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Story by Michael Czyzniejewski (Read author interview) September 30, 2010

Art by Nancy Wartman

I flew back to Dallas when the dog died, a premature passing by plastic surgery. Tucking Boxer’s jowls was my ex’s brilliance, giving him a permanent grin, when I thought Boxer was happy all along. Veronica, seven procedures rich, claimed Boxer felt more dated than venerable, declared that he, too, deserved eternal youth. Boxer bit through his neck the morning after, the meds goofing his depth perception, those stitches itching like shit. I wanted to say, “At least he died with a smile on his face, ” but saved it. Boxer was my boy. I reserved the quips for my ex.

I knew I wasn’t immortal when I starting pissing after showers. I’d been trained to go beforeVeronica almost killed me when she caught me pissing down the drain–but one day I stepped from the stall and had to piss again. This preceded the nose hairs, ear hairs, the paunch, even the gray. I went to Veronica to tell herwe used to share everythingbut at that moment, she dropped her bomb, said she was leaving me for the young fella who taught her tennis. The next morning, I pissed twice, once in the shower, again in Veronica’s gym bag.

At Boxer’s vigil, the plastic surgeon appeared baffled by Boxer’s demise, the physics of it, biting one’s own neck. “Maybe it wasn’t Boxer who bit Boxer,” I said, so many other dogs in the neighborhood, maybe a fox or opossum smelling the salt in the sutures. The vet took it as a jab. “Veronica’s a saint,” he said. “She’s lucky she’s moved on.” During the eulogy, my daughter held a candle, looked broken, while my son whispered it was good I came, that Boxer loved me best. I’d said this during the divorce, wanting Boxer when Veronica’d gotten the kids. “Who steals a dog from his children?” she said. I wanted to reply, “Who takes kids from their father?” but instead asked, “How’s that backhand?” She said I could’ve stopped it, that I’d wanted it to happen, that I was lucky to get the California house, her childhood home. “It still smells like your mom,” I answered, but couldn’t tell if she heard, if her face allowed for such things.

On the plane back, I met a man who’d just tried to buy the Dallas Cowboys, steal them to LA. He said his price was fair, but Jerry wasn’t budging. “Stubborn bastard,” he said. I wondered why he had that kind of scratch but flew commercial, first class, coach, or the fucking cockpit. I told the man about my dog, the procedure, how Boxer was only 11 and still had good years left. “Bullshit,” the man said. “There’s no such thing.” I wanted to get up and piss, but the seatbelt light told me no. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I pulled a hanky from my pocket, tied it around my face like a bandit, tapped the billionaire on the shoulder. I proclaimed, “If you think you’re leaving this plane with that billion dollars, you got another think coming,” pointing my fingers at him like six-shooters. The man raised his hands in surrender and I picked up the briefcase at his feet. It’d be a tough getaway, but I could start anew, once made it across the border. Under my mask, I’d smile the entire way.

About the Author

Michael Czyzniejewski grew up in Chicago and now lives in Ohio, where he teaches at Bowling Green State University and serves as editor-in-chief of Mid-American Review. Recent stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Bellingham Review, The Los Angeles Review, Monkeybicycle, Moon City Review, and the anthologies Best of the Web 2009 and You Must Be This Tall to Ride. His debut collection, Elephants in Our Bedroom, was released by Dzanc Books in early 2009.

About the Artist

Nancy Wartman is a freelance illustrator who has studied art at Northern Illinois University. She presently is an art teacher at an elementary school. Her specialty is watercolor but recently enjoys working with oil pastels.

This story appeared in Issue Twenty-Nine of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Twenty-Nine

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