Saturday 24 June 2023

'Disgrace on Wandsworth Common' by Emily Macdonald

“You’re a disgrace!”

The dog lopes towards me, shaggy curls golden in the winter sunlight. It’s not wet, dirty, or smelly so I wonder what it’s done to earn the rebuke.

“You’re a disgrace. You’re appalling!” The tidy blonde woman is not scolding the dog. She’s berating the man in a ski jacket, who walks a few paces behind her.

When we pass on the path, he gives me a sideways smile—almost a snigger—like a boy reprimanded in front of his friends. Not contrite, only rueful because he’s been found out.

“It’s not funny!” The woman shouts and I detest him in the moment for making me seem complicit.

She strides towards the pond, yelling over her shoulder. “I don’t want you anywhere near me. Not for a whole week. You’re a disgrace!”

A week seems a short sentence. Surely disgrace requires longer exile.

I want to run after them, to ask her, what has he done? What’s so shameful? I consider possibilities: money, illicit substances, or sex.

I’ve read that disgrace created diaspora—it’s the reason why humans populate the entire planet. Betrayal is uniquely human whereas animals create outcasts only in pursuit of procreational dominance. I’ve watched male chimpanzees being attacked by their troop on TV and heavy-headed lions, licking wounds with sandpaper tongues.

The golden dog circles back and crosses my path. It’s wet now and I’m too slow when he shakes the dank pond water, spinning it from his fur.

The man comes back too. He apologises and gives the same sheepish grin.

“It’s not what you think,” he says. “She often talks to me like I’m the dog.” He smiles again, sadder this time then walks away keeping the retriever on a short lead.

I stare after him. Still curious, and oddly, ashamed.

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