Cartin's Brick, fiction by Jarrid Deaton

My daugh­ter, Laney, she got preg­nant not long after her six­teenth birth­day.  Me and Nora were dis­ap­point­ed, sure, but we didn’t come  down on her with lec­tures or anger. We just told her that we’d help out as much as need­ed, but she had a whole new world of respon­si­bil­i­ties get­ting ready to crack open on her way before she was old enough.  Cartin’s father bolt­ed a week before Laney went into labor.  The first two years he mailed Christ­mas cards with fifty bucks in them, but then he was all the way gone.  Cartin was born pre­ma­ture, all shriv­eled and tiny.  He made it through the close calls with beep­ing machines send­ing  nurs­es back and forth at all hours of the day.  We thought Laney would do okay when we first saw her with him.  That didn’t last long at all.

By the time he turned one, Cartin was, for the most part, Nora's and mine.  We allowed for it because Laney made promis­es to go to the local com­mu­ni­ty col­lege and get a part-time job.  She kept her word on the job, hold­ing down a wait­ress­ing gig at Reno’s Road­house.  Some nights she wouldn’t come by to pick Cartin up.  Some nights she  would come by to get him stag­ger­ing drunk with some guy I nev­er got to see close up at the wheel of a truck that, by the sound of it, didn’t have a muf­fler.  If Cartin was sleep­ing,  the roar of truck would send him bawl­ing loud and red-faced out of what­ev­er dream he was caught in and it would take half an hour to calm him down.

Laney even­tu­al­ly stopped com­ing to get Cartin alto­geth­er.  It wor­ried me and  Nora, but we were more than hap­py to

have him around.  I’d watch him play in the back­yard and smile when I’d catch him star­ing up at the hills behind the house.  I knew he prob­a­bly heard a squir­rel head­ing for one of the tall trees, or maybe a rab­bit get­ting brave and mak­ing its way clos­er to the yard.

Papaw,” he said to me one day.  “What’s alive up there?”

Just about every­thing, bud­dy,” I told him.

The sum­mer he turned ten, I start­ed let­ting him wan­der around up in the hills.  I always  kept a close eye on him.  I’d been all over the area look­ing for mush­rooms and gin­seng, so I knew it was safe.  He’d spend an hour at a time roam­ing around before he’d make his way back to the house, dirty with scrapes from bri­ars up and down his arms and burrs stick­ing all over his back and in his wild brown hair.

The next spring, I took out a loan and built us a new house the land where my father used to have a farm.  It gave Nora plen­ty of room to plant her lit­tle gar­den and I’d always want­ed more dirt to call my own.  It was mine after my father died, but it didn’t feel like it belonged to me until I had a house on it.  We deed­ed the old house over to Laney and her live-in boyfriend, Amos, that I’d only met twice.  Nora told me he had a  good job with the rail­road, but, since Laney always bor­rowed mon­ey off of us, I doubt it was that good.

Not long after we moved in the new house, Amos drove over with a dog box in the back of his truck.  I walked out to see what was going on.  Amos went around to the back.

Come on over here, Olin,” he said.  “Look what I picked up for Cartin.  Got him a pal to play with.”

Amos let the truck gate down and opened the dog box.  A big mutt slinked out and took a ner­vous jump to the ground.  It looked like a cross between a col­lie and a hunt­ing dog.  It sniffed at the ground and made a few cir­cles around the truck.

Name’s Win­ston,” Amos said.  “Got him from a guy in Lex­ing­ton pret­ty cheap, all things con­sid­ered.  Promised to do a lit­tle roof­ing work for him, but I don’t plan on it.”

Amos laughed and squat­ted down to pet the dog.  It took a cou­ple of steps back and stared at him.

Hell with you, then,” Amos said.  “Tell Cartin me and his mama will come back over this week­end and see how him and Winston’s get­ting along.  We got some busi­ness to attend to down around Frank­fort tomor­row.  Take it easy, old man.”

They always had some kind of busi­ness to take care of in Frank­fort.  I nev­er nosed around enough to find out what it was, but I can imag­ine it would have pissed me off enough to have whipped Amos’ ass, so I just let it go.  I didn’t want to strain things between Laney and us any­more than she already had.

It was three days lat­er when I drove up the dusty one-lane road lead­ing to my house and saw Cartin with a wash rag held against his nose as he walked fast in the oppo­site direction.

"Cartin, what are you doing?" I asked. "Where's your grandma?"

"Damn dog bit me so I killed it," he said.  "I was look­ing for you.  I ain't sor­ry.  It bit me."

The dog wasn't dead, but it was hurt.  Cartin had cracked its head with one of the bricks  lay­ing in the yard, left over from the expan­sion of the house.

I looked at his nose, the bridge cov­ered in dried blood.  The dog had closed its jaws right between Cartin's eyes.

"I just tried to pet him," he said.  "He growled and I tried to back up but he jumped on me."

"It's okay," I said.  "Go in the house and get your grand­ma.  You need to head down to the clin­ic and get that looked at.

When Nora left with Cartin, I went inside at took my .38 from the top shelf of the clos­et.  I walked back out­side and found the dog hunched up against the back of the garage. One eye was closed and it growled at me and bared its fangs.

"Win­ston," I said.  "Laney. Amos."

I pulled the trig­ger and turned the crack made by Cartin's brick into a cave of blood, hair  and bone.  The dog was in the ground before he got back from the clinic.

Jar­rid Deaton lives in east­ern Ken­tucky. He received his MFA in writ­ing from Spald­ing Uni­ver­si­ty. His work has appeared in Under­ground Voic­es, Thieves Jar­gon, Pear Noir, decomP, Zygote in My Cof­fee, and elsewhere.
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