Horace Moncrief had mown clear up one end of his yard and down the other and was ready to go after the patch on the side when he saw the dog get hit by the car. Old blue dog, one he'd seen before, and a gold four-door, which he hadn't. The dog whirled like a helicopter, completing a few axels, before landing on its back, where it then somersaulted into the deep ditch at the front of his lawn. The four-door bothered only to tap its brake lights after doing its damage, then tapped them no more before speeding into yonder.
Horace thought more than twice about chasing after it, perhaps to give the driver a what-for or a lesson in courtesy, one. Instead, he shut off his mower and walked the length of his yard to see about the pup.
He found him in the ditch, still alive. Smiling, his buddy down at the domino parlor would say. Old Roland said a dog with that kind of face was smiling, and Horace would tell him no, the dog was breathing way too hard to have a smile on his face. That particular discussion between he and Old Roland could last an hour, maybe more. But Roland weren't around and Horace didn't reckon the dog had an hour to sort things out. Horace spit sideways to the ground and called to it.
"You reckon to come out of that hole, pooch?"
It said nothing. Rather, it sat on its haunches and looked up out of the hole, waiting for rescue or the punch line to what had to be a shit joke, but a joke it was and, much to its dismay, it appeared to be played on him. To the dog, nothing appeared to be the matter. It was a normal day there, along the meanest stretch of road Lufkin had to offer.
Standing there, Horace wondered what in shit he was supposed to do.
As if to offer a suggestion, along came a screeching mess of wheels and machinery and Horace figured it was to happen all over again, perhaps he would be joining the dog down in the hole. He looked up in time to see a car that, were it not for the tires and carrying-on by the driver, he'd have never heard coming. It was a car designed to save the earth and had the poor puppy been hit by it instead of the four-door, he'd probably walk himself out of the ditch, had he ever landed there to begin with.
This car jerked to a stop in the middle of the two lane and the door burst open and out came a spindly fellow, waving his arms and moaning for all the world to come or end, one. Horace took a step back and readied himself, should he have to fight his way out of this, whatever this was.
"Oh dear, oh dear," said the man. He howled as if it had been he hit by the car. He ran from his vehicle to the ditch, arms like a windmill. He minded not Horace but instead dropped to his knees at the ditch and let fly a horrendous wail. "This poor dog! This poor, poor dog! What are we to do?"
"This your dog?" asked Horace.
"I've never seen him before in my life!" The man gripped the sides of his head and could very well have pulled out his hair in tufts. "Oh, why? Why? Why is this happening?"
And another mess of screeching wheels and horns a-honking and Horace looked up to see other motorists, stopping just in time to keep from hitting the parked car. They backed up behind it and waved fingers and fists at Horace, as if he had a damn thing to do with anything.
"You might want to move your car out of the street," said Horace.
"But the dog!"
"I'm not sure, but I reckon he'll wait for ye."
"I've no time to bother with it. We have to rescue this dog!"
One car aimed to make his way round the do-gooder's abandoned vehicle, but another coming from the opposite direction whipped by so fast there weren't nothing but a passing horn and a series of profanities to mark the moment. The next did the same and finally that driver figured he'd do better to offer dirty gestures toward Horace and his newfound friend.
Corn Hill Road was a cruel mistress.
"You weren't the one hit this dog, was ye?"
The man looked as if he might cry. "Heavens, no," said he. "I would never-- That's absurd." He held out his hand. "My name's Bob. I'm a professor at the university."
Horace said he was pleased to meet him. He may have made some apology for the circumstances, as he was prone to do. He looked down to the dog and wished he'd something to tend after. The dog moved nary an inch. Horace reckoned it to be his back legs hurt, more than likely broken. Still, he'd kept his head together and for that, Horace thought him quite valiant and worthy of more than Bob's sobbing and carrying on. "You got your phone on you?"
"Yes, yes I do. Whom should we call?"
The line of cars backed up behind Bob's little car honked and beeped. More than a few of them shouted from their rolled-down windows.
"Why don't you call the Sheriff and I'll get your car out of the road?" Horace held out his hand. "Pass me your keys."
"They're in the car. It's still running."
It didn't sound to be running but Horace reckoned he was far from knowing the full extent of the situation. He jogged across the single lane and climbed into Bob's car. Inside, it could have been a spaceship. He reckoned the steering wheel and gear shifter and gas pedal couldn't be too far different from something he recognized and he maneuvered the car to the roadside opposite his house with little incident. He slipped her into Park.
By now, Bob was waving his arms and hopping up and down. He seemed to be trying to get Horace's attention. Horace figured the drivers to be steamed enough about being kept waiting, and let them pass before trying to cross Corn Hill Road. He'd learned his lesson via the dog, sure enough. All the while, Bob carried on as if being chased by a swarm of hornets. Soon as everyone'd gotten through, Horace made his way across the street.
"We can't call the police," said Bob.
"Someone's got to see to that pup," said Horace.
"I understand," said Bob, "but what will they do to him?"
Horace shrugged his shoulders.
"My point exactly," reasoned Bob. "The barbarians will euthanize him and I won't stand for it. No, the only hope this dog has is with us and I refuse to let him down."
Bob started down into the hole. The dog continued smiling, or what looked like smiling, as Bob came nearer.
"What do you aim to do down that hole?"
"We have to help him," said Bob. "After all, it's not his fault. It's the cursed system. It's the world we live in. It's the status quo of our society that stands unchallenged. Something so innocuous as a dog crossing the street results in a tragic loss of life. There should be stop signs. The speed limit should be lowered. The monster driving the vehicle should be made to stop. They didn't stop. What do you think they were doing? Texting? Applying makeup? This has to end."
"It's human nature," said Horace, who felt he had little to say any longer to begin with.
"Human nature is a misnomer," said Bob. "It's actually human condition. To say any human has a nature is to deny him free will. To lump him in with the rest of the animal kingdom."
"We should call the Sheriff," said Horace.
Bob shook his head and stepped further into the hole. "Don't be ridiculous. The Sheriff is part of the whole system. The Sheriff will have a series of rules and regulations that will only result in the destruction of this poor animal and--"
Bob had reached out to grab the puppy by the collar. The puppy didn't approve one bit. His nature or his condition, one, kicked in and, in a flash of teeth and fur, he reacted. Horace had heard the phrase "pull back a nub" and, in fact, had used it a time or two, mostly in an instance where he felt he must defend a plate of chicken fried steak or french fries from some curious interloper. But to say pull back a nub in this situation would infer some immediacy or even elegance and there along the ditch on Corn Mill Road with Bob and the poor maligned pooch, he felt it horribly misused.
The dog held on tight as Bob yowled and screamed. Bob did what he could, tugging and pulling and nearly yanking the dog -- bum legs and all -- out of the hole and nearly up the side of the ditch. There was a ferocity that frankly, Horace felt hadn't been there previous, neither to the dog nor Bob but there were both of them, growling and whimpering and wishing they had never met the other and suddenly Horace heard what sounded like leather ripping and Bob was up out of the hole and relieved of the weight of two of his digits.
And now Bob didn't care so much for dogs. He hated their barking, he hated them in restaurants, he hated the SPCA for keeping them alive when the world was already overpopulated with them and all their various breeds and colors. Bob couldn't stand for them at all and now fancied himself a cat man, and told Horace so in eloquent detail at multiple levels of volume. Nowhere near the front of Bob's brain was his injury, not until he could adequately voice his new stance on current issues, most of which involved the dog in the hole.
"I reckon I should now call the Sheriff," said Horace. He flipped open Bob's phone and dialed 911. Phyllis at the switchboard answered and Horace gave her the quick version of events.
"Why did he go down the hole?" she asked him. "You're supposed to leave a hurt dog alone. It's in their nature to defend themselves."
Horace made to tell her it was actually their condition, but thought better of it and instead repeated that he should talk to the Sheriff. He looked over at Bob who kept his bloody hand by his side as if it were a source of shame.
"Tell Kent he better send a paramedic too," he said and hung up the phone.
Around about this time, Horace noticed a little station wagon driving slow. A little boy in the passenger seat, about eight to ten years old, looking out the window with eyes peeled. Fingers against the glass. Come to think of it, hadn't he seen that same car only a minute or two ago? Horace removed his hat and swatted something imaginary upon his thigh.
"Oh, hell," he muttered. He lifted his hand in a half-wave and the car stopped. Out came the mother from the driver's side. She was harried as all get-out and shuffled across the lawn and Horace made tracks to meet her far as possible from the ditch.
"Have you seen an old blue dog?" she called. She wore a robe, slippers. Hair up in curlers. She'd been doing her thing when the boy came crying about his dog being gone, Horace reckoned. She spoke with her arms, much like Bob. She spoke like folks who'd lived here a spell, much like Horace.
"Ma'am, I don't want to have to be the one to tell you this, but--"
Horace didn't get much more out of his mouth, because along came Bob, bloody stumps and all, waving his hands and calling folks obscene names. With his bad hand, he pointed this way and that and raised all sorts of hell on account of his day was good and ruined for no other reason than his being some sort of Samaritan. He swore up and down one side of the yard then the other and promised hellfire, retribution and damnation, but the second he mentioned his lawyer, Horace thought he'd taken it far enough and told him to hush up.
"Someone has to pay," sniffled poor Bob.
About this time, the boy jumps out of the car and across two lanes of perilous traffic, rushed to the hole where he saw his dog and erupted into tears. Horace raced after him, screaming to steer clear of it, but couldn't get there near close enough and down went the boy, holding the dog by its neck and hugging him for dear life. The boy collapsed into sobbing fits and stroked the pup this way and that. The dog, in the meantime, panted on. Things carried on about as such until the Sheriff showed up and, after him, the ambulance.
"Dog looks fine," said the Sheriff. "You sure it got hit?"
"Oh, I'm sure," said Horace. "Saw it myself. Wish I could unsee it, to be honest."
"Looks to be just fine," repeated the Sheriff.
"It's like he's smiling, ain't it?" asked Horace.
"Dogs can't smile, you idiot," said Bob. "You're projecting. They can't smile, since they don't have a soul."
"I'll run you in you keep up that kind of talk," said the Sheriff. "You want to spend the night in jail?"
Bob muttered something or another under his breath, most of it about how no, he didn't want to spend the night in jail and Sheriff chalked it all up to shock or something like it. He ordered the boys from the hospital to take Bob over to the wagon to clean up his wound. Everyone else stood around, wondering how they were going to get the dog and the boy out of the hole.
"Why'd that man go down into the hole?" asked the Sheriff. "Didn't he know better?"
"Why'd you let your dog out?" the mother called down into the hole after the little boy. "Couldn't you have kept better eyes on him?"
"Why didn't that car stop?" asked one of the boys from the hospital. He asked it of anyone and no one in particular. "What kind of animal does that?"
Horace looked at his side yard and remarked to himself that he didn't figure it would mow itself and wondered how long it would be before he could tend after it again. From the ambulance, he could hear Bob carrying on with all levels of hate and pity. Horace wondered if he'd resign from his teaching job, as no amount of human condition could probably restore his faith in humanity.
Sheriff had just finished telling the others about a buddy of his who operated a crane being used over at the construction of the new supermarket. About how maybe they could get him over to help get the boy and his dog out of the hole. Then out came the boy, holding the dog nearly twice his size with its legs hanging useless, paws dragging a scar through the Johnson grass.
"Can we please take my dog to the hospital?" asked the boy.
The Sheriff tousled the boy's head and said yes, yes they could, and led them both to his patrol car. Mother closed her robe and gathered herself best she could and followed after them. No one seemed to concern themselves with Horace or his yard any longer, seemed fine to shuffle away and leave him be all over again.
No sooner had everyone climbed into a vehicle than did the boy step out of the Sheriff's Crown Vic and run to the ambulance. Bob was out of the ambulance by now, miserable and forlorn. The boy held out his hand.
"Here you go," he said. In his little hand was Bob's own two fingers. "Thank you for saving my dog."
And the boy was off, bounding back to the squad car, where they hit the sirens and sped away down Corn Hill Road.
Bob looked to Horace.
"What do you intend to do about all this?" demanded Bob.
Horace shrugged. "It ain't in my nature to do much," he said.
"Condition," said Bob. "It isn't in your condition."
"I reckon you and me see things different," said Horace.
Horace shook his head and reckoned he didn't care much for all that unto others bullshit. He didn't care for it and figured it nothing but a crock and he was dead tired of hearing and thinking about it. No, in the long run, condition or nature, his stomach could ever only settle after he'd done what he could and, standing there in his own front yard, he could do very little.
So he finger-waved goodbye to Bob and the boys from the hospital and climbed into his own truck, for Lufkin ain't that big a town and he reckoned he could find a gold four-door parked outside of somewhere or another and then and only then would he see what hand God had in any of it.
Eryk Pruitt is a screenwriter, author and filmmaker living in Durham, NC with his wife Lana and his cat Busey; his work can be found at www.erykpruitt.com
The Parable of the Butterfly
She fell into my lap and inconsolably flopped around. Poor little thing mistook the morning sun for a daffodil and burned her tongue.
Perhaps she needed a drink. Innocently I picked her up, held her gentle to the dew. No. Her tongue remained a frazzled ribbon.
When the magic fairy dust rubs off a butterfly’s wings, the little creature dies.
I buried her and wept, my fingers covered in yellow powder.
The grass stains remained on my jeans for years like stale guilt.
When my time comes, I’ll die during a storm as neither sinner nor hero, but healer for the living and keeper for the dead.
Megan D. Henson is a graduate student of English at Northern Kentucky University. Her poetry has been published in many art galleries including Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Cincinnati. She lives in Ohio with her husband.
Her hands are wrinkled and an oily chestnut color. Her lipstick is red, eyes dark and sparkling with the light of the Cherokee ancestors she always bragged had mixed with her own African bloodlines. She sits straight in the chair and even though she is seated, her bony hips, and the hollows beside them, are visible through the red velvet dress. She is staring out the window of her brown apartment, the portrait of composure, when her caretaker enters.
This is glamour.
Gone are the smoky stages, the rich white men braving ridicule and buying a colored girl a drink after she sings her last song. Gone is the band, Sam thumping along on his bass, leading the rest of the boys like the great Charles Mingus while she sings. She used to imagine that her crooning, soulful words turned into smoke and filled the room after they left her mouth. She met him once: Mingus. Her band opened for his in San Francisco and after she came offstage Mingus wrapped his thick fingers around her whole hand. She felt his callouses, hard like a turtle’s shell, formed over a lifetime of taming his giant bass, and he said, “I dig the way you move with the music. It’s how breathing should look.” Mingus was a big man and that night he had gotten angry with his trumpeter. Charles brought the song to a clattering halt to scream at the boy, but when he had held her hand and spoken to her all she could think was that he had the deepest eyes she had ever seen, like the lives of a thousand people had played out in their depths. She tells that story often, to anyone who will listen, usually while smoking a cigarette. She’s not supposed to smoke anymore but her government-provided caretaker has long since given up reminding her of this.
She lights a Virginia Slim.
You’ve come a long way, baby.
A long way from South Carolina and Ella Fitzgerald on the radio. A long way from the school she never finished. A long way from borrowing dresses from her friend’s sisters when she wanted to go to a school dance. The red velvet gown is hers. She can still wear it. That is her pride. She tells the caretaker every day, “I wore this onstage the day I met Charles Mingus. Did I ever tell you about the time I met Charles?” Her chest is bony and the dress sags where she had once filled it. She puts it on in the afternoon, sometimes later if the caretaker has taken the threadbare and faded garment to the dry-cleaner’s to remove the worst of the cigarette ash. Her hair, still mostly black even at the age of seventy-nine, is beginning to fall out, turning the part that runs down the center of her scalp into a widening furrow. The caretaker tells her to eat but she spurns Jell-O, declaring that “Man isn’t meant to eat anything that moves like that.” Her voice croaks and sometimes cracks underneath the weight of words. When this happens it sounds like someone crushing glass under a heavy piece of cloth. Her chestnut skin has begun to take on a dusty quality. She only accepts one meal a day, try as her caretaker might to make her eat, and she picks at what she does receive.
This is the price of beauty.
Sometimes it feels like the dress is crushing her. This happens when she thinks of the free drinks; of slow fingers sliding down her spine to the small of her back, fingers that sometimes still held a wedding a ring. The man would smile. He would always be handsome in her memories, clean-shaven, with brown hair. He would brave it all, losing his family, his friends, his life for one night with her. That’s why he kept the wedding ring on, to show her what he was risking by sliding his hand over the soft velvet and wrapping his fingers around her hip. Sometimes he was a promoter, helping her book the band. Sometimes he was a man who’d taken to the bar after a fight with his wife. Sometimes he owned the club. He was always handsome, and the weight of him crushes her now.
This is beauty’s reward.
She grips the dress in tiny fists, the fabric stretching across her thighs. She has forgotten about the cigarette butt and it smolders on the floor of her room. She doesn’t remember when the caretaker left. She sits in front of the window in her red dress, her bony chest heaving, expanding ribs stretching papery skin, and the dress is crushing the life out of her.
Hunter Markham's work has also appeared in Calliope and he hopes you keep your eyes peeled for the day his name appears on the cover of a novel.
Gracey Flynn calls herself “an up and coming poet with a compassionate view of the world.”