john messing: author/artist

A short story dedicated to DACA's and those who support them


by John Messing

Seen through the telephoto lens, the lizard's rainbow-striped underbelly shook violently as Oscar adjusted the camera's tripod. A drop of sweat fell from his brow. It dropped dangerously close to the lizard, but the creature did not move. Oscar was thirsty. He hadn't brought water or a hat, which was a mistake. Fortunately, the lizard was basking sleepily in the sun, and they were far enough from the path that Oscar didn't worry about people disturbing him. He carefully adjusted the Department's camera and miniature tripod one last time, all the while taking care not to cast a shadow over the lizard, to avoid startling it.

Carefully, slowly, he raised himself from a crouching position, clutching the remote shutter control, when out of nowhere a wire-haired terrier came running up, yapping and rooting the soil in search of the lizard, which scampered down a hole.

Stunned, heartbroken, Oscar turned to see a woman standing in the public path, with a worn red leather leash dangling from her wrist, calling out the dog's name. She was maybe in her mid-fifties, suitably dressed for her age and the outdoors, in a sleeveless top, shorts, and a floppy sunhat, from beneath which hung shoulder-length, wavy hair. The color of her hair was indeterminate, perhaps dirty blond, perhaps grey. A gold cross dangled conspicuously from her neck. She was fair and freckled, the exposed skin of her neck and arms mottled and sagging slightly. She looked as if she had once had an exceedingly good figure, perhaps a decade earlier.

"Don't worry," she said, motioning with a hand reassuringly, as though confiding in Oscar. "He doesn't bite."

Oscar cupped his hand over his eyes against the bright sunlight. Next to her was a sign. It read "Avoid a fine. Please leash your dog."

"Didn't you read the sign?" asked Oscar. He pointed.

The woman stopped. She put her hands on her hips, annoyed.

"He doesn't bite," she repeated. "That's the whole idea. Otherwise, he should be able to run free. What's the big deal?"

"The sign says he should be leashed, not just when it's convenient to the owner," replied Oscar, as mildly as he could.

She got huffy. She pointed menacingly at him and replied: "Dogs have rights too, you know, just like people."

Oscar's stomach began to churn as it drew into a knot. He should keep his mouth shut, he really should. This was no time to draw attention to himself. He had DACA status, but it was going to expire soon, and when it did, he didn't know if it would be renewed or not. The last time he applied for a renewal, it had been denied, which had just about killed his mother. Later, it got sorted out, because of a court ruling somewhere. No one knew where things were headed. No sense attracting trouble. Not now. He thought of his undocumented parents. They could be dragged into it and deported too, just by association.

But, truth be told, he was fed up. For the longest time he had wanted nothing more than to be treated just like other people. He wasn't asking to be treated specially. He hadn't asked to be smuggled in as a baby. He didn't ask for any of it.

On top of that, there was the perpetual cringing from the Covid, being forced to wear a mask and socially distance, while constantly looking over his shoulder to see if immigration was coming for him. He'd had it, right up to the gills. His nerves were shot. His chest was pounding.

Before he could stop himself he heard himself say: "No, not like people do. All the different kinds of people."

A homeless man strolled up, curiously watching.

The woman looked at the homeless man and barked, "What do you want?"

He raised his hands in surrender, and walked on.

"And you," she cried, "you get out of here too!"

Oscar replied, "Excuse me?"

"Your heard me. Don't pretend you didn't. Get. Now. Before I call the police."

"For what? I didn't do anything."

Oscar's heart was racing. Shit, he thought to himself. Shit, shit, shit.

She was unmoved. She mouthed the word "Go" silently.

He hesitated, but only for a second.

"Call them," he said, glaring at her. "I'm not going anywhere." His knees buckled slightly at his recklessness. He felt dizzy from the heat and the emotions.

The woman's jaw dropped. She fumed. Then a hand dove into a pocket and she pulled out her phone. She made a show of dialing 9-1-1.

"I'm calling them now. This is your last chance, I'm warning you," she said with emphasis.

Oscar saw himself as though from afar as he crossed his arms over his chest and said, "Uh-huh."

"You'll pay for this. They'll send you back from wherever you came from, you'll see."

To his shock and consternation, Oscar suddenly and sincerely wanted to kill the woman. Eradicate her, physically erase her very existence, make her disappear. The intensity frightened him. With iron will he reined in his temper. He had to. He couldn't blow it now. Too much depended on it. The entire family's fate, maybe.

Someone on the other end of the line answered the call. The woman's voice became fearful. She's a pretty good actress, thought Oscar to himself, not liking it one bit as he waited, biting his lower lip.

"A homeless man tried to snatch my purse when I was walking by myself. He looks like he might be an undocumented alien. Please, he's still here. I am afraid he will do something to me. I'm alone. Please hurry."

The police showed up surprisingly quickly. There were two of them, riding bicycles. One was female and black; the other male and white. They acted as though they were comfortable working together as a team. With an economy of words they individually approached Oscar and the woman.

The black policewoman had Ethiopian or Somali features, with a long face and high cheekbones. She was maybe in her thirties, clean-cut, fit. She professionally introduced herself to Oscar and asked if she could ask him some questions. He agreed. The ACLU training on what to do if he was detained came back to Oscar naturally. He was polite, non-threatening. He matter-of-factly explained that he had been photographing a rare lizard for his evolutionary biology class at the University for extra credit when the woman let her dog off the leash, which chased the lizard, ruining the shot, then made up a story to get him to leave and called it in when he refused to comply. He showed the camera and tripod to the officer, which bore the markings of University property. Oscar produced his student ID and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration card.

When the interviews were complete, the lady officer and her partner conferred, away from Oscar and the woman.

The policewoman began. "The kids's a DACA, from the University. He denies trying to steal anything. He said he is out doing field work for a class. He seems on the up and up," she concluded.

Her partner, who was older, balding, with a furrowed face and the beginnings of a paunch, responded. "Get this. She tried to impress me with her important job at a big downtown law firm and people she knows in the Department in high places." He raised his eyebrows. "She swears she doesn't have a racist bone in her body and is a life-long Democrat who voted for Hillary, whatever that has to do with it. I also caught up with the homeless guy. He basically confirms the kid's story and shoots the victim down," he continued. "I think she is full of crap. Just mean and selfish. And a liar. People. What should we do?" he asked.

The policelady pulled out a citations book and strolled over to the woman.

"Ma'am", she began respectfully. "Do you have any idea what it costs the city in manpower to respond to a false alarm? Particularly with this pandemic going on?"

"What, what's going on?" she asked with some fear in her voice.

"What's going on is I am going to have to cite you for making a false report to the police," said the officer. She checked off boxes and filled in blanks on a form that had carbon copies underneath it. She asked for and got the woman's name and address.

The policewoman held the completed form out for her to sign. The lady complied.

"But, but I'm the victim," she blubbered.

"You will definitely want to tell that to the judge," remarked the officer.

"But you can't do this," she whined.

"I'm afraid I just did," said the officer. "Please show up on this date and enter your plea."

"Can't I just pay a fine?" she asked, pointing to the sign.

"This isn't just for violating the leash law. This is for fraud on the police. Just show up at the appointed date and time. I would get a lawyer if I were you, but you probably already knew that," said the policewoman, walking away from her.

Her partner turned and said "Hey, maybe you can get one of those hot-shot lawyers of yours to represent you for free. There's a thought."

"And leash that dog!" he commanded her.

The woman looked imploringly at Oscar. "Tell them. Please. Tell them that it was just a joke."

Oscar looked at her questioningly.

"I could lose my job over this!" she pleaded with him, a look of horror coming over her face with the realization that it could be true.

"You're the one who called the police," replied Oscar. "You weren't worried about what could happen to me, so long as you could unleash your dog, even if it was against the law," he continued, not moved by the woman. "And you want me to lie to the police to cover for you? No thanks."

"Take care, young man," said the policewoman as they took their leave. "Piece of friendly advice: Renew that DACA before the expiration date, soon, if you still can."

"Hope you get the picture you're after, but for my taste, you might want to think about upgrading your photography subjects," said her partner in parting.

The stunned and mollified woman continued along the path, contemplating in shock and horror the paper citation in her hand, with the dog obediently following her, leashed.

Oscar was trembling. He got out his phone and dialed his roommate and girlfriend, Janet. She answered.

"You won't believe the shit that just went down," he said.

He told her the story.

"I was lucky the cops were simpatico and not assholes. I was worried for a minute that the lady was going to pull the wool over their eyes."

He added, after a pause, "I wasn't about to let her put me on a leash, that's for sure."

"Yeah the cops and the lady are gone."

"Come home? No, I'm okay. This could be my last chance to get a picture of that lizard."

Oscar held the officer's card up as he continued to speak.

"The cop said I might have to testify to get the charges against the lady to stick, if she fights it."

"What do you think I should do?"

@ JHM 2020-24