It’s a little early for the UPS guy, she thought. She watched the brown truck exert itself over a speedbump while she tried to keep Zoe from eating plants in front of an apartment building. She was still entreating when another dog appeared from the stairwell of the basement unit and approached the gate. The two dogs sniffed each other through the iron bars, tails wagging. She was saying hello to the dog when a man emerged from the same stairwell. She recognized him from the neighborhood. He was older, maybe seventy. He was wearing a yellow t-shirt, cargo shorts, tube socks and gym shoes. He had gray hair and a bit of stubble. After a minute of chit-chat he invited them in. Her first instinct was to say No, thanks because that was always her first instinct. But, like a remotely operated railroad switch, something in her mind flipped and she found herself saying “Sure, that would be great.” It would be fun for the dogs to run around together on such a beautiful summer day. The man opened the gate and she could barely get the leash off Zoe before the dogs sprinted down the gangway into the backyard. The two of them followed, making formal introductions and discussing the temperaments of the dogs that were now running circles around each other. She looked up at the August sky, then around at the porches of neighboring buildings. Being in an unfamiliar backyard was like being backstage in a theater that she’d only ever seen from the seats. That’s what she was thinking when the man turned the conversation to God. Ah, there it is, she thought, mentally chalking this up as one more reason not to talk to strangers. Now she was a captive audience for an impromptu Tuesday morning backyard sermon. Evil . . . sins . . . lust . . . drugs . . . salvation. She wondered if the odds of him being a murderer increased in direct proportion to his religious fervor. She started to notice things she hadn’t noticed before, evidence in his eyes and skin and teeth of a hard life. When he finally paused, she felt like she had to say something to break the intensity of the monologue and lay the groundwork for her exit. She said that she wasn’t a spiritual person. Even as she said the words she wished they didn’t come out sounding so apologetic. He reached into his pocket and handed her a pamphlet of bible verses, full of PROCLAMATIONS and typos. She still felt uncomfortable, but she was also kind of touched by the humble flyer. It was tangible evidence of the devotion that compelled this man to spend his life preaching to strangers. She might actually read it before she threw it in the recycling bin. Then he told her that the gays were going to hell. She wondered if there was something about herself that made him think she was in his camp on that question. She called Zoe and said she really should be going now.
He heard the UPS truck go by and cracked open the door, wondering why it was so early today. Must be a different driver. Pepper wanted to see what was going on, too, pushing her way out the door and beating him up the stairs. When he got there she was making friends with another dog. The owner was a young lady, maybe twenty-five, wearing sunglasses — like so many others around here that he couldn’t be sure if he’d seen her before. They said hello, and then because the dogs seemed so eager to play he invited them in. He thought he saw the girl hesitate, but only for a second. Fear is for the godless. Fear, regret, shame, those were husks of his sinful past. Now he lived bravely knowing that the Lord Jesus Christ was his Savior. He and the girl followed the dogs into the yard. While they stood there talking it didn’t so much occur to him to take advantage of this moment as it didn’t occur to him not to. Just like he’d done hundreds of times before, he told her how he’d once lived a debauched and degraded life, but by the grace of God he’d come to accept faith and love and righteousness. Jesus took care of his basic needs so he could preach in the streets. This was his mission, without it he was lost. When he was younger he thought he cared deeply about the fate of other people. But going on a long time now he knew he didn’t care about what happened to this girl. Or any of the other sinners in this world, not really. He loved his brothers and sisters, sure, but above all else was his promise to God. People would hear the truth and be saved, or they wouldn’t; either way he would have done his part. Like a lookout in the crow’s nest of a ship, he would sound the alarm night and day. But unlike that poor sailor, he wouldn’t go down with the ship if nobody heard him. No, sir. No more needles or wanton flesh or capitalistic greed could drag him back into the deep. He could see the girl’s eyes darken as he talked. No surprise there. This generation was tough to crack. Arrogant. Materialistic. He dug out one of his pamphlets from his shorts pocket and gave it to her. She seemed interested so he thought he’d better keep on, but then she all of a sudden called out to her dog and took off down the gangway. No worries. It was a beautiful goddamned day.