It is hot. I am dressed in a new, pale yellow dress with a smocked front. Well, it’s new to me, a hand-me-down that I finally fit. I love the texture of the dimpled smocking. It has contrast color stitching. Mostly I feel dressed up and special. My mother puts my little sister down for her nap. The older kids are outside with my dad, who is mowing the lawn. In retrospect, I have pieced the scene together, and know that I must have been about three and a half.

Mum wants to take a short walk to the mail box. It’s just a hop-skip and a jump away–maybe a little over a block. She takes my hand and tells me we’re going to mail some letters. I am thrilled. I get to go on a walk with my Mum, just the two of us! We stop in the yard, to tell my Dad.

It is blisteringly hot. My mother mops her brow with the back of her hand, even before we’re out of the driveway. I cling to her other hand.

We don’t get far, before our neighbor calls out to my Mum. They live opposite us, the front of our house looks across the crescent to the back of their house. Theirs is the mirror image of ours, one of the many variations on a theme in our neighborhood. The Missus wants my mum to come in for a minute, she has a question. We head across their lawn towards her “back door,” which, like ours, is really a side door to the kitchen, off the carport.

The carport area is shaded, and cooler. With me in tow, Mum takes the first step up to their kitchen door when the Missus tells her to leave me in the carport–this won’t take a minute. Mum settles me onto the concrete steps, before heading in.

I smooth out the fullness of my new dress, over my knees. My little fingers explore the fancy puckers in the smocked front. The neighbors’ dog, Taffy, jumps up to sit beside me. She is not a big dog, I later learn that she’s a cocker spaniel. I turn to her and tell her that it is very, very hot. The rest happens very, very fast.

The dog attacks me. The first bite is just under my chin, along the jaw. Then it jumps and grabs the flesh at the end of my eyebrow. I scream. My mother, who has just barely cleared the threshold into the kitchen, turns, and Taffy bites me again, piercing through my upper and lower lips, muffling my cries. My mouth fills with blood.

Mum rushes out and shoos the dog.  She scoops me up into her arms to comfort me.

“She must have teased the dog,” the Missus accuses, from just inside her kitchen.

I understand. She wants this to be my fault, and I cry out, “Noooo!”  I am covered with blood. I know that I did not tease the dog.

My Mum turns to bring me into their house, to their kitchen to clean me up and assess the damage. The Missus holds the screen door shut. “Oh no,” she says, “Take her home.”

Stunned, Mum turns and runs home with me in her arms. It takes both of my parents to hold me, screaming, on the kitchen counter as they flush and clean the wounds. The letters are not mailed. The dress is ruined. My parents are livid.

The Missus never mentions it again. She does not check to see if I am okay. My parents, young and shocked, never think to report the attack to the authorities. Though we live there, just across the crescent from them for another fourteen years, my mother never speaks to the Missus again. To this day, my Mum becomes incensed when the incident comes up, which it doesn’t very often.

The scars remain. And, in my mid-thirties, I am diagnosed as being allergic to dogs–the only one in my family with an animal allergy. I ask the doctor if being mauled as a kid could be the cause, and he nods, “Yes, that would make sense.” I tell my Mum (one of the few times it comes up.) She pursues it and asks her doctor, and other medical friends. Not that it really makes any difference.

Last year, in a Facebook group from my hometown, I become re-acquainted with her son, Bill. We reminisce about growing up in our neighborhood. He comments how odd it is that there was so little contact between our families, given our proximity. I say, that, for my part, it was because of the Taffy Incident.


I describe the dog attack. He never knew that that had happened–and mentions that the dog had attacked other children, and had to be put down because of it. I hadn’t known that. He mentions, in passing, his hope that that incident hadn’t been the cause of any distance between our families. So I ask my Mum.

“Absolutely.” She answers, as if it had happened yesterday. “That woman!” She is doubly incensed when I tell her that the dog had to be put down. She bemoans that she and my Dad hadn’t had the sense at the time to report it. It’s more raw for her than for me. Some things never go away. I decided not to mention it to Bill.

The Missus passed away this week. Covid. I read the obit, and sent a note of condolence to Bill. The obit was full of loving tributes–how wonderful, and funny, and warm she had been. The Taffy Incident was nearly six decades ago, and I hold no grudge. Of course, she was elderly–and like many family members of Covid victims, it pains Bill that she had to die alone. This is the agony of a pandemic.

I decided not to mention it to my mother, but my sister did. My mother, in turn, reported it to me–announcing in the same breath, that she had no feelings about it, one way or another. But I can still feel the icy chip on her shoulder.