This One Time, 4

This one time I threw a ratty old green tennis ball for my dog Alf to catch and another dog just flew in out of nowhere and swallowed the damned thing whole.

Maybe.

I mean I know I threw the ball. Alf was about thirty yards down range focused hard on me and doing his little dance. I fired the thing straight at him, like maybe a fifty mile an hour pitch with no lob, and then this huge black terror of a dog came flying straight sideways and snatched it right out of the air. He turned his head to face me as he spun and I saw nothing but slavering teeth in a clenched grin and, when I think about it right, a Rottweiller’s head, orange eyebrows and all, and a solid black body like a young Angus bull with a rusty underbelly.

I thought at first that maybe he’d missed, but if he had I would have nailed Alf with the ball. Or at least it would have still been rolling or bouncing and Alf would have been after it. But he was just sitting there in shock, his expression probably pretty close to mine, as this Rottweiller thing goes sailing between us and off into the trees bordering the park.

Mostly I was like, whatever. Big damn deal. Rotties don’t scare me, because mostly they’re big dumb cuddly monsters just like any other dog that knows it’s big enough it never has to fight. I’m down one very used slobber-covered tennis ball that Alf will miss for all of five minutes before we score one that isn’t so slobber-covered over by the courts. Bonus: I get at least one more throw on a ball that isn’t spit-soaked.

And that’s exactly how it goes. I call Alf over and try to convince him I didn’t fake-throw the ball, he contains his disappointment, and then we jog over to the tennis courts to find a fresh fluffy green victim for him to slime. We play for maybe another fifteen or twenty minutes and then I drag him off to the car and strap him into the harness I keep rigged to the backseat seatbelts.

It wasn’t until we were about halfway home before I remembered the whole thing a bit differently, where the Rottweiller wasn’t a dog but some kind of bat-thing about the size of a mountain lion. That was when I remembered that I never saw the dog or whatever ever touch the ground — not coming in to make the snatch, not running away having eaten the ball. It swooped down, made the grab, and then swooped up and flapped off over the trees.

And also I remembered a little differently what it was that I threw, and I’ll never in a million years tell you what it was. I won’t even tell myself again if I can figure out how to unthink it. Your only hint is that it was about the right size for a tennis ball. And slimy.

My heart started pounding like it wanted out of my ribcage. My vision went red briefly before it went dark around the edges and I started to black out. But I was driving, and managed to force a deep breath and straighten myself out a bit.

As I started to calm down the original version of the story came back into my head. It was just a tennis ball. Just a stray Rottie. Just an hour in the park, playing with Alf.

I snuck a look back over my shoulder to see Alf sitting down on the seat and strapped in, looking just as much like that Muppet from that TV show in the 80s as he ever had, cat-eating grin and everything.

And then I forgot all about it. Like completely forgot, by the time I got home, both the Rottie and the bat-thing. I still had a slime-covered tennis ball from picking up the spare at the courts, after all, and Alf never acted any different. I fixed us dinner. The ex came over and brought the kids and we watched some dumb movie.

But two weeks later, next time I took Alf to that park and threw that damn slimy tennis ball, the feel of it changed in my hand to that other thing, just for a split second, and it all came flooding back. I didn’t handle it well.

And that’s the story of my first heart attack.

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January 4, 2011 · by Laszlo Xalieri · Posted in This One Time  
    

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