‘Mastiff’ by Joyce Carol Oates
Image by Betty Page Styled
From The New Yorker:
Earlier, on the trail, they’d seen it. The massive dog. Tugging at its master’s leash, so that the young man’s calves bulged with muscle as he fought to hold the dog back. Grunting what sounded like “Damn, Rob-roy! Damn dog!” in a tone of exasperated affection.
Signs along the trail forbade dogs without leashes. At least this dog was on a leash.
The woman stared at the animal, not twelve feet away, wheezing and panting. Its head was larger than hers, with a pronounced black muzzle, bulging glassy eyes. Its jaws were powerful and slack; its large, long tongue, as rosy-pink as a sexual organ, dripped slobber. The dog was pale-brindle-furred, with a deep chest, strong shoulders and legs, a taut tail. It must have weighed at least two hundred pounds. Its breathing was damply audible, unsettling.
The dog’s straggly-bearded young master, in beige hoodie, khaki cargo shorts, and hiking boots, gripped the leather leash with both hands, squinting at the woman, and at the man behind her, with an expression that seemed apologetic or defensive; or maybe, the woman thought, the young man was laughing at them, ordinary hikers without a monster-dog to pull and strain at their arms.
The woman thought, That isn’t a dog. It’s a human being on its hands and knees! Such surreal thoughts bombarded the woman’s brain, waking and sleeping. As long as no one else knew about them, she paid them little heed.