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Story by Joan Harvey (Read author interview) June 26, 2009

art by Peter Ketels

There were the indoor dogs and the outdoor dog. The indoor ones were those little Lhasa Apso things that skittered about like pampered rats. They belonged to Ed’s girlfriend, Mary, who had once dated a famous ski racer and had accrued what little glamour she had from this fact. The outdoor dog was hardly more appealing. Some kind of Jack Russell mix, a worthless dog you wanted to kick. It liked to jump at sticks, Frisbees, whatever, and when I was bored waiting for my Dad to score I’d throw stuff. Then the world would just be me, the dog leaping at the sky, and the sky.

Ed was an old guy, grew up here, inherited this dried-out ranch. He still ran a few head of scrawny looking cattle but he got his real money dealing coke. No one suspected him, old time redneck that he was. Though he did have this weird hippie chick girlfriend and her weird dogs. He also kept a few pigs. Cutie and Sweetie. Cutie had liver flukes. Sweetie had 14 babies and no one knew how. Ed shot Sweetie with his .30-30 Winchester and served her up at a party. I ate a lot of pig, then crashed in the back of Dad’s truck.

My Dad didn’t want me to know he came to the ranch to buy coke from Ed, but my Dad was incapable of hiding anything. I think my Mom left him because he couldn’t hide how much he loved her and needed her. It was at their anniversary dinner, right at the end, they were sharing a chocolate mousse, when she told him she wanted a divorce and then she laughed. Yet somehow Dad crawled out from under it all, got part-time custody of me, picked up a girl who worked at a bar in town. And, to tell the truth, life in our bachelor house with its filthy windows wasn’t all that bad.

I threw another stick and Ed’s girlfriend came out and sat with me. She was barefoot and her feet were caked with dirt and she had long yellow hair hanging down her back. Dad called her Corona Mary, but not to her face, because of all the Coronas she could consume. She did trompe l’oeil work which Dad called Faux Pas.

The last time I’d seen Corona Mary was at our place. It was night and she was crying, “I hate that fucker Ed.” She then swallowed a whole bottle of tequila and threw up. She tried to kick my soccer ball and kept falling down. “I’m going to play soccer in the World Cup,” she said. “Don’t you believe me?” She seemed like she would be genuinely wounded if I said no, so I said yes, I always believed her. Dad and the other guys just kept laughing. Mary started crying and disappeared. The next morning she was found by the railroad tracks passed out with a broken nose. “Was she attacked?” I asked. “No,” Dad said, “She probably just tripped on the railroad ties and fell on her face. Lucky the trains don’t come through here any more.”

Ed had a bucket of gold dirt in the yard, and sometimes I’d sift through it. The dog lapped the water off the top and nobody cared. Now, next to me, Mary ran her hands through the fine sediment. I liked the way she smelled, cigarettes and beer, but also herself, strong, underneath.

“Hey,” she said “How you doing, boy? I’m sorry this dog is so fucking neurotic, but before I got it it was severely abused.”

Then she said, “Hey, kid, ignore me. I’m sorry. I had a few hits before you guys arrived.”

Then she said, “Christ, I don’t know why I’m apologizing, I’m sorry I’m apologizing.” And she laughed. She dug out a picture of her and Ed and the dog at Christmas and said, “This guy is basically an asshole, but hell, I’m in love with him.”

I was eleven. At eleven you start to know stuff, but you don’t have much context. My life had in it that quiet, that silence, when it’s not your time yet. And somewhere inside, you know it’s better that way. You’d think sitting there by that empty corral, in all that dust, I’d dream of water, of a deep lake with frogs and algae and a dark hidden bottom. But I didn’t. I guess that big sky was enough, and that wretched dog for company.

Soon Dad would come out of the house, coked up, talking too much, full of too much affection for me. He was completely predictable. I’d get embarrassed. I guess I was predictable too. We’d drive to town, meet his girlfriend at the bar, Dad would grab her in a stupid babbling foolish way and then he’d take us out for pasta and put his arms around us both, his face lit up from drugs and happiness. Mom could be a bitch when she was high, but Dad just got mushy. Then we’d go home, and I’d go to my room and do my homework or fool around on the computer and Dad and the girl would lie around in front of the TV and giggle and have sex.

But that dog, that dog was in the doghouse. Not too long for this world. Only two weeks before it had gone and randomly bit a chunk out of Ed’s best friend’s arm. Ed still had his .30-30. He wouldn’t use it as long as he still wanted Mary. Then doing away with the dog would be a way to get rid of her. Mean, ugly little dog. Jumping at the sky.

About the Author

Joan Harvey’s fiction and poetry have appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly, The Tampa Review, Bomb, Another Chicago Magazine, Danse Macabre, Osiris, Global City Review, Mountain Gazette, Pangolin Papers, Inkblot, Prism, Kindred Spirit, Blue Light Red Light, Mississippi Mud, To: A Journal of Poetry, Prose and The Visual Arts, Fiction Monthly, The Distillery, Artisan, Visions, West Wind Review, The Sixteenth Anthology, Fuel, 96 Inc., Between C & D (Penguin anthology), Worcester Review, Sliding Uteri, PO, and several other journals.

About the Artist

Peter Ketels artist, designer and master craftsman, manipulates metal, wood and stone – when his multiple inner voices tell him, he also takes photos – like this one. You can contact him via e-mail: dracondesign@gmail.com.

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

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