Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA


Published in Strays.

There’s a family two floors down from me, who exist in my world primarily through the noise that funnels upward through the cement and steel staircase that also serves as a chamber of echoes. This family has been visited by child protective services. I have seen the visitations. They seem tense. Sometime in the past month or two this family got a dog. Yesterday I learned that dog’s name is Rocko.

A week, or so, ago I was taking the trash out and I saw Rocko get pushed out the door. It didn’t want to leave. Rocko is a good dog. It scratched at the door, wanting back in, but back into what? Them? Some nights I hear Rocko barking, wanting desperately to not be outside, alone. During the previous week I had heard the angry old woman who lives there yell at Rocko “POO POO PEE PEE NOW!” This continued for far longer than it should have. Five minutes, maybe. It was gross. Rocko is left to shit on the concrete landing pad at the bottom of the stairs. The shit is cleaned up on what appears to be a weekly-ish timetable, not on a basis of whether or not it smells, or whether or not it’s forcing people who are trying to take their trash out to step through shit to do so. That’s the life you want, Rocko?

There is another couple, who has been yelling at each other in the hallway more nights than not this past week. They have many children, though they aren’t very old themselves. I looked up the phone number for security one night, though I didn’t call. I didn’t want to make myself part of it, and I certainly didn’t want to make myself a target of some unseen resentment. Race can appear to play into this all too easily for me to risk involvement. Better just to stay out of it, I figured. Last week I stopped by the leasing office to pick up my mail and I decided against filing a complaint against Rocko’s owner, for failing to clean up Rocko’s mess in a timely manner. What good does that do?, I thought.

Then yesterday I saw a pair of children playing with Rocko. Rocko doesn’t have tags, and certainly doesn’t have a leash. But it was just happy playing with the kids and a ragged little toy in the yard in front of the apartment. It wasn’t running away, like a bad dog would do. And the children weren’t being mean to it, like bad children would do. They seemed happy. Rocko seemed happy. I was glad I hadn’t made the complaint against the woman who gets angry and yells at all of them. What might happen if Rocko gets taken away? If the kids do? Who is left for the woman to yell at? Is there some perverted balance in that equation? Is the pain and anger and confusion that echoes up to my apartment and through the hollow door that barely separates me from the outside world the only thing holding this place together?