Nobody’s Dog

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Three boys with little to do, one older, and bigger, down in the innards of a house somebody builds, but not today, shade cool like the big woods, the dog nobody’s got a name for hanging with them, tail wagging when they come near. The faint clean odor of Georgia pine ripped rises everywhere they settle, and move, and settle again. Then one pulls it out, his motion like waving off a fly, their talk pushy, jeering. Then silence, creak of the unfinished rafters naked around them. One will remember the razoring slants light drives down upon them like bright nails, another keeps the dog’s watery gaze that will always seem to him like a hunger nobody ever gets filled, and the third—you see him rise now, the thing in his hand, then kneeling at the last, the stupid grin like the soldier gripping the dirty lance where Jesus is only meat that will shudder and give way. Nobody knew this was about to happen. No one of them waking in the summer smells, being human, uncertain what day would bring would have come imagining this, not down those raw stairs. Better to steal from your mother, better to strike your sister with a nailed limb, better to dive under a half-sunk boat, accidentally raking your head on the keel, barely enough breath to stay alive, and better to keep your mouth shut. Better never to kneel after one of them holds the whining dog, never to look at a boy’s face that looks like a piece of wood bark’s torn away from, and never to remember the easy day ending, the syllables practiced on the walk home, saying them as if into the mother’s ear, you were not anywhere today, not with anybody, there is no story that could be told and now you are hungry. So still in the pine-paneled kitchen, her touch in dog-colored dusk. Her singing. Bacon shriveled.