My brother once told me a story about a broken dog. He swears it’s true. It could be, but it’s probably not.
This is how he tells it, every party and every quiet night we have:
He was walking home from his part-time bartending gig. Why he was walking, who knows. Maybe the bus was late. Maybe he didn’t have enough money for a taxi. Anyway, he started to walk home. That particular night, it was real cold. Big wind chill. Black ice, frozen power lines and sewer pipes, the works. He can barely light his cigarette. Of course he forgets his gloves. That’s my brother for you.
So anyway, he swears he’s getting frostbite and he ducks into a greasy spoon and gets some coffee. It’s three in the morning and he’s drinking stale Folgers and he swears it’s a New York thing. It’s an anywhere thing. We grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania our whole lives and now he thinks he’s Paul Auster or something. So who knows, it could be true.
On his second cup of coffee, he flirts with the waitress. Black hair, big tits, some actress for a soap, he thinks. My brother lies. I mean, he can barely pour beer. She denies his advances, but warns him to be careful and stay warm out there. He’s confused by her caution but pissed off by her tone, so he goes back into the winter, annoyed and head full of dreams. I’ve seen his dreams, plenty of them. They aren’t worth shit.
Anyway, a few blocks later, he hears this sound. He claims he’s heard nothing like it before. Which is a lie. I told you he was a liar. But he lives in New York, he kinda has to, I think. Normally he swears he would walk right past any kind of noise. The city makes all kinds of moans and burps; he tunes them out. But this one didn’t sound good. It’s coming from an alley. No other souls around. He grips the knife he keeps in his jacket and goes towards the sound.
This part, who knows. Could be fiction. Could be something else. Most of our life is fiction anyway. We make up shit so people like us better. It’s survival.
He goes into the alley like he’s some big tough hero. The noise, he claims, is ringing. It has a keen to it. Loud and hard. A high-pitched wail that is so vibrant it’s sticking to everything, even the air. Nothing else is in the night around him is carrying that type of weight, not now, not ever. He’s never heard a thing like this, remember. He makes sure to stress the word “remember.” Even all those dark voices that surround him in the bar, day in and day out. No, he says during every retelling of this. Nothing like this. Believe me, says my brother the liar from the big cold lousy city.
He gets to the source of the noise and the wind is howling. The knife feels rubbery in his clammy hand. The noise is coming from under these ripped garbage bags. He’s worried. Of all damn things, he’s worried. Not scared or nervous or on defense. Worried. What did he think, the love of his life was under there or something? If they were, why would they let him go? Why would he let them go? Don’t interrupt, he said during the first telling of this story. There’s a moral. Don’t blur it, you idiot. Don’t ruin anything for once in your life. I ruin a lot, but not like him. I’ve never met a bartender who can’t tell or listen to anyone’s fucking story.
So he lifts up the bags. It’s a dog. A dog lying there in the dark, trying to sleep, busting up the night with its whispers and shouts. And he’s sad now, not worried, but sad, because of this. But the worst part now isn’t the sound. Because he sees the object in question. It’s the fact that he’s missing his two back legs. A broken dog. Alone here, in this world, missing parts of him.
My brother doesn’t know what to do. He’s stunned, close to tears. Every childhood encounter and dream he’s had of dogs comes flooding back, severing him, cutting up and down and across. His first thought? Call the cops. They’ll call a shelter or a vet or some emergency animal service and get him fixed up. They’ll fix every broken part. His second thought is that he’s afraid someone will pin this on him. He thinks of the waitress he flirted with, of every ghost that floated through his night. Someone would remember him. No one remembers my brother. But he’s staring at this dog. A chocolate lab. Crying. Resounding. Harmonizing and bellowing with the war he’s seen. What kind of fucking asshole, my brother says in tears, does this to something? Who would do this? There’s a new timidity in him I’ve never seen before when he tells this and for one brief second, I have no choice but to respect him. If anything about this whole story, he is wracked with love over this dog. He hurts, bad. He’s enamored and shaking and this poor lab is wailing with big eyes that have no dreams.
I ask now because I have to. What did you do? What did you wind up doing?
My brother, still with the tears, sighs heavily. He has this part rehearsed well. A monologue he hates reciting but feels it has weight that us humans must carry without second thought. He’s a lousy bartender, but he could find work as an actor.
I made him happy, he eventually says.
That’s when my brother takes out his knife and slits the dog’s throat. He doesn’t stay. He doesn’t watch. He gets up and steps over the trash as the wailing fades into blood and frostbite air as his tears freeze to his face. He gets back to the street and fights the cold and misses that diner waitress until he gets home.
There’s silence for a long time. And then someone else or me or whoever is around starts asking a few questions.
What was the dog’s name?
It doesn’t matter, my brother says.
You didn’t want to know?
No, and why the fuck do you? My brother says.
Don’t you ever wonder, though? About the dog, the story behind it? Why was he missing his legs? Why was it there? Why didn’t you stay and talk to that waitress longer? Why didn’t you just ignore the noise if all you wanted to do was go home?
Because it’s a just a story, my brother says. Don’t think it to death. Don’t live by it.
He’s right but he’s wrong. I can’t really say why, but it’s his story, and he tells it the way he wants it. That’s the funny thing about stories – they’re so thin that they may not mean anything at all, after they’re told.
Kevin Richard White is the author of the novels The Face Of A Monster and Patch Of Sunlight through No Frills Buffalo. His work has been previously published by Akashic Books, Sundog Lit, Grub Street, Hypertext, The Hunger, Crack The Spine, Dime Show Review, Lunch Ticket, Digging Through The Fat and Ghost Parachute among others. He lives in Pennsylvania. He tweets @MisterKRW