William Lychack

In my dream of them, I’d give the boys at least one perfect moment with their father. No lessons to impart, no hidden tests, only the advent of dog. Mr. Brownell would set the brake on the truck and shut the engine, telling the boys to stay put. He’d get out of the cab and walk around the front hood, Brownie cranking the window down the rest of the way, Tommy leaning against his brother to see their father stepping through the brush, morning air damp and cool.

She was on the far side of the runoff ditch. Some person had used an old clothesline to tie her to the fence, the dog unable to even sit, head barely able to turn. That crunch of boots on gravel as he got closer, the dog as small and submissive as possible, her ears down, tail between her legs. She would be there, standing as he approached, helpless to stop whatever this man would do to her. She’d cringe and wait to be beaten, nowhere else to go. She’d keep her eyes down, sorry for how filthy, how full of cuts and bugs she was, how much she would cost for them to bring her back to life.

The boys would hear their father talking gentle to the dog. They’d watch the man peel the tape from her mouth. He’d cut her free with a pocket knife, her hind legs so unsteady and shivering she could barely stand, their father’s voice high and gentle, man saying, “Easy, girl.”

Saying, “No one’s going to hurt you.”

The dog would lick his hand, and the boys could hold back for only so long here, their father leading this open wound of fur and eyes and ears and slope of back around to the truck, Brownie and Tommy out to meet them on the road. They’d see every rib, every lump and hollow. They’d see rope burns, grooves in her neck. They’d get water bottles from hockey bags, dog drinking from cupped palms, the callouses on her elbows so raw they’d wince. They could smell her skin and fur all caked and stiff.

Their father would boost the dog up into the bed of the truck and then start them slowly home, mindful of her trying to stand in the back, the road all corrugated, dust blooming up behind them, and the boys glancing to one another (because that is what I would have done). They’d study the side of their father’s face (because that is all I could imagine doing). They might have talked and carried on in ways I’d not be able to imagine (because my own childhood was so invincibly silent compared to theirs). They might have felt no suspense riding home with the dog, assumed their father could make anything work, might have felt in their hearts that she was theirs by now. (Because they seemed to have it all — brother, father, house, cottage — so why shouldn’t they have this dog as well?)

But that was another story.

In the story I wanted to tell for them, they would be making a game plan together, their father coaching them on strategy, what to say when they got home to their mother, how to play the dog to their advantage. They’d coast into the driveway, get out of the truck, go easy on the doors, the three of them tip-toeing into the garage. Their mother would no doubt be waiting for them at the inside doorway, Mrs. Brownell standing with her arms folded, the woman shaking her head no.

She’d say, “Oh, no you don’t.”

Or, “Over my dead body.”

Or something to that effect.

Whatever it was she said would go down in history. She’d be this anvil in their way, woman. Tommy and Brownie would swear to take care of her, to walk her every day, clean up after her in the yard. Their father would suggest they put it in writing. Their mother would shake her head no, no, no. They’d have other phases, but the final push would be the boys bringing the dog forward as meager and small and pathetic as possible, their father describing how she’d been left tied to the fence, her mouth taped shut, rope burns under her legs. He’d reach to smudge the black from the dog’s nose, and the creature would shy away as if to be hit.

“It’s all right, girl,” the man would say, his voice tender with the dog. They’d stare at him as he stroked the dog’s face — soft and quiet — the boy’s father nearly unrecognizable. (A touch too sentimental, but, still, did he ever talk to any of them with such tenderness? Was he always tough on them? Always riding his sons?)

No wonder the dog would seem so much more than just a dog. No wonder she would become this chance to have something more. No wonder they thought of her as lucky, this dog at their legs tentatively happy, guardedly hopeful and scared in the. This dog a kind of glimpse into their family, Mrs. Brownell with her hands on her hips, her saying, “I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?”


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