Rosie waited in a long line for ice cream with her mother and grandparents. It was an unexpectedly cool evening for July. The whole line of ice cream buyers seemed to shiver in their skin wishing that they’d either worn a long sleeve shirt or were waiting in line for a warmer treat. Rosie’s mother had thick arms; she seemed unfazed by the temperature. Her mother leaned against the rim of a stroller with a leather dog leash wound around her hand. The leash led to a small, loaf-of-bread-sized dog with fluffy white hair. Rosie fiddled with the leash. Rosie fiddled with her own hair. She had faint red hair that trailed along the back of her neck in a loose french braid. She twisted and flipped the braid with her fingers.
Abruptly, as if an epiphany struck her nervous system, Rosie jolted her head to the young boy who was standing on a brick flower bed behind her. He seemed to be the same age as Rosie: curious and craving new perspectives. Rosie skipped introductions.
“Do you want to pet my dog?” she bluntly asked. It was hard to distinguish who Rosie was addressing. She put her question out into the summer air, it seemed, for any listener to hear. Again, she asked the boy the same question with the same matter of fact tone.
“Do you want to pet my dog?” This time the boy dropped his chin to his chest to hide the shyness of his smile from Rosie. Out of encouragement, the boy’s father nudged him to facilitate the interaction further. Rosie grew impatient. There were so many other things to look at. The cars soaring along the road. Other dogs. Other little girls. Other candidates to pet her dog. Seeing the ineffectiveness of her daughter’s conversational skills, Rosie’s mother refueled the interaction by suggesting, “Say hello first, Rosie!” And without a pause, without a moment to consider the sounds of her mother’s voice, Rosie asked, “Hello, would you like to pet my dog?”
Before hearing the boy’s response to her revised question, Rosie crouched down near her bread sized dog. Another revision came from her grandmother whose voice sounded like church bells. The grandmother chimed, “Rosie! Ask the boy his name first and then tell him yours.” And like a sponge Rosie leaked, “Hello. What’s your name? My name is Rosie. Would you like to pet my dog?” By this time, the young boy had jumped down from the flower bed and found security at the level of his father’s hip. Rosie saw shy all over the boy this time. Shy in his lowered eyes. Shy in his awkward sway. The boy even stood just shy of his father’s belt loops. Rosie’s ambitions had caught the attention of other ice cream buyers who were waiting in line that evening. We were all rooting for the little boy to pet the dog. The boy declined, shrinking further into his father’s waist. Absorbing Rosie’s disappointment, I bent over and asked, “Can I pet your dog?” The bridge of Rosie’s freckled nose scrunched up with enthusiasm. She found my eyes. I feared that, after all the revisions to her initial question, Rosie wouldn’t be satisfied if I was the one to pet her dog on that cool July evening. But as Rosie lowered herself to a squat near the little dog she warned me, “Be careful, she bites.” Rosie’s mother shook her head gently and through a laugh said, “Rosie, our dog doesn’t bite.”