The Chesapeake Bay breathes along the coast between the mainland and the Delmarva Peninsula, inhaling the salt water and the tide from the Atlantic Ocean and exhaling the fresh water of the estuary. Snow covers the icy shallow waters and marshlands along the shores of the rivers, creeks and inlets. A flock of Canada geese flies north over the shoreline along Interstate 95 outside of Baltimore, their necks and heads black, bellies white, and backs and wings grey. They fly in a V formation, one wing longer than the other by as much as three times.
A snow goose flies east across the sky toward the wedge.
The flock of geese raise their wings and hold them, falling a few meters as they lean into the east; the snow goose flaps a little harder, leaning into the north, and falls in at the end of the short wing. The entire flock, including the snow goose, continues traveling north along the Patapsco River shores.
Roy downshifts into third and then goes back into fourth as he makes his way up the on-ramp, about to merge onto I-95, heading north on his way back to Baltimore. It’s 4:30 in the afternoon, and the interstate is becoming more crowded with traffic. The sun is low, moving into the west behind Baltimore. Roy wears a black, hooded sweatshirt, unzipped; underneath he wears a black PRS Guitars t-shirt over a white Fruit of the Loom thermal.
The temperature is twenty-eight degrees; the sky a deep blue in the east with the soft, winter light.
Traffic slows down to a stand-still, and Roy sees a dog wandering around on the interstate, cars braking and continuing forward, regaining top speed in the distance. As Roy pulls his emergency brake and opens his door, the door of the car ahead of him opens as well, and a woman steps out onto the interstate wearing a white, silk scarf knotted around her neck and a red peacoat all buttoned up, her breath clouding around her head.
The dog is pacing between and around cars, in and out of lanes in a pretzel-like pattern, turning its head at the sounds of semis moving southbound on the other side of the jersey wall. His coat is blonde with touches of white; loose curls on the back of his neck and tufts of hair hang from his butt nearly to the ground. His tail hangs low, and he keeps moving, alert, and looking all around.
Two other people have stepped out of their vehicles, their cars parked in the passing lane. A man walks toward the dog, layered in a t-shirt, a cotton sweater and a black leather jacket; a woman calls out to the dog by calling him little doggy and good doggy. She stands still at the hood of her car in a dark, brown corduroy coat. She has wrapped a green, homemade scarf around her head twice and made a knot behind her left shoulder. She claps her hands, covered with homemade blue mittens whenever she calls out for the dog.
A semi-truck traveling south on the opposite side of the highway begins slowing down, its hazard lights flashing. Inside, a man wearing a New York Giants hooded sweatshirt continues double-clutching and down-shifting. He gets left onto the emergency lane and slowly rolls past the parked cars. He sees Roy, the other guy, the two ladies, and the little dog, opens the door and smiles to himself. Son of a bitch, he says.
The dog runs away from the lady with blue mittens who continues to clap on every word; little khaki dog, she calls him. The dog moves quicker now, pacing around, making sure to keep his distance. The woman wearing the red peacoat is talking on the phone to a 911 operator; she tries to explain the situation and their location. The dog has twice walked by her where she might have been able to get a hand on him.
Roy puts his hood up to try and block the wind in his ears. He looks at the long line of cars behind them, waiting, perfectly still, some with headlamps lit, the southbound lane with its red tail lights speeding past. The sun is lower now—the sky still a deep blue in the east over the Patapsco.
The man wearing the black leather jacket is calling out some dog-training commands he knows. He calls out down, repeating it ten to twelve times; the dog just paces around and tries to look over his shoulder for something, or someone.
The truck driver stretches one leg over the jersey wall, rests his butt for a second and then brings his other leg over. Roy is standing near the wall as the dog clips along a few feet away. The truck driver presses his thumb and forefinger onto his tongue, purses his lips and creates a shrill, piercing whistle through the cold wind. The dog stops in mid-gait, looks around and stands still. Roy lunges for the little dog and grabs him on his hind leg, but he wiggles free and scoots away.
The man in the black leather jacket is now repeating the word come over and over. The woman with the hat and scarf is now calling the dog Nervous Nellie, clapping her blue mittens together quicker and harder, trying to get him to come to her. Low clouds over the Patapsco are showing some touches of pink—the sky in the west over the river fading to a light blue.
The headlamps in all the southbound vehicles are lit. The woman with the red peacoat snaps her phone shut and begins speaking about how they will not send anyone, and they said everyone should get into their vehicles immediately and let traffic begin moving. This is quite dangerous, actually, she says. The man with the black leather jacket now has his car door open, and he is standing by it, holding out a Slim Jim, calling out come over and over. The dog stops for an instant, squints his eyes and wiggles his nose, his ears tight and flat, pushed back behind his head; he then scurries away, headed north, away from the scene of the cars into the open road. The truck driver takes his hands out of his pockets, and whistles even louder than before. The dog stops and turns around to see Roy sitting on the concrete in the passing lane, cross-legged, with his hands flat on the concrete, his head low. The steel girders and the concrete of the interstate shake and bounce around him. The dog walks toward Roy a few steps and stands still. He then sits down. The woman with the blue mittens begins walking out toward the river, taking a wide angle into the emergency lane out of the dog’s peripheral vision; she then cuts across the cruising lane. The dog stands up again and moves a little closer to Roy; he then sits down again and this time, lays down on the interstate. The woman walks into the passing lane and scoops up the dog and holds him tight. He squirms and wiggles, but she hugs him like a teddy bear and talks to him. She calls him little yellow wiggler and tells him that it’s ok. She kisses him on the top of his head and buries her face in his soft, furry neck. Roy is still cross-legged on the road and smiles at the sight of the dog wiggling in her arms.
Everyone gathers by the jersey wall, the woman with the blue mittens holding the little yellow dog like a baby. The four cars still parked, two in the passing lane, two in the cruising lane, the wind blowing the exhaust into the west toward the Patapsco. In the distance, the interstate is still.
A quick discussion ends with the woman with blue mittens saying that she will take the little yellow wiggler to the animal shelter in Wyman Park near her house. She walks over to her car and puts the dog inside. The woman in the red peacoat uses her phone and walks to her car.
Roy and the truck driver lean up against the jersey wall.
"Nice little dog," says Roy.
“Looks like a Border Collie.”
“Maybe a little yellow Lab in there, too.”
They look around at the interstate, the on-coming traffic, the still headlights in the south, the Baltimore skyline lighting up, and the low, flat clouds reflecting the sunset in shades of pink and purple over the Patapsco.
They then watch a flock of geese fly directly overhead, headed east to the river, and they listen to them honking out to one another in encouragement, all of them staying the course, driving their wedge to a field or an inlet for the night.