Wally Wiggins was a specific gentleman. He woke each morning at the chime of six, and always got out of bed in the same way: one foot first, and then the other. He washed his face and brushed his teeth methodically, and tied his cravat with purpose.
Wally was passionate about order, cleanliness, and decency. After all, cleanliness was next to godliness, and if you thought about it, that was a grand estate for anyone to aspire to.
On this particular day, Wally concluded his morning tasks with a satisfied nod at himself in the mirror, made a cup of coffee, then went directly to wake up his lazy old hound, Master, for his morning walk. Master was a great admirer of the local dog park, nearly a competitor for the title of its greatest admirer with Wally himself.
Wally though, had several things on poor Master in that race which the hound could never hope to compete with. He was vice-president of the board of volunteers, frequently ran fundraising drives for the park’s improvement, and lately, had begun a spirited “Remove the Poo!” campaign, involving numerous professionally printed signs posted throughout the walk, and a greater availability of baggies and garbage bins.
No, the only person who had any hope of matching Wally’s dedication to the park was his neighbor, the co-founder of the Remove the Poo campaign, Angela Mouder.
Angela had a pug. There was nothing wrong with that. It was just not the type of dog Wally would have chosen. Master’s face was a bit saggy with age, but it was a very noble, hound-like visage. Wally was quite proud of it. Privately, Wally didn’t think it was entirely decent to have a dog who looked like its face had been run over by a steamroller.
He parked the car in his usual spot, pleased that it hadn’t been taken by any of the inconsiderate masses who frequented the park. No one seemed to have any respect for his longevity, or his routines. Angela understood, but only because she considered her own status of greater importance. Acknowledging his, while frequently reminding him that she had been coming here for six months longer, was the best way of reaffirming herself.
It had only been four months longer. Wally had told her time and again. He had been here right at the new year in 1968, when he was ten years old, and his parents had moved to the area from their inner-city apartment. They had gained a yard, and he had adopted his first dog, a glorious Beagle called Bagel.
Not that it mattered.
What did matter was respecting traditions, and showing enough responsibility to take care of a place.
Wally clipped Master’s extendable leash onto his collar, one of comfortably worn brown leather, very dignified, and ushered him out of the car. He hadn’t gone three steps when he saw it. A poo, sitting blatantly stark against the snow of the parking lot. Not another three feet past it was a dog pot waste receptacle and a baggie dispenser.
Wally stopped still in the pathway, and stared at the poo. He shook, and his face grew hot. No respect, that was the problem with kids these days. The whole world was going to pot and it was because they had no respect.
“I’m sorry Master,” Wally said, stopping the hound, who had already set off down the path. At the jerk of the leash, Master looked back at him with a reproving expression.
Heaving a sigh, Wally pulled a baggie from the dispenser, and covered his hand. He took a second baggie, which he placed righteously in his pocket. He stooped, with a creaking of joints, and picked up the offending waste, nearly gasping for breath by the time he stood again. Wally had been the victim of a heart attack several years past, and despite walking each morning with Master, he was not in the best shape. His doctor always encouraged him to lose weight, but too much made his heart ache alarmingly, and his breath come short.
The indignity of that, piled up on the injustice of the entire situation, made him very cross by the time he dumped the poo in the garbage can. It did not help that no one had even been around to see him clean it up, and learn a bit of a lesson from it.
When Angela Mouder hopped out of her VW Bug, clutching Pebbles the pug, beaming as if it was Christmas morning and her birthday all rolled into one, Wally could not help scowling at her.
“Wallace!” she called across the parking lot, then scurried her stubby, round self over to him.
“There you are Pebbles,” she said, and set the pug down on the ground. Wally was pleased to notice that she was a little bit out of breath herself.
“Well!” she said, sticking her fists into her hips, “Someone got out on the wrong side of the bed this morning, eh?” She grinned at him in apparent delight.
“No, no,” he said. “Never better.”
“Humph,” she sniffed, and bent down to attach Pebbles’ leash. Master was pulling, eager to go, and Wally followed him down the path. He felt a moment of shame that he hadn’t waited for her, but it wasn’t as if they were walking together after all, they just happened to be walking at the same time.
A few minutes later, she caught up, pulling Pebbles along behind. The little dog was moving his legs as fast as he could without truly breaking into a run, Angela was doing the same.
“Do you want to know what I am going to do after this Wallace?”
He gritted his teeth, Angela loved to call him Wallace, although he had told her that he didn’t like it.
“Yoga! That is what I am going to do. Doesn’t that sound just sublime?” she said.
Wally’s eyebrows flew up to his hairline. And unbidden image of Angela contorting herself into a horrific pose sprang into his mind.
“Well,” he coughed. Feeling terribly embarrassed, he glanced away, trying to school his expression.
Master, in an uncharacteristic burst of energy, was using the full length of his extendable leash to explore the snowdrifts beside the pathway. Perhaps it was because he had been halted at the start of the walk not once, but twice. Perhaps he was just trying to put some distance between himself and Angela’s description of Yoga. Wally couldn’t blame him. Whatever the reason, he was far off the path, in a snowdrift that reached halfway up his legs when he suddenly squatted down to do his business.
Angela saw it at the same moment Wally did. She stopped her rambling mid-sentence, and cleared her throat expectantly. Wally nodded to her, suppressing a surge of annoyance. As if he, of all people needed her to remind him of his duty.
He pulled in Master’s leash, and trudged through the heavy snow to the spindly tree that Master had squatted beside, but the poo was not there. Confused, his heart pounding with exertion, Wally cast a glance around. There were a number of trees actually, and they all looked the same. He trudged toward the next one, but found nothing. Master’s paw prints were everywhere: he must have been running in circles while Wally had been distracted by Angela’s chatter.
His heart pounded harder; irritation, and a bit of anxiety mounting. He looked beside another tree, then another. His anxiety reached a peak, and his started sweating. He could feel sweat prickling on the back of his neck, and rolling off his forehead. Angela was still standing on the path, watching him.
Why wouldn’t she just walk on? He looked back over his shoulder and darted a quick smile at her.
Wally returned to the first tree, sure that he had missed something. He had checked everywhere. Master had certainly made a poo, both he and Angela had seen it. But the poo was nowhere to be found. He wondered if it had somehow sunk down into the snow. He swallowed, his mouth dry. He would never be able to find it if that had happened. He couldn’t leave it out here, even off the path. Not in front of Angela, not just ten yards away from the sign they had nailed up which said: “It’s your duty to remove the doody!”
Then, he had a flash of inspiration.
“Oh, there we go” he said, shaking his head. He walked over to a spot beside a spindly tree and bent down, scooping up a poo which was not there from the snow.
Hurriedly, he tied up the little bag, and shoved it into his pocket, hoping that Angela had not seen enough from where she was standing to tell that it was empty.
They went on. Angela showed no sign that she knew, and chatted away happily about her Yoga instructor. With every step, Wally grew more and more anxious about his ruse. Did she know? Was she merely saving the information for a later date?
What if she realized that there was no smell? The doggy-doo bags were of good quality, but they were far from hermetically sealed. There should be a smell. For that matter, wouldn’t she wonder why he had shoved a bag of poo into his pocket? Any sane person would keep the offending bag as far away from himself and his clothing as possible.
If he carried it in the open, though, she would know in an instant that it was empty, and that he, Wally Wiggins, vice-president of the dog park betterment association, and co-founder of the remove the poo campaign, had just left the poo on the ground with as much consideration as a mugger generally shows his victims.
Wally’s hands were shaking as his mind raced. The tension of the situation was mounting in his mind so much that it was almost unbearable. Now the sweat was rolling down the back of his neck. Around the next corner, there was a garbage can. He knew every inch of this park, and he knew the location of that garbage can especially well, as he had placed it there only the previous week.
If he didn’t stop at the can and throw away the bag, Angela would certainly notice. After all, who would continue carrying a bag of poo right past a perfectly good garbage can?
Gulping back hyperventilation, Wally angled himself so that the can would be on his far side, away from Angela when they came to it. He paused in front of it casually, and, blocking her view with his body, slipped the empty bag into it as fast as possible.
He let out a long, slow breath, and held still, waiting for the hammer to fall.
But it didn’t come, he turned, and Angela smiled cluelessly at him. He sighed, the tension dropping out of his neck and shoulders, to be replaced with a kind of giddy exhilaration.
He had done it! She really had no idea. He had left a poo on the ground and gotten away with it, right under her nose.
Angela turned back to the path and urged Pebbles along. Wally allowed himself the tiniest chuckle, and hurriedly looked down at the snowy ground to avoid catching her eye.
Then it happened.
“Whoopsie!” Angela said. Wally looked up just in time to see her whip a little green bag out of her pocket to scoop up a poo that Pebbles had just left in the pathway.
She turned around. Naturally she would; the next garbage bin was several minutes walk away.
A wave of nausea came over him. For a wild moment, he wondered if he could just make a run for it, take Master and go and never come back. But no. That would be as great an admission of guilt as shouting it out for the world to hear. There was a moment of shocked silence, and then, Angela shrilled.
“Wallace Wiggins! There is no poo in this can!” There was no denying it; not only was the empty bag sitting at the bottom of the can as plain as could be, there were no other bags around it to provide a disguise. The can was too new. It had never been used before.
Wally felt faint. It was out. She would never, in a million years of Sundays, let him live this one down. It didn’t matter that the poo had disappeared into the snow. It didn’t matter that she was lying about the Yoga instructor, or that Pebbles had deposited his poo conveniently in the path for her.
All that mattered was that he, Wally, was a liar and a hypocrite. All of his credibility, all of his standing was lost.
He bowed his head.
“No. There isn’t,” he said. Then, strangely, he started laughing, odd gulping laughs that were half sobs. The tension was too much, and it burst out of him in a flood of giggles, snickers, and hiccups.
Angela opened her mouth, as if to say something, then closed it abruptly, making her look like a fish gasping for breath out of water. His desperate snorting turned into full-bodied laughter.
“You!” he wheezed. “You are the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen.”
“What has gotten into you?” she whispered.
“Nothing,” he gasped. “Absolutely nothing. But you are mean, and you are petty, and I am sick of it. Do you hear me? I’m sick of it.”
“You left that poo on the ground.”
“I left that poo on the ground.” He stamped his foot. “What of it? It was so far under the snow that you couldn’t find it if you tried. And what’s more, by Spring, it will be completely gone. Dogs poo. They poo Angela. I say let them. Let the poo pile up for all I care. I have had enough.”
With that, Wally turned around. Pulling Master after him, he strode away, leaving her gaping after him, while Pebbles took the opportunity to do a bit more of his business on the snow beside her patent-leather booted feet.