Fred, as I knew him, was medium height, around 5’8, with a short white beard. He had a wiry mustache that almost always had a lit cigarette hanging out of it and his hair was in a constant state of unrest, though as white as his beard. These things, as well as some other characteristics I found along the way, complimented well, the small white dog always at his side.
The first time I met Fred was not the first time I saw him. The first time I met him was almost a full year after seeing him regularly on my runs. I had changed my job and therefore my schedule and I began running in the mid-afternoon. This seemed to also be the time Fred would be out in front of his house with his small white dog. Run after run I would see them and sometimes make eye contact and smile, he would see me and smile back, his small white dog would never bark though he’d sniff if I was close enough. I could never tell if they were outside for the dog to get out or if the dog was there because the man was out or what. Sometimes it would be him at his driveway or at the hedges or at his mailbox and he’d have the dog in his arms. I never stopped and asked because that had never come to mind.
The first time I met Fred was on a day that I ran by while they were at the mailbox. It was a hot day in late summer and he was there, with the dog in his arms and his cigarette lit, turning just in time to see me coming around the corner, about to pass in between them and their house. I saw them and smiled and Fred opened his mouth and said something but I hadn’t heard and I took the earbud out of my ear and slowed down, past them at this point but turning around. I asked him what he’d said and he asked if I was Annie’s boy. I said I was, the older one. I didn’t know if he knew of me or my younger brother, people usually only knew of my brother. He asked how she was. It was a small town so a lot of people knew a lot of people, though I had asked my mom if she had known the man with the white dog on the corner of Old Mill and Peach and she had said no. She’s doing all right, I lied. Are you two close? I didn’t know if that was a question people asked but that was what I asked. No, he said. His eyes made it seem like he had more to say but he didn’t and all that was between us was my panting. If I was trying to get going, this point would have been an easy exit but I was curious after seeing him for so long. What’s this guys name? As soon as I asked it I realized it would be impossible to ask his name now that I had asked the dogs name. This is Moses, he said, looking down, giving him a scratch on the head. He’s a handsome dog, I said. Another quiet gap. If she needs anything, Annie, you can tell her to call me, to call Fred. He said all that still looking down at Moses. I waited a beat and said I will. Moses gave Fred a lick on the nose and I told them to have a good day.
I’d see Fred out with Moses again later that week and I would say hi and he would wave. Most of our interactions were that way. Every now and then though I would make it a point to walk over and say hello. I would bring them something as an excuse to say hello. It started as pies and brownies and baked goods but I learned after our talking that he didn’t have much of a sweet tooth. Eventually I would bring over beer or a kind of whiskey you can only get in the city and I would have some jerky for Moses who had started to like me. I’d go to their door and he’d wave me in and we’d sit in his backyard, our feet in a little kiddie pool, Moses panting in the water, and he would talk and I would talk and it was one of these talks I’d ask him how he knew my mom and he’d say he had heard she was sick and I’d say she was getting better and he would sigh and I would look down at Moses panting and we’d both listen to the cicadas scream and wait for summer to turn into fall to see what that would look like.