Published in Metafore in March 2020
The rabbits didn’t wake anyone; Joanie’s Fifi did, chasing them. Then the coyotes in the forest kept some neighbors awake even after the dog went back to sleep.
Fifi was an apricot-colored, well-groomed six-year-old toy poodle, a prancing contrast to her mistress’ mousy-gray hair and stooped posture. The dog was not much bigger than a rabbit — and well-matched in speed.
When Joanie moved into Harmony Acres after Fred’s death, she introduced the dog to her neighbors, one at a time, to be sure they appreciated how well-behaved Fifi was – except, of course, for the barking, a phenomenon that was yet to appear. There were six other apartments at ground level in their little quadrangle, and seven on the second floor. None of the others – all retired widows — had dogs, although there were several strictly-indoor cats that would also prove restive after nocturnal commotions.
The quad was enclosed on three sides by apartments; on the fourth side was a decorative fence and a gazebo arbor that led to the carpark and the state park beyond. The fence was lushly lined with shrubs and flower beds that had become decidedly ragged, thanks to rabbits that came to forage. Copious pea-sized droppings confirmed the predators’ identity.
Joanie’s Fred had bought Fifi as a young puppy and done most of the training. He found a clever electronic “fence” that sent an audible signal to the dog’s collar when she neared an invisible outer boundary, and then an arresting electric shock if she went a few feet farther. When Joanie came to Harmony Acres, she had the maintenance people re-install and fine-tune the electronic gadget so Fifi could go only as far as the gazebo. They also installed a doggie door out to the patio and quad so the dog could come and go most of the time on her own.
Joanie was usually in bed and asleep when the rabbits arrived. So was Fifi. By whatever intuitive sense dogs have, though, she sensed them in the courtyard and dashed out at full yelp. Since the electronic minder wouldn’t let her go beyond the gazebo, she stopped there and barked at her disappearing prey. And barked. And barked.
She came in when Joanie called her, but that entailed Joanie’s getting out of bed on arthritic knees and hobbling to the patio door – by which time everyone else was awake, too.
Not surprisingly, the subject came up at their regular Monday afternoon tea in the second-floor parlor. Almost everyone wanted Fifi kept inside at night. Joanie, far from an assertive person, was hesitant to defend her dog.
Not Agnes. A large woman, who must have been a flaming redhead in her prime and still sported a mane touched with auburn, Agnes had made herself the quad’s chief resident gardener, and everyone admired what she added to the caretakers’ institutional plantings.
“Those rabbits,” she insisted, “had been decapitating everything I planted, bolting down the buds. Even pepper spray didn’t keep them at bay. Since Joanie and Fifi moved in, our flowers are blossoming again. I say let that poodle bark. She’s a blessing.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” snapped Harriet. “You’re deaf. She wakes me in the middle of the night, and makes the coyotes howl out in the park.”
Joanie, who was a bit deaf herself, hadn’t noticed the coyotes, but most others had. “Their caterwauling goes on after you’ve gotten the dog back inside,” complained Barbara. There was a chorus of agreement from the other widows who shared the courtyard: “Lock her in at night!” “Yes!” “Inside!”
“Poor little dog,” Joanie said to the bundle of blondish fur at her feet. Sensing sympathy, Fifi jumped into her mistress’ lap, stretching up to offer a chin-lick of appreciation. “Even if I lock her doggie door, she’ll still sense the rabbits, and drive us all crazy, barking indoors. You’ll still hear her.”
Agnes, the gardener and defender, was accustomed to winning arguments like this by confident certainty, and did so now. “Be patient,” she argued. “The coyotes will solve the problem. They’ll eat the rabbits, and that will put an end to it.” The neighborhood caucus broke up, the light sleepers at least temporarily in retreat.
Agnes, it turned out, had it almost right: After Fifi noisily drove off rabbits for two more nights, the coyotes did indeed solve the problem. Everyone heard barking after midnight, then a nearby chorus of snarls, then yelps, a blood-curdling wail, then silence.
A broken-hearted Joanie moved away.