FRANK A. HUKILL, JR.

DIGNITY

He sits with his dog under the highway overpass, sitting in the shade in a vain attempt to find solace from the oppressive Florida heat. “Well, Fang, we may not have air conditioning or a tall cool glass of lemonade, but we still have our freedom,” he says to his skinny, four legged companion. He feels the scorn in the glances of the people driving by, those who don’t pretend not to see him there at all, or are too busy talking on their little cell phones to even notice the eighteen wheeler just inches from their trunk, never mind a homeless man and a dog in the shadow of a bridge.

His memory echoes with the shouts from other people who had just that same look in their eyes: “Get a job!” “You want food? Go work for it!” “Get out of here, you stinking bum!” “Move along, or I’ll run you in!” They mingle with the shouts from yet other people with that same look in their eyes: “Murderer!” “Baby killer!” “How dare you wear that uniform!” Mingling with the shouts of still other people: “Incoming!” “Sniper!” “Move! Move! Move!” “Charlie at six o’clock!” “I’m hit! Oh God, I’m hit!” “Medic! Medic!” “Jonesy, help me! Help me, Jonesy! I can’t move, Jonesy! Don’t let them take me, Jonesy! Don’t let them take me! Shoot me, Jonesy! Shoot me!” He can still see Billy’s face in his rifle sights, as he gently squeezes the trigger of his M-16. He can still feel the tears streaming down his face as he pulls back with the rest of the squad, leaving Billy’s lifeless body there in the jungle as the enemy advances.

He feels something wet on his face. It is Fang comforting him with his doggie kisses. Somehow Fang always knows when he is reliving his nightmare. Dogs seem to have an innate ability to read human emotions, almost as if they can see a person’s soul. He wraps an arm around Fang and gives him a hug as Fang wags his tail enthusiastically. Pulling Fang’s bowl from his backpack he splits the bottle of water, the one the church had given him the other day, with his four legged pal. They sit together in the shade drinking their water, watching as the scornful eyes drive by.