St. James Church Road
(published in dirt, issue 1.2, october 2003)
“Nobody would have blamed you for letting the vet do it,” Maria said, calmly brushing her hair in the mirror. Jackson was sitting on the bed, taking his shoes off. The mud was caked on pretty thick. He slid off his slacks, still covered with dirt and grass, and pulled the covers back.
“That’s what you’re supposed to do. Jesus, that’s what everybody does.” She sighed and gave her hair a good tug with the brush. Several strands broke free and fell onto the floor. He rested the full weight of his tired body against the mattress, feeling the slight depression where his back fit. He didn’t want to talk about it. In a way, she was trying to understand. But something was different now. She didn’t really want to understand.
Earlier that day, they were milling around the broken-down picnic tables at his in-law’s house for their Fourth of July party. Maria’s parents lived up the road about an hour, in a small town off the main highway. They had a two-acre lot in a tiny, not-quite-subdivision. The property backed into a creek and the trees hung down low enough to form a canopy over the backyard. The entire extended family was there. They strung Christmas lights through the trees and fired up the old grill. The women came and went out of the big two-story house, bringing large Tupperware bowls of potato salad and onions and pickles and blue, plastic plates stacked with hot dogs and sausage and hamburger meat. Maria’s brother cornered Jackson by the barbeque pit. Donny was divorced twice and living with his daughter’s teacher. After a few beers, he would usually grab Jackson by the elbow and start in on some nonsense.
“I could’ve gotten you a pure breed, y’know? A goddamn American bulldog,” he said, almost spitting into Jackson’s ear. He could smell the foamy beer in Donny’s stomach.
“Yeah?” Jackson wiped the sweat off the back of his neck. He saw Maria across the yard, surrounded by her cousins. She was laughing with her head thrown back.
“Hell yeah, son. They’re a rare fucking breed. Like the one on Little Rascals? You remember that one?”
“Petey,” said Jackson.
“Was that his name?” Donny took a drag from his cigarette. “So where’s your mutt?” Jackson looked through the crowd and caught a glimpse of Hobbes near the creek. He wondered for a second, with an anxiety that surprised him, whether or not the dog could swim.