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Good Boys

Story by Tamara Schuyler (Read author interview) August 14, 2017

Art by SmokeLong Quarterly

The dog we had to get rid of was the same color as the dirt in the field. We carried it there and dropped it on the ground, and its fur matched the dirt just right. If we squinted our eyes, almost we couldn’t see it. On the way to the field it kept shaking and bucking; we broke its bones. They went snap like a wet stick.

Always bad ideas with me and Cole. Worse and worse. Gimme that rock, he said. We gotta stop that noise. The dog was whining, high like a whistle, like a kettle boiling and never stopping. Boiling hot water sloshing on our arms when we couldn’t be good. Father with the kettle, and us screaming, and lumpy red skin burning and burning. The dog squirming and its claws making tracks in our scars when we picked it up. Too heavy for Cole, too heavy for me, we carried it together to the field. Hold on tight, said Cole, and I did. Until we dropped it there in the right-color dirt.

Cole took the rock and raised it high, straight up. Sharp gray rock against bluest sky. Hottest sun and dust on our shoes too tight. Wait, I said, listen. Round summer silence, just the crackle of dried grass and the crickets all hidden and true. The dog so quiet now. Blackest eyes watching us.

Day one, the dog came to the back door out of nowhere, smelling like bad eggs and skinny like a nail. Day two, we gave it some bread from the shelf. Day three, Father said get ridda that dog or you gonna wish you never been born. Dog wouldn’t let us catch it. Slippery, squeaked past and skidded, came back. Playing, barking, head down, tail going like the wipers in a hard rain. Father came out yelling, fists squeezing by his side. Dog was like gum on a shoe. We chased it away and away and away, and next minute there it was, always. Mother home from work, told us do as your father says, can’t you just do as your father tells you, just once. Ice cubes in a tall, tall glass, clinking all around. Sparkly sweat running down the outside. Sneaking pale sugary sips that sliced our throats and made us cough and laugh until Father’s quick hand slapped our heads against the wall, thwock.

We found the thick tape Father used for covering cracks in the windows and fixing broken chairs. Chairs flying across the room, breaking against the TV. One leg coming clean off, spinning in the air and skittering down the hall like a mouse. You gotta hold that dog, said Cole, you gotta sit on it when I get it. We ran up the road with some bread and the dog came to us so easy. Cole grabbed it and pushed it down, and I straddled it, my knees going hard against the gravel, and its legs galloped wild but I held it down strong and it yelped. Cole wound the tape around its flashing mouth, used his own teeth to rip it from the roll like Father. Front legs together and back legs together, taped up good and tight. That’s when we carried the dog to the field and left it broken in the brown dirt and it didn’t come back.

What are we gonna say?

Nothing, Cole said.

But, I said.

Not one word, he said. And don’t you cry neither.

Walking, we were slow-slow-motion. Scratchy wind rushing around my head with a roaring and a backward quiet. Pressing on my eyes, making me blind. Pressing and pressing, taking forever to get home.

Mother on the sofa with her face so tired. Did you chase it far away? Our heads went up and down, up and down. Good boys, she said. Good boys.

Sitting next to Mother, leaning against her hot and sticky arm. Leaning stiff, like firewood. Flames in my throat, and a tight fever everywhere, pitching and stabbing, but no sound inside of me. All sound coming from the TV, turned up high, like God in a cage, God shouting at us from right there and the Wheel of Fortune spinning and spinning and the lights so bright and all the white teeth smiling.


Notes from Guest Reader Shasta Grant

If a story could punch me in the gut, this one did. Somehow the writer managed to make my heart break for these two boys, even though they are doing such a terrible thing. Every sentence crackles with energy and heart.

About the Author

Tamara Schuyler’s fiction has appeared in CutBank, Mulberry Fork Review, and Crack the Spine, among others. One of her stories received a special mention in Pushcart Prize XXXIX: Best of the Small Presses, and another was awarded honorary mention in Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction contest, March/April 2016.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Seven of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Seven

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