. Pizza?”
“You are very kind,” Faisal smiled again. “But
no. We have much unpacking.”
“Can’t say I blame you for skipping it,” Brad said. “No team’s ever come back from three games down. And with Hernandez pitching, there’s
not much hope, is there?”
Faisal glanced confusedly at me and
I shrugged, giving him permission to smile. “If you say so,” he said. “You
are the expert, Brad.”
Pudge sidled toward the fence, sniffed one of the pickets, and raised his back leg. The wolf-dog snorted and trotted out from under the pine trees, hackles raised, yellow eyes slitted. Pudge dropped his leg and started forward.
“Sit,” I said, and snapped his leash. Pudge lowered his haunches slowly, as though unsure that I could handle the situation. “This is Pudge,” I
“Budge,” he said.
“No, Pudge.” Brad broke in. “Like Ivan Rodriguez. But really he’s
named after Carlton Fisk.”
Faisal squinted, confused.
“The catcher,” Brad said. “For the Red Sox. You know. Hit that home run in the ‘75 Series.” When Faisal didn’t answer, Brad went on. “Now Budge—Don Budge—was
a tennis player.”
I broke in. “I always think of his breed. He is a pug. His name is
Pudge.” I looked down the leash and clucked my tongue. “Isn’t it? Isn’t your name Pudge?” Pudge
stared up at me and panted anxiously. His back legs trembled. The
wolf-dog stood behind the fence and looked entreatingly at Samir,
as though awaiting permission to start on dinner.
Brad nodded toward the wolf-dog. “Impressive specimen,” he said. “What’s
Samir turned his head slowly toward
Brad. “Beedoos,” he said.
“Sorry?” Brad asked.
“Virus,” Faisal said. “With a V.” His
teeth buzzed his bottom lip emphatically, as though the letter
took special effort to pronounce.
Brad said, “Oh. Okay,” which unfortunately
is the signal that releases Pudge from his most-recent command.
Pudge sprang up, barking, and Virus lunged toward him, snapping,
trying to shove his jaws through the slats of the fence.
“Beedoos!” Samir shouted a short
command in Arabic, and Virus dropped to the ground. Suddenly calm,
he looked up at Samir for further instructions.
“Pudge!” Brad said. “We told you to sit!” When
Pudge continued barking, Brad knelt next to him and pressed his
hips to the ground. But as soon as Brad let go, Pudge stood up
and started to bark again.
“I’m sorry,” I told Faisal and Samir over the barking. “We’d
“A pleasure to meet you.” Faisal waited
for Brad to straighten, then shook his hand. I reached for a handshake,
too, but Faisal simply dropped his hand and nodded.
As I led Pudge back across the street,
I snapped his leash, less for his benefit than to show Faisal and
Samir I was in charge. “What’s wrong with you?” I said. I climbed the front stairs and let Pudge into the house ahead of me. He ran to the front window and set his paws on the sill. He stared across the street into Virus’ yard,
and let out little wuffing under-barks.
After we’d closed the front door, I turned to Brad. “And you,” I said. “What
was that all about?”
“What?” Brad hung his jacket in the front closet. “What
did I say?”
“You were interrogating them. I half expected you to ask their mother’s
“Their mother.” Brad started for the back of the house. “That’s
I followed him through the dining room
and into the kitchen. “What’s funny? You think they don’t have
“Not the same one.” Brad opened the refrigerator and pulled out a beer. “They
look like brothers to you?”
“They said they were brothers.”
“Samir’s dark and short, with a thick beard, and stubble halfway down his neck. Faisal’s light-skinned, taller than me, looks like he’s
never had to shave in his life.”
“And my sister has bright red hair.
They said they were brothers, Brad.”
“They said they were from Boston, too.” Brad popped the top of the beer can. “But they’d
never heard of Carlton Fisk?”
“Why would they?” I asked. “He hasn’t
played baseball for a million years.”
“Whatever. They haven’t been in the
country that long.”
“He’s part of team lore.”
“Maybe they don’t care about baseball,
Brad. Not everyone works for sportfreak.com.”
“So why say they lived near Fenway Park?” Brad
picked up his laptop computer and headed for the TV in the living
“Because they did?”
“They could say they lived near B.U.
Kenmore Square. Back Bay.”
“Or they could tell the truth, right?” I blocked Brad’s exit at the kitchen doorway. “That they hate America. That they’ve
come to strike at the heart of American power and depravity. Right
here. In Columbus, Ohio.”
Brad shook his head and smiled. But
the smile faded quickly, and he said, “Don’t tell me you didn’t
think about it.”
“No,” I lied.
“Come on. If something happened and the TV news came around, you’d
tell them you never suspected a thing?”
I pantomimed a reporter’s microphone in front of my mouth. “They seemed so quiet,” I said. “They
kept to themselves.”
Brad glanced down, then looked into
my eyes. “Somebody trained that dog to attack.”
“Or not to,” I said. “At least he’s
We can’t even get Pudge to sit.”
“And that name: Virus. Creepy.”
“Not really,” I said. “Not if his master works in computer
Brad help up a surrendering palm. “Okay,” he said. “You
win Most Tolerant Spouse.”
“It’s not about that.”
“Can you let me through? The game’ll start any minute.”
I stepped out of the doorway and let him pass.
He’s not himself, I thought as I got the pork chops out of the refrigerator. He wasn’t himself, and it didn’t have much to do with terrorism—it had to do with baseball. Brad was ebullient, of course, when Boston made the playoffs, but if they’d been knocked out early, say back in August, he probably would have recovered quickly. It was this tension—with the Red Sox almost out, but still clinging to a sliver of hope—it was the tension that set Brad on edge. Maybe that’s
why Boston has so many hospitals.
Maybe they’ll win tonight, I thought. That ought to help. But no, then they’d
still be down three games to one. Winning tonight would only prolong
I glanced up to assure myself that Brad was out of
earshot, then told the pork chops what I’d only then realized.
“I hope they lose.”
(Complete story available
in Big Pulp Fall 2011 issue)