Plastic Barbie lunch boxes should come with a disclaimer: This item will not protect you in an emergency.
I walked home from elementary school past the same twenty seven houses every afternoon for months without incident, swinging my pink lunch box north to south as I counted the brick and wood-frame homes fronting Westover Avenue or skipped over the cracks snaking through the sidewalk, determined not to break my mother’s back by landing on one.
I’d just passed house number thirteen on my route and stopped to smell the lilacs dangling like purple snow cones from the bushes out front when I saw a blur of movement over my left shoulder and felt the sidewalk slip beneath my feet. The lilacs’ heady scent mixed with the hot, muddy smell of spit as I felt the sting of teeth on my arm and fell to the ground under the bushes. Before my brain registered pain, I saw the ash-colored face of a large greyhound run past me.
Terrified the beast would return for round two, I crouched in the bushes, clutching my scratched lunch box to my chest as a shield before sprinting home, determined not to stop, even for our neighbor who called after me as I ran by.
“Help,” I wailed as I ran up the stairs to the kitchen where my mom was filling homemade cream puffs. I could smell the rich lemon custard on her hands as she ran to me, unmasked horror and powdered sugar clouding her features.
After cleaning the small wound on my forearm where the dog’s teeth had punctured my skin, she sat me in front of the kitchen’s picture window with a bowl of custard and a blanket. I didn’t budge until I heard her talking to the police about rabies and heard the panic rising in her voice.
“We don’t know whose dog bit her. She’s never seen it before. How can we make sure it doesn’t have rabies?”
“Mom, what are rabies?” I said, tugging the telephone’s curly cord. “What are rabies?”
“Nothing you need to worry about,” Mom said. “Go sit down. Right now.”
Convinced I was about to die of some horrible dog disease, I soothed my fear with more custard and glanced out the window. Sitting among our lilac bushes, like a sphinx guarding its temple, my personal hellhound stared at our back door, his black eyes steady and unblinking.
A mouthful of custard muffled my scream, but my mom came running.
“That’s the dog?” she said. “Are you sure?”
I managed only a vigorous nod before bursting into tears and grabbing my lunch box for protection. Moments later, the dog was gone. And I never saw him again.
With the help of our neighbors, the police found the dog and determined he did not have rabies. But I slept with my Barbie lunch box on my chest every night for the next week. Just in case.