Dog, fiction by Charles McLeod

When I was twelve my dad stole pay­load from auger mines a coun­ty north of where we lived. Mom had fall­en off a truss bridge drunk the sum­mer pri­or and no thing, small or large, would bring her back. So my dad took to dri­ving, to bat­tle the sad­ness, but gas costs good mon­ey and to sup­port his habit he began filch­ing coal. His main prob­lem was there aren’t many places to sell coal back to, accept for oth­er coal plants. Ear­ly morn­ing he’d wait near the tall link gates of the com­pa­nies he knew of, the back of his pick­up weight­ed down so heavy it looked like it might snap. He was brain-soft from the loss of his wife and best friend, and the fore­men and plant man­agers and rig dri­vers would laugh at him while he stood there, his flask soot-cov­ered and true tar­nished in his flat, big hand.

No one ever bought the coal but his sto­ry got around. We bred hounds to make ends meet and our house was cov­ered in red dirt that their paws tracked in. We spoke of the nor­mal things a father and son can with­out a moth­er to run trans­la­tion. On week­ends Dad would drink heavy and we would line dance in our liv­ing room, a sta­tion from Lex­ing­ton reach­ing our tran­sis­tor. Behind the house the coal pile widened. Dad kept it under a green tarp next to the ken­nel, the plas­tic weighed down with rail pins. The par­ents of a boy from school won small at state lot­to and soon after bought a cable dish for their tele­vi­sion. This fam­i­ly would invite me over and we’d watch, in full col­or, all the things that got beamed in.

The dogs grew and got sold or had new dogs. The first week­end of spring­time the two men broke in. They’d fed the hounds pills past mid­night and returned before dawn and killed them. They explained this to me and my father while they tied us with wire to chairs. I was scared and thought about my moth­er and some of the shows that I’d seen on tele­vi­sion. One of the men took my dad’s socks off and pulled his big toes back and broke them. I knew this was hap­pen­ing on account of the coal, though the men nev­er said so. Out­side the winds snapped the tarp.

When light broke the two men untied me. I don’t remem­ber what either of them looked like, aside that they looked like men. Both of them had guns and chrome on their belt buck­les. The taller man eject­ed the clip on his gun and hand­ed the weapon to me. My father was passed out where he sat.

You’re gonna hit him until he gets awake and then you’re going to hit him back to sleep again, said the man who hand­ed the gun to me. If you don’t, I’ll put the clip back in.

I was bare­foot and could feel the red dirt between my toes. I took the gun by its bar­rel and hit my dad across the face with it. He woke up and tried to move his arms against the wire and almost tipped the chair over. I was cry­ing. I kept hit­ting at him. My eyes were closed and I could hear the met­al on his face and head. He made sounds but nev­er told me to stop what I was doing. I went at it like that until one of the men grabbed my shoul­ders and took back the gun. Their pick­up had a Vir­ginia plate with a “T” and a “2” in it. I told this to police on the phone when they’d gone.

 I live in North Dako­ta now, some miles west of Bis­mar­ck. I nev­er mar­ried and do not want to. A wife will lead to chil­dren, and I've seen what they’re capa­ble of.

Charles McLeod's fic­tion has appeared in pub­li­ca­tions and on sites includ­ing Alas­ka Quar­ter­ly Review, Con­junc­tions, DOSSIER, Five Chap­ters, The Get­tys­burg Review, The Iowa Review, Michi­gan Quar­ter­ly Review, Mid­west­ern Goth­ic, Post Road, the Push­cart Prize series, Third Coast and Salon, and is forth­com­ing in the antholo­gies New Writ­ing from the Mid­west and W.W. Norton's Fakes. His first nov­el, Amer­i­can Weath­er, is out now from Ran­dom House UK/Harvill Seck­er. His first col­lec­tion, Nation­al Trea­sures, is out from Vin­tage UK this August.

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