Dogs take a while to poop; old dogs take an eternity. I had indulged my friend’s dog Lucy with four blocks of walking in the Washington, D.C. neighborhood of Glover Park. I would stay at my friend’s condo for a few days and take care of Lucy and Liz, the cat. Lucy enjoyed her promenades just across the street from the National Cathedral; she received the greetings of random people as if she were a canine on her confirmation.
“Oh she’s adorable!”
“Thank you,” I’d say, as if I were Lucy’s biological father.
“How old is she?”
“Um, 14-years-old.” I wasn’t exactly sure. I remember my friend telling me a couple of times, with the age fluctuating somewhere between 14 and 16.
“What breed is she?”
“Yeah, I don’t know,” I’d say on some days, because I’d legitimately forget. “English Setter,” on the other days, when I’d remember.
Folks young and old would stroke her fur, the color of crushed Oreos and vanilla ice cream. Lucy is an exceptional wing-woman. If I were looking, I would have received four or five phone numbers, but instead I accepted the compliments with appreciation and continued our walk.
Summer held a few more weeks of life, so the afternoons were warm and sweet with pastel-colored skies and open-aired bistros. Satiated customers sat outdoors, conversing over stained wineglasses and dishes with small pools of olive oil and a piece or two of peppered penne.
Sometimes, I’d avoid eye contact with people to expedite the walks. I did so out of urgency to prepare Lucy’s dinner, or enthusiasm to binge on Netflix. I checked my phone: six thirty. I lifted my eyes, which then met those of an old woman in the middle of making a significant point. I assumed the point was significant because the old woman emphasized it with a flourish of her arm. The other arm held on to the handle of her metal cane. Her lithe body was adorned in patterns of silk and cotton; her grey hair was styled tight into a marble-colored bun.
She acknowledged me with a subtle nod, while stating her point to the other pedestrian. I find it patronizing when someone says another person was attractive “in their time,” but I’d go so far to venture that she was attractive in my present time. It wasn’t a sexual attraction, she looked old enough to be my grandmother, but more an appreciation of her style, her grace, her presence.
If humans could be acquired in antique stores, she’d be in the front window, sitting with her posture straight before a mosaic tiled table. A China cup of warm chai hooked into her thin fingers. She’d nod at passers-by, perhaps permit a modest smile to a customer.
I beheld the woman two more times; with her observing Lucy then myself, and once again the nodding awareness that my visit to Glover Park was not just a one-time event.
She touched my arm on the fourth time I neared her. “Is this your dog?”
“No ma’am. This is my friend’s dog. Her name is Lucy.”
“Your friend, or the dog?”
I smiled. “The dog’s named Lucy.”
The woman bent forward to caress Lucy behind the ears. She spoke with a cadence that wasn’t exactly foreign, but rare. A comfortable formality, which in turn compelled me to speak in a tone perhaps more respectful than usual.
The woman said that she was a dancer in her earlier years, a ballerina. Although reliant on a cane, there was still the hint of strength in her squared shoulders and her lean frame, despite her adornment in beautiful fabrics.
When she spoke, she entered my personal space as if to share a cozy secret that she kept warm just for my ears.
She asked me about my interests, where I typically lived, and what I thought of the neighborhood. I felt as if she were holding court without a throne room, and I were some kind of diplomat traveling from some foreign land. As I spoke, I noticed how she studied my eyes, my speaking, my posture, and general demeanor. As if my words were just a small component of my general message. I was a guest in her “kingdom” of Glover Park and the ballerina seemed sincerely amused. And in less than five minutes, she learned as much as she needed to know, wished me well and preceded on her way.
I would chat with the ballerina of Glover Park on several more occasions. Sometimes exchanging nothing more than a salutation, while other times we’d have a discussion as robust and brief as an espresso. I’d say her name each time we’d say goodbye and she would respond in her goodbyes by saying my name as well.
My friend informed me a few weeks ago that Lucy didn’t have much time left in this world. This saddened me, for not only possibly losing her canine companion, but also for not having a reason to visit Glover Park and possibly converse with the retired dancer.
Was she always an engaging conversationalist, or was this a byproduct of retirement? I’m not sure, but when I reach her age, I hope I have a similar level of curiosity and interest in talking with people, if only to expand my world one person at a time.