The chien méchant is enclosed in a garden in which nothing grows but weeds. One day she gets off her bicycle, leans it against the wall of the house, knocks at the door, waits and waits, while a few metres from her the dog backs away and then hurls himself at the fence. It is eight in the morning, not a usual time for people to come knocking at one’s door. Nonetheless, at last the door opens a crack. In the dim light she discerns a face, the face of an old woman with gaunt features and slack gray hair. “Good morning,” she says in her not-bad French. “May I speak to you for a moment?”

The door opens wider. She steps inside, into a sparsely furnished room where at this moment an old man in a red cardigan sits at table with a bowl before him. She greets him; he nods but does not rise.

“I am sorry to trouble you so early in the morning,” she says. “I cycle past your home twice a day, and each time—no doubt you have heard it—your dog is waiting to greet me.”

There is silence.

“This has been going on for some months. I wonder whether the time has not come for a change. Would you be prepared to introduce me to your dog, so that he can familiarize himself with me, so that he can be shown that I am not an enemy, that I mean no harm?”

The couple exchange glances. The air in the room is still, as if no window had been opened in years.

“It is a good dog,” the woman says. “Un chien de garde,” a guard dog.

By which she understands that there will be no introduction, no familiarization with the chien de garde, that because it suits this woman to treat her as an enemy she will continue to be an enemy.

“Each time I pass your house, your dog goes into a state of fury,” she says. “I have no doubt that he sees it as his duty to hate me, but I am shocked by his hatred of me, shocked and terrified. Each time I pass by your home is a humiliating experience. It is humiliating to be so terrified. To be unable to resist it. To be unable to put a stop to the fear.”

The couple stare at her stonily.

“This is a public way,” she says. “I have a right, on a public way, not to be terrified, not to be humiliated. You have it in your power to correct this.”

“It is our road,” the woman says. “We did not invite you here. You can take another road.”

The man speaks for the first time. “Who are you? By what right do you come and tell us how to conduct ourselves?”

She is about to give her reply, but he is not interested. “Go,” he says. “Go, go, go!”

The cuff of the woollen cardigan he wears is unravelling; as he waves his hand to dismiss her it trails in the bowl of coffee. She thinks of pointing this out to him, but then does not. Without a word, she retreats; the door closes behind her.

The dog hurls himself at the fence. One day, the dog says, this fence will give way. One day, the dog says, I will tear you to pieces.

As calmly as she can, though she is trembling, though she can feel waves of fear pulsing from her body into the air, she faces the dog and speaks, using human words. “Curse you to hell!” she says. Then she mounts her bicycle and sets off up the hill. ♦

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