The dog is not an animist. Nor does he believe in totemic religious systems. Indeed previous to his death he had never thought about himself self-referentially as ‘he’ and ‘me’ and ‘I’. The dog suddenly felt a deep complexity to his persona, he felt self-less about certain principles, like friendship and love, but selfish about certain aspects of those same principles. His previous remit for thought had been ‘hunger’, ‘thirst’ and ‘chase’, all of which engaged him with equally intensity. Who ran over dogs nowadays anyway? With the introduction of ABS and advanced tyre reliability and road surfaces, stopping distances for most modern cars had reduced by 30%. The world had committed a great solecism. Etiquette insured he should have lived to be cataract-clouded and bulging with tumours before he’d died. His owners would have been shaken up but prepared and put him down with dignity, and their names would have been on the waiting list for a pedigree Weinheimer by the end of the month. Just then a grey Manx hopped over a fence behind an adjacent house and sauntered across someone’s front lawn. The dog did not as of yet ‘want’ to be dead, no if he could have he would have ‘chosen’ to be alive. These two new words open up multitudes of potential actions and non-actions for the dog. Like, ‘I want to eat an entire tin of Christmas chocolates left on the lounge table of an empty house’ or ‘I choose not to eat so many chocolates that I feel ill.’
The dog is dead. A boy beats it repeatedly with a whisk, flogging its rump, topside and skull, avoiding the shattered pelvis and out turned legs. The boy may well believe he is the perpetrator of the dog’s murder. He is not. The driver of the vehicle that side-long swiped and killed it is somewhere out in interstate traffic taking a hand’s-free mobile call. Nonetheless the boy relieves his malice the dog’s mangy and blood soaked fur. The whisk does no damage to the dog, its sprung coils descend into the pelt of the animal, and the boy imagines a deep groove being dug, an infliction which exhumes something within him.
The dog watches from a distance. With each downward stroke of the whisk the dog feels more animated, physically inanimate but somehow spiritually, or perhaps paranormally, animated. The dog was not quite dead at the beginning. Perhaps I said this to give you closure right from the off. The dog needs the boy to push him over the precipice of living and out into the rocky haze of death. The dog barks, then growls at the boy, noiselessly from the side lines like an athletic coach egging on a straggling middle-distance runner. The dog’s barks are inaudible, he can hear all other noises around him; wind chimes knocking above the portico of the nearby timber house, the sprinkler spiralling in the back yard, the cats rummaging through burst garbage bags. But his voice is noiseless, like his vocal chords have been tied and cut. The boy has now begun to utilise the handle of the whisk, a more penetrable instrument, finally causing blunt force trauma. The energy flows up through the dog, like coming out of an intense period of sleep-induced pins and needles. The boy gives the dog’s body a final, mortal blow to the base of the spine, digging in the ring handle of the whisk and twisting. As a final rite of passage he squats down, lifts the dog’s pinkish ear flaps and peers inside. Unable to find what he is looking for, (brain-matter? Gold dust? Silly string?) the boy tucks the hair mottled whisk into the back pocket of his jeans and heads towards home. His mother catches him by the steps onto the porch.
‘Jimmy, what in God’s name are you doing with my whisk?’
‘Nothing terrible. Promise.’
‘Why is there… Is that hair?’
‘There’s a dead dog mum. I was doing an autopsy.’ She finally looks over towards the sidewalk where the dog is crumbled up.
‘Oh, Jesus that’s disgusting. Give me my whisk and get inside.’
‘But I want to look at it under my microscope.’
‘You’re not looking at anything under your microscope, go inside and entertain your sister for five minutes.’
‘Is it the Henderson’s dog mum?’
‘I don’t know Jimmy. Just get inside for now please,’ She turned the whisk over in her hand and felt the dusty hairs of the dead dog pass between her fingers, looking over at the mound next to the curb, ‘And don’t take anything from the kitchen again without asking me.’
The dog ran along a marrow-grey pavement, past picket fences and carefully lined up recycling bins. His owners likely lived in one of these houses, but he could not remember which one, he got lost often. They had had a daughter with blonde hair, the dog thought about coming back to help the girl get through the emotional torment of high school and puberty and change. But what did he know about boys or growing up or peer groups?
The fading light stained the trunks of the sycamores and the blanched birches, and their leaves lay under them, malting about the base, curling themselves up like dried out ammonites. The dog thought about how many of his paw prints were residually marked onto the pavement, but could not remember a single instance of having walked here. The names on the letter boxes meant nothing, they were just people in houses cooking pasta, opening fridge doors and turning on local news networks.
The curtains were drawn on each of the timber-framed houses, their scaled facades lent a weathered antiquity by the oils and lacquers used to treat them. The backs of the curtains were all pale cream. The dog noticed how plain they were, when internally the curtains were intricately patterned, isolating the sitter from the outside. The curtains were a form of mirror, closed off for the inhabitants and their choice of interior design. The curtains were closed and the house was secure and could not be breached. The curtains were moats to studied suburban castles.
Each driveway had a station wagon and a saloon. Some had pickups. The station wagons were all shades of mint green, shades of shades, nuanced. All the saloons were shades of grey. The latter would be driven by men who did not care for colour, the former by women who only cared about colour. The men despaired of situations which arose, forcing them to drive the station wagons. The dog didn't greatly favour either vehicle; both had slung him around in their boots like shoes in a tumbler dryer. The dog hated hairpins and chevrons.
As he ran the dog wished desperately that he could eat grass, his stomach yearned for it. He missed vomiting it up, and being told off for eating front yard grass like it was precious, like it had a life of its own and he was being selfish for disturbing it. He swallowed the grass to catch in his throat to bring up the stale tuna he’d eaten from a perforated bag he’d found by the side of the house. That’s why he ate the grass, okay? The dog enjoyed being petulant. The dog said ‘okay’ four more times, inflecting it like a child. ‘Yeah okay, whatever.’ He ‘wanted’ grass, tall blades of verdant succulence to throw back up all over the patio, ‘Okay?’
The dog’s name was Bucky. Maybe he had a surname. The dog now believed himself to be an animist, and would soon take the form of another animal. He prayed to the morphing gods in the clouds to resuscitate him as a Komodo dragon. He slept for a long time in a cobweb infested shed in the back of a garden, huddle beneath two rusted hoes and an unused lawnmower the size of a small tractor that a rich family with land would give a boy on his birthday, with a real diesel engine that the father would know nothing about and never change the oil in and dreamt about being a Komodo dragon.
The dog crossed the street, jumping up the pavement on the opposite side and approached the forecourt of a gas station with a buckled roof. A pick up sat next to a gas pump, a man in blue overalls and a faded Daytona 500 sweater stood pumping gas into the rear of the truck. The truck was red. The dog’s favourite colour was red. The pump attendant was talking to a tall man wearing a red cap and a plaid shirt leaning into the trailer.
‘Bob, I dream of living in a country where I can pump my own gas.’
‘Y’know, New Jersey and Oregon are the only states you can’t do that?’
‘I feel like I haven’t experience something truly important there, Bob. Being at one with the gas in my truck. What would you do if I reached over and took that handle from you and did it myself?’
‘I’d have to kill you. Or report you to the police, depending if I took it as a personal affront.’ The truck driver laughed, but he was miles away. He kept looking back into the trailer for something. ‘Do you miss him?’
‘Bob, I miss him a lot actually.’
‘Damn loyalest thing I’ve ever met.’
‘It’s only been a week. Give it some time.’
‘I’ve thought about getting a Weinheimer already, actually.’
‘It’s all a part of the grieving process Ed.’
The dog sniffed at the parameters of the vehicle while the two men talked, trying to pick up some traces of its past history or usage, but it smelt recently clean, a musk of soap hovered around the tail lights and the bumper. The dog seemed to be losing his sense of smell. He got into the trailer of the truck and curled up. This was not the truck that had killed him.
The dog rode the red pickup all the way out onto the interstate. He enjoyed watching the cars behind take over on either side, and how occasionally they signalled each other with raised hand gestures, thumping their horns and headlights in unison. It was later now, towards seven, and the pickup reached a mini-mall, taking a turnpike into its small car park. The driver alighted under the splayed, yellowed flare of a veterinary surgery. While the driver entered its chrome double doors, taking off his cap as he did so, the dog jumped down and entered an adjacent mini-mart. A small man sat on a high stool at the counter reading a magazine with people’s faces glimmering on the front. The man looked up, towards the door as the dog walked in, but obviously did not see him and went back to his magazine, which he did not seem to be reading so much as gawping at. The dog wandered the aisles looking at the snacks and cold-drinks all piled in together not too neatly, but kind of homely, definitely not a place under stocked. The man played with his nose while reading, dragging it sideways, he had polyps built up in his nostrils which irritated him endlessly, he wanted to just blow them out in one bloody globular mess and be done with it. The man began to masturbate, the store was empty, and he hadn't been reading after all, just looking, there was no one else in the car park.
The dog heard the chrome doors of the veterinary surgery squeezed open against their rubber casements and exited the mini-mart. The driver carried a box, but it was not a dog or cat sized box, it was smaller carrying some kind of weightless, bundled or reduced object. The driver had forgotten his cap; he looked down at the box, which he appeared to find too heavy, not physically because his forearms weren’t tense, just heavy some other way. He walked past the warm fender of the truck and placed the box softly into the passenger’s seat, tapping it lightly and mumbling a sort of reassurance. The dog watched this all from the porch of the store. The dog was dead. Under the halogen of the porch he could see through himself like a hand held over a bulb. He returned to the trailer and curled up.
The truck reversed out of the mini-mall and headed over the turnpike back onto the interstate, falling in behind the city-bound trail of cars, gradually disappearing into the dark blue night. Bucky sat upright noiselessly barking at the static drivers. He felt he had always done this, that this was autonomous practice, like chasing a heavy stick downstream. He felt the warmth of the road rise through the trailer bed. He knew that warmth intimately. And that is how the dog came to ownership.
Matthew Turner is a 23 year old MA Creative Writing student from Birmingham. His interests are predominantly in the New Sincerity movement, and his love of David Foster Wallace is akin only to his love of obscure, midwestern revival Emo, which is fairly exhaustive. His work is reminiscent of Tobias Woolf and DFW, and seeks to evoke heuristic, human troubles in the modern day, twisted invariably with absurdism and hyper-realism. He is currently writing a novel, called 'Planes Mistaken for Stars' set in Chicago detailing a mid-air collision and the lives it affects.