by Chris Deal
The summer after Magos’ last day as a teacher, she went with their daughter Lorona to a flea market two counties over, leaving James to his own devices for the morning. She came back while he was eating a sandwich, twenty years together and still unable to make a decent quesadilla. He heard the door open, then a strange sound, something like when Lorona was a toddler, a patter on the wood floors, sharper though, like nails hitting the floor. Magos came into the kitchen and following her was a puppy, a golden retriever. As soon as the dog saw James, it pissed all over the floor. Magos had named him Pinto, after one she had as a little girl. James called it that damn dog. He’d have never told Magos, but he was jealous of the dog, the way she fawned over it like it was another kid. Thirty years they’d been married, the two of them working, raising their young, they had hardly anytime together, just the two of them, and now she had that damn dog. He could tell, though, a look in her eyes when she watched that damn dog, she loved it like a baby. He never said anything to her about it.
Pinto got over his pissing by the end of the summer. When Magos was home, the damn dog wouldn't leave her side. She even let the dog sleep in their bed at night. That dog, though, it wouldn’t come near James. First year they had it, winter on through to the next summer, it wanted nothing to do with him, and the feeling was mutual. Then, though, there was the week that Magos went to visit her family down in Mexico. She couldn’t take Pinto with her, and James knew her sister was never a fan of him. Magos left her men for a week.
The house was tense the first day. That damn dog sat on the couch, right where always Magos sat, whining and whining, making the weirdest damn noises. James was damn tempted to make the dog sleep outside that night, but it was too cold, and James wasn’t that mean. He let the dog jump up on the bed after the news at ten. Magos’ side was cool and empty, and when he woke in the morning, the dog was curled up beside him with its head on his stomach. He pet the dog and went to make his breakfast. He never liked how Magos would feed the damn dog from her own plate, but he slipped the animal a piece of bacon. It wagged its tail and gave James a lick on his hand. Once Magos got home, he kept on pretending, kept on calling Pinto that damn dog, but she knew. That dog would run around chasing it’s toys, barking at everything, but James didn’t complain like he first did.
Ten years after Magos retired, there was a day early in the summer, and that dog didn’t run around like he used too. He just sat there on the bed, hardly moving, breathing softly, but it sounded hoarse. The dog had never pissed in the house since that first summer, but when the dog wet the bed, they knew it was bad.
James picked the dog up and was shocked at how light it was, like a hollow husk. The vet said there was nothing he could do. The dog needed to be put down.
They didn’t want to do it there. James insisted it be done in his own home, where the dog felt safe. The vet gave them a number, and they called it when they got home. An hour later a van pulled up in their driveway. A young woman got out. She was quiet, nicer than she needed to be.
Pinto was lying in the floor where he had been since they got home. The afternoon sun was flooding in through the window, like a warm fog, hitting the dust just right. The dog watched them like it knew what was happening. His eyes weren’t as bright as they used to be. Magos hugged the dog, tears streaming from her eyes like James had never seen. With every labored breath of the dog, his heart rang with a pain he hadn’t had before. He gave Pinto a pat on the head. The woman hooked up a tube to a vein on the dog’s paw.
“Are you ready?” she asked. They weren’t, but they nodded.
Pinto closed his eyes. His breath got slower, softer, then he wasn’t breathing at all.
“I’ll be outside,” the woman said.
“You damn dog,” James said, as he hugged Pinto for the first time.
Chris Deal has published several poems and short stories around the internet, most recently Leviathan in Troubadour 21 and a poem in Red Fez. He also regularly writes about literature at Creative Loafing.
He has several stories and poems coming out in the months to come, and will be publishing a collection of micro-stories through Brown Paper Publishing in early 2010.
You can find him online at http://cdeal.blogspot.com/.
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