One a.m. The streetlight flows like smelted iron under a forge-black sky.
Windows painted over with shadow, the houses stand a silent vigil on their concrete shore.
Every muscle in my body is pulled so taut, I swear I’ll ring like a bell if struck.
My teeth clench. I hear them creaking like old floorboards underfoot.
The street is empty, except for me, staring up dumbly at this German shepherd. It’s climbed out of an open second story window of one of the darkened townhouses and onto the overhang of the porch. The dog is barking up at the sky as if it isn’t even aware of my presence, as if it isn’t even aware that I’m willing it to stop barking.
Don’t blame the dog, I have to remind myself. Blame the owners, but whatever you do don’t blame the dog. It doesn’t know any better.
I’m thinking about rat poison in dog treats, now, maybe Pill Pockets. Yeah, Pill Pockets would be perfect, or—no, no, no, no, no. What are you doing? You can’t blame the dog. It’s just a goddamn animal.
I take a deep breath, the kind that does absolutely nothing for you when adrenaline is kicking around in your veins. I approach the house, even as the dog continues to bark at nothing. It doesn’t even direct its barking at me as I pass under its perch.
I knock on the door.
I knock again.
I pound on the door, but no one answers.
My hands are shaking, my breath hitching in my chest. Stay calm. Just stay calm. You can figure this out.
I fish my cellphone out of my pocket and look up the number to the property management office. They have an after-hours emergency line for residents. I call it.
After a few rings, a woman picks up. “You have reached the Villas answering service,” she says. “How may I help you?”
“Yeah, hi, I live in the apartments across the street from your property.” (I’m trying to sound reasonable, levelheaded, but my words are spilling out in a breathless gush. I’m gulping at the night air when I can, between sentences, but my sentences are bleeding together and now I can’t breathe. My voice is just the strained whine of a deflating balloon.) “One of your residents has a dog and it’s on their roof and it’s been barking since nine o’clock and this is getting ridiculous, you know, and I need it to stop, I need it to stop right now, this isn’t right, there are laws against this kind of stuff, city ordinance, there’s a noise curfew, for God’s sake, I’ve looked it up, I know my rights, you need to call these people and tell them to come home and put their dog inside or take care of it or something, this is awful, this poor dog, it’s just out on the roof and barking for hours.”
“Sir,” the woman interrupts in a perfectly civil, perfectly unaffected tone. “Sir, I’m very sorry about the disturbance. Could you please give me your name and number?”
“My name and number?” I manage, despite my strangling frustration. “What do you need my name and number for? It’s not my dog that’s been barking for four hours. Seven-nine-five-zero. That’s the house number. That‘s who you need to get a hold of.”
“Sir,” she says. “I understand, but we need your information to file the complaint, and also this will help us to follow up with you once the residents have been contacted.”
“No, no, no,” I insist. “Just call the residents.” I snap at her without meaning to: “Is that too much to ask? That you call your noisy goddamn residents?”
She sighs into the phone. I crossed a line, and we both know it. She says, “Sir. Sir,” she says. “Please calm down.”
“Are you hearing this?”
“Please hold while I put you through to the property owner.”
I look at my phone. The call is still connected. The woman didn’t hang up on me, although I was sure she would. I also have three text message notifications. They’re from my wife.
Where did you go?
Are you ok?
Please respond. I’m very worried.
This is turning into a nightmare, I think. This is a nightmare.
I hear a small murmur come from my phone. I fumble with the phone as I hurry to put it to my ear.
“Hello?” a groggy male voice rasps impatiently. “Is someone there?”
“Yes, yes, I’m here,” I blurt out.
“Okay,” he says, and then there’s a long pause as if he’s fallen asleep on the other end of the line. After a while he yawns into my ear and says, “What’s the problem?”
I feel a pinch in my chest and a pressure that builds in my skull until my vision becomes blurred. Everything is black and red.
“What’s the problem?” I shout. “What’s the problem?”
I hold the phone out to the dog and then put it back to my ear.
“You hear that? You fucking hear that, man? You hear that shit?”
“Hold on now,” the man indignantly interjects. “There’s no need to get nasty. I was sleeping. They woke me up for this.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I reply mockingly. “This guy was trying to sleep,” I yell to the dark townhouses, to the empty street. Then addressing the phone again, I growl, “This is my first night back from fucking Afghanistan and I have to put up with this shit? You were trying to sleep? I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in seven fucking months, motherfucker. Fuck your sleep.”
I realize I’m screaming now, but I go suddenly silent when I hear another sound: not the German shepherd, not the property owner’s voice over the phone, not my own furious howling. It’s the click-clack of a deadbolt. It’s coming from the front door of the house with the barking dog on its roof. When the door opens and a man in pajamas staggers out and squints sleepily at me, I don’t know what to do or say.
“Hey,” the man in the pajamas says to me. “Do you think you can keep your voice down? People are trying to sleep.”
And above him, his dog goes like, Woof. Woof. Woof.
Daniel Nathan Horn is a Marine Corps veteran and studies physics and
mathematics at UC San Diego.