The Low Moral High Ground by Kim Farleigh

A ten-storey residential block faced a fenced-off area of bare, beige-coloured turf. The fence had two gates through which people took their dogs to have run-rounds. The area had been set aside by the local council for that purpose.

The residential block’s night-time chessboard of lights faced Dog Zone darkness. One of the block’s residents blew a plastic trumpet or a whistle when DZ barking began. Whistle Blower, lusting for moral outrage, often screamed: “Shut them up! For God’s sake!” while producing discordant shrieks from her yellow trumpet. If barking dogs bother her, I thought, what would artillery attacks do? (DZ reminded me of LZ).

I was walking along the footpath that separated the DZ from the residential block. A stationary man ahead was sending messages on his mobile. A dog on the other side of the DZ fence was barking at him. Whistle Blower’s light was on, her window open. The man didn’t move, the barking dog’s snout near the fence, its owners talking on a bench inside the DZ. I walked slowly, knowing that Whistle Blower loved releasing pent-up outrage. Valium couldn’t have stopped her from screaming.

Her silhouette appeared in her window’s golden rectangle; she shouted: “Shut that mongrel up! For God’s sake!”

This suggested a certain indifference towards the Animal Liberation Society. 

One of the dog’s owners shouted back: “It’s only barking.”

The barking stopped when Message Sender finally moved. I admired the Sender’s indifference to confrontation. He obviously had more important things to worry about, unlike me, for I was a voyeur who loved unexpected drama, shouting, hair-pulling, exchanges of blows.

I walked beside the DZ’s fence. The dog started barking again. It was now barking at me. The trumpet shrieked. 

“I said,” Whistle Blower screamed, “shut that damn mutt up! NOW!!”

A couple was on a bench facing the DZ’s main gate, the woman’s sleeveless, thigh-high, black dress patterned with flamencos, the dress eye-catchingly feminine, especially on her. Her flowing blonde hair set black off beautifully. She was waving her hands around, a wild look in her eyes. 

She then stopped talking to her partner and raced to the fence, yelping: “La señora is right. You’re doing nothing to stop your dog barking! Not a thing!”

Her eyes resembled green fires. I stopped under a tree between two parked cars that sat before the DZ’s main gate. The branches offered obscuring darkness, a decent vantage point for observation.

One of the dog’s owners, a plump woman in a black T-shirt and black jeans, said: “Barking is natural for a dog. What do you expect a dog to do? Sing? Recite poetry? Give speeches? Should we elect a dog as Prime Minister?”

This was perfect: moral superiority versus detestation of unjustified self-perception. I was prepared to risk dignity to watch.

Their noses were now separated by the fence’s wire. 

“You’ve got no respect for others,” Flamenco said. “None!”

This was a common accusation in Spain.

Given that Dog Owner’s defensiveness was aroused by Flamenco’s self-imposed moral superiority, I knew this belligerence would last. I was delighted.

“You can talk about disrespect,” Dog Owner belched. “Who asked for your stupid opinion? If you don’t like dogs barking then leave! Get lost!”

Their voices caused the dog to bark again. The dog’s response to the noise was natural. Then the trumpet screeched. Chet Baker would have sued Whistle Blower for destroying jazz. The trumpet sent the dog into yelping hysterics, its bark a high-pitched shrill that could shatter ear-drums. 

It’s a pity, I thought, the fence is there.

Flamenco’s lover went to that fence and said: “It’s not a big deal, I agree. But people have a responsibility to make sure their dogs don’t bark too much in public.”

That calmness, designed to eliminate ego clashes, wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I wanted him to rip the fence down. Thankfully my disappointment was short-lived because Flamenco screamed: “Stupid opinion, hey?! I feel sorry for the poor dog, having you as its owner.”

That’s much better, I thought.

“And I feel sorry for him,” Dog Owner replied, “having you as a girlfriend.”

Although feeling conspicuous, I was loath to move. My love of action exceeded my need for dignity, dignity less helpful in telling good stories. 

The dog was now barking with such high-pitched despair that Whistle Blower shouted: “Are you going to get that bastard mutt of yours to shut up or what?”

Whistle Blower didn’t seem to know that people aren’t inclined to responding positively to outrage, and especially outrage directed at them. She let rip at whoever whenever. It made her feel alive, like a substitute for yoga. I assumed she listed screaming at strangers as a hobby on her CV. 

The boyfriend stuck his face up against the fence and said: “You rude bitch. Who’d want to fuck you. You’re so fat and ugly.”

No play could match this, not even Derek Jacoby playing Hamlet. The Royal Shakespeare Company should have been here taking notes. 

“Now I know why you’re going out with this loud-mouthed bitch,” Dog Owner replied. “I should have realised before. No doubt your kids’ll end up in detention centres by the time they’re teenagers. At least they’ll be away from you two.”

A police car was approaching. Whistle Blower had probably rung the cops. I had seen her speaking on her phone in her window. The car stopped beside the couple. The police station was just down the road. They could have walked. But police cars demand respect. 

A man and a woman emerged from the police car. They were wearing dark-blue, short-sleeved shirts that looked black in the darkness. Guns sat on their hips.

Flamenco got the first punch in by saying: “This woman’s crazy.”

The dog was now quiet. It wagged its tail, wondering who the nice people in dark blue were. 

“I was trying to have a conversation with my friend here,” Dog Owner said, “and these lunatics decided to disturb us with their insults.”

Although strictly true, her comment did lack a few clarifying details, such as the insults she had produced herself.

“Their dog didn’t stop barking. They didn’t do a thing about it,” Flamenco said. “And when we told her that she had a responsibility to control the dog, she insulted us.” 

“That’s true,” Whistle Blower bellowed out. “They didn’t give a damn!”

Whistle Blower’s sensitivity to barking maybe resulted from a bad childhood experience. She might be experiencing constant tension, I thought, anticipating the next bark.

“The dog only barked for a minute,” Dog Owner said. “These clowns haven’t got anything better to do other than to insult innocent people on the street.”

“You’re as innocent as Klaus Barbie,” Flamenco said.

“I agree,” Whistle Blower said.

She had come downstairs.

“Can you all please move on,” the policeman said.

“We will,” Flamenco replied, “provided you find out who she is and send her an official warning about disturbing the peace.”

“Disturbing the peace is obviously your favourite hobby,” Dog Owner said. “That’s assuming you know what peace is.”

I knelt down behind a parked car, clenching my teeth to stop laughter from flying out of my mouth. My stomach muscles pumped silently.

“Why don’t you arrest this insane cow,” Dog Owner inquired, “and give her lessons in civil behaviour? Although the teacher would have my deepest sympathy. She’d be the worst student the teacher would ever have had.”

“See?” Flamenco said, throwing her hands up and shaking her head. “This cow can’t help but be insulting. It’s been ingrained in her from day one. Her parents probably met in an asylum.”

I was now covering my mouth and squeezing my face up. 

Whistle Blower then said: “That woman shouldn’t be allowed to use this facility. She has no idea of how to look after a dog. Your average pig could do a better job than her of controlling an animal. But the average pig is better brought up than her.”

“You loud-mouthed bitch!” Dog Owner screamed. “Why don’t you everyone around here a favour and jump out of that window of yours? Or at least stuff that stupid trumpet of yours up your arse.”

“See,” Flamenco said again, opening out her hands. “She’s insane. Nothing can be done for her. Not a thing!”

Flamenco’s “rational head-shaking” demonstrated the uselessness of trying “to educate this sad fool.” 

The debate stopped; they heard laughter coming from behind one of the cars parked on the edge of the road. The policewoman’s face was suddenly before mine. Her understanding smile felt like an act of generosity. Her huge, dark-brown eyes showed up the brilliance of her eyes’ whites. I suspected she and her associate would be laughing about all this back at the station. They seemed too sensible not to do that. 

“Sor—ry,” I managed, “but—-“

Her smile revealed flashing white that her brown skin highlighted, the harmonious contrast of tanned skin and calcium highlighting her beauty. Spain has got the world’s most beautiful policewomen. I couldn’t stop chuckling. She was now trying to stop laughing herself.

“Sor—,” I tried again, “but—–“

My head rolled around. The street resembled a chamber built to magnify my hilarity, its hot air distributing my chortling like a conduit made to project my guffawing across the world. People’s heads emerged from the vertical chessboard. At last they had something interesting to observe. Something outside their TV screens was now able to hold their attention. Police cars stimulate voyeurism, implying returns to the thrilling prehistoric past when living was a question of life and death, free of trivia.

“You wouldn’t believe what I’ve heard,” I said. “No play could match this. Shakespeare couldn’t have produced this. And it’s free!”

The others were now staring at me without speaking. Even the dog was looking at me without barking. Their stunned faces made my chin shoot up; out from my mouth it poured again. Being insulted and returning those insults is one thing; being laughed at is another. The latter crushes the ego more heavily. They were now united against my insulting titillation. But how could I help it if I found infantile behaviour funny?

“Sor—-,” I tried, “but—lau, lau, lau terrr is nat—tural!”

I tried adding that I thought that the dog would agree, but I couldn’t manage it, so I tried again: “The dog—-would a—-gereeee. No?”

My cackling caused the policewoman’s lips to quiver. Clinging tenaciously to professionalism, she curbed her amusement. This lunacy beat theatre for entertainment; and it was much cheaper. But only I was in a position to acknowledge this; only I could pay homage to this marvellous, childish idiocy.

“How long have you been there?” the boyfriend asked.

The longer I had been there, the graver my crime in the eyes of the laughed at.

“Long enough,” I replied, “to have had a wonderful time. I thank you all. I mean that with the deepest, heartfelt sincerity. Your performances have been sensational.”

Their eyes bore into me.

“So this is just one big joke for you, hey?” Whistle Blower asked.

I realised how attractive she was. She was voluptuous, beautifully shaped, with strong, striking bone structure.

“You, Baby,” I said, “have got real passion. You can blow my horn any time you like.”

A street light ignited the cross that decorated her neck, making it gleam like the fury flashing across her brain.

“I’m not your baby,” she snapped.

“Unfortunately not,” I replied; “but let’s face it: you must be a real tiger in the sack.”

“Wee-otttt!? Arrest him! He’s an animal!”

“Let’s all move on,” the policeman said. “It’s now time to go.”

“Feel free to arrest me any time you like, Baby,” I said.

“Stop calling me Baby!”

“How about Lamb Chops?” I asked.

“It’s time to go,” the policeman insisted.

“You haven’t got anything better to do than to laugh at people,” Flamenco said.

She was delighted. Her disgust had now found a new target. Her conversation was probably littered with criticism and complaints. 

“Are you trying to denigrate my favourite hobby?” I asked. “Why! I’m shocked!”

“You’re crazy!” she belched.

“That’s what you said about her,” I said. “But to be fair, she did say the same thing about you. Anyway,” I continued, “crazy or not, let’s face it, I’m beautiful, right?”

“Okay, that’s it,” the policeman said. “Go!!”

Turning to leave, I blew a kiss at Whistle Blower and said: “I’ll be dreaming about you tonight, Honey Chops. If you need a cure for this barking, believe me, I can help.”

“You’ve got no chance,” she said.

I smiled smugly and said: “That’s exactly what my fifth wife said.”

“I can’t imagine any woman marrying a smart-arse like you,” she said.

I naturally took that passion, directed at me, as a compliment.

“They do say,” I smiled, “that love often begins with hate.”

“Not in this case,” she howled.

I went home laughing. They reminded me of the DZ’s fence, its thin, rounded, aluminium posts, equidistantly spaced around the DZ’s bare turf, connected by a wire mesh that formed patterns of misshapen hearts.

They were too serious to be serious about anything worthwhile being serious about. Tiny things in small worlds are too great for that.

Kim has worked for NGO’s in Greece, Kosovo, Iraq, Palestine and Macedonia. He likes to take risks to get the experience required for writing. He likes painting, art, bull-fighting, photography and architecture, which might explain why this Australian lives in Madrid. Although he wouldn’t say no to living in a Swiss ski resort or a French chateau. 165 of his stories have been accepted by 98 different magazines.

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