Detroit Stories Quarterly: We Own This Block

Maybe he leaves the block at night, but I’ve never seen him step outside that boundary during the day, so my guess is he doesn’t leave at night either. I have no idea what he eats or how because nobody can get close enough to try and feed him.

He’s been there two weeks now. Just one of those stray Detroit dogs that showed up here on the East side with no place else to go is what I figured. Not sure exactly what day. 

Wait. Yeah I do know what day that was, ‘cause I remember thinking how it was funny the way he staked his claim, like he was establishing his independence. On Independence Day. And how funny it was imagining a dog celebrating its own Independence Day like that. Probably wasn’t funny to anybody else, but it was funny to me. But then my sense of humor has always been kinda off.

How Close Is Too Close?

Anyway, mostly he doesn’t bother anybody unless they get too close. And most folks don’t need to ask how close is too close ‘cause he makes that real clear real quick with this deep growl that sounds more like a wolf than any dog I ever heard. But long as he gets left alone, all he does mostly is sun himself, roll around in the weeds, or just pace around the edge of the block like he’s out for a stroll. Maybe he leaves the block at night, but I’ve never seen him step outside that boundary during the day, so my guess is he doesn’t leave at night either. I have no idea what he eats or how because nobody can get close enough to try and feed him.

Our Neighborhood

Except for that one time. Week ago this kid from outside the neighborhood thought it might be fun to play with the big black dog. Me and Fred were sitting on my porch smokin’ a joint, which is right across the street from the lot. That’s why I know so much about what that dog does – and doesn’t do. My house is the only one on that block across the street with people in it, namely me. There’s a vacant house next door.

So it was me and Fred sittin’ there, like I said, and we were just enjoying the day. It was a Saturday and both of us had jobs with the weekend off. That’s when we saw that kid coming down the street on his bike, and I didn’t recognize him as being from anywhere nearby. Most of the kids in the neighborhood I knew, but I didn’t know him. Looked like he was maybe early teens. Once he got in front of the house he stopped his bike, then looked at me and Fred and nodded. We nodded back.


“Whaddup young’un?” I said.

He smiled, which was nice to see.

“That y’all’s dog?” he asked.

We both shook our heads.

“Naw, and you wanna be careful too. Don’t let yourself get too close. He ain’t friendly. Trust me.”

The kid looked away from us to the dog, who just sat and stared at him, still as death. He wasn’t panting, wasn’t wagging his tail, didn’t even look like he was breathing. 

“He don’t look so bad though,” said the kid.

Fred twisted up his face, then shook his head.

“Kids always think they know shit they don’t know,” he said, more to me than the kid who was probably too far away to hear. But then he raised his voice.

“Hey little brother, you hear what my man here say? That’s ‘cause he know. Live right across the street from that dog. You ain’t even from around here, so how you know? Pay attention.”

I chuckled.

“Man, all you did is give him all the reason he need to ignore your adult ass. And if anybody oughta know that it should be you, wild as you were when you was a kid.”

Fred shrugged.

“Whatever. Maybe. Yeah.”

Back up

Sure enough, the youngster acted like he hadn’t heard a word Fred said. Kept looking at the dog for a few more minutes, then got off his bike and parked it on the sidewalk in front of the vacant house next door. He walked toward the lot real cautious, talking under his breath to the dog, I guess trying to friendly him up. The dog watched him advance, but still didn’t move. Strange thing was he didn’t growl this time, which made me nervous. Something made me stand up.

“Hey! Seriously now, you need to back up, OK? We don’t know where that dog came from.”

The kid giggled.

“Maybe he came from Mars.”

“Yeah, OK. You ain’t gonna be laughin’ when…”

 That’s when the kid stepped onto the lot.

“Hey boy,” I heard him say, and that’s the last thing he ever said. 

The Shock

Everything after that was one long scream. I wanted to help but it all happened so fast, the kid stepping onto the lot, the dog not just running but launching at him at a speed that didn’t even make sense, then shaking the kid back and forth like a rag doll until he went quiet, maybe out of shock because what kinda dog has that kind of strength? Then the dog dragged him away to the far side of the lot into the high weeds. There were some sounds, something being torn apart, that I won’t ever be able to get out of my head. We never saw that kid again, and Fred and I never talked about what we saw. I grabbed the bike from off the sidewalk and threw it across the street into the lot. Next day it was gone.

Grief and Sadness

Yesterday, I saw a sister who I figured was somewhere around my age, in her mid-30s, come around. I saw her from far away walking slow down the street and right then I knew it was that boy’s mother. I could feel the full weight of her grief and sadness from that far away, and I felt sick because I didn’t know what to do. I looked across the street and saw that dog sitting in that same spot where he watched the boy get off his bike. Now he was looking straight at me. I wanted to go in the house and close the door until she passed by, and before she saw me, but something in me said I needed to stay where I was. I didn’t know what I was gonna tell her but I felt like I needed to at least be there for her in some kinda way. Like I owed it to her.

“Hello…?” she said once she got closer, giving me a weak smile she was trying to make stronger. Her voice sounded almost like she was begging.

“Yes m’am. You all right today?”

She worked hard to keep that smile, and I was working hard to sound like today was a day like any other. I smiled back, and she took a deep breath.

“Not really, if I’m being honest. Do you sit outside a lot? Hope you don’t mind my asking.”

“Whenever I can, yeah. With winters being like they are, I try to soak up as much good weather as I can whenever I can, you know? Store it up inside to tide me over.”

She nodded.

“These days it’s good to store up anything good you can.”

I felt my stomach grip, but tried not to let it show.

“Something I can do for you, sister?”

Right then it looked like she almost wilted, like a plant been in the sun too long.

“My son. Jason. He hasn’t come home for several days now, and that’s not like him. Not like him at all.”

I cleared my throat, then looked away down the street to try and avoid her eyes.

“So you think he may have come this way?”

She shrugged her shoulders.

“Don’t know. I know he liked to ride his bike a lot, and sometimes he went a little farther than he probably should.”

“Yeah, you know kids, seems like they never do what they supposed to, right? Not a lotta kids around here ‘cause it’s so empty, but I’ll be sure to keep an eye out. For sure. I can do that.”

“So then I guess you haven’t seen him?” she asked, her voice sounding so small and weak.

“You been to the police? Maybe…”

She gave me that look most black folks around here will give you when you ask if they called the police.

“Right. OK. Well, like I said. I’ll be sure to keep an eye out. You got a number or something?”

She handed me a small blue card, looked like it had been in her pocket for a long while. 

“That’s me at work on the front. Home number on the  back.”


She turned to leave, then noticed the dog across the street. She frowned, then I swear I think she shivered.

“That dog. He’s been there the whole time? Watching us like that?”

I nodded.

“Been there damned near two weeks. Don’t know where he came from.”

“He don’t scare you? Somethin about him doesn’t look right.”

“Like how?”

For awhile, I thought maybe she wasn’t gonna answer, but then she said it.


“Long as he stay over there and I stay over here, ain’t been a problem.”


Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Damn. There are so many of them now. But I guess, you know, long as they stay over there.


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