Short Story #266: Mastiff by Joyce Carol Oates

Title:  Mastiff

Author:  Joyce Carol Oates

Summary

Photo of Joyce Carol Oates.  Source: https://c1.staticflickr.com/9/8265/8645429237_52dddcb452_z.jpgMariella and Simon set off on trail together.  At the start, they notice a giant mastiff on a leash with its owner on the trail.  The woman notes how massive the mastiff is.  However, the owner and dog go off on another trail.  The man and woman walk single file up a trail to reach Wildcat Peak.  There are differences in how the two experience the world and the woman notes this while they walk.  The hike was his idea and the woman was a little bit dubious about it .  However, the two were in the early stages of dating.  She notes that they had gone on walks, but a challenging hike felt like something else.  They had made it to the peak and were now making their way down.  Mariella is less prepared for a full hike than Simon, so he regularly is watching over were.  Both increasingly found fault with one another in the time leading up to and throughout the hike.  Their dynamic on the trail frustrates them both with his insistence on certain things, and her desire not to be held down by what she sees as extras.  At one point, he begins taking pictures almost to the point of ignoring her.  As people pass on the trail, she strikes up conversations with them which mystifies him.  They encounter other dogs on the trail.   She can tolerate the smaller dogs but a nasty encounter with a German shepherd when she was a kid still made her apprehensive of the larger ones.  She recognizes that she had yet to tell Simon much of her past.  She viewed her past as a weakness and chose not to reveal it and while they were intimate, she didn't consider them lovers yet.  She further explains that she doesn't want to work through getting into the married state but simply arrive at it.  Finally, she interrupts his shooting to ask when they will return.  Though frustrated, she recalls earlier as they drove here how content she was with him.  Both were lonely in their lives and looking for something more.  However, she realizes that in some ways, going with Simon would be settling.  As they descend the trail, self-absorbed in their own thoughts, they do not notice that sound of a dog nearby.  As two trails converge, the mastiff is discovered, bounding towards them.  As the dog attacks, Simon thrusts himself in-between to protect her.  The owner gets the dog under control and runs to the nearest ranger station to get help.  Mariella holds onto Simon while waiting.  The man's face is torn and bloody but he is awake and insists he can walk to the station.  At the station, he is patched up a bit but then taken to the hospital in an ambulance.  The man with the mastiff had fled but people had gotten information.  Mariella takes the car to the hospital to find Simon.  She finds out that on his way to the hospital he had suffered a seizure and needed more help.  When challenged about her relation to the man, she insists that she's his fiance.  She stays at the hospital for an indefinite time, hoping he doesn't die.  She contemplates Simon's willingness to sacrifice himself for her and what that meant to both of them.  While waiting, she looked through his backpack and discovers that he is sixteen years old than him, much older than previously believed.  She also discovers that he has a heart condition and tells the nurse.  Later, they tell her that they had been able to stabilize him.  However instead of going home now, she goes up to ee the man and watch him.  He is somewhat conscious and so she talks to him until she has to leave.  She reflects on her connection with Simon and what it means to be a man and a woman in a relationship and what each must give and take.  She also revisits the day's events but can't seem to enjoy the view in her head without hearing the sounds of the mastiff.  

Reflection

Though an enjoyable tale with its share of Oates' key reflective and intertwining moments, it didn't have some of the heft of her other tales.  There are at times a superficiality to these two.  They don't always feel free but like they are caricatures.  

Short Story #266 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  8/1/2014
Source:  The short story can be found at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.



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