SmokeLong Quarterly

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Story by Brendan Stephens (Read author interview) December 17, 2018

Art by Victor Grabarczyk

Look, all I am saying is that if you grew up next to a pond so cloudy with horseflies that your mother had you mix dish soap and water in a spray bottle to kill them with a coat of poison, and if you helped your father slice through sinewy chicken necks, and if you all laughed watching the headless birds race in the backyard spurting blood, and if you always had chocolate labs that you named Rascal, and if you demanded to be in the room with the vet to comfort each Rascal as they were put down, and if you married young because you got a girl you hadn’t even been dating pregnant, and if you had a daughter, and if you took a job delivering bread on the nightshift so you barely saw them, and if you had long arguments in hushed voices always about the same things, and if this went on for years, and if you received texts about your wife being on dating sites, and if you stopped caring, and if your current Rascal was your daughter’s best friend, and if you promised her that you wouldn’t replace this Rascal when it finally died, and if your wife finally left you, and if your brother-in-law was a lawyer, and if the paperwork and filed motions kept coming until you said you’d sign anything as long as you got to keep the last Rascal, and if your daughter only visited every other weekend, and if your ex bought a Pekingese that your daughter called a mouth-breathing-rat, and if Rascal had arthritis so bad that he could barely stand on quivering limbs, and if every day you fed Rascal aspirin hidden in hot dogs, and if your daughter started talking back to your ex, and if your daughter said she wanted to live with you and Rascal, and if your ex wanted your dog because she thought it would win your daughter back to her, and if your ex-brother-in-law in legalese told you that in the eyes of the law Rascal actually still belonged to your ex, and if your ex gave you an ultimatum or else she would get the sheriff’s office involved, and if your dog had four separate medications to be taken at different times throughout the day, and if you remembered how your ex always forgot Rascal’s anti-worm medicine when you went hunting, and if you couldn’t bear having your daughter watch Rascal die, and if you heard your ex knocking on the door, and if you couldn’t bear to lose again, then you would consider—all I’m saying is consider—getting your hunting rifle out of your gun cabinet, taking slow steps until you stood over that sleeping dog, lowering the barrel to the last Rascal’s head, and—while your ex watched through a window—firing a shot.

About the Author

Brendan Stephens is in the creative writing and literature PhD program at the University of Houston. His previous work has appeared or is forthcoming in Epoch, Southeast Review, Notre Dame Review, Carolina Quarterly and elsewhere. He is the assistant fiction editor for Gulf Coast Literary Magazine.

About the Artist

More of Victor Grabarczyk‘s work can be found on Unsplash.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Two

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