I was drinking beer and washing the dishes that had piled up all week. I figured it would give me something to do to take my mind off of things. There I was, scrubbing and scraping away. I was washing a knife when the blade sliced through the sponge and sank into my finger. It happened just like that and there was a lot of blood. I cursed Mandy then, because it was as if she had slashed me with the knife herself. I wrapped some napkins around it, got another beer out of the fridge and stepped outside the trailer.
Damn, my hand hurt. I strutted around out there in the yard like a rooster, scratching open the earth with the heels of my boots and chugging that beer. I looked down at the napkins and I could see the red spreading through. Just then I heard the door go flying open and slam against the trailer. I looked up and saw that little son of a bitch go flying down the steps and tear across the yard like his ass was on fire. I hollered for him a few times and just figured he’d come back in a bit. What next, I thought.
Back inside I ran my finger under some water and I could see that it needed stitches. I got some Band-aids on it, then wrapped it up tight with some Scotch tape and put on a work glove, although I’m not sure why. I went in the kitchen and grabbed the last beer. I knew I was going to need a lot more before this day was through. I stood there in the kitchen and looked out at the emptiness. She’d taken everything. She even took the rotating fan that I need blowing on me so I can sleep at night. It was just me and Bojangles now and I couldn’t understand why she hadn’t taken him with her. Hell, two weeks ago we were fine. I was going to meetings and coming home to her telling me how proud she was of me. We were back to playing house. But then one night last week after work I ran into this fellow from my group at the Piggly Wiggly and he was buying a case of beer. We saw each other in the aisle and our eyes both said, oh shit. We drank that whole case down at the landing and that was that. Six months for nothing.
I hollered for Bojangles a few more times when I got out to my truck, but he was gone. I was going to have a pity party right then about how everybody wanted to leave me, but I didn’t waste much time on it. I knew I had to go get him. I needed more to drink anyway. I live on a few acres of land at the end of a long gravel drive and I took it slow, leaning out the window, calling his name and whistling for him. I thought maybe he’d gone to find Mandy. I’d tried to find her too, but I hadn’t any luck. I prayed that she hadn’t gone back with her ex-husband toTexas. That’s the only reason I could figure that she didn’t take Bojangles. Ronald the roper wouldn’t care much for a dog with one ear and a heart full of worms. I could picture her asking him if she could take the dog and being told no, and then having this tearful goodbye session with Bojangles in the trailer while her dude rancher waited out in the car. I had to hope that she was around somewhere.
I thought I spotted a dog pissing in the bushes and I slowed down, but then I saw that it was just a deer carcass with a bird dancing around on top of it. I drove on, and I could feel my heartbeat in my finger. I looked out past the oaks that lined the road and out into the fields. I remembered when we got Bojangles from the pound. First thing he did when we got him home was to piss on my work boots. After that he ripped all the tinsel off the Christmas tree and tore into the present I had just wrapped for Mandy. I guess she already knew I’d gotten her some slippers with those fuzzy rabbit heads on them, but she acted surprised anyway. I had a mind to take that mutt on a one-way trip to the woods then, but she loved him. She’d taken him with her the last time she left, but that was only for two nights, and she was only at her cousin’s house, making me sweat. I hoped this time wouldn’t be much longer.
I kept the window down, but sped up a bit. There weren’t a whole hell of a lot of places he could have got off to. I pulled in at Pete’s Palace. Pete had a little sign in the lot with most of the bulbs busted out of it that advertised “the coldest beer in town.” Gayle’s Bait Shop also had a sign that promised the very same thing, and most of the lights on that sign glowed just as bright as they pleased, but they know me down at Gayle’s and Pete doesn’t give me any shit. Plus, he actually keeps his beer in tubs of ice so it really is the coldest, I guess. I walked on in and the bell dinged.
“Hey,” Pete said without looking up. “What you know good?”
“Aww, you know. Same old same old.” I leaned on the counter and watched Pete back there on his stool. He was dabbing paint on a fishing lure with the point of his pocketknife. “Say, Pete. You happen to see my dog running around here this afternoon?”
“I heard a mess of dogs out in the parking lot earlier, but I don’t know if yours was with them or not.” Pete stared down the end of his glasses and kept dabbing at that lure. “What you got one glove on for?”
I told him and then I went back to the tubs to fish out a six-pack of tall boys. I plopped the beer down on the counter, and Pete moved on over to ring me up.
“Hell, he probably just stepped out to get a little tail,” Pete said, stabbing the tabs on that old cash register. “Tell you what. If I see him roaming around here, I’ll keep him here for you.”
I got my beer and headed out. I told Pete over my shoulder that he was a good man no matter what everybody else inLivingstonparish said about him.
The beer was so cold I could hardly taste it. I had the window down and kept calling for him. Mandy’s photo was still taped on my dashboard and I couldn’t help but feel like she was judging me. What did it matter now, I thought. I’d just ride this one out and go to a meeting tomorrow. Start fresh. After a little ways and a few more beers I heard a bunch of hounds crying out. I turned down a gravel drive into a trailer park and parked at the entrance. I put those beers down under the seat and followed the barking down a few sites. I walked up on a little boy with only his underwear on. He was spraying about five beagles with a hose. They were locked up in their pen and they sure didn’t like getting wet. That little kid was just laughing and carrying on.
“Hey, boy,” I said. “Stop spraying those dogs like that.” I peered up in there but I didn’t see Bojangles. That boy just stood there staring at me like I was crazy, letting the hose squirt all onto his bare feet.
“Daddy!” he yelled.
The door to that trailer opened and I’ll be damned if Lonnie LeBlanc didn’t come marching down the steps. We used to work together in high school, shucking oysters at Hardison Seafood.
“Quit your hollering, boy,” he said when he got down next to the kid.
Lonnie didn’t have his shirt on either and I thought he was going to smack that boy, but then he noticed me standing there. “Hey, Henry, where y’at?” He came walking over to me and I shook his hand.
“Damn, Lonnie, what’s it been, six months?” I knew it had been six months because that’s when Drew Farraday busted Lonnie’s head with a shovel down at Harry’s Bar. They carried him out that parking lot on a stretcher and nobody had seen him since.
“Yeah, you right,” he said. “I just been staying at home mostly. I still can’t work.”
I didn’t really want to get into it. “Say, Lonnie, you hadn’t seen my dog running around here?”
“I don’t know your dog,” he said, finishing up his beer and tossing it in the grass.
“He’s about yay high,” I said, and put my hand three feet off the ground. “He’s black, only got one ear.”
“Hell, I ain’t seen nothing like that.”
“Well, thanks anyway.” I turned to walk away and he grabbed me by my elbow.
“Come on in, Henry,” he said, leading me toward his old trailer. “Tina’s up inside making daiquiris. Come get you one.”
I turned him down once and then I let myself get pulled inside. As soon as we got up the cinder block steps and to the door, that boy turned the hose back on those dogs and they all started up again.
That old trailer smelled like rum. Tina was in the little kitchen with the blender going. She was wearing an old Bön Jovi tee-shirt with pink pajama pants. I’d only ever seen her wearing her Piggly Wiggly outfit. She turned around when we came in and acted like I wasn’t even there.
“Baby, make one for Henry, too.” Lonnie plopped down on the couch and moved a pile of clothes for me to sit down. They had curtains over the windows and it looked like some hippy hideout. There was a shelf on the wall over the TV with about six fiber optic flowers in glass cases, all plugged in and glowing. The sound of those hounds outside was getting to me.
Tina walked over and handed us each a coffee mug full of peach daiquiri. “You think you’re Michael Jackson or something?” she said, nodding at my glove. That’s the most I ever heard her say. She went back to the kitchen, poured herself one and sat at the little kitchen nook.
“So, Henry,” Lonnie took a big sip on his drink. “What you been up to lately?” He looked over at Tina and they smiled at each other and I figured they knew about me and Mandy.
I started to tell them that I hadn’t been up to a damn thing, but then Lonnie set his drink down between his feet and grabbed the sides of his head. “Awwww. Shit! Owwww!”
Tina started laughing and Lonnie just rocked from side to side, cradling his big head. He stopped after a minute and picked his drink back up. “Fuckin’ brain freeze,” he said and started laughing.
“I’m just looking for my dog,” I said and looked over at Tina. “You seen any stray dogs roaming around here?”
She just looked at me and shook her head and I heard a toilet flush in the hallway. The door opened and this big fellow came waddling into the room. He walked right past me and sat down in a rocking chair at the end of the couch. The smell trailed right after him.
“Goddamn, Ricky.” Lonnie started swatting at the air in front of his face. “Can’t you shut the fucking door if you gonna do that?”
Ricky just looked over at me with a big grin on his face and didn’t say anything. He was wearing a yellow tank top with the words, “Slick Rick” written on it in magic marker. Tina got up and went to the bathroom door to shut it. She came back into the room with some Lysol and started spraying it onto Ricky. Lonnie was laughing and so was Tina, and that man just sat there with a grin on his face and let himself be sprayed. I could taste disinfectant in the back of my throat.
“This is my brother, Ricky,” said Lonnie. “Ricky, Henry.”
I nodded at him, but he just sat there, grinning. Tina brought him a mug. That drink was strong, nothing but pure rum, I guessed, and a little bit of canned peach.
Ricky reached down by the side of the couch and grabbed a big purple bong. He lit up and started sucking on it. Tina walked back into the room and poured the rest of the daiquiri from the blender into Lonnie’s mug. She set the blender down on the coffee table and sat down on the other side of Lonnie. Ricky started coughing like he was going to die, and then he nudged me on the arm and passed that thing to me. I handed it over to Lonnie, but he pushed it back over.
“C’mon, Henry. Get you some.”
I took a little puff and it burned me down deep inside. When I blew out the smoke I saw that it was a little more than I bargained for. I started coughing and then I handed it on down. The dogs were howling still.
“Baby, tell T to knock that shit off,” Lonnie said, his voice strained through a lungful of smoke.
Tina was twirling her hair. “I will not,” she said. “You know he loves playing with those dogs.”
Lonnie exhaled a huge cloud of blue smoke that spread to every corner of the room. “I guess at least I know where he is.”
After a little while I found myself staring at one of those flowers on the mantel. I thought about my old trailer without Mandy in it. Even after a whole week I thought I could still smell her perfume in there. I felt bad for Bojangles. Did she leave him behind because he reminded her of me? The pot was making my head swim and I could hear everybody around me laughing. I remember what Mandy told me about attracting lower company.
I looked over and Tina was counting down from ten, looking back and forth between Lonnie and her watch. Lonnie and his brother were both leaning forward, clutching their coffee mugs and watching Tina with big, dumb grins on their faces. I gathered that they were going to see who could down a whole mug full of daiquiri first. She finished counting and when Lonnie swung his mug up to his face I heard a dull “clunk” sound.
Lonnie screamed, “Oww, fuck!” He had his hand on his mouth and I could see blood on his fingers. The edge of his coffee mug was chipped off and he let it fall to the carpet. Ricky started laughing and then Lonnie joined in. He lifted up his lip and pushed out his front tooth with his tongue. It lifted up just like a trap door opening. He grabbed onto the loose tooth and then plucked it out. “Goddamn, you see that?” he said, laughing. “That shit hurts.”
Tina ran over to the kitchen and grabbed a roll of paper towels. I stood up and moved over to the door. I needed to go get my dog.
“C’mon,” said Lonnie through bloody teeth. “Don’t go yet.”
“I got to go get my dog, Lonnie.” I watched Lonnie hand his tooth to his brother, who started examining it with his lighter. “Y’all take it easy.”
When I got outside, I shut off the hose and that boy stood there and watched me walk back to my truck.
I was feeling a little paranoid driving away from there. I got off the highway and did my daily drive-by down Carter’s Lane. Mandy’s cousins lived down that road, and if she was still around, then that’s where she’d be. I saw a couple of her cousin’s kids standing in a little plastic blue pool, naked as jay birds, splashing water on each other, but no sign of Mandy. I stepped on the gas so nobody would see me, and circled around to get back on the main road. I pulled out the beer and set it on the passenger seat. It was starting to go down good again, and I figured I should drop by Uncle Lee’s house. He’s good company, and lives in a house that he built right onLakeMaurepas. During better times, me and Mandy would take Bojangles out there for the day.
Uncle Lee was sitting on his swing just like I figured he would be. It sat at the end of his huge back yard facing the lake. He was holding a slingshot and watching some ducks messing around in the water. He looked up and called me over. I sat down next to him and asked him how he was doing.
“Smells like you done missed the wagon,” he said. “Might as well,” he nodded his big head toward the ground. There was a big tin tub at his feet full of iced-down wine coolers. I grabbed a blue one.
“What the hell you doing with a slingshot, Uncle Lee?”
“What the hell you doing with one glove on?”
I asked him about the slingshot again.
“I’m protecting the chastity of these lovely bitch ducks,” he said, drawing on his wine cooler. His hair was long and silver, stained a little yellow from fifty years of smoking. He was wearing the same blue overalls that he always wore. I think he put them on the day he retired from the plant, and never took them off again.
I drank my drink and watched the ducks.
“You know anything about duck sex?” he said.
I told him that I was out of the loop.
“Well, ducks don’t tend to make love,” he said, pulling his pack of Lark’s from his pocket and shaking a couple out. He lit them both in his cupped hand and gave me one. “The bull duck doesn’t believe in it. No Sir. He’ll just sweep on in from the pretty blue sky and fuck her silly. He’ll push her down and just go at it, and then up and fly away. Attack and release. You ever seen it?”
“But the bitch duck is smart, see. She’s got a series of canals inside of her poontang, and she can open and close them like valves. So if some goofy ass retard duck rapes her, she can pinch off those valves so his jism doesn’t get to where it needs to go. And if she wants to have some ducklings with a particular stud, well, then she’ll pinch them valves the right way so that his mess gets to her honey pot.”
“So how do you know which ducks are the ones that she wants to have babies with or not?”
“I don’t,” he said, scratching his head. “But they’re all rapists.”
I didn’t ask Uncle Lee how he knew so much about duck sex. I asked him if he’d seen Bojangles and reached down and grabbed another blue drink.
“He ain’t come around here yet. Don’t tell me you missing that dog.”
I told him briefly what was what and I was aware that I had to work for some of my words.
Uncle Lee stabbed me with his icy green eyes for a second and then trained them back on the water. “Boy, why don’t you kick them boots off and stay here for the night. Your old dog ain’t worth a shit.”
“It ain’t my dog,” I told him.
“I went up to Gayle’s the other day to get some crickets and I saw some cowboy buying her some scratch-offs.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. Three ducks came swooping down and went skipping across the water until they glided to a stop near the others.
Uncle Lee reached into his pocket and came out with a little round lead ball and slowly fitted it into the pouch of the slingshot, carefully slipping his arm through the brace to grip the handle. “You got to get your head on right, Henry,” he said, pinching the ball in place and pulling those rubber straps back just a bit.
The sun was getting lower on the water, and it wouldn’t be long before it started going pink. I watched some moss dance in the breeze over the water and slugged the rest of my drink.
“Look it,” said Uncle Lee.
One of the new ducks was ruffling his feathers and circling around a female, croaking and carrying on.
I stood up.
“You stay here tonight,” he said. “You can drink all you want.”
“I’m just going to the bathroom,” I said, and started walking toward his big house.
“You gonna want to see this,” he called after me, but I walked into his front door and slipped out the back.
I pulled into the Piggly Wiggly and parked facingMain Streetso I could see down the road in either direction. I saw Sheriff Thibodeaux resting on his cruiser and flirting with the cheerleaders at Frost Top, but I was seeing two of him. I needed to sit still for a bit. I put the radio on and Buck Owens was singing about having a tiger by the tail. I thought that I didn’t have shit by the tail. I hoped Bojangles was okay. I hoped he hadn’t gotten in another fight and had his other ear ripped off. I opened another beer and watched the folks streaming out of the store in my side mirror. After a while I saw Mandy’s cousin come out. I leaned back low so she wouldn’t see me and watched her. She was in a hell of a hurry and her arms were full of groceries. When she got close to my truck I saw her look up and we made eye contact in the mirror. I got out then because I saw her turning around.
“Hey, Claudia,” I said, jogging up to her. “Let me give you a hand.”
“I don’t need no help,” she said, tucking the bags up against her like it was a baby she was trying to protect.
I moved in again to help her out, but she turned away and when she did, a big case of diapers fell on the concrete.
“Dammit, Henry! Look what you done made me do.”
She leaned down to scoop up the diapers, setting down her grocery bag to do so. I could see a box of Q‑tips and some Little Debbie’s sticking out of the bag. I just stood there looking down at her and then I noticed that I still had a beer in my hand.
“Where’s Mandy?” I said.
“Why should I tell you?” She got the diapers positioned on top of the grocery bag and then she stood up.
“Because,” I said. “I need to know.”
Claudia stood there looking at me like I was something foul behind the bars at the zoo. I saw her look at the beer in my hand.
“Where is she?”
“She ain’t available so you might as well just go to Harry’s and find you a girl that deserves you.”
“She left some of her momma’s stuff behind, some rings and pictures.” I saw her look at me and I knew she didn’t believe me. I could tell that she knew much more than I ever would. “Just tell me so I can mail it all to her.”
“Goodbye, Henry.” She walked on past me to her old broken down piece of shit.
“At least tell me who she went off with,” I hollered after her. “Was it that shit kicker?”
I watched her put the bags in the back seat and then stop and look at me before she got in. “If you come by my house ever again, I’ll have you arrested.”
I watched her get in and drive off and I threw my beer at the car. It banked off the fender, but I figured I was the only one who even saw or heard it.
I got back in the truck then and looked around on the seat for another beer, but I couldn’t find any. I popped the seat up and just about crawled up under there, but there was nothing left. I got back behind the wheel and slapped myself in the face. I was going to need some more beer. I started to get out of the truck, but Sheriff Thibodeaux’s cruiser pulled into the lot and parked right in front of me. I looked ahead and saw him looking back at me through his windshield, and I thought, here we go again. He got out and came on over.
“You all right, Henry?” he said, leaning into my window.
“I’ve been better, Charlie.”
“You think you ought to be drivin’ around town right now, Henry?”
“I’m looking for my dog. You seen him, Charlie?”
“No,” he said, leaning down to get a better view of the inside of my cab. “I ain’t seen your dog.”
I knew that I wasn’t giving him a whole lot of options and so I just let him have it. I told him about Mandy being gone and that I needed to find our dog. He asked me why I was only wearing one glove and I told him that, too. He nodded along while I began to convince myself that I would find Bojangles and the three of us would have a tearful reunion when she came rolling up tomorrow. He just looked in on me and I could tell by his eyes that he knew something, too. Jesus, I thought. Everybody knows the score but me. “I got to find that dog,” I said.
“Look, Henry,” he said, standing back up and looking around the lot. “I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll go get you some coffee from inside, and I want you to sit here and wait this one out, okay?” He leaned back on the door of the truck and waited for me.
“Yeah. Okay, Charlie. Thanks.”
As soon as he got in the store, I cranked my truck up and kicked it in reverse, slamming hard into a parked Suburban. I turned around and saw that the truck I had hit had a horse trailer hooked up to it and people in the parking lot were looking at me. I didn’t wait around. I hauled ass forward and clipped the front of the Sheriff’s cruiser. When that happened, one last golden can shot out from under the seat and I reached down and clutched that thing like a trophy.
I coasted down that long gravel drive and flipped my brights on. As I turned into my dirt turnoff, the headlights swept across the yard and caught old Bojangles sitting on the concrete steps leading up to my front door. His eyes were twinkling back at me like two blurry blue stars. I cut the engine and sat there, watching him in the headlights. I wondered where he’d been. I figured he was hungry and I tried to remember if I had anything in the fridge. She’d really left him high and dry. Looking at him looking back at me, I could see he really needed me. I was all he had in this world. I couldn’t stand to look at his disfigured, stretched-out shadow on my front door and so I shut off the headlights. I pulled her picture off the dash and threw it down to the floorboard. That’s when I heard a car turn off the highway and start creeping up toward my place. I got out of the truck then, and went and sat down next to Bojangles on the steps. I pulled him to me and held him against my chest, and we sat there together, listening to the sound of crickets, and those tires coming.