Dog as Battlefield

Is this the heart attack I wish for with every eyelash? Dad Thing jumpfalls up from the table, potato, beer and chops blowing from his face hole. Then I see what he sees. My dog Pete is begging for snackers at the sliding glass door that looks down on our table. His right side has been shaved clean down to that piglet pink skin, and someone has carved Leesh your FUCKING dog with black marker. Dad Thing rants around the room, speculating which neighbor would trespass him this way. They all hate him so good luck with that. “Idiots! They fucking spelled leash wrong.” Dad Thing has that scowly, permanent sorehead look on his face like he just can’t wait for the next fight. And here it is. He drags all of the air out of the room as he storms off to the kitchen for a marker.

We live in the country on a dirt road, woods everywhere. Every half-mile or so a house appears. Because it’s remote, people from J-town come here to dump dogs they don’t want anymore. Dad Thing has shot every one that found me. They are starving he says. They will get knocked up with puppies we can’t afford to feed he says. We have to put them out of their misery he says. I say he just likes to shoot dogs. But he spared this one. Who knows.

Dad Thing clomps back into the room. He drops down beside Pete, bites the marker cap off and starts scratching it’s called freedom fuck you beneath the Leesh comment. He is grunting, biting down harder on the marker cap and getting pissed because it’s news to him that dog skin is hard to write on. The marker makes the air smell like medicine. I stroke Pete’s head and look into his sad human eyes, hoping he reads my face as saying I’m sorry. Dad Thing finishes, and shoos Pete out the door. “Get lost dipshit, go tell whoever what I said.” Pete stands there, confused, but finally slinks away when Dad Thing chucks his beer can. Pete’s a drifter. He comes and goes, but I say he’s mine.

I call my stepfather Dad Thing after Swamp Thing—from the comics—and the first time I tried to kill him it backfired. It was his bar night, and while he was hosing off in the shower, I packed cigarette loads into his Camels. But here comes the curve. Instead, he says “Come on, get in the truck.” My balls shrink when he picks his smokes off the table. It’s two days into deer season, which means the deer are on the move, and he wants to cruise 131 looking for fresh road kill. We’re going along, Donna Fargo’s Funny Face on the radio, when he takes the smokes out of his pocket. I have my hand on the door, bracing to jump out when the Bic sparks and Holy Shit. The bang is so loud inside the truck air raid sirens go off in my ears. Like I planned, he loses control of the truck. Like I didn’t plan, I am with him, slap-grabbing the dash for a hold as we weave in and out of the ditch, nearly on our side at one point, until we smash through an exit sign and stop hard. First I feel the hot piss filling my pants, then it’s Dad Thing’s elbow deep in my eye socket.

The next morning, Pete’s back with more sass on his side. Dad Thing loses his shit, runs to the closet, pulls his old silver clippers out of a box, and gets busy buzzing the fur off Pete’s other side. “Hold him still bonehead,” yells Dad Thing. Pete’s skin is specked with blood where the clippers have nicked him.

As Grandpa would say, my turtle left its shell. I am climbing to the loft of our old-as-hell barn. Usually I come here to be with my Hustlers—the ones I find ditched on the roadside when I am hitching. I take a seat on a hay bale and poke the tip of my 410 through a knothole toward the house. It’s 1975, summer in the country, where every day we put things out of their misery.  

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