THE SOLDIER WHO LOVED DOGS
by Michael Gigandet
“I am not a warring man.” Igor watched the old man lead a German Shepherd through the rubble which Berlin had become. The old man dragged one of his legs, but his dog stuck close, matching his shuffling pace.
Igor thought of his dog Anna and considered opening his pack to look at the photograph of his mother and Anna taken three years ago on the day he left for the war.
An April breeze whipped through the demolished buildings. The old man held his hat down with one hand and tucked his head into the collar of his overcoat like a turtle. He ignored the Russian soldiers lying against a wall at the corner of the Wilhelmstrassa and Quinta Avenida. Cigarettes dangled from their lips, and they let the ashes drop onto their tunics.
The German Shepherd wagged its tail as the man led it through the broken bricks spilling over sidewalks and into the streets.
She is happy, Igor thought. The dog knows nothing of war.
Igor spotted a blonde woman watching them from a doorway and elbowed his comrade, who grunted and shouted “BLONDIE!” in German. The woman disappeared, but the old man’s dog reared on its hind legs, straining the leash tight as a violin string. Lunging toward the soldiers, the dog danced and barked. “Mein Gott!” the old man shouted.
“You know who has a dog named Blondie?” one of the Russians shouted. “Hitler!” He’d learned that from the newsreels.
The soldiers snatched up their rifles and began shooting at the old man. Bullets slammed into the wall over the old man’s head. “Jesus H. Christus!” he shouted.
“Stop! Stop!” Igor shouted at his comrades. “We don’t know this!”
Bullets pinged off the building, and the old man skittered left and right like a tin duck in a carnival shooting booth before diving into a hole in the side of a building. Halfway through, he got stuck like a cork stopper in a wine bottle, and while bullets zinged around him the old man kicked, wiggled and twisted, disappearing inside after a wrenching kick. It was over in seconds, and by the time the soldiers got into the building the old man and his dog had disappeared into an alley through the back.
Igor saw traces of blood on the floor. Maybe it wasn’t the dog, and maybe it was the old man and he really was Hitler. He watched his comrades root through the busted furniture like grunting hogs. It doesn’t matter to these savage animals who they killed.
He found the dog just inside the ally, still alive and crawling on its belly. Did I cause this?
Igor thought of Anna. I hope she lives till I get home.
He raised his rifle. I am not a warring man. He pulled the trigger.