Steve and Thelma had a friend whose name was Dell. He’s an 80-year-old small-sized man who is a widower. They met him the day Steve told Telly he was bringing one of the guys from the shelter to their house for dinner.
“Oh, now we’re going to be feeding the homeless in our own home,” she complained.
She cried when she met Dell because she thought he was destitute. He wasn’t, although he helped out at the homeless shelter. He was like Steve, feeding the hungry.
Dell lives in a sprawling house on Erie Road in Rocky River near the Elmwood Playground. He lives alone. They to his house every Sunday, hanging out, going out to dinner or maybe eating there. That’s how they knew Doug and Christine. They live across the street from Dell, their backyard facing the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks.
They had a three-year-old Jack Russell Terrier. His name was Mr. Jibbs. They brought Baby, their 140-pound Leonberger, with them to Dell’s one evening. Leonbergers come from Leonberger, Germany. Jack Russell’s are fox and rat hunters and come from England.
“It’s too bad Doug isn’t out with Jibbs,” Telly said. “I would love Baby and Mr. Jibbs to meet each other.”
“Oh, we can go over,” Steve said.
“I don’t know. It’s Sunday night.”
“They’re not going to mind if we stop by and say hello,” said Steve, knocking on their door. They brought Mr. Jibbs out and he and Baby played and wrestled. There was some barking and wrangling, but not like a world war. Doug and Telly took the dogs across the tracks to Elmwood Playground on the other side of the street.
There weren’t any teams playing baseball, so they let the dogs run around on the field, although Baby is too much of a lazy lummox to run very long. He’s a big, muscular, working dog, but loafer. Mr. Jibbs did most of the running and Baby did most of the laying around. After they walked back, across the tracks and through the backyard, and were sitting down again, Doug said he was going to bring out champagne.
“Don’t,” Thelma said. “We just came to say hello goodbye. We’re going out to dinner, anyway, don’t do anything special.”
“No, no, no, stay,” he said. “Christine doesn’t like champagne. I’m going to open the bottle and we can finish it.” They were sitting and talking and drinking when Doug got up. “Have you ever seen a train coming down the tracks from this way?” he asked Telly.
“No, I haven’t.”
All of a sudden Christine jumped up, worried, nervous.
“Doug, go grab Jibbs,” she said.
“He’s fine,” Doug said. “He’s been in the backyard hundreds of times with the train going by. Everything’s fine.”
Telly grabbed Baby.
“Baby’s never seen a train,” she said.
She held on to him because they were ten-some feet from the embankment along which the tracks were on. Mr. Jibbs was running back and forth with his Frisbee. Telly thought he was guarding it, keeping it from Baby, so he couldn’t get it, not that Baby had any interest in it. They were trying to catch Mr. Jibbs as the train came closer. He didn’t realize they just wanted to keep him out of harm’s way, and no one cared about his Frisbee, at all.
“Someone grab that dog.” Telly tried to jump and grab him, but he took off. He bolted away from them. Suddenly, the Jack Russell swerved and ran out onto the tracks.
Christine was running an arm’s length behind him. She was wearing flip-flops and a long, flowing summer dress. Telly never knew how she didn’t get hit by the train. Obviously, it wasn’t her time, but the train hit Mr. Jibbs. Christine somehow got on the other side of the tracks and Telly thought she was screaming.
“No, it was you screaming,” Steve said.
The worst part was waiting for the train to pass by before they could get to Christine and before she could pick up her dog. It was horrible. Thelma drank herself into oblivion at home that night to dull the pain.
“We shouldn’t have gone over, we shouldn’t have interrupted them, we should have left things well enough alone,” she said to Steve when they were home.
“I told Doug,” Steve said. “Your wife gave you the look. Go get your dog. Now he’s fucked.”
“He was just guarding his Frisbee,” Telly said. “Should I have walked the other way with Baby? Would Jibbs have followed us? I just can’t believe Doug didn’t keep the dog back or do anything.”
“Telly,” said Steve. “When you tell me to do something I will listen from now on.”
“God, I hope so,” she said. “I hope it doesn’t take another dog dying.”
There’s a place at the Promenade in Westlake that sells silver bracelets with little paws dangling from them. She decided to get one for Christine, and she was going to Cahoon’s Nursery and get a plant or a bush for their backyard, in memory of Mr. Jibbs.
For more than a week Telly sent a text to Christine every day. She found out she was sitting by the spot where Mr. Jibbs died, every day. She was trying to save her dog and the train missed her by inches. She might have been killed herself.
“I wake up at night seeing Christine just barely being missed and Jibbs being hit by the locomotive. I hear the train whistle screaming, which is why I didn’t hear myself screaming. All I could hear was the whistle screaming. I wake up all night long, jumping, reliving it in my head.”
A week later Steve asked if she could move her Honda because he had to take his van to be e-checked. She was backing her car out of the driveway when a box truck came barreling down the street. She started to panic and jumped out of the car at the edge of the drive.
“I’m not that kind of a person,” she blurted out to Steve when he came running.
Nothing much freaks her out, but Mr. Jibbs being killed by the freight train has freaked her out.