Note: This page was updated
August 98 to coincide with a review in Catalan.
|Short Fiction biography | spanish translation | catalan translation|
Eldridge heard the noise before Broom did. Broom was watching cartoons on the little black-and-white tv on the floor in the living room and he had the sound up pretty high so he missed it.
The noise that Eldridge heard was a squeak, a high squeak and a scratching sound. He was coming out of the bathroom when he heard it, walking in his bare feet, just a towel wrapped around his waist. He figured at first it was the floor of the trail - it was an old trailer that he and Broom lived in and beginning to rust out a little, starting to settle down uneven on the cinder-block foundations. Then he heard it again when he was a little ways down the hall toward the biggest bedroom and he knew this time that it was something that was alive.
"Yo Broom," he yelled down the hall into
the living room. He could hear the tv in there, knew Broom probably wouldn't call back to
him even if he heard. He and Broom had lived together in the trailer a couple years. He
had got to know Broom pretty well. "Broom," he called again. "We got rats,
Broom." He walked on down the hall into his bedroom.
"I say we got rats," Eldridge said. "Or somethen." He stomped on the floor hard, trying to get the rats or whatever to make the noise again. The one window in the bedroom rattled in its frame. "Jesus," Broom said. "You like to knock the whole place down." He was a skinny kid was Broom, twenty-one or two, Eldridge wasn't sure which. He looked young though, always got carded in bars. It was pretty funny to watch his face when a bartender would say, "I gotta see some ID." It really pissed Broom off and his face would work and crease while he dug in the pocket of his jeans for his wallet. He was still having a bad time with acne and his face was ugly to see when he got mad, all red and mottled and looking like a goddam map of Mars.
He stood still for a second, tilted his head toward the floor like a rabbit dog. Eldridge was quiet, listening too. The only sound was music from the tv. "I don' hear nothen," Broom said. "No rats."
"Jest listen a while," Eldridge said. He pulled on a tee shirt. He wore a lot of tee shirts, muscle-shirts he called them, about a size too small with the sleeves cut off at the shoulder. Some girl one time or another had told him she liked that "sculpted" look. He had never forgot that, would say it from time to time to Broom or whoever, "I got that sculpted look." Pretty much whoever he said it to thought he was a jerk about his looks. He was average, except for the muscles, the washboard stomach and the thick arms. He never told anybody about the girl who had told him she thought he looked "grotesque." Never said a word about that.
"I heard it," Eldridge said. "Scratchen against the floor."
"Huh," Broom said. He started to head back to his tv show. Then the sound came again, seemed like it came from right under Eldridge's room this time. Broom heard it: a scratch and a whine. "There you go," Eldridge said. "There it is." He was pleased that Broom had heard it.
"Ain' rats," Broom said.
"What do you mean," Eldridge said. "If it ain' rats what is it?"
"I don' know but it ain' rats," Broom said. He paused a second like he was thinking. "Sound to me like a dog. Sound to me like we got a dog under the trailer."
"How you think it got there?" Eldridge said. Now that he thought about it the noise had seemed a lot like a dog to him too.
"Crawled under I guess. Maybe looken for some place jest to lay down and die. Maybe it's sick, maybe shot, I ain' got the least idee."
"I guess we got to go see then don' we?" Eldridge said. He leaned into his closet, shoved some clothes that were on the floor in there to one side, moved a couple boxes. He looked up on the shelf in the closet too. "Where's that flashlight," he said, "the big hunten lamp. What'd you do with the damn flashlight."
"Hell if I know," Broom said. "Last time I had it was last fall, last November. We were out spotlighten some deer, you member, with Fat Ed and that whole gang. Got us a couple too didn' we? Yeah, we sure ate all right after that for a while. Old Fat Ed's deer meat chili. Goddam."
"Yeah," Eldridge said. He had gone under the bed now looking for the light. "But then what'd we do with it? Jesus," he said. He came back out from under the bed holding the lamp. It was a big Black and Decker that you could either run off its six-volt battery or plug into your cigarette lighter like a police light. It had deer blood on the handle and on the green plastic shock-proof case. Eldridge flicked at the blood with his fingertips and some of it flaked off onto the floor.
"That was under your bed?" Broom said. "It must of smelled like hell. How did you live with that thing in here?"
"You ain' no garden yourse'f, Broom," Eldridge said. "You should take a smell of what your room is like sometime." Broom's face creased up like he was going to lose his temper. Then the sound came again and this time it was definitely a dog, kind of a half bark. Sounded like a dog barking in a coffee can. Pretty good-sized dog too, from the noise.
The dog growled and Eldridge felt the hair on the back of his neck rise. He could feel the vibrations from the growl rising up through the metal floor. It was like he was standing on the dog's rib cage. It was just under their feet and Eldridge caught himself looking down even though there was nothing there to see but old brown carpet. "Shoot," Broom said. "Did you hear that?"
Eldridge flicked the switch on the hunting lamp and the light came on. The beam was yellow. "Look kind of weak, Broom said. "Under there all the time the batt'ry probably gone bad."
"Jest cause it's so light up here," Eldridge said. "It'll be a lot brighter under the trailer."
"Huh," Broom said. "I expect that's so. I expect it's jest the day."
Eldridge kept flicking the switch on the light, testing it to see if it would get brighter or dimmer maybe. The yellow beam stayed the same. He went out to the living room, turned the tv off.
"You gonna take somethen under there with you?" Broom said. "I sure as hell wouldn' go under there without nothen to take the dog on."
"Take what," Eldridge said.
"I don' know. Sharp stick maybe."
"I'm jest gonna chase the dog out from under there. I ain' want to get in a fight with it."
"Well," Broom said. "But you wouldn' catch me under there without nothen. Never know what that dog could be like under there."
It was probably one of the strays that were always getting in the garbage or some dog that people from town had dumped off in the bushes Eldridge decided. Jest sick or strayed or something. Nothing to worry about.
He opened the door, stepped out onto the cinder block that was their front porch step. It shifted in the soft earth and he almost fell. "Son bitch," he said. It was a bright hot day and Eldridge had to shield his eyes from the sun.
"Wonder whose dog it might could be," Broom said. "People round here ought to take better care of their animals than let them run loose like that. Ought to be laws about that."
"Nobody's dog," Eldridge said. "It jest come here to die. That's when a dog goes in a dark place alone, when it wants to die."
He got down on his knees, peered into the crawl space. There was only one place to get under, right near the trailer door. The rest of the crawl space was closed off with tin. It looked like a pretty tight squeeze through the hole to Eldridge.
"I bet it's Seldomridge's dog," Broom said. "You know that big black bastard of a hound he got that's all the time getten in people's sheep. Somebody probably poisoned the son of a gun."
"Could be," Eldridge said.
The dirt under the trailer was black and damp, looked like dirt that would have worms up on the surface. There was no grass, just a lot of leaves piled up around the foundations of the place and around the pipes. Eldridge didn't think he'd ever seen so many pipes in a place before, couldn't think of what they would all be for. Septic tank he knew, for one. He felt his chest start to get tight.
"I hope it ain' got the rabies," Broom said. "I seen a dog that had the rabies once and it was an awful thing."
"It ain' got the rabies, Broom," Eldridge said.
"Got bit by a coon or a skunk and that sucker was plain crazy. Slobbers all over his mouth and blood runnen out his snout and down his chin. Walked all stiff-legged and hunchback and snapped at everything that come too near. Like to bit some kids that was thowen stones at it."
Eldridge edged to the entrance into the crawl space. He tried to ignore Broom.
"Ended up by finally tearen his own guts out, he was that out of his head. Nothen else to bite on so he ripped out his own belly and bleeden and howlen while he buried his nose. Jesus was that somethen." He sounded excited.
"Was it," Eldridge said. He couldn't see anything under the trailer. The dog was way in the back.
"You bet," Broom said. "The county sheriff even come out to the trailer park where it was after a while but it was already dead by that time. Pulled out its own innards and the kids was hitten at it with rocks and sticks too. Big fat deputy put a round into it jest to make sure but it was dead as hell, flies crawlen on its tongue and all."
Broom paused to get his breath. Eldridge was glad of the quiet.
"You see it?" Broom said after a minute. "I'd hate for that to be Seldomridge's big old dog under there and stinken with the rabies. He'd bite on you sure as hell and then you'd have it too." He was standing on the cinder block by the door, rocking it back and forth in its place. It made a sucking sound in the dirt as he moved it.
Eldridge dropped to his stomach, belly-crawled a little ways in. He got his head under the trailer; his shoulders struck the tin on either side. He hunkered down, drew his shoulders in, got a little further. It was hard to raise the light in the narrow space. He couldn't get it up high enough to shine where he thought the dog should be. A leaf caught against his face and he could smell the rot on it. It smelled like it had been lying under the trailer for years.
"You see it yet?" Broom called from outside. His voice was muffled. Eldridge looked back, craned his head around as far as he could. He saw Broom's head, upside-down. All that Eldridge could see of the head was an outline, dark against the bright sunlight. He had never noticed before how odd-shaped Broom's head was, not like an egg or round but pressed in at the temples: rounded above and rounded below like a badly poured pancake. Broom's hair was hanging down and touching the ground.
"It ain' where I can see it," Eldridge said. "I'm gonna have to go in a little ways more."
"What?" Broom said. Eldridge didn't bother to say it again. He hauled himself forward with his elbows, throwing the Black and Decker's beam ahead of him. Even in the dark under the trailer the beam was yellow. It looked like Broom had been right in the first place about the battery. Outside, out from under the trailer, he could hear Broom yelling to him. He didn't try to catch the words.
The ground under him was cool and slick like he had thought it would feel. His knees were damp, and his forearms; the mud soaked through his pants, got into the creases of skin at his elbows. It was a tight place to be in and it made him nervous. He wasn't even thinking about the dog. He was all the way under the trailer. He pushed with his toes, tried to get some purchase to help him along but there wasn't enough grip there.
Eldridge couldn't believe the amount of stuff that there was under the trailer. Something that looked like the differential off an old four-wheel drive was near him on his left half-covered in leaves. He figured the people that had owned the trailer before him and Broom moved in had tossed it under there, why he had no idea. Next to that was a denim work glove looking like a dead man's hand sticking up out of the ground. Near the entrance was a little doll of a man that some kid had lost a long time before, what they called a Talking GI Joe. Eldridge knew if he pulled the string in its back the tiny record inside wouldn't make anything but gibberish.
A spider web that had stretched from one pipe to another touched his face, attached itself to him under his nose. He batted at it. "Son bitch," he said. The spider web floated up, got in his eyes. He kept his mouth tight shut for fear that it might get in there too. The thought of the cobweb in his mouth made him feel sick to his stomach. He shook his head, couldn't get rid of the thing. It seemed like it was floating in the air, more strands of it sticking to him all the time. He started to crawl back out toward the light, to get the spider web out of his eyes. He needed both hands free from crawling for that.
As he moved back his tee shirt pulled up under his arms, left his belly bare to the cool dirt. He gritted his teeth. He couldn't believe how much he wanted to make a noise. Broom wasn't saying anything anymore and Eldridge wished that he was, wished that he had left the tv on in the living room so that he could hear its noise through the floor. He figured he was about under the living room now.
When he twisted his head around he couldn't even see Broom's feet anymore. "Broom," he yelled. "Broom, where the hell you go?" His voice sounded loud bounced back to him from the pipes and the floor of the place, filled the crawl space. He shoved himself back some more, could feel the heat of the sun on the backs of his legs. Backwards was slow going but he only had a couple of more feet to be outside where he could stand up again. He blinked, trying to get rid of the spider web. There were bits of leaf or something caught in the strands and he could feel them against his face. His elbows dug into the ground as he pushed himself backwards.
Something moved at the far end of the trailer. He swung the light around as best he could, played it over the gray thing that he thought was the dog. No eyes, he couldn't see any eyes, couldn't tell if it was fur or not, no legs or tail.
He saw the dog. Like those trick pictures where at first you can't see what it is, just a bunch of light and dark places, and then you can, you can see the head of Jesus or the sea gull or whatever is there - that's the way that Eldridge saw the dog. It had risen up but there wasn't enough room for even it to stand straight-legged in the crawl space. It stood with its back against the floor of the trailer, legs bent, weaving a little. Its eyes were almost closed, swelled and full of pus; they shone half-moons of red light from the beam of Eldridge's flashlight.
It had the mange and not just a little mange either but the kind that can kill a dog. In places the thing looked like it had been peeled, the hair and skin taken off with a dull knife. Its chest was wide and deep but it was so starved its stomach curved up almost to its backbone like a racing dog's belly. It wasn't a racing dog though; it looked like one of those big German guard dogs. It growled, its wet lips peeled back from the gums and fluttering. The sound was deadened by the distance and by the bare dirt but it filled Eldridge's head.
He shoved himself back out from under the trailer. He kept the flashlight on the dog as he backed out. It didn't come any closer to him. It growled and growled and the growl swelled until it filled the whole crawl space like the sound of an organ. The dog was drooling and the drool was flecked white with pus.
Eldridge nicked his shoulder on the sharp edge of the tin at the entrance. He rolled over and stood up, dropping the flashlight. He rubbed at his eyes, got most of the spider web off his face. It stuck to his hands instead. "Broom," he called. He looked behind him, half expecting to see the mangy dog hauling itself out from under the trailer after him.
"Did you see it?" Broom said. He was sitting in the door, his feet on the cinder block. "You seen it under there didn' you?"
"Thought so," Broom said. "Was it Seldomridge's mutt like I said? You gonna go under there again so you can kill the sucker?"
"Ain' goen under there again," Eldridge said.
"Don' you worry, Eldridge," Broom said. "You'll get him next time. You jest got rattled a little is all. You'll be O.K.
"You don' get it," Eldridge said. "That bastard can have it. I ain' goen in there after him again. You want to, you can get him out. I ain'." He thought about that dog with its lips pulled back. He wanted to get inside but he couldn't get past Broom sitting there in the doorway.
"Maybe he'll come out of there after a while on his own," Broom said. "Maybe he'll get hungry and jest come on out of there and we won' have to fool with him at all."
Eldridge pushed past Broom on into the trailer. "Shut that door," he said. He tried to get Broom out of the way so he could pull the door closed.
"He scared you that bad did he?" Broom said. He brushed Eldridge's hands off him. "Jesus Christ," he said, what's wrong with you. Let me go."
Eldridge let go of him and he came on inside. "You don' want to pull on me like that," he said. "Man that's scared of a dog."
"You didn' see him," Eldridge said.
"Wouldn' of scared me if I did," Broom said.
"You didn' see him," Eldridge said again. "You go under there if you want. You shoot him if you want. But I'm tellen you I ain' goen in after that dog."
"Ain' nobody asken you to," Broom said. "We'll wait a while, see if he comes out by himse'f."
"If he don' then what?" Eldridge said.
"Then I'll figure a way to get him out," Broom said.
"With what?" Eldridge said. "A sharp stick?"
"Maybe so," Broom said. "Maybe that's how I'll do it." Eldridge laughed at him and Broom's face got red and angry.
Eldridge couldn't get to sleep that night for thinking about the dog. It hadn't come out that day at all and Broom hadn't gone in after it either. Eldridge was glad about that in a way. Still it meant he couldn't get to sleep for knowing the dog was probably not more than three or four feet from him, through the floor.
Once or twice he heard it moving around under the trailer, shifting so he could picture its mangy back brushing up against the floor and the pipes, see it pushing leaves around to make for a better bed. Always when he was about to get to sleep the dog would move around and moan and he would get to thinking about it again with its ugly animal-shine eyes and the pus in its drool. After a while he was afraid that he could smell the dog through the floor, smell it in the bed it was making for itself.
"Broom," he said, lying there. He knew Broom would hear him if he was awake. The walls in the trailer weren't much. He could hear Broom sometimes when he snored. He'd had to pound on the wall more than once to get Broom to roll over and shut up. "Broom," he said again.
He shifted over to his stomach, put his nose down in the pillow. He thought that if he could see down through the pillow and the mattress, straight through the floor, he would be looking right at the dog, at where the dog was asleep.
He wondered if the dog had dreams. He had seen dogs whine in their sleep, twitch their legs. "Chasen rabbits," was what he always thought to himself when he saw a dog twitch in its sleep. But this didn't sound like that when the dog under the trailer would move. This was bigger, shifting and bumping, and different. Eldridge didn't know what a sick dog would dream about when it had found the dark place where it wanted to die.
The dog whined and at first the whine was a high sound like a mosquito that is close to your ear. Then it was louder, a wail like some ghost, and Eldridge sat up in bed. "Goddam," he said. He listened to the dog howling. He would have sworn it was in the room with him it was so loud. He tossed his pillow away from him and it bounced off his dresser, landed on the floor. "I can' do this," he said. He got out of bed.
He crossed the room, walking softly. The noise the dog was making started to die away some but he kept walking, up on the balls of his feet. The padding under the carpet was going bad and it had broken up into lumps that moved when he stepped on them. Eldridge went into the bathroom that was down the hall from the smaller bedroom, took a leak. While he was in there he looked at himself in the mirror. He looked the same but tired. He wondered what time it was.
He flushed the toilet, thought about the dog lying near the pipe to the septic tank. The water rushing through would probably wake the dog up. Then it would really take to moving around down there. Eldridge didn't want to think about that.
On the way back to his room he opened Broom's door. He couldn't see Broom very well in the dark but he could hear him breathing. "You been hearen that dog, Broom?" he said. "Moven around under there."
"What the hell," Broom said, sitting up on his elbows in the bed. "What you doen, Eldridge?"
"Jest talken," Eldridge said. "I heard the dog still under there, it's keepen me awake. I thought you might of heard it."
"I was asleep till you woke me up," Broom said. He sounded angry. Eldridge didn't know if he had really been asleep or not. He reached up, grabbed the top of the doorway over his head, swung his weight on his arms. It felt good to stretch the muscles out.
"Well, I jest thought you might be up," Eldridge said. "We got to get that dog out from under there." Broom didn't say anything back. He was pretending to be asleep again. It made Eldridge mad that Broom wouldn't talk to him.
"I ain' goen to sleep in there anymore for a time," Eldridge said. "I want you to trade me rooms." Broom was still pretending to be asleep. "It's a bigger room," Eldridge said. "You know you always wanted it, Broom." He was tired standing there begging with Broom but he knew he wasn't going to be able to sleep in the other bedroom.
"Christ, Broom," he said. He didn't like the smell of Broom's place and it was too hot from having the window closed all the time. He hated to ask for it. Broom turned over, put his back to Eldridge. With both his hands he was holding tight to the pillow.
After a while more of standing there looking at Broom's back, Eldridge went and got the blanket off his bed. He had to look a little while in the dark to find where he had thrown the pillow. He took his stuff and spent the night on the floor in the living room.
* * *
"Hey Ed," Eldridge called. He and Broom stood out in the hot dust in front of Fat Ed Venner's house. There was an old Scout with no wheels sitting out in the yard. It had been up on jacks but one of them had collapsed so it was canted at an angle. Eldridge pointed at it. "You 'member when Ed used to have that thing out on the road?"
Broom shook his head. "Nope," he said. He had been quiet the whole morning.
It was a Sunday so they figured Fat Ed would probably be at home. Eldridge's back hurt. He had slept on it wrong on the hard floor. Broom kicked at the ground and the dry red clay scattered.
The screen door of Fat Ed's house swung open and a woman stepped out onto the porch. She was thin, about forty years old, wiping her hands on a towel. Probably making Sunday supper Eldridge thought. She wore an old dress that the color had washed out of years before. Her figure made the dress look like it was filled with sticks. She stood on the porch, looking out at Broom and Eldridge. She had to squint against the sun to see them.
"Ed here?" Eldridge asked. The woman still didn't say anything. Broom kicked at the dirt again and Eldridge moved away from him to keep from getting the legs of his jeans dirty. Broom's boots were covered with dust.
"Around back," the woman said. Eldridge didn't move. "In the shed," she said. "You find him back there. You can always find him back there." She looked them up and down. "I want that you should ask him what it is he wants to work on them old useless junk for anyway." Broom didn't say anything. Eldridge cleared his throat.
"He all the time back there and putten together his worthless stuff and his daddy and me we got to walk into town if we want to go, ain' got a car between us that run. Now what kind of a son is that I want you should ask him."
"We jest come to borry somethen from him," Eldridge said.
"His uncle got him a job he could take anytime down to the garage at Organ Cave and he could easy do the work but he don' want it. He'd ruther hang around out back there and do nothen."
"I expect we'll go around and see him now," Eldridge said. The woman made him nervous. She was muttering to herself, lips moving but no sound coming out. She turned on him.
"And tell him not to be haven his yahoo friends comen around here on a Sunday."
"Biddy," Broom said but not loud enough that she could hear him. Eldridge started around toward the back of the house. It wasn't so much, just a little frame house. One of the windows on the side had gotten busted out; it was patched up with cardboard and duct tape. The skinny woman stayed on the porch watching them go. Her eyes were hard and bright. Eldridge couldn't figure what made her so mad.
Fat Ed was standing outside the shed. There was a small motorcycle carburetor at his feet in a half-full bucket of gasoline. He didn't smile when he saw Broom and Eldridge. He was cleaning his nails with a jackknife, running the blade in deep under each nail trying to get at the grease and dirt there. "Yo Ed," Eldridge said.
Fat Ed nodded at them and his soft cheeks jiggled. He was sweating in the heat. He stood a hair under six feet tall, weighed maybe three hundred pounds. Eldridge couldn't figure a person letting himself get like that. Fat Ed moved like a Hereford steer, real slow and deliberate. He folded up the jackknife, stowed it in the pocket of his coveralls.
"Ain' seen you fellers in a while," he said.
"Hey Ed," Eldridge said. "What is it you worken on these days?" He pointed down at the carb in the bucket.
Ed grunted. "'Nother chopper," he said. "Boy was sellen a Vincent Black Shadow down to Heflin and didn' have the least idee what he had. I got it off him for next to nothen." Past Ed's wide body Eldridge could see that there were at least three motorcycles in the shed, one hanging by the wheels from a rack in the rafters, and parts for others, fenders and tires and throttle cable.
"We come to see could we borry a pistol, Fat Ed," Broom said like he was tired of waiting for Ed to finish talking. Ed's face turned red at the name and he pressed his lips together.
"Jesus, Broom," Eldridge said.
"What," Broom said. "He knows he's fat, don' he. What does he care if we know it.,'
"What is it you need it for?" Fat Ed said. He stood there and looked at them for a minute. They knew he had a bunch of pistols in his place, Colts and Mausers and Smith & Wessons. He even had a nickel-plated Llama revolver he'd shown to them one time. Fat Ed liked guns. They generally borrowed their rifles from him when they went deer hunting.
"We got to kill a dog," Eldridge said. "It's got in up under the trailer to die."
Fat Ed started for the back of the house and Eldridge had to walk fast to keep up with him. "Why'nt you jest let it die then?" Fat Ed said. "Then you won' have to borry nothen."
"'Cause who the hell knows when it's goen to die?" Broom said. He stood where he was, nearly shouting at Ed.
"We got to kill it today, Ed," Eldridge said. He figured Fat Ed wasn't going to lend them the pistol and that Broom had messed it up for them. "We figure it might have the rabies."
"Huh," Fat Ed said. "I guess I can see that. I guess maybe you better had kill the thing. What kind of pistol is it you want?"
"A big one," Broom said.
Eldridge looked at him and he shut up. "Pretty good-sized dog," Eldridge said. "Don' want to get in under there with some twenny-two and jest make the sucker mad."
"Yeah," Fat Ed said. "You gonna be the one to use it?"
"He ain'," Broom called out. "He ain' goen back in under there he says. Come out from under yesterday like to piss in his pants he's so scared."
"You shut up," Eldridge said, "'fore I come over there and smack you one."
Broom spat. "Shoot," he said. He said something else under his breath.
"What's that," Eldridge said. Broom didn't say anything, stared at Eldridge and Fat Ed. His lips were moving.
"You can have it if it's you gonna use it," Fat Ed said. He looked at Broom. "I don' want that bastard to be the one."
"Shoot," Broom said again.
Eldridge nodded. "You bet, Ed," he said. "I'm gonna be the one."
Ed opened the door into the house. "That's all right then," he said. "You best not to come in the house. My ma don' like company on Sundays too much." He went inside and pulled the door to behind him.
Eldridge turned to Broom. "We about didn' get the gun 'cause of you," he said. "What do you want to talk like that for when we're asken to borry somethen?"
"Fat son bitch," Broom said. He put his hands in his pockets. "I don' know what we ever want to bother with him for anyhow."
"Hush up," Eldridge said.
"Don' you tell me. I'm tired of you tellen me all the time what to do, how to act. You and him, that fat hog, with all them motorcycles. What's he want with a motorcycle?"
"You want that dog there under our place till it decides to die?" Eldridge said.
"Who cares? You the one that's scared of it."
Fat Ed came back out of the house. He carried a flat black pistol in his right hand, a big one with checkered wooden grips. "Here you go," he said.
"Ho yeah," Broom said. "That'll do her." Fat Ed shot him a look, handed the pistol to Eldridge. It was heavy in his hand.
"That there's a Colt forty-five," he said. "You give that one a try. It's got a clip already in it."
"You bet," Eldridge said. "We'll see you after a while."
"Don' worry about it," Ed said. "I got to get back to work on that Vincent." He headed back into the shed, hunched next to a big bike that was heeled over on its kickstand in the middle of the shed. Eldridge watched Ed's hands working at the motor like small trained animals, tightening a bolt, cleaning a valve.
"Let's go," Eldridge said. He started back around the house toward the road. It was a couple of miles walk back to the trailer and the sun was hot.
"Fat bastard," Broom said. He trotted to keep up with Eldridge as they rounded the house. Broom kept his eyes on the pistol. Eldridge could tell he liked the way it looked. Around the other side of the house Fat Ed's mother was standing on the porch, her hand shading her eyes.
"You figure she been up there the whole time waiten on us?" Broom asked Eldridge. Eldridge shrugged.
"Did you tell him?" the woman called out to them. "He ain' got an ounce of sense, all the time tinkeren with them crazy bikes. I never did see nothen like it."
Broom puffed his lips out, made a shooting sound, laughed to himself. They kept walking. When they rounded the bend in the road about a quarter mile away, the woman was still out on the porch watching them.
* * *
When they got back to the trailer neither one of them went inside. They were both hot and sat down in the dirt of the yard. They looked at the trailer and at the entrance to the crawl space next to the door.
"You figure it's still under there?" Broom asked.
"I figure," Eldridge said. "Where would it go?"
They sat like that for a few minutes. A horsefly buzzed around Broom's head but he batted at it and it went away without biting him. Eldridge weighed the Colt in his hand, tipped it back and forth to test the balance. He worked the slide, saw the first oily brass round slip into the chamber. Fat Ed took good care of his guns.
"Get me the lamp, Broom," Eldridge said. Broom sat there.
"I ain' gonna get nothen," Broom said. "You such a big man you go get it."
Eldridge got up, went into the trailer. Fat Ed's gun swung heavy at his side. It was hot in the trailer, hotter than it was outside, and smelled bad. He wondered if the dog had died or something.
The lamp was in the living room and he got it, switched it on. The light was still pale and yellow. He walked outside again, kneeled down to go into the crawl space.
"Why don' you let me go," Broom said. "You been under and it scared you."
Eldridge didn't say anything back to him. He crawled in past the truck differential and the GI Joe. He looked at where the dog was, pointed the gun ahead of him. He wanted to get close so he could make sure to put it away with one shot. He shoved himself forward. The sweat from his palm slicked the wooden grip. He thumbed the hammer of the .45 back.
"Dog," he said. He couldn't figure why he was talking but the sound of his voice made him feel better. "I got to
put you down," he said. The dog stirred in its bed of leaves and he shined the light down there on it.
The dog was off its feet, tried to struggle up but couldn't. It thrashed in the leaves, heaved its weight. It whined. Eldridge pulled himself forward. He sighted down the blued barrel on the dog.
It managed to get on its feet but the hind legs were shaky. The dog wheeled to face Eldridge, showed its teeth at him. A loop of saliva hung from its long snout. It presented its chest like it wasn't afraid, like it wanted the bullet. Most animals could smell guns Eldridge knew.
Eldridge squeezed the trigger. The sound of the gun was deafening in the crawl space. Eldridge knew the shot went wild as soon as he let it go. The empty brass sponged off the bottom of the trailer and puttered across Eldridge's back. It felt warm through his shirt. He brought the pistol down again.
The dog hauled itself forward, scrabbling with its front paws. Its back legs were stiff, trailed out behind it. Through the ringing in his ears Eldridge could hear that it was growling, the same growl that he had heard in his bedroom up above.
He centered the sights of the pistol on the deep chest of the dog. The hair was missing there in whorls and patches; the skin was flaked and sore-looking. There was an old red leather collar around the dog's neck with a metal tag attached. The dog was only about a dozen feet from him.
He fired and the heavy round tore into the dog, ripped out from down around its hip. The slug snapped the dog's head around, knocked it off its feet and back about a yard. The dog raised its snout and tried to howl. It couldn't make anything but a noise like air rushing through a pipe. There was blood on its nose and teeth. It moved its front paws in the dirt, lying on its side.
"Got you," Eldridge said. He moved up to where the dog lay on its side in the dirt, panting like almost any dog might on a hot day trying to pull some cool out of the hot still air. The skinny rib cage went in and out, in and out. The bullet had caved in the chest cavity and the dog was about dead.
Eldridge looked at the dog's eyes and they were flat and lifeless as mud puddles. There was mucus caked in the corners of its eyes and the dog blinked, trying to clear them. It opened its jaws wide and puked blood onto the cool dark floor of the crawl space.
Eldridge held the light close to the dog's head. He looked at the tag on the red leather collar but the metal was tarnished and he couldn't read what was written there. The collar was old and the leather was cracked. While he was trying to make out what was engraved on the collar the dog flopped once. It closed its eyes and he couldn't hear the breath pumping into its shattered lungs anymore.
* * *
Eldridge watched a big black digger beetle, big as the first joint of his thumb, crawl across clumps of rotted leaves and dirt toward the dog. He figured the dog's blood had brought it. The smell of the blood was strong, like sulfur, there under the trailer.
The beetle's shell was shiny and polished-looking, like the finish on a new car. The bug went past the toes of Eldridge's boots and he thought about squashing it. When he pointed the flashlight at it, the beetle hurried in under the dog's body. "Christ Amighty," Eldridge said.
The dog was in a strange position, half on its back, one front leg sticking up in the air. Its thick gray tongue was pushed out of its mouth, looked dry. Eldridge put the pistol on the damp ground next to him. He felt tired.
He clicked the flashlight off. In the dark the dog was just a hump. He closed his eyes. "Didn' have nobody in the world to take up for you, did you," he said. If they left the dog under the trailer, he knew the digger beetles would come and bury it, lots more than just the one he had seen.
He could hear Broom shouting his name out from under the trailer. After a while of shouting he stuck his head into the crawl space. His face was a dark patch, hard to see framed against the bright sunlight. "Yo Eldridge," he shouted. He squinted his eyes but Eldridge figured he couldn't see anything without the hunting lamp. Eldridge liked it that Broom couldn't see him.
"Crazy son bitch," Broom said when
Eldridge didn't answer. He disappeared back outside and Eldridge heard him go into the
trailer. Broom stomped on the floor not far above Eldridge's head. Eldridge closed his
eyes. After a minute, he heard the tv in the living room come on. It sounded like Broom
had turned it up very loud. Eldridge sighed and shook his head, listening to Broom's
footsteps cross and recross the living room of the trailer.
©1987 Pinckney Benedict
"Dog" appears inTown Smokes, published by Ontario Review Press, Princeton, N.J., 1987, ISBN: 0 865 380 589
This electronic publication of "Dog" is published by The Barcelona Review by arrangement with the author and Raymond Smith, editor, Ontario Review Press.
U.K. publication of Town Smokes by Minerva ©1995. Town Smokes has been translated into German and French and will appear in Catalan Dec. 1997.