by Jen Michalski
The couple at the four-mile marker of the trail has the smallest Yorkie you’ve ever seen. It eats from a collapsible bowl under the picnic table as the woman offers you a drinking glass for the water pump.
“Hard to get enough like that,” she says as you curl your head under the stream of water.
You fill the plastic tumbler. The people who frequent hiking trails are super nice or super crazy. Sometimes they’re both. You consider this as you join her at the table, where she is spreading egg salad on wheat bread. Her husband, muscular, head covered in a bandana, repacks their SUV.
“Cute.” You reach under the table and it jumps on your palm, licking it. Its enthusiasm would be annoying in a normal-sized dog, but you can hold her in your hand. “Is she still a puppy?”
“Princess is eight.” The woman stops, admiring her work. “She’s been to 48 states.”
“Military?” The water is soothing down your throat. This much water, so early on in your 20-miler, is a luxury and a danger.
“He’s a contractor.” She nods toward her husband. “We’re living in Aberdeen. They’re a little weird out there.”
“Generally, the farther out you venture out from the city….”
“You know what our neighbors did?” She holds up the clear plastic knife. You imagine her packing supplies this morning, the dog bowl, grapes. “They found a little poop in their yard and tied it to our front door in a baggie. And it wasn’t even hers—it was probably a deer’s or something. They think I’m Paris Hilton or something because I drive a Mercedes and have a little dog.”
“That seems unreasonable.” You agree. “Maybe you’ll move again soon enough.”
“I hope so.” She tops the sandwiches. “But you never know which America you’re moving to.”
You are not sure what to make of her, her serious running shoes, her Mercedes, her toy dog. Her husband has finished packing the Pan-America, which sounds more like an airline than an SUV, and sits at the table, not looking at you. The dog lies on her back in the grass, wriggling back and forth.
“We have to be careful.” The woman looks at Princess. “Sometimes the hawks swoop down to grab her.”
“She’s precious. I’d be careful, too.” You stand. “Thanks for the water.”
“They found that girl not far from here,” she says between mouthfuls of egg salad. Her husband coughs. “You read about her?”
You haven’t, but you nod.
Later, they scare the shit out of you after you’ve run another two miles, on a shady park of the trail. They’re on bikes, and she turns slightly and waves as she passes. Princess rides in a basket on the front of her bike, and her husband has a mini boom box strapped to his. It’s hard to place the music—not country, not rock ’n’ roll, but something soothing, like in a grocery store. He pedals past you, controlled, erect, like someone bringing forth a truth to this world.
Jen Michalski is author of the novel “The Tide King,” a collection of fiction, “Close Encounters,” and a collection of novellas, “Could You Be With Her Now.”