Good Girl

Posted on: February 13, 2014

We made eye contact through the chainlink fence as soon as I stepped out of the truck. No barking, I thought. That’s a plus. I held her gaze as I slammed the car door, hiked up my pants, and bent down to tie my shoe. Every fine-tuned muscle taut, ears and tail intact, the color of milky coffee. “Good girl,” I said to her.

Before I could knock on the front door of the red-bricked house, it opened. The man standing there was a head shorter than me, as most people are, and his cheeks were rough with red-flecked stubble.

“Heard you pull up,” he said.

I stuck out my hand. “Ben.”

“Curt,” he said, shaking it. “Come on in. She’s outside.” The house was dark, save for the TV flickering a muted football game. “Beer?” he asked, heading for the kitchen.

“Sure, thanks.”

He handed me a bottle, and motioned his toward the back door.

Standing on the deck, I could smell freshly cut grass, but it must’ve been a neighbor’s, since his yard was about as kempt as his facial hair.

“Holly!” he called, crouching down. “C’mere!” The dog came trotting up the steps and sat right in front of him. “Good girl,” he whispered, scratching the top of her head. She squinted her eyes and stretched her neck, tongue lapping at the humid autumn air.

I crouched down and held out my hand. “Holly,” I said. “Hey girl.” Breaking from her trance, she turned to look at me, head tilted to the right. I made kissy noises at her, and she padded over. Curt stood up and watched us, his free hand in his pocket. I glanced up at him and, in the sunshine, realized he couldn’t have been much older than me, but looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks. “She seems like a great dog,” I said.

He nodded, taking a sip of his beer. “The best. Holly—go get your ball.” The dog sprang from the short steps and sprinted toward a tennis ball nestled in the tall grass in the middle of the yard. Taking it in her mouth, she pivoted and ran back toward us, looking for all the world like some kind of Purina commercial. She stopped in front of me, dropping the ball at my feet. I picked it up and threw it as far as I could, marveling at her grace and speed as she launched herself off the deck, into an arc any quarterback would kill for.

“So, uh, have you gotten a lot of response to your ad?” I asked.

Curt shrugged, watching Holly race back up the steps, her sides heaving. She dropped the ball and Curt threw it again. “You’re the only one I’m considering,” he said. “If that’s what you’re wondering. Only one who seemed normal.”

“Oh,” I said, “that’s great!” Suddenly my voice seemed too enthusiastic, too loud, even in the outdoors. “Can I, uh, can I ask why you can’t have her any more?” I mentally patted myself on the back for not saying why you want to get rid of her. He obviously loved her, had obviously taken impeccable care of her for the past three years.

Curt took another sip of beer. After a moment he said, “The wife.”

“Oh. Not a dog person?” I said, trying to get the volume of my voice to match his.

Another sip. He was still watching the dog, who was now running laps around the ramshackle shed in the back corner of the yard. “She died.”

“Oh, shit, man,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

He shrugged again. “It was a couple years ago.”

I managed to keep my next question to myself: Then why are you just now getting rid of your dog?

As though he read my mind, Curt looked at me out of the corner of his eye. “Do you believe in reincarnation?” he asked.

What the— “Uhh,” I said, shrugging. Is there a right answer?

“Sometimes I think Jen’s soul is in that dog,” he said.

Holly had dropped the ball at my feet again, so I threw it, hoping the action exempted me from having to say anything. Didn’t seem right to tell him that in reincarnation, a soul doesn’t enter something already living.

Curt heaved a sigh, and used his forearm to wipe the perspiration from his forehead. Then he turned on the ball of his foot to look at me, making eye contact for the first time since our handshake. “Don’t laugh,” he said.

“I-I wasn’t!” I said. “I won’t!” Was that a reprimand? Or a warning?

He nodded. “Look, I can’t explain it. But a couple weeks ago, I brought a woman home for the first time since Jen died, and Holly—” his voice broke, and he cleared his throat, “—and Holly walked in on us.”

I wanted more than anything to break this eye contact, mostly because I could feel nervous laughter gurgling up into my sinuses, but his eyes weren’t going to let me go.

“I gave Holly to Jen our first Christmas after getting married. Ever since that night a couple weeks ago, she hasn’t made a peep. Just stares at me all the time. I feel like I’m gonna throw up every time I look at her.”

I nodded. “That sucks, man.” I threw the ball again, and noted the feeling that I didn’t want the dog to hear what I was going to say next. “But don’t you think Jen would want you to be happy?”

Curt let out a half-grunt, half-laugh, and turned away from me. He lifted his forearm to his face again, and I suspected he was wiping away more than just perspiration.

“Sorry,” I said. “It’s none of my business.” Holly was now at my feet, panting. “Well, hey, I’ll take really good care of her.”

Curt nodded, staring straight ahead.

“And if you change your mind, or you wanna visit her, just let me know.”

More nodding. Then he turned toward the door, motioning for me to follow him. “Come on. I’ll get her leash and stuff.”

A few minutes later, Holly was leaping into the passenger seat of the truck. I tied up the plastic bag of her accessories and tossed it in the back. I got into the truck and started the engine. Looking up, I saw Curt standing on his front porch, arm raised in farewell. I waved back, but he wasn’t looking at me. Holly was rapt, and as I put the truck in reverse she started to whine. Even as we drove away, she kept her eyes on Curt. And as soon as he was out of sight, she let out one long, bone-chilling howl, and then was silent.

Written by: Melody Rowell
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

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