Strangers

John Branton had walked all day. A thin, tall man with light-brown hair under his rumpled brown hat, and light-green eyes, he was out of work until, perhaps, the next town. It was past mid-afternoon, just a bit cool, but he faced the sun and that was all right. He was cutting across a big weedy field on the outskirts of Winkle when he heard the sobs of a child. Looking around and over a huge old fallen tree-trunk he saw a little girl of about six years of age, with curly gold hair. She was dressed in a bright blue and white long-sleeved shirt and worn, but clean jeans. She was kneeling. Down in front of her was a black, floppy-eared puppy that was retching.

“Hello,” said John. “What’s the problem?”

The little girl was startled, but looked up with worried blue eyes and said, “Blackie’s dying! What can I do?”

John knelt down and looked closely at the dog, then spoke reassuringly, “Blackie’s not going to die. He just ate something he shouldn’t have, that’s all. Here, let’s give him some water.”

John pulled off his old hat, fished behind him for his canteen and watched the water as it gurgled into the hat. Then, setting it to one side, he picked up the half-choking puppy and held its nose right over the water. The dog drank, slowly at first, then greedily. John pulled him back, saying, “That’s enough for now, Blackie.”

All the while, the little girl looked on with wide and wondering eyes. then she said,in a surprisingly confident voice, “My mommy told me not to talk to strangers.”

John looked at her, smiled, and said, “Once upon a time my mommy told me not to talk to strangers, either. So I won’t talk to you and you won’t talk to me.”

The little girl laughed and said, “That’s funny.” John laughed, too, a gentle, soft laugh.

Then he said, “Well, it sure looks like Blackie is going to be all right now.” Blackie tilted his head from side to side, then jumped into the little girl’s arms. John stood up and said, “If the little girl will tell Blackie what her name is, the stranger might be happy to know it.”

The little girl, eyes shining, whispered loudly, “Blackie, you know very well that my name is Dayla.” Then John whispered loudly to Blackie, “Blackie, you know darn well that my name is John.” Then John picked up his hat, dumped the remaining water out, settled it firmly on his head, and turned his long body toward town.

After about ten steps he turned, raised a solemn hand and said, “Goodbye Dayla.”

Dayla yelled softly back, “Goodbye John! Thank you! Remember, don’t talk to strangers!”

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