Jon always had a pack of RedMan in his back pocket and his right hand in his front pocket. He felt the train slow and he started down the steps before it came to a stop. He knew every time he bought a dog, which is where he convinced himself to go, he ended up shooting it, but he figured a canine companion would make the boy happy, maybe make the wife forget.
The kennel was two blocks from the train station, so Jon got a cab. When he fell into the back of the cab he was out of breath after walking down the steps at the station, and the springs under the right side of the car flattened. Pushing a wad of RedMan into his cheek, Jon told the driver where to go.
“They have champion Bulldogs, no?” the driver asked.
“Boy’s birthday’s tomorrow,” Jon said, then swallowed a mouthful of tobacco juice. And then on arrival, “Wait here; this won’t take long.”
The kennel had eight-week-old pups, weaned in the last week, and Jon chose a passive one, a pure white female, the only one not chasing its tail. He made sure the dog was current on shots and wormer and then handed over seven one-hundred dollar bills. When he walked back to the cab with the dog under his arm, he saw the driver had already covered the back seat with newspaper.
“They let that thing on the train?”
“Sure. If not, I got a big bag.”
Lady at the ticket window said they permitted small animals on the train when Jon paid his fare. He found an empty row of seats and squeezed into it. He thought about the supplies he would need, a leash, a collar, a food dish, all the things he threw away when he shot the family’s last dog. Then he thought about what the wife would think. He knew she wouldn’t be happy, Jon making decisions on his own again, but he figured this little bully was cute enough.
Holding the new dog on his lap, the other passengers noticed him more on this trip. Children wanted to pet the pup. Parents wanted to take their children’s pictures with the pup. Jon wanted to get home, to prepare a home for the dog, to surprise the wife, to present the dog to the boy in the morning. He loaded his cheek with more chewing tobacco and started spitting on the floor between his seat and the aisle. He thought the stink and sliminess of the chew spit would keep the kids away, and it did after a boy about six, his boy’s age, walked into the pile. A thick ribbon of brown saliva lifted with his shoe, connecting the boy’s foot to the floor.
The boy’s mother mute-stared Jon as she wiped her son’s soles with a baby wipe from her purse. Jon and the pup were alone for the rest of the ride.
Naming a dog is hard, Jon figured, so he’d decided the boy should name it. Probably some dumbshit-rainbows-ponies-and-butterflies shit his mother taught him, or worse, a Disney name. Back at the station after a round trip, a new yellow taxi idled in the parking lot where Jon departed five hours ago. On his way to the taxi he put the pup in a small triangle of grass next to the handicapped spot. The pup sniffed the grass and an oak sapling as Jon encouraged it to shit. “Shit,” he said. Nothing. Jon knew the pup would shit as soon as he put it in the taxi. He waited. Nothing.
It took Jon longer to get himself and the dog into and out of the taxi than it did to drive to his house. He plopped the pup on his zoysia lawn. Clumsier than Jon, the pup ran across the grass. His feet too big; his legs too short; his belly too big.
The wife turned on the porch light and opened the door. She looked at Jon through the screen door, only at Jon. She was already yelling when she stepped onto the porch.
“Jon. Neighbors. What’re you doing?”
“Watching this dog.”
Jon ran after the dog until his hands rested on his knees. The wife came off the porch and chased the pup down while Jon watched and wheezed.
“No tags,” she said. “Not even a collar.”
The wife switched from admiration of the pup to contemplation of the gesture. Her face contorted as this mental flip-flop occurred. Jon knew the face.
“You don’t think…” she dropped the pup on the lawn and walked back into the house.
Jon had envisioned several scenarios upon his homecoming. The wife would be ecstatic when he walked into the house with the pup under his arm. She wouldn’t want to wait until the morning to wake the boy up and show him the pup. Or, the wife would become silent, yet, accepting, but the reveal could wait until morning. Or, the wife would see the truth.
After Jon caught the pup he put in a chaw and walked through the front door. The wife sat on the couch, legs and arms crossed, perfect scowl. The only light in the house came from cans in the living room ceiling, spotlights on the floor. The hallway to the son’s bedroom was dark, nightlight peeking under the door at the end of the hall. Jon walked up to the wife with the pup under his arm.
“Listen,” he said. The wife’s scowl flattened into a horizontal line.
“She is cute,” she said.
Jon reddened, sat the pup down and it sniffed the wife’s ankles, and she giggled, school-girl giggled, and Jon smiled. Everything will be okay, Jon thought. Pup ran down the hallway and sniffed the carpet, she sniffed the couch. The pup ran in and out of the light circles on the carpet watching her shadow, then she stopped in the middle of a spotlight and squirted. “Shit,” Jon said.
The wife’s door locked when she went to her bedroom. Jon swallowed a mouthful of tobacco juice and kicked the pup in the ribs. Stupid dog. To get the mess cleaned up, Jon put the dog in the half-bath and closed the door. He got the bucket of carpet cleaning supplies from the kitchen and started scrubbing. The boy better love this damn dog, Jon thought. Better clean up after it too.
The fecal explosion across Jon’s living room started moving. On his hand and knees, close to the spray, he noticed little worms. Some of them wiggled; some lay dead. Grains of rice. This pup still had worms, and Jon wondered if anything the breeder told him was true. The bloodline? The vaccines? The AKC? Age?
“Daddy’s home,” the boy said, charging into Jon’s bedroom. A single ray of morning sun penetrated the curtains and landed across Jon’s face. The boy jumped onto his father’s bed, and when he did, the covers yelped.
“What’s her name?” the boy wanted to know.
“Your pup. You name her.”
The boy wanted to think about it. This was reasonable. The wife made breakfast, two fresh waffles. The wife and the son sopped up syrup with syrup laden waffle pieces while Jon drank coffee. The plan was to get donuts before the errands started. And he did. Then he and the boy taxied the pup to the veterinarian.
“Worms. This dog’s face will require surgery, typical with inbred bulldogs. She’s also got an irregular heartbeat. And, two broken ribs,” Dr. Yamaguchi told Jon. Damn dog needed a complete overhaul, Jon figured. The vet handed Jon an itemized bill. After he read it, he looked at the boy and told the doctor they’d think about it.
“Shit,” Jon said hailing another taxi in the strip mall parking lot.
“Going to PetsMart now?” the boy asked.
PetsMart was on the list of places to visit that day, dog paraphernalia, food. Jon knew they couldn’t afford this dog. He had to take it back to the breeder and get his money back. Without expensive vet bills, the dog would live in misery. Like the last family dog, Jada. Jon dug into his pocket, unfolded the purchase agreement he signed at the kennels and read it for the first time. Damn hillbilly lunatic; never trust a man in overalls and sandals, he thought, remembering the breeder’s smile.
“No.” They rode in silence back to their house, the boy crying when the taxi stopped at the driveway.
“Wait here; this won’t take long,” Jon yelled to the driver. He ran to his closet and put a .38 in his pocket, chrome, snub-nose, hammerless.
“You leaving again, Dad? What about my birthday, the dog?”
“I have to run an errand.”
“How long this time?”
“I’ll get you a different dog.”
Jon swallowed hard as the taxi accelerated to the train station. He tried to steady his breathing. At the station he bought his train ticket, loaded the dog on the train and rubbed his pocket. The train ride went quickly, Jon employing the spit pile to keep strangers away. The same taxi driver waited outside the station at the end of Jon’s journey.
“Getting another dog?” the driver asked.
“Returning this one.”
Two blocks later Jon walked up to the breeder’s house. He wheezed a few times and then knocked.
Opening a solid oak door, Breeder eyed Jon from behind the screen door. “No refunds.”
“This dog is sick,” Jon said.
“Go fuck yourself,” Breeder said. “You signed a contract. No refunds.”
Jon walked out to Breeder’s kennels and opened all the gates, letting a score of pups loose. When he unlatched the final stall and turned to walk back to the taxi, Breeder stood ten feet away with a shotgun. Jon figured he was dead. He had just released thousands of dollars of worthless dogs that were running wild, some for the railroad tracks, some into the street. He thought about his pistol then he thought about the boy, and his hand moved to his pocket.
“Touch it and you’re dead,” Breeder said. Jon swallowed a mouthful of tobacco juice and started backing away.
“You need to catch up them dogs and then get the fuck out of here.”
Jon caught a few of the pups by the scruff and threw them back in their enclosure as the breeder watched and smiled, stroked his gun, pups squealing. Then Jon walked toward the street to get a stray pup playing in the driveway. When he got close to the pup he began running, huffing toward the taxi. He jumped in and screamed, “Go, go,” when he heard the shotgun blast and felt the taxi’s back window rain across his shoulders.
Taxi driver peeled away, fishtailing all over the street.
“Nothing, just go,” Jon said and once they got back to the train station he realized he still had his pup under his arm. He figured he should have left it with the other loose pups, less work and torment for him.
“That’s an expensive window,” driver said.
“Figured. How expensive?”
“How much you got?”
“Got a bulldog pup,” Jon said.
“That’s a sick dog; cain’t you tell by looking at it? Cash.”
Unloading the contents of his wallet into the driver’s hand, Jon felt overwhelmed. This damn dog, the wife, the boy, the breeder, the taxis, the driver, the window. This was an expensive screw up. An expensive screw up to fix an expensive screw up. Jon left the smiling driver, holding a wad of green, and got back on the train with the pup.
“Me and you,” he told the pup, spit pile growing on the floor. He did not want any interruptions at this point, especially with a gun in his pocket. When he made it back to the station, he threw the dog in the back seat of a different taxi and he knew what he had to do. He was driven a few miles outside of town where he told the driver to stop next to a small bean field.
“Beat it,” he told the driver who wasn’t happy running a credit card for a six dollar ride, no tip. Jon unloaded the pup and started walking. The pup followed him wagging her tail and panting as heavily as he was.
Every dog he ever shot came to his mind. This never got easier, even though he didn’t even know this pup yet. He felt his pistol in his pocket, and he turned to look at the dog. Dog’s jowls drooped worse than any bully’s he’d ever seen. He could hear the dog wheeze when it breathed, ribs pushing against her lungs. “Shit,” Jon said. And the dog shit.
He told the pup to sit, but the pup didn’t understand him, just looked him in the eyes. Then, he thought about the thousand plus dollars the dog cost him—purchase, vet bill, taxi fares, taxi window, and he pulled the trigger.
The bullet entered the dog between the eyes and exited behind the ear. The hole it made at the eye was an ice pick strike to the skull. The hole it made at the exit spilled yellow brain matter, but the dog still stood there looking at Jon, wagging its tail. Jon realized that even if he decided it was time for something to die, that didn’t mean that something was ready to die.
Jon moved to the side of the dog and shot through the pup’s ribcage. The pup’s legs buckled, but it stood back up. Jon shot the four remaining bullets into the dog, haunches, ribs, ear, paw, and it wasn’t moving, but it wasn’t dead. It laid, heaved, sent miniature dust clouds into the air with each breath. It never even yelped.
Jon couldn’t leave the pup dying, but he wanted to, so it could feel what he felt, pain. But, this ordeal wasn’t the dog’s fault, and Jon couldn’t leave it suffering, regardless of the suffering it caused him. Jon walked over to the ditch between the road and the bean field and picked up a branch the size of his arm. Out of breath after a few hundred feet to the ditch and back, Jon stood wheezing while the dog lay on the ground wheezing. After he had enough strength to continue, he hit the dog in the head with the branch. It yelped this time. It yelped every time he hit it in the head, until it couldn’t yelp anymore and Jon couldn’t swing anymore.
Blood-splattered Jon dropped the branch and walked back to the road. Visions of past dogs barking at him. A different dog wouldn’t fix anything. This pup had caused twice the problems it was purchased to repair. Jon never looked back at the field as he walked away crying. He had no place to go.
Ean Bevel writes in St. Louis where he lives with his wife and toddler. His stories often contain the grotesque and/or magical realism.
— Foreground Art by Ezra Letra
–Background Art by Simona Capriana