Walking the Black Dog

The man had heard, that exercise could help. Taking the black dog for a walk, he had heard, would tire it out. If he was especially lucky, and took a particularly circuitous route, it would get lost. A little respite from the bothersome beast would be very welcome.

The man decided a trip to the post office was in order. To see if the universe had deigned to send him any post. Putting his earphones in, and pressing play on one of his favourite podcasts, he set off. The black dog following close behind.

The busy suburban streets were full of traffic. Trucks belching noise and noxious black smoke. Seeing a bus the man pondered where the people were going, and if they were having a better day than he was. Did any of them have their own black dogs, he wondered.

The man had made some distance between himself and his black dog when he came to a pedestrian crossing. Pushing the button, he waited, foot tapping with impatience, for the lights to change. Not for the first time, he marvelled at the power of a red light and social convention to stop traffic. In the time it took the lights to change, the black dog had caught up, and sat at his heel.

Dashing across the road he caught the black dog unaware and was able to gain some distance from it once again. The black dog was persistent and kept him in sight for the rest of the journey to the post office.

Standing in front of the wall of boxes at the post office, the man felt a sense of anticipation. The key for his post office box in his hand. That moment was his own little re-enactment of the famous ‘Schrödinger’s cat’ experiment. Except his re-enactment didn’t involve radioactivity or cats with uncertain life expectancies.

Taking a deep breath, he slid the key into the lock. In one quick, smooth motion he turned the key and opened the little door. The cold air that he released, blasted him in the face. The air conditioning in the post office was set to Arctic temperatures.

The box was empty, he noted with sadness. The universe hadn’t sent him any letters or parcels this week.

Letting his breath out in a sigh of disappointment, the man closed the post office box and withdrew the key. Looking down, he saw that the black dog was at his heel once more.

Adjusting his earphones he decided to take the long way home. Taking one last look at the post office, he set off. Despite making as many changes in direction as he could, the black dog following close behind.

Over time the man came to a zebra crossing, and waited for the traffic to stop. Many cars didn’t stop and breezed through. The drivers were either in a hurry, or completely unaware of the road rules. It made him wonder. What was the critical difference between this and the earlier crossing?

Both crossings relied on social conventions. Neither used a physical barrier to stop the cars from hitting him as he crossed the road. It was undeniable, a red light was much more effective at stopping traffic than painted lines on the road. After some time had passed, a motorist stopped. With a wave and a smile for the driver the man continued his walk.

As time passed, the man took note his surroundings. Observing the differences between well maintained front gardens, and those that were not. Some businesses had closed for the day, while others remained open. So many people were going about their busy lives. At the mid-point of his walk he heard a blaring car horn. The man looked up, for a moment drawn out of his own little world. He saw an near miss accident between two cars.

The man didn’t meet many people on his walk around the neighbourhood. Those few that he did meet, he gave a shy smile to as they passed. Some returned the simple greeting, others scowled or looked away.

In time, the man ran out of path to follow. His walk had come to end, as all things must. Stopping outside his house he reached into his pocket for his keys. Looking down he saw the black dog at his heel once more. Only it wasn’t as black as it was when he started, and was no longer yapping and disturbing his thoughts.

Taking the earphones out of his ears, he stopped the podcast and went inside. The man decided that he might try this again. Maybe, just maybe, the black dog and he could come to an understanding.


Photo by Naomi Suzuki on Unsplash

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