SmokeLong Quarterly

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Story by Justin Lawrence Daugherty (Read author interview) March 27, 2012

art by Brian James Beerman

My father has a bullet lodged in his ass cheek. I was reminded of this as he leaned down to talk to Cerberus, our mutt, running his thick, car engine grease-covered, scarred hand through Cerb’s russet-brown hair. It’s all the blacks, he said after he’d been shot. It was a ricochet from a drive-by or something.

He was training Cerb to dogfight. To tear other dogs apart. To rip their throats out. We had a stuffed dummy for practice.

Cerb got loose and went after the dummy as if he wanted to eat it, like he had not eaten in weeks. Fluff torn from the open seams.

“Why are we training Cerb to fight?” I asked.

“Because he needs to rediscover his nature.”

“What’s his nature?” Cerb ripped open the dummy’s head.

“This,” dad said, pointing. I didn’t get it. I’d seen Cerb eat his own shit once. “Like the wolf. Or, like, whatever came before the wolf, even.”

My best chance at not getting my ass kicked, my guidance counselor said, was to not stand out. He was my dad’s age, had orange skin like a supernova. This didn’t seem like the best advice, but I let it go through my ears. “The peg that stands up gets knocked down. All that,” he said.

“But, I’m hardly noticeable,” I said.

“They notice you trying not to be noticed.”

Dad pulled me out of school early. He had a shotgun and two cheeseburgers in the backseat. The front windshield was shattered. We drove out on the interstate. A coyote was curled up on the roadside, a back leg bent back the wrong way, blood all over. He hit it, drunk-driving toward another bar. Shards of glass stuck up out of its body. They reflected four bright suns. Dad picked the pieces out and threw them into a ditch. He carried the coyote to the truck bed and set it down.

“I’m going to need you to put this thing down if it comes out of it,” Dad said.

“What? How am I going to kill it? Isn’t it already dead?” I asked.

“Mostly dead. I just can’t do it if it comes down to the task.”

“What makes you think I can shoot it?” I asked. The coyote rattled in the back. His glassy eye looked to the sky. I wanted to know if he saw heaven.

“It’s just not in me,” Dad said. “I just can’t find the part of me that can do the thing.”

Mindy climbed through my bedroom window. She smelled like almonds. She was still on her period. She always wanted me most at that time of the month. It made her crazy. I told her fuck no.

“Your counselor lets me put a dog collar on him,” Mindy said.

There was something wrong with the moon. I kept staring at it. The color was all wrong. “The color’s all wrong,” I said.

“Will you dress like a robber?” she asked.

“And do what, exactly?” I asked.

Mindy frowned. She turned around, lifted her skirt, and examined herself. “This is our most basic programming,” Mindy said. “Just give it to me, already.”

“Will you please shut up about that?”

Mindy threw her panties at me. Then the rest of her clothes. Does it make any sense that I didn’t want her then? That I could not will an erection to life? Like I was somehow not living up to the expectations of my sex? If I was my counselor, if I could be him, what would I do to Mindy?

There was a sound in the night like a deflating balloon. It was like someone had poked a hole in the moon and it was slowly leaking air. It came from the backyard. I noticed it wasn’t like the hissing of escaping helium at all, but more like something crying from deep within the earth. Mindy dressed and we went outside. The coyote my father pancaked was laid out on the ground, bleeding and whining. Mindy cradled the beast’s head in her arms. There were tears, on her face and mine.

“There’s a shotgun,” I said.

Mindy just shook her head. The coyote tried to muster some sound, but the light was going out of it. “I’ll do it,” Mindy said. I got the shotgun from the truck and gave it to her. She loaded two shells. “After this,” she said, “we can’t be who we are now.” In my bedroom window, Cerb pressed his nose against the glass. He barked and barked. Mindy pulled the trigger. The coyote’s head opened up. Mindy dropped the gun. The blast hung in the air. It’s in all of us, I wanted to say. There was my dad with the bullet in his ass and the counselor and Mindy and me and the whole world fucking and fighting for something, and I just had to watch it all go down.

“There’s something wrong with the moon,” I called to Mindy.

Mindy didn’t turn. She opened the door. Cerberus trotted out and over to the coyote. He pressed his wet nose against the fur. His tongue swept three times over the coyote’s face. “What are you talking about?” Mindy asked.

“It just isn’t right,” I said.

About the Author

Justin Lawrence Daugherty lives in Atlanta and is the co-publisher of Jellyfish Highway Press. He is a PhD student at Georgia State University.

About the Artist

Brian James Beerman is a full time graphic artist and occasional illustrator living in Omaha, NE.

This story appeared in Issue Thirty-Five of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty-Five

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