Wheeling the tiny Hillman sedan into the Rowe Junior High parking lot, twenty year old Eric Carus pulled into his customary parking space. He shut off the engine and began his routine surveillance of the house across Lake Road. The second house up the hill on 37th Avenue. The top, upper-left window of the house. The white curtain in the window. The curtain opened and closed three times. That was Evie’s signal that she saw him. Eric knew she would be down in a few minutes.
As he waited, Eric stared at the stately Neville grounds. He had never been welcome there. He did not know why. For, without knowing anything about him, Evie’s parents seemed to greatly disapprove of her relationship with Eric. He recalled the bizarre conversation he recently had with Evie’s drunken father in the garage of the Neville household.
Herbert Neville sat in a worn lawn chair next to his makeshift bar, holding a tumbler of scotch. Three ice cubes clinked in the glass as the slender old man eyed the wary Eric. He offered Eric a drink, which the boy declined. Unfolding a second lawn chair, he bid with his hand for Eric to sit.
“So, young Eric. Young strapping Eric,” Mister Neville waxed. “The young suitor for my daughter’s hand. Eve has told me a great deal about you.” Eric sincerely doubted the veracity of the statement. He knew that at seventeen, Evie rarely told her parents anything. And when she did, it was usually what they wanted to hear. Whatever she had told him was prevarication.
Eric started to speak, but he was cut off.
“Now Mister Carus, perhaps you’ll enlighten me. Just exactly what are your intentions with my daughter?”
Wide-eyed, Eric felt trapped. “Well Mister Neville. I like Eve a lot. We’ve been going out for a year now.” Neville’s eyes narrowed at information that did not seem to jibe with what he thought he knew. Eric saw this and panicked. “We’ve been seeing each other about a year,” he corrected. “And I really like her a lot. I think she’s real special.”
Crankily, Mister Neville interrupted. “That’s all well and good young man, but what are your intentions? Is it your intention to marry my daughter?”
Startled by the question, Eric searched for a satisfactory response. He had enough trouble getting Evie to commit to far more mundane things. Marriage had never once entered the picture.
“Mister Neville, I think we’re a long way from…”
“Excuse me sir. I only meant that…”
“Shallow thinking,” came the curt response. “A future must be planned or else it falls upon you.”
“But Mister Neville, I think you’re…”
“Young man, don’t put words in my mouth. I can see what you have in mind young Eric. Young strapping Eric,” Neville sneered with a hatred that frightened Eric. “What you have in mind is to consume all the fruit, without giving a thought to the cultivation of the tree. Marriage is a responsibility. It’s the responsibility one takes to provide for next year’s fruit, while harvesting from the tree today.”
“Mister Neville, I…”
“How old are you Mister Carus?”
“I just turned twenty in March. But I think you,,,”
“Twenty years old and got the world by the tail eh? You’re going to show an old man a thing or two are you? Well all your mighty dreams are dust in the wind young man. Dust in the wind.” Mister Neville tossed back his drink, refilling the empty glass. “You think it will always be like this, don’t you. Well I can tell you….”
“Herbert!” a voice screamed from inside the house. The screaming seemed familiar to Eric.
Mister Neville rolled his eyes, snorting drunkenly. “Jesus,” he muttered. “There she goes again.” He wobbled to his feet and shuffled unevenly across the garage to the entryway door. “What is it Bea?” He shouted through the door.
“Who are you talking to out there?” The woman’s voice frantically demanded.
“I’m talking to Eve’s young beau.”
“What?” The voice screamed in surprise.
“I said,” Mister Neville barked, starting to turn the knob. The door swung open dramatically. “I said,” Mister Neville groused more quietly, “I’m talking to Eve’s young beau.”
Eric could see Evie’s mother standing in the doorway. He had seen her once before and had heard her voice in the background during his phone conversations with Evie— screaming at her to get off the phone.
The woman peered around her husband, peeking at Eric with a fearsome expression on her face. “What are you talking about?”
Mister Neville patted her on the shoulder. “I’m ascertaining his intentions for Eve.”
“Because she seems to like the young man.” Bea slammed the door.
Mister Neville breathed heavily through his nose, as his slippers slid across the garage floor. He returned to his lawn chair, grabbing the tumbler and swallowing half its contents. With his left hand he flicked open the door to a small refrigerator. Wrestling two ice cubes from a tray, he dropped them into his glass, He replaced the tray in the refrigerator, letting the door fall shut. Refilling his glass, he took another gulp.
“Now lemme askya this young man.” Neville sat up in his chair and drunkenly stared Eric in the eye. “Are you a bow-himyan?”
“Am I a what?” Eric hated questions that could not be answered.
“Are you a bow-himyan? A ne’er do well?” Mister Neville wagged his head sardonically. “A rebel? A misfit?”
Eric thought about the question for a moment, finally replying. “No sir Mister Neville. I’m not a bohemian. And even if I was, I wouldn’t tell you.”
Inexplicably, Neville laughed uncontrollably at Eric’s riposte. Eric did not know why. He was only being honest. Neville stood up and shook Eric’s hand, showing him to the door outside. It was the only conversation Eric ever had with the man.
Eric sat in the Hillman, staring at the garage where the dialogue had transpired but a few brief weeks before. He pondered the meaning and outcome of the conversation— but his mind reeled at the incongruities.
Then Evie appeared in the doorway of the Neville residence. He could see her tall, lithe body, dressed in black skirt and black leotard; her long, flowing blond hair wisping in the breeze. His breath caught in his throat as he watched her walk slowly and confidently down the hill of 37th Avenue. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
Eric could not understand what Evie saw in him. She could have anyone she wanted. And they both knew she could do better than Eric. That was what
he had wanted to explain to Mister Neville that day in the garage. Sure, he would marry Evie in a heartbeat. But that idea was an impossibility. She would never have it. If Mister Neville had ever truly spoken to his daughter, he would have known that. And the summit in the garage would never have taken place.
Starting the engine, Eric steered the Hillman back out of the parking lot and onto Lake Road, where Evie stood waiting for him. She hopped in the car, kissing him lightly on the cheek as he pulled away from the shoulder of the road.
“How’d it go?” Eric asked, familiar with the subterfuge required for Evie to get out of her house.
“I told them I was going over to Kay Simpson’s house to work on cheerleading routines. And that Kay and Me and Becky and Teri were going out for a pizza afterwards. Did you get it?”
“Did I get it?” Eric momentarily lost the thread of the conversation, as he drove toward Milwaukie with no destination in mind. “Did I get it…” he repeated.
“You know! It! Did you get it?”
Finally, he remembered the theme of that particular evening’s activities. Eric and Evie had discussed marijuana on several occasions, admitting to each other their eagerness to experiment with it. However, Evie was unable to procure pot, given her high visibility in the Milwaukie High School social scene. It fell to Eric to secure the mysterious substance. His connections at college were somewhat more encouraging. It so happened that his roommate had recently acquired an ounce of hashish, supplying Eric with a couple of grams for the occasion.
“Well?” Evie asked impatiently.
“Uh yeah,” Eric replied, clearing his thoughts. “Yeah I did. Or something like it.”
“What do you mean?” Evie nervously tapped her foot on the floor of the car. “It’s not like that fake herbal stuff is it?”
“No. Oh no.” Eric reassured. “This stuff is called hash. It’s like compressed concentrated pot. It comes from Morocco. It’s supposed to be pretty strong.”
“What’s it look like?” Her curiosity piqued, Evie slid over closer to Eric in the front seat of the car.
Reaching into his coat pocket, Eric fished out the two tiny foil-wrapped wedges, dropping them into Evie’s outstretched hand.
“Why is it silver? I thought marijuana was green?”
“That’s foil Evie. It’s wrapped in foil.”
She unfolded the corners of one of the foil parcels, gazing intently at the brick red chunk of hash. Sniffing it deeply, she giggled. “Oo-oo it smells like Morocco. How do you smoke it?”
“You smoke it in a pipe,” Eric answered authoritatively, though he knew only what his roommate had told him. He pulled from his coat pocket, the miniature corn cob pipe that Michael, his roommate had given him.
“Oh Eric, this is exciting. Where should we go to smoke it?”
Eric had concerned himself with procuring the illegal substance. He had given absolutely no thought to the sequence of events that would transpire upon its appropriation. “Gee,” he admitted sheepishly. “I don’t know.”
The two of them spent the next hour driving around Milwaukie, discovering and rejecting possible sites where they might consume the hashish. No matter how remote the setting, one or both of them felt conspicuous. They finally settled upon parking in front of an anonymous house in a residential cul-de-sac, where the overtly cautious Eric and Evie felt confident that the police would never look for drug abusers.
Unknowledgeable regarding the ministrations of such things, Eric unwrapped one of the grams of hash, crumbling the entire slab into the pipe. Apprehensively, he flicked his lighter, torching the mass of it, flagrantly puffing and sucking. He held the expansive smoke in his lungs as he passed the pipe and lighter to Evie.
“How is it?” Evie asked Eric, whose face was turning red, cheeks billowing. She relit the pipeload, sucking a slow, protracted chest full of smoke.
Eric exploded, coughing and gagging, snatching the pipe from Evie’s hands. “I don’t know,” he choked. “It’s pretty harsh. I can’t tell anything yet.”
He puffed the pipe again as the hash profusely burned. Evie began coughing uncontrollably, as Eric handed the pipe back to her.
After they had smoked the first gram, Eric and Evie looked at each other uncertainly.
“Can you tell anything?” Evie asked.
“I’m not sure,” Eric replied. “Let’s smoke the other one.” The two of them exhausted the hash supply quickly, whereuponwhich they looked at each other quizzically, shrugging simultaneously.
“I don’t think it worked,” Evie complained. “I think I’m just high from coughing.”
“I’m not sure either,” Eric concurred. “This is the first time I’ve ever smoked anything. I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen.”
“Well I don’t think anything happened. Are you sure that stuff wasn’t fake?”
“Yeah Evie, I’m sure. Michael smokes the stuff all the time. He gave me some of what he had. He said it was the best.”
“Well I don’t feel anything,” she said bitchily. “Let’s go somewhere. Let’s go to the park. I want to go for a walk.”
Eric started the engine, driving the Hillman a short distance to Westmoreland Park. Night was falling and the park was deserted. Evie and Eric jumped out of the car and began walking toward the pond at the far end of the park.
Circling the pond, they compared their observations and sensations, attempting to determine if they indeed were stoned. They could hear the eerie rustle of ducks and geese on the darkened pond, could hear the gentle lapping of tiny ripples upon the water’s edge. Rounding the willow treed perimeter of the pond, they began heading back toward the car.
About halfway Eric became frighteningly aware of a brilliant object in the evening sky. “Evie!” he exclaimed, pointing to the sky. “What is that thing? It’s too big to be a plane. Is it a UFO?”
Fearful, Evie gasped. “No. I don’t think so. Maybe it’s the lights over the baseball field.”
Eric gazed down toward Skavone Field at the other end of the park. He could see that there was no baseball game and that the field lights were not on. The great light was higher in the sky than that. It did not move, but hovered above the park: a gleaming white hole in the black sky. Eric and Evie moved toward the baseball field, staring intently at the light.
Suddenly, Eric shouted. “Evie! I know what it is. You won’t believe it. You won’t believe it!”
“Well tell me Eric! I’m scared! What is it?”
“It’s the moon.”
The couple stopped walking as they reached the parking area and peered up at the bright full moon in the sky. They began laughing hysterically. Laughing at the moon, at their folly. Laughing at their laughter. Nothing had ever been so funny. Eric and Evie quieted for a moment, panting in paroxysms, before erupting again into gales of laughter.
As if on some cue for the absurd, a cat wandered up to the pair. Eric expertly made odd cat noises, attracting the feline to his feet. The cat nuzzled against Eric’s shins, purring loudly. Eric picked up the cat, cradling it like a football under his right arm as he and Evie continued to walk.
“Oh Eric,” Evie moaned, “I think we’re stoned. I still wasn’t sure. But it did seem odd that we would be unable to identify the moon.”
“I think you’re right Evie,” Eric whispered sarcastically. “I’ve always been able to identify it before.”
They continued wandering aimlessly around the park, Eric clasping a cat at his side.
“Eric,” Evie stopped walking and looked up into Eric’s eyes as she softly stroked the cat. “Eric I’m really hungry all of a sudden. Let’s go get a pizza.”
The cat began squirming and struggling in Eric’s grasp. He gently placed the cat on the ground, smiling back at Evie. “Yeah, now that you mention it, I could go for a pizza or two myself.”
They turned, meandering back toward the car. As they approached the Hillman, Eric fished in his pants pocket for the keys. But there was something different about the interior of the pocket. Something alien: soft, damp and warm, with the consistency of tapioca pudding.
Alarmed, Eric withdrew his hand; instantly aware of a big problem. For, from the odor that sprang from his hand, it was obvious that the cat had somehow managed to shit in Eric’s pants pocket. Evie screamed in horror.
Eric wiped his hand vigorously on the park grass, then rubbed dusty parking lot gravel through his fingers— doing the same thing with the car keys. Having done the best he could, under the conditions, Eric determined that he needed to clean up more completely, before discussing any further plans for the evening.
“Evie,” Eric whined, “I’ve gotta rinse out my pocket. There’s a Shell station just around the corner on Tacoma and McLaughlin. Let’s go over there, so I can wash my hands.”
“No problem Eric. I don’t want to ride with you more than a few blocks, smelling like that, anyway.” Evie laughed.
Eric hurriedly drove the Hillman to the gas station. Leaving Evie behind in the car, he immediately ran to the station office, in order to obtain the key to the restroom door. The two station attendants laughed at him as he sprinted from the office to the men’s rest room.
Locking the rest room door, Eric carefully pulled his pants down below his hips. From the inside of his pants, he pushed the pocket out into the wash basin. He twisted on both the hot and cold water spigots, splashing streams of water onto the inside-out pocket. Continuing that procedure for quite some time, he would occasionally pound out a palm full of Borax from the dispenser and scrub it into the water-soaked cloth.
Finishing up, Eric daubed at his pocket with paper towels, then dried it beneath the blower of the hand-dryer. He pushed the damp pocket back into his pants and returned to the wash basin, where he proceeded to wash his car keys and, last of all, his hands.
Feeling refreshed, Eric unlocked the rest room door. Stepping into the warm fragrant air of an early May evening, he moved toward the Hillman, parked askance in the Shell station parking lot. But as he passed the passenger side of the car, he noticed Evie had disappeared. He squinted into the small sedan, thinking that perhaps she had curled up to sleep in the backseat, as he had seen her do before. But she was not there. Eric trotted over to the women’s rest room. Tapping lightly on the door, he called to her.
“Evie? Evie are you in there?” He placed his ear close to the door, but he could hear no sound. Knocking a little louder, he called again “Evie! Are you in there?” No response. He tried the door knob. It was locked.
Eric went back to the car, sitting in the driver’s seat, trying to remember the sequence of events that had led him to the Shell station parking lot. It almost seemed like a dream. He was sure of nothing, except that his damp pocket was stuck to his thigh.
After about ten minutes, Eric returned to the women’s rest room, smartly rapping on the door. “Evie! What’re you doing? Evie answer me! Are you in there?” It was as if the restroom were empty. Futilely, he tried the door knob. It was locked.
Concerned, Eric strode dejectedly toward the Hillman. As he opened the driver’s side door, he noticed the station attendants. They were standing in the office staring at him suspiciously. Suddenly, a chill ran down Eric’s spine. Had Evie really been with him on the excursion, or was he tripping out?
In his mind, he deliberately reviewed the course of the evening—Rowe park window curtain Evie drive park smoke drive park Park pond geese Moon. Cat walk pizza shit gravel pocket station park wash. Evie. Eric was reasonably certain that Evie had accompanied him on his adventure. But if that were true, he wondered, then where was she?
His anxiety continued to mount by the moment. Eric was worried that the attendants were preparing to call the police. He became convinced that he was in error; that, whatever the illusion he was under, Evie had not been with him. He started the car. As he began to back away, Evie appeared in the rest room doorway. He stopped the car and she got in.
“Eric! Were you going to leave me here?” Evie asked, disbelievingly.
“Evie! I knocked on the door and called you repeatedly. Didn’t you hear me? I thought I’d flipped out and that you weren’t even here.”
“I was brushing my hair. When I looked in the mirror, it seemed like I was brushing taffy in slow motion. It kinda like hypnotized me.”
They drove off toward the pizza parlor. Eric and Evie were quiet, still in a daze from their first drug experience. As Eric hazily negotiated McLaughlin Boulevard, Evie gazed at Eric— glassy-eyed, smiling.
“Eric?” She cooed in a manner familiar to the young man. He knew the sound of her voice when it was about to make a request of him. He blinked at her sideways. “Eric,” she continued, “Eric when can we get some more of that stuff?”
As according to the plan they had formulated the night before at the pizza parlor, Eric pulled into the Rowe Junior High School parking lot at eleven o’clock the following morning. It was a Saturday and a little league baseball team was practicing on the baseball field that separated the school from Lake Road.
Eric parked the Hillman in the special space that signified to Evie his arrival. As he watched the team of eight year olds scrimmaging on the diamond to his right, Eric tried to recollect the circumstances surrounding the evening before. Vaguely he recalled each of the episodes, with a bemused expression on his face.
He did not know what Evie had planned for the day to come. He knew only that they were to meet at the accustomed spot at eleven. As he watched the gaggle of young boys sprinting chaotically in all directions on the field, Eric kept his attention trained to the top, upper-left window of the second house up the hill on 37th Avenue.
The white curtain in the window opened and closed, quickly, three times. And the all too familiar deception was engaged. As she emerged from the house, Eric could see Evie’s elegantly statuesque form moving rhythmically down the hill; a black, ruffled cotton skirt playing at her black booted ankles, a tight, black leotard clinging to her small, perfect breasts.
The climbing sun was shining in the cloudless sky. It cast random, bright glinting streaks of golden light in her fine blond hair. As she walked, happy strands flailed and splayed in the breeze. Eric sighed. Evie Neville was the most beautiful girl in the world.
He was resigned to the fact that she had him wrapped around her finger. As he started the car, he could feel the compulsion of her nearness surging in his temples like hot smoke. He could think of nothing else but her presence. Her proximity, like some mysterious narcotic, was a thing his blood craved.
Eric eased the tiny Hillman onto the shoulder of Lake Road, opening the passenger door for Evie as she approached.
“Hi,” she smiled.
“Hi. How’d it go with Herb and Bea last night?”
“Oh fine,” Evie said, slamming the car door. “They hardly screamed at all. I guess Teri called for me while we were out. My mom told her that she was supposed to be going out for pizza with me and Kay and Becky. I called her this morning, and she said she said she drove to every pizza parlor in town looking for us.” Evie laughed with a slight streak of cruelty that Eric subconsciously sensed as an ominous peculiarity. Some deep part of him clearly understood that Evie was just as capable of being that cold toward him. He shivered to himself, aiming the car in the direction of downtown Milwaukie.
Evie seemed unusually quiet. Eric drove in silence, unsure of their destination, humming tunelesslyÑ out of nervousness. Evie gazed out the window, staring blindly at the passing scenery. They drove through Milwaukie, merging onto McLaughlin Boulevard, heading in the direction of Portland.
Eric was intoxicated by the breathtaking young woman riding beside him. Evie was absorbed in the machinations of a scheme that was to unravel soon enough. Eric felt himself in no hurry to alter the mood. He aimed the car north, keeping silent.
As they passed Westmoreland Park, the scene of the previous nights demented debauch, Evie broke free of her trance. She turned her head toward Eric, an odd expression on her face. “Eric,” she whispered conspiratorially, “I need a dog.”
Her piercing blue eyes pleaded at him. He diverted his attention to her eyes. One of her exquisite eyebrows was arched high in expectation. A wry grin graced her lips. His glance moved between her eyes and mouth, trying to read her intention.
“A dog… A dog? You need a dog?” Eric ran the concept through his consciousness, fruitlessly attempting to assess the consequences such action would surely incur. He wrestled the Hillman down McLaughlin, wrestling with the portent that was usually generated by Evie’s abstract whims. “A dog,” he repeated, trying out the picture in his mind. “A dog…”
“Yes I need a dog Eric. And we’re going to get one today.”
“We are?” Eric was instantly wary of Evie when she exhibited such determination. Correct or not, it was his observation that Evie’s parents generally held him responsible for anything that she was able to persuade him to do for her. “Okay,” Eric said nervously. “Okay. We can get you a dog, I guess. What kind of a dog do you want?”
Thoughtfully, Evie scrutinized the ceiling of the Hillman. Eric anticipated that Evie would be enamored of a graceful, long-haired dog: an afghan or a collie— a dog whose appearance would somehow compliment her own. By reason of that assumption, he felt that the prohibitive cost of such an animal would eventually derail her plans. He sat up in his seat, slightly more comfortable, believing the proposition to be untenable.
“A Ferlin Husky,” Evie blurted. “I want to get a Ferlin Husky.”
“A Ferlin Husky,” she snidely replied.
“A Ferlin Husky… Evie, do you know what a Ferlin Husky is?”
“Doesn’t it pull sleds?” She asked innocently.
“No,” Eric chuckled. “You see Ferlin Husky is an obscure country singer from the fifties. Where did you get that from? A Ferlin Husky.” Shaking his head, he began to laugh out loud.
Embarrassed by Eric’s laughter, Evie’s mouth turned down, tightening around her teeth. Peeved. Sensing her anger, Eric elected to maneuver the conversation in a more positive direction. “You’re probably thinking of a malamute or a Siberian husky. A sled dog.” Evie nodded silently, still perturbed. “That’s funny,” Eric sniffed. “I kinda pegged you as the afghan type. You’d look good walking downtown with an afghan on a leash.” Eric directed the Hillman steadily up McLaughlin, as the road merged into Grand Avenue.
“I thought of an afghan too.” Evie smiled faintly, momentarily picturing in her vanity’s eye the perfection of such a scene. She snapped free of her reverie, intoning pragmatically— “But I have to be realistic. Afghans cost a lot of money. I want a cheap dog. Like a Ferlin Husky.”
“Siberian Husky.” Eric corrected.
“That’s it,” Evie confirmed.
“Well maybe we should think about it Evie, you know, check the papers, check around, before we jump into this.”
“We can go to the pound and look around for a F-f…” she caught herself. “For a husky. It’ll be fun. What say chum?” She feigned the cockney accent that she felt most frequently convinced Eric to do her bidding. “It’ll be luverly.”
Eric was still unsure. “Yeah I guess so. I don’t know where the pound is.”
“I checked the phone book. They’re on North Columbia Boulevard. Not far from Portland Meadows. It’s the Humane Society. They open at noon on Saturdays. We’re right on schedule.”
A shadow of a concern that he was being used crossed his thoughts, but Eric was far too consumed by desire for Evie to ever question her motivation. Still, he felt a sense of trepidation regarding his contribution to the young woman’s delinquency. He felt obligated to fully explore her commitment to the endeavor.
“Why do you want a dog anyway, Evie? A dog is a lot of responsibility. You have to feed them and wash them, clean up after them. Make sure they get enough exercise. And that they don’t get lost or hit by a car.”
Evie was unswayed by the deft pressure of Eric’s logic. She had an agenda and she aimed to fulfill it. “I need a dog Eric. I need one today, to protect me. I’m frightened.”
“Protect you?” Eric questioned incredulously. “Protect you from what. What are you frightened of?”
“I’ve been getting obscene phone calls lately.” She started grinning.
“I made those,” Eric smiled, raising his eyebrows. “You told me to.”
“Well then, I need a dog to protect me from you!” She laughed.
Eric sensed the pure, infallible ratiocination of her feminine rationale— conceding to himself that they were going to the pound. His objections had been negated, with or without the benefit of reason. Directing the Hillman past the Lloyd Center, they headed north on Martin Luther King Boulevard.
They had just proceeded through the intersection at Fremont Avenue, past a line of vacant lots, when Evie screamed.
“Eric! Stop the car!”
Without hesitating, Eric pulled to the car to the curb. “What is it?” he asked in alarm.
“Back up,” Evie directed. He slowly backed the car up about twenty feet as she craned her head out the window. “Stop!” she commanded. Eric brought the Hillman to an abrupt halt. She sprung from the car to the sidewalk, where a cat lay. Eric cautiously followed behind.
“What’s wrong with it?” He inquired as she stooped down next to it.
Evie stroked the cat once, wincing instinctively. “I think it’s dead Eric.”
Kneeling down next to Evie, Eric examined the motionless cat. There were no outward signs of traumatic injury. Rather, the cat merely appeared to be sleeping soundly on the sidewalk. “Dead? Evie are you sure?”
“Well,” Evie snarled acerbically, “It’s not breathing. It’s cold and it’s stiff. I’m pretty sure it’s dead Eric.” Tears were filling her eyes.
“Let’s go then,” he sighed. “There’s nothing we can do for it now.”
“You mean,” she cried, horrified. “You just want to leave it here?”
Perplexed by her outburst, Eric replied. “Well yeah, Evie. Everyone else has.”
“Well I’m not everyone else!” Indignant, she tilted her head, snorting defiantly as her jaw jutted in determination.
“Then what should we do with it?” Eric acquiesced, puzzled.
Evie compassionately looked down at the dead cat. “We should bury it,” she solemnly murmured. “But not here. We should bury it in a place that it would like if it was alive. I know a place! There’s a good field right by my house. That one by the Tastee Freeze.”
“But Evie,” Eric protested. “That’s miles from here. How do you propose that we transport it?”
“I propose,” she made fun of the words, “that we transport it in the trunk of your car.”
Eric was horrified. “Evie, it’s a dead cat. It’s not healthy. It’ll stink up the trunk. I’ll never get the smell out of there.”
“Okay fine.” Agitated, she scooped up the rigid carcass, pacing stoically toward a clearing in the vacant lot. Falling to her knees, she placed the cat down and began frantically to scratch in the dirt.
“What are you doing?” Eric called as he walked toward her. “You’re going to get all dirty,”
“I’m burying the cat,” she sneered. “What’s it look like?” She continued to claw at the hard surface of the ground, etching narrow furrows with her fingers.
Appalled, Eric moaned. “C’mon Evie. Cut it out. You’ll never dig a grave that way.”
She searched around for a stick or other implement she could fashion into a makeshift shovel, muttering. “If you won’t help me I’ll do it myself. Now get out of my way.” She pushed at him, angrily, crawling around on her knees in the weeds and tall grass.
“I’ll help you,” Eric relented. “What do you want me to do?”
“You could help me put the cat in the trunk,” Evie groused. “Then we could bury it in a nice place where it could be happy forever. And the flies won’t get it.”
Eric’s train of thought was briefly derailed by her introduction of the image of flies into the picture. Prior to that moment, he had been entirely successful in thinking of the cat as an inanimate object— as if they were discussing the burial of a cherished toy. He frowned in disgust. Flies.
Seeing that she had made an impression upon his psyche, Evie persisted. “We can put it in the trunk on this.” As if on command, she summoned from the brush a flattened card board box. “We can put it on this piece of cardboard here.” She stood up triumphantly. “So we don’t get your trunk dirty,” she muttered, with a strange inflection comprised of spite and hopefulness.
Realizing that his position in the matter was of no true consequence, Eric chose to be gallant. “Okay Evie. We can put it in the trunk. C’mon.”
She handed him the scrap of cardboard, then she picked up the lifeless cat. As Eric stumbled ahead to unlock the trunk, Evie gleefully trailed behind with the dead cat folded in her arms. As she reached the car, she directed an expression of profound gratitude and devotion toward Eric.
Precisely, she placed the cat on the cardboard inside the trunk. Patting the unresponsive animal gently, she slammed shut the lid to its temporary sarcophagus.
They climbed back into the Hillman, sitting silently for a moment. Eric started the engine, making as if to turn around and head back toward Milwaukie.
“What are you doing?” Evie queried, hostile.
“I’m heading home. So we can bury the cat,” Eric countered, as if stating the obvious.
Screwing up her face in absolute disbelief, Evie shook her head distastefully. “What about my dog?”
“What about the cat?” Eric skillfully parried.
“The cat’s not going anywhere Eric. It’ll keep. Are you afraid it will run away?” Widening her eyes demonically, Evie moaned. “Whoo-oo. Whoo-oo,” waving her hands wildly in front of his face.
Eric did not reply, but threw the car into gear. They set off once more in the direction of the Humane Society outpost, which lay but a few miles away. The trip to the squat, rambling facility was rather short— and remarkable for its uneventfulness. Eric and Evie hardly spoke. An atmosphere of portent and foreboding clung to the interior of the Hillman like a fine, oily residue. Maybe it was just the aura of a dead cat.
They pulled into the gravel parking lot at the Humane Society. Nearly all the parking spaces were taken. Eric had to drive around the lot a second time to secure a spot. He and Evie quickly leapt from the car, trotting through the entrance to the building. They rushed through the office area, through another set of doors into the kennels, which were crowded full of excited little children, weary parents and frightened dogs— all barking and yapping at various frequencies and volume levels.
Eric was immediately repelled, primarily by the din and clamor, but secondarily, and more insidiously, by the stench of too many dogs caged at extremely close quarters.
Feeling a wave of claustrophobia wash over him, Eric begged. “Evie, let’s come back when there aren’t so many… When there isn’t so much… When it’s not so… So heavy… So…”
“But it’s always this way Eric,” Evie reassured him. “You’ll get used to it.”
Eric jogged his mind for a moment, recalling that he had gotten use to showering naked with members of his own sex in PE class; he had gotten use to peer pressure and acne; gotten use to lima beans and the taste of beer. But he felt ultimately secure in the fact that he would never get used to the conditions in that building. A vise of increasing pressure gripped his chest in wordless fear.
Evie’s voice pierced his fog. “C’mon Eric. Wait’ll you see them. You’ll just love them all.”
Eric was thinking that it was his first time in a dog pound. He was shocked because, for some bizarre reason, he thought that dogs had better manners than that. Although he had never held such false illusions about parents and their screaming children. He was similarly disgusted by the fact that though he had grown up around them, he had never noticed dogs had such poor sanitary habits.
“Eric? What’d I just say?” Eric heard a voice shoveling its way through the thick brown sewerage of his thoughts. “Eric? Are you listening to me?”
“I said,” Evie emphasized indignantly. “What’d I just say?”
Baffled by the conundrum, Eric shrugged. “I don’t no. What did you just say?”
“I said you’d love them all. Don’t you just love them all?”
Reeling from the sensory overload, Eric’s brain had difficulty processing concepts in that moment. “Love them all. All who?” He knew that he loved very little of what he was presently experiencing.
“Don’t you just love all the dogs?”
Eric looked around at the endless line of cages. In his entire life he had never seen so many dogs in one place at one time. He remembered that he did indeed love dogs. But these dogs were barking in fear of the other dogs there; in fear of the exuberance of the children; and in fear of the smell of fear that permeated the premises. More than loving them all, Eric simply felt sorry for them.
“Uh… Give me some time to think about that Evie,” he answered.
“Oh.” She dragged him by the arm toward the near end of the building. “C’mon.”
Evie immediately gravitated to a robust German Shorthair, a particularly animated dog that seemed even more desperate than his fellow canine prisoners. Through the rungs of the cage, she patted the dog on the head, affectionately rubbing its nuzzle. The dog’s hind leg involuntarily scratched wildly at the air.
Sensing an ensuing bond, Eric protested. “I thought you wanted a Ferlin Husky, Evie. This is a hunting dog, not a sled dog. Different climate.” He didn’t know why he said that. Secretly, he was not that enthralled with the prospect of Evie acquiring a dog. He was likely to say anything in an attempt to discourage her.
Evie ignored Eric, carefully inspecting the cage, and an accompanying tag attached to the latch.
“It’s such a small cage,” Evie sighed, scanning the information on the tag. “Oh look Eric. It says the owner gave him up because he’s not a good hunter and his tail is too long. That’s so stupid.” She looked down at the dog’s tail. It was a bobbed tail. But it was too long, as if someone had measured wrong when conducting the operation; or was unskilled in the first place.
Eric nodded, bewildered.
“It says ‘Sunday’ on it. That’s tomorrow! What do you think it means?” Evie asked, rhetorically. Both she and Eric knew what was meant. Eric shrugged in an abdication of emotional responsibility in the matter.
As luck would have it, an enterprising member of the maintenance staff was shuffling around nearby— with no apparent task at hand, As far as Eric was able to ascertain, the man seemed mostly intent on finding the most opportune vantage point from which to conspicuously ogle Evie. Evie, who was well accustomed to such behavior, had successfully erased the man from her field of vision. However, upon determining that his assistance could be of some value to her, Evie filled in the components necessary to render his existence possible in her realm.
She turned from the cage and walked toward the man— who, embarrassed at being caught red-handed, quickly turned away. He knelt down, pretending to examine the latch to an empty cage; fiddling nervously with the handle.
“Excuse me,” Evie said politely— thinking she was actually interrupting some important activity on his part. He continued to fumble with the cage door, as if so absorbed in his work he did not hear her. “Excuse me,” she called louder.
He was a burly man, in his late twenties; with curly, cocker-blond hair and a toothy, dull yellow smile. He wore gray, no-iron work clothes; a ring of hundreds of precious useless keys secured to his belt. Upon determining that the latch was back in proper working condition, he slammed the cage door shut. As if surprised by her presence, he looked up, smiling seductively.
“What can I do you for, little lady?” he asked, turning on the charm.
Aware that she was being propositioned by what she considered to be a lower life form, Evie suppressed the impulse to crush his fragile male psyche as if it were a bug.
“Yes,” she replied effetely. “Could you tell me what that ‘Sunday’ means on that tag over there.” She pointed vaguely in the direction of Eric and the nervously drooling dog.
“Oh…” his demeanor took on a sudden administrative air. “That means we gas him on Sunday,” He thought for a moment. “Which means… uh… tomorrow.”
Evie ran back to Eric’s side. “Eric, did you hear that?”
Having already surmised the meaning of ‘Sunday,’ Eric played along— in hopes of forestalling what seemed to him to be the inevitable outcome of their presence at the pound. “What?” He said.
“I said did you hear that?”
It was the second time in ten minutes that she had posed to him such a confusing riddle. “You said did I hear what?” he repeated
“I said,” she crabbed, growing more angry. “Did you hear what that man just said?” Evie fumed in frustration at Eric’s apparent newfound feeble-mindedness.
“Uh, no. What’d he say?”
Evie slugged Eric on the arm. “What’s wrong with you? Are you having a flashback from last night or what?” She searched past his wire rim glasses, for a sign in his eyes that he was truly catatonic. Noting Eric’s expression of playful apathy, Evie good-naturedly punched him on the arm a second time. “Then cut it out ya big lug.”
Trying to sound more interested, Eric cleared his thoughts. “No, really. What’d he say?”
“He said that this poor dog…” Evie looked down at the tag for a moment, in an effort to personalize her plea. “Buck. He said that this beautiful dog Buck is going to get the gas on Sunday.” She paused for effect. “That’s tomorrow!”
You know Evie, you’re right.” She looked at him expectantly. “Tomorrow is Sunday.”
Failing to catch Eric’s sarcasm, she continued her appeal. “Yes! And that means Buck here…” she gestured at the dog, which had sat down— to energetically lick its scrotum. Seeing the spectacle, Evie momentarily grew speechless.
Detecting her abhorrence, Eric interjected. “Do you know why they do that?”
“Why?” Evie asked quizzically.
“Because they can.” Eric laughed.
Evie jabbed him on the arm. “Be serious. Tomorrow is Sunday. And that means Buck here…” Buck had gotten up and was wagging his stub happily at them. “Buck is going to get the gas. Eric, we’ve got to save him.”
Eric was genuinely touched by Evie’s sincerity. But he was still uncertain as to her motivation. “Okay Evie. I understand. You want to save him. But why?”
“Because I love him Eric.” And as if to emphasize the depths of her concern, Evie turned the handle on the cage door, unlatching it. As she did so, Buck charged at her— mostly out of gratitude, but partly because he knew it might be his last opportunity for escape. Suddenly the din in the pound escalated threefold. Somebody had made a break for it.
The maintenance man, who had casually returned to admiring the fine contours of Evie’s classically shaped posterior; the refined femininity of her delicate shoulders; and the youthful abundance of her supple breastsÑ interrupted his contemplation to reprimand the object of his abject scrutiny.
“Hey. Hey! Hey there little lady,” he said, pushing Buck back into his cage and shutting the door. “If everybody went around opening up these dang cages,” he explained tersely. “The whole place’d be empty in minutes. And if that happened…” he smiled, yellow teeth wide, in crooked arrogance. “I’d be out of a job.” He patted the huge ring of keys at his side, as if it were the source of his employment— or a holstered gun.
Eric and Evie glanced at one another from the corners of their eyes, breaking out in open laughter. It seemed obvious enough to them that the man’s job was integral to the welfare of the American public. Certainly, dogs running freely, far and wide, could pose a clear and present danger to the moral fabric of contemporary society.
Suspicious at their levity, the man frowned at them. He would not be the butt of any young punks’ jokes. With furrowed brow and narrowed eyes he took a hard look at Eric— for the first time.
Feeling suddenly uncomfortable, Eric tried to change the subject. “Well you see,” he explained, chuckling. “We actually came here looking for a Ferlin Husky…” In trying to make, what he thought was, subtle fun of Evie, Eric seemed to somehow deepen his disharmony with the surly caretaker.
“Ferlin Husky? What about Ferlin Husky?” The maintenance man grew grim, as if Eric had crossed a line few men dared to transgress.
“Well n-nothing.” Eric stammered, sensing his trespass upon untrodden territory. “You see, she thought malamutes were called…”
“You know, Ferlin Husky is my daddy’s brother,” the man revealed with pride. “He’s my uncle. Uncle Ferlin.”
Eric’s jaw dropped, visibly. “You’re related to Ferlin Husky?” He could not believe such a thing to be possible. Although, Eric admitted to himself, if it were— the man standing before him certainly presented himself to be a logical candidate for the position. “I thought I was the only person who’d ever heard of him.”
“Nope,” the man replied succinctly, fishing in his back pocket for his wallet. “He’s my uncle. My dad’s name is Fallon Husky. My name’s Roy. Roy Husky.” Flipping open his wallet, he pointed to his driver’s license. Roy Husky. Roy stared at Evie, trying to decide whether she seemed at all impressed. “I was named after Roy Acuff,” he proclaimed proudly. The mention of the name did not garner for Roy the wide-eyed surprise to which he had grown accustomed. “You know, Roy Acuff… the Grand Ol’ Opry…?”
Eric knew who Roy Acuff was, but he was reluctant to get any more deeply involved with the man, than he unwittingly already had. Evie had not the slightest idea who Roy Acuff was, but she thought she had heard the term Grand Ol’ Opry from her father. And, in any case, she was willing to hazard a guess.
“Is he a Republican?” she inquired innocently.
“A Republican?” Roy was confused.
Eric was trying to figure a way out of the hopeless inane dead-end of their conversation, when it occurred to him to what she was referring. “Evie, you’re talking about the Grand Ol’ Party.”
“Yeah…?” she did not catch Eric’s drift. “Is he with them?”
“Who? What?” Eric was becoming confused too.
“Roy A-cuss,” she said, innocently.
“Acuff,” Roy corrected.
Eric sensed that the discussion was spiraling hopelessly out of control. In his mind he attempted to formulate an erudite, articulate summation of the facts, but was unable to do so. He shrugged helplessly, knowing that anything he said would unquestionably further tangle things. He wanted only to avail himself of the stifling stench and the delirious racket of that infernal pound.
Fortuitously for all involved, a commotion erupted at the far end of the building. A child had wrested a puppy free from the puppy pen and, squeezing it tightly, was merrily turning in musical circles— the puppy’s hind legs flew out from beneath her strangling grasp. Roy, perceiving a disturbance in the making, puttered off in the direction of the tumult; keys jangling happily against his hip.
Eric and Evie watched Roy walk down the urine soaked corridor and turned, facing each other.
“Well? What do you think Eric?” Evie implored.
“I think that guy is really weird!” Eric exclaimed. “And that is the weirdest conversation I’ve ever heard in my life.”
Evie glared at him, scolding. “Well you started it! You drew him into the conversationÑ talking about Ferlin Huskies.”
Losing his temper, Eric shot back. “Whoa! Wait a minute Evie. I saw that guy drooling over you, staring at your butt. I’d say he was drawn into the conversation, way before I ever said anything.”
Evie was shocked. “He was not looking at my butt!”
“Are you kidding? Weren’t you watching him? He was over there undressing you in his mind. Well for the sake of reference we’ll call it a mind. God only knows what goes on in there.” Eric shook his head shamefully.
Feeling somehow violated, Evie scowled at Eric. “Well why didn’t you go over there and punch him out? If you saw him undressing me with his brain… You should have punched him out.”
“Evie,” Eric avowed. “If I had to punch out every guy I caught staring at your butt, I’d spend the whole time fighting.”
Having always been rather self-conscious about her slender, nubile body— Evie was strangely flattered by Eric’s candid declaration of her awakening sexuality. She pushed at his shoulder joshingly, unconsciously seeking further discourse on the subject.
Buck had lain down on the concrete pound floor, bored by the direction his initially hopeful interaction with the humans had taken. He sighed pitiably.
Aware that Evie was anticipating elucidation regarding the magnitude of her charms, Eric collected his thoughts. Selfishly, it occurred to him that he was in precisely the wrong location for such talk. He had hoped it would have taken place at some secluded spot on a rainy night. For, in his own mind, he began to undress her himself.
“You know Evie,” Eric confessed. “Not all guys are turned on by women with big breasts and big butts.” She gazed at him expectantly. “A lot of guys are attracted to a woman with more subtlety. I think you have the perfect figure.” He hugged her gently. “And I guess Roy does too. We appreciate how different your body is from a guy’s. Delicate. Feminine. Sexy.”
Evie kissed Eric, hugging him close to her newly discovered sensuous body. Nervously, Eric wondered if she could feel his erection pressed against the curve of her stomach. He awkwardly stepped back from her, jamming his hands in his pocketsÑ grinning sheepishly.
“Well… What do you think?” Evie asked again.
Eric was no closer to answering that question. In fact, the last turn in their dialogue had only clouded further his befuddled concentration. He knew she expected an answer from him.
“I think it’s gonna be very difficult for me to walk for awhile,” he confided.
Evie did not know what he was talking about. Naively, she asked. “Did you get a cramp?”
“Well, sort of.” Eric evaded the question, hoping to avoid any additional conjecture on the subject.
Puzzled by his reply, Evie continued upon her own line of obsession. She dramatically threw her hands out before her. “Sort of. Well, what do you think Eric?”
“What do I think about what?” He had an intense, not entirely unforeseen deja vu experience, surrounding the repetition of that phrase.
Growing cross, Evie said sharply. “Eric, you know what I mean! What do you think about Buck? Can I get him?” Upon hearing his name, the dozing dog alertly sprang to his feet, panting and drooling with renewed fervor.
Eric had grown weary of the game. “Evie, if you want to get Buck, I’m certainly not going to be the one to stand in your way. Sure. You can get him.”
“Really?” Evie’s shrill cry drew alarmed stares from the crowd encircling the puppy pen at the other end of the corridor.
“Yeah sure,” Eric stated confidently. “Why not?”
She kissed him again, out of gratitude and excitement. Her kiss excited Eric again too— but in a different, more obvious way.
The made their way back to the office, which was governed over by a small round woman. A thick, bowl of gray hair encircled her head. Quaint wire-rimmed glasses slid half-way down her nose. She wore a loose fitting red cotton dress that was heavily patterned with small white polka dots. A black plastic name tag was neatly pinned next to her lapel. In white letters it read: Mrs. Klaus.
She stood, mostly obscured, behind a high blue formica counter— helping a line of anxious applicants to fill out the forms necessary to obtain a dog from the Humane Society. Periodically, she would disappear out a door, to the rear of the building; returning with an overjoyed dog, that was tethered by a slim rope leash. Inevitably, her reappearance would initiate a wave of excitement that would pass like high voltage through the line of petitioners. The children would giggle and gaggle in unbridled exuberance, while their parents, and the other adults standing there, would gasp in glee.
Evie and Eric stood at the back of the line, nudging and jostling each other, giddy from the folly in which they were engaged. Smirking, they joked wordlessly as first Mrs. Klaus handed over a cute Labrador puppy to a man who looked distinctly to be a wino; then bestowed a terrified cockapoo to its foster family— an obese young woman in soiled pink sweat pants and a Camel Cigarette t-shirt, and her squabbling charge of four squalling infants. The children roughly tugged and pulled at the shivering ball of fur, as the woman, a smoldering cigarette dangling from her lips, bellowed at them ineffectually. “Rickie! Farrah Jean! Leave that damn dog alone. You can play with it when we get home.” Acrid cigarette smoke grimaced up her cheek, into her eyes, as she signed the final release form. The dog yelped in pain and the woman blindly swatted at head of the youngest child. “Rae Lynn!” she hollered hoarsely. “Don’t you hurt your new puppy.” The little girl began to cry inordinately. The woman turned, growling at the other children. “Do you want what she just got? Then put that damn dog down. Now!” Rickie and Farrah Jean briefly stopped struggling for possession of the dog, but once their mother turned back around, they resumed the quarrel with restored vigor.
At last, the repellent woman ushered her wretched offspring out of the building, toward the parking lot, screaming at one or another of them from time to time. Toting the rigid rope behind her, little Farrah Jean dragged the reluctant dog toward the family car.
Appalled by what they had just witnessed, Evie and Eric contorted their faces hideously. “Eric, how could they give that dog to that woman and those kids? Those kids’ll kill that dog.”
“Out of the frying pan and into the fire,” Eric remarked, insensitively. “The poor dog’s doomed if it goes and doomed if it stays. That’s the way it is for some dogs. It’s like there’s a car driving around out there with their name on it.”
“What are you talking about? What car? I want to know why they don’t screen these people more carefully.” Eric gawked at the irony of Evie’s question. It was his reaction which sparked for her the recollection that there was yet another matter which required their timely attention. “Eric…” She spoke haltingly. “You know… they’re probably gonna. They won’t let me. You may have to…”
“Spit it out Evie,” Eric mugged. “They’re probably not gonna let you do what?”
“Well Eric,” she said. “Maybe you have to be eighteen to get a dog. They may want you to sign for Buck.”
Eric, understanding that he was already irrevocably committed to the venture, batted his eyes at her. “Then say it Evie.”
“Say it? Say what?”
“C’mon Evie. Evie…” He taunted her.
“Eric! What do you want me to say?”
Hands cast out, palms up, he made an expression as if to ask “Well?”
Eric batted his eyes flagrantly, maintaining his pose.
“Oh please! Oh pretty please Eric. Pretty pretty please!” The applicants standing in line in front of them, turned; weighing warily the behavior of the groveling girl.
Feeling conspicuously foolish, Eric shooshed Evie, nodding his head in submission, as he quieted her concern. “Yeah. It’s okay Evie. I’ll sign for him. There’s no problem.”
Impulsively, she kissed him yet again— this time softly, and more squarely on his lips, moving her mouth for a moment against his. Passionately. A familiar hormonal electricity sprang to life in Eric’s pants, and he pulled away abruptly, jamming his hands in his pockets.
“Okay then,” Evie schemed, patently heedless of Eric’s predicament. She whispered conspiratorially. “After we get him out of here, you can sell him to me. I’ll write up a bill of sale, and you can sell Buck to me. And then he’ll be mine. All legal.”
Eric felt a shadow of distress cross his mind. He guessed that there was more to her story than she was divulging. But he was preoccupied with the uncomfortable pressure he was experiencing along the seam of his fly— and not of a mind to discourage Evie’s ebullience. He had never known her to be so demonstrative with her affections. He could only mull hopefully the possible breakthrough their relationship had quite unexpectedly undergone; while mumbling feebly.
Finally, they approached the counter. From just above the opaque blue plane of its surface, the benign countenance of Mrs. Klaus peered up at them, smiling politely, undaunted by the unrelenting line of potential dog owners.
“Can I help you folks?” she asked cheerily, her voice pinched by the nasal constriction her slipping glasses induced.
Eric glimpsed for a moment the little woman’s black plastic name tag. “Mrs. Klaus?” He muttered with wry appreciation. “Is that your name? Mrs. Klaus?” Mrs. Klaus nodded demurely to the affirmative, unnerved by the absurd reply that the young man had given her. “Mrs. Klaus,” he repeated humorously.
“Are you Santa’s wife?” Evie asked innocently, “Shouldn’t you be at the North Pole?”
Mrs. Klaus looked at the pair spitefully, uncertain as to whether Evie was mocking her. “No I’m not I’m not Santa’s wife,” she sang, hoping to get to the point. “Did you folks want to get a dog?”
“Yeah,” Evie spoke up. “We want to get a dog. He’s that brown, spotted one back there.” She pointed over Mrs. Klaus’ shoulder, in the direction of where Buck’s cage was located, in another part of the building. Trying to jog the woman’s memory, Evie elaborated. “He’s the one whose tail is too long? His name is Buck.”
“Oh yes, Buck,” Mrs. Klaus recalled. “Now, he’s an energetic dog. Are you sure you have room for him?”
Eric and Evie nodded to the affirmative, lying unabashedly. It was not certain how much room there was.
“Alright then, you fill out these forms here,” she handed them the applications and a pen. “And I’ll go back and have Roy release Buck for you.”
Eric filled out the forms as Evie babbled in anticipation of at last having a dog of her very own, that could not be taken away by anyone. After a time, Mrs. Klaus returned with Buck— restrained by a length of thin rope, fastened to his thick brown leather collar.
He was drooling and panting profusely, towing the diminutive Mrs. Klaus in the direction of the counter. Recognizing Evie, Buck strained harder, leaping up toward the counter. With his front paws splayed across the formica, the frantic dog fought unsuccessfully to climb over the counter to Evie, while Mrs. Klaus battled fiercely to maintain her balance in fury of the skirmish.
“Well, I must say,” Mrs. Klaus whimpered. “He certainly seems awfully fond of you.”
Evie smooched recklessly at the lathered dog. “Yes,” she purred. “He wuvs me. Yes he does. And I wuv him too. zhoozhoozhoo, Yes.” She stroked Buck’s coat lovingly. His hind leg began to flail spasmodically, causing him to slip to the linoleum floor behind the counter.
Absorbed in the documentation of Buck’s transfer, Eric tossed the pen on the counter. “That oughta do it,” he said, a little self-satisfied. Evie tugged expectantly at his light blue work shirt.
While clutching tightly to the rope that was Buck’s last encumbrance to the abandon of total freedom, Mrs. Klaus freed her right hand, leafing cursorily through Eric’s completed forms. “Everything seems to be in order here I guess. You’re a college student Eric?” She squinted up at Eric, as Buck again began to climb toward Evie.
“Uh yeah,” Eric said meekly. “Western Oregon State, in Monmouth.” He pointed to a line on the form. “That’s my parents’ address. It’s my permanent address for now. I live in a big house in Monmouth, huge yard he can roam around… I can give you my Monmouth address if you want,” he volunteered.
“No, that’s alright,” Mrs. Klaus wrestled with Buck. “You can license him down there.”
“Down where?” Eric had instantly forgotten, that it was he who was alleged to be taking responsibility for Buck.
“Monmouth,” Mrs. Klaus replied, growing terse.
“Oh. Oh!” he remembered the ruse. “Oh sure. License him there. Sure.” Evie nudged him strategically.
“Well then,” reaching toward a shelf below, Mrs. Klaus seized a can of dog food and placed it on the counter. “I guess he’s all yours.” Mrs. Klaus handed the rope to Evie and led Buck through a small swinging door beside the counter. Evie tugged at his makeshift leash, which encouraged Buck to head for the door leading outside, towing her unwillingly behind.
Mrs. Klaus swiftly sorted out Eric’s copies from among the documents. “Here,” she said to Eric. “You forgot to sign the release form.”
Looking over his shoulder at Evie and Buck, Eric blindly wrote his signature on the paper. Mrs. Klaus slid that and the other copies across the counter. “There’s your paperwork. And good luck with him.”
Eric snatched up the papers, shoving them into his rear pocket and plucked the can of dog food from the surface of the counter. “Thanks,” he called back to Mrs. Klaus.
He met Evie at the door and grabbed Buck firmly by the leather collar. “I’ll try to hold him,” Eric instructed. “You go get the car door open.”
Evie rushed out the door. Buck followed right behind, with Eric providing all the opposition he could summon from his own massive frame. Evie got the rear passenger door of the Hillman open just as Buck and Eric arrived. Eric steered the willful dog into the backseat and slammed shut the door. Meanwhile, Evie ran to the other side of the car. Hopping in the backseat, she slid over next to Buck. Confused, Eric peered at Evie through the window .
“I’m going to ride back here with him and see if I can get him to calm down a little.” Evie explained, petting the heavily salivating hound.
Satisfied with the logic in her thinking, Eric jogged around the front of the car. Bouncing in behind the steering wheel, he closed the door and started the engine— glancing back at Evie in the rearview mirror. “Well that went well,” he declared, mildly sarcastic.
Evie said nothing, but sat admiring Buck’s noble foolish stance upon the backseat of the car. Eric backed out of the parking space, tooling the crowded vehicle toward the exit. As they departed, heading back in the direction of Milwaukie, Evie piped up faintly. “Eric,” she called, timorously. “There’s something I think I should tell you.”
They had traveled several miles and Evie had said nothing more. Eric knew better than to prod her. She would speak up when she was ready. As they retraced the route back to Milwaukie, Eric hummed a tuneless melody to himself softly; occasionally peeping back at Evie and Buck in the rearview mirror. From that angle, he searched her face for a sign of her intentions— but saw none. She merely continued to stroke Buck reflexively, blindly watching the landscape slide by.
Eric tried to surmise what it was she had in mind. He found that, generally, Evie had only two approaches with him. The direct approach— she would simply order him to do her bidding; or the circuitous approach, whereby she would attempt to ensnare him in a more complex scenario. He felt reliably certain that she was exploring the second approach. She had already gotten the dog and convinced him to sign for it. He reasoned that there was still another, as yet unknown, part of the equation. And just in the moment that the fog upon his erudition seemed to lift, uncovering the crystal essence of his postulations, Evie spoke up.
“You know Eric,” she whispered matter-of factly. “My parents said I couldn’t have a dog. They don’t know we’re doing this. I bet it’s really gonna piss ’em off.” She laughed cavalierly. Voila! Eric thought to himself, and he began laughing too, but he had no idea why. “And they won’t have a choice if I just take him home,” she continued, maintaining the same logic. “He’ll already be there.”
Eric smiled weakly into the rearview mirror, as he considered what ramifications his involvement in the escapade would have with Evie’s parents. He was especially concerned for the tenuous bond he had only recently forged with her father.
Traveling down McLaughlin Boulevard, they were approaching Westmoreland Park on the northern outskirts of Milwaukie. Rapidly a cascade of images, collected from the previous twenty-four hours, paraded across Eric’s thoughts. The golden light of a warm May afternoon flickered through the lush green maple trees that formed the eastern boundary of the park. He felt a rising sense of anxiety in his chest.
“Eric! Stop the car!” Evie screamed.
Without hesitation, Eric pulled to the side of the road, next to the park.
Pulling on the emergency break, he turned around in the front seat of the car. “What’s the matter Evie? Are you okay?”
“Oh! He just barfed all over the seat. Eyu! Ick! Let me out of here.” Evie slid away to the other side of the backseat, directly behind Eric, holding at arms length the otherwise unfazed dog— which sat quite happily, panting uncontrollably.
“Yech!” Eric said, inspecting with horror the massive quantity of half digested kibble, bile and mucous that swept down from the backseat into an enormous pile on the floorboard of the car. “Yeah,” Eric muttered. “Maybe he’d like to go for a walk. And I’ll try to figure out how to clean up the mess.” He quickly gathered his wits to formulate a safe plan. For the traffic moved quite fast along McLaughlin Boulevard, where they were parked. The last thing Eric wanted was to see old Buck trying to sprint across four lanes of high speed traffic. “Okay. Evie hold onto his rope as hard as you can. I’m going to get out. I’ll come around and open the door and grab him. Then you can get out and come around.”
“Okay Eric,” Evie said desperately. “Just get me out of here before I barf too.”
Eric cautiously opened his door, peeking out at the onrushing traffic. Spotting an opportunity, he sprang like a frightened cat out the door, quickly slamming it shut behind him. Hastily, he circled behind the car. Waving through the passengers window, across the seat to Evie, Eric pantomimed that she should hold tightly to Buck’s rope leash. Evie waved her hand faintly, nodding Ñ wan, annoyed and queasy.
But, Buck was having none of that. As soon as Eric opened the door, he burst from the backseat, stripping the rope from Evie’s hands. Knocked backward from the impact, Eric watched helplessly as Buck bolted across the open grass, toward the heart of the park— trailing a length of thin rope behind him.
“Oh great Eric. You let him get away!” Evie swung open the passenger door on her side, exiting recklessly into traffic. Violently, she flung closed the door; and, infuriated, she stomped past Eric, breaking into a graceful slow gait.
Bewildered, and unsure of his next move, Eric stood at the car door, hypnotized by the swaying motion of Evie’s hips beneath her long black skirt, her long blond hair floating softly in the air. A familiar tingle twinged in his groin. Pushing the door closed, he slowly and somewhat awkwardly followed her.
By the time Eric had caught up with them, Evie was standing beside the duck pond, apprehensively watching Buck dash through the water. Somewhere near the middle of the pond, the riotous dog encountered an agitated brace of ducks. Mother ducks marshalled their defenses, deploying loud quacking mallard divisions from the flanks and a hissing, hard-billed frontal assault; as fluffy little ducklings fluttered away to their nests on shore. Buck, hopelessly outnumbered in the ducks’ domain, fought valiantly on, growling fiercely as the ducks pecked and nipped at his muzzle and jowls.
Dazed, Evie mumbled, “Eric you’ve got to do something. He’s going to drown. Those ducks will kill him.”
“Oh that’d be a first,” Eric wryly commented. “A hunting dog killed by ducks. What do you want me to do Evie? The pond’s only a couple of feet deep. He’s not going to drown.”
Evie whined. “But we’ll never catch him out there. He might run away.”
Eric stared at Evie, unsure whether she was serious, or merely testing him. The furrow of real concern upon her brow convinced him that she was indeed serious. “Evie, you don’t want me to go out there do you? It’s all slimy. He’ll come back when he’s tired of chasing the ducks. Honest.”
“Eric! You’ve got to go get him. He’s going to get killed.”
Eric could see no way out of the dilemma. He sat down beneath a willow tree, next to a bamboo thicket. Removing his shoes and socks, he rolled his pants up a few turns and sat with his arms crossed on his knees. Buck was leaping and splashing among ten or fifteen emboldened ducks, barking with unbridled joy.
“Evie, I really think he’s having a good time out there. I don’t think he’s in any kind of trouble. He’ll come back in soon, I’m sure.”
Evie would hear none of it. “No Eric. He’s going to get hurt. You’ve got to help him.”
“Okay. Okay.” Eric groused. “I’ll go get him. But I want you to know Evie, I’m doing this under protest.”
“Hey!” she rejoined. “It’s your fault he got away in the first place.”
He made a face at her and stood up. Stepping into the water, he shuddered instinctively. “Oh god! It’s slimy and squishy. Oh yuck!” Inching across the slick rocks, Eric slowly made his way out into the pond. “You’re going to owe me for this Evie. I hope you know that. You’re gonna owe me big time.”
“Yeah, I know” she called. “Hurry up. I think he’s tiring. And Eric? Eric!” He turned hesitantly on the slippery rocks, looking back at Evie. “Could you catch a baby duck for me?”
Eric did not answer her, but spun back around, tip-toeing through the mucky sludge toward the middle of the pond. “Hey Buck,” he called out indifferently. “C’mon Buck. Leave the duckies alone boy. C’mon boy. Let’s go boy.” Buck, enthralled with his game of ducks on the pond, was not of a mind to obey Eric’s spiritless commands. If anything, he seemed energized by the sound of Eric’s voiceÑ redoubling his efforts to repel the ducks’ umbrageous attack. He snarled at the noisy birds, snapping viciously; and he punctuated the salvos by happily lapping up great gulps of scummy pondwater. Truly, he was a dog in his element.
Knee deep in the cloudy green water, Eric diffidently waded toward the skirmish, with no real plan in mind as to what he was going to do in his role as peacemaker. The notion swept over him that both warring factions would probably view his presence adversarily. Feeling vulnerable, Eric warily reached out into the water, fishing for the end of Buck’s leash. He had just grabbed the very tip of the rope, when Buck charged after one particularly aggressive hen, yanking the line from Eric’s awkward grasp.
“Aw c’mon Buck!” Eric whined, as he gingerly crept after the dog. “C’m’ere Buckie boy. C’mon.” As if rationality had suddenly struck him in the head, Buck stopped short, sitting down comfortably in the water— lolling joyously in the afternoon sun. “Atta boy Buck. Yeah. What a good boy.” Eric cooed, hoping to calm Buck to stasis. “Stay right there boy. Don’t move.” Stealthily, Eric angled toward Buck, slowly moving his hand near the rope floating in the water. “Yeah, goood boy.” Buck looked up, smiling fondly, as Eric securely snagged the line. “Got it.” Deftly, Eric wound the cord tight around his hand. “I got him!” Eric cheered. “I got him Evie!” He pirouetted in the water uncertainly, holding the rope aloft in triumph.
Evie clapped perfunctorily, checking her black boots for signs of mud damage. She looked up to see Buck surge after a skittering duck. Startled and off-balance, Eric was dragged sprawling into the murky water. He was up in an instant, spitting out water and fighting to keep his grip on Buck’s leash. Evie clapped again, much harder. “Oh very good. Very good! What do you do for an encore? Oh… Oh Eric…” she crooned, ominously. “Eric.”
Frowning miserably, Eric aimed visual daggers in Evie’s direction. “What?” he said flatly.
“Eric. Don’t forget my baby duck.”
He stared at her in utter disbelief of his ears. His mind reeled, uncomprehending. Don’t forget try lady luck. When you’re wet I maybe fuck. No norget nigh naby nuck. Pathetically, Eric stood— dripping a thick, green froth; straining to stay upright against the force of Buck’s fowl excitation. “You can’t be serious Evie. It’s going to be hard enough to get Buck back to land. How’m I supposed to capture a duck?”
“You’ve got two hands Eric,” she said contemptuously.
Seeing his options as few, Eric searched his immediate periphery for a likely prospect. Spying a lone duckling, peeping and tweeting just to his left, he leaned toward it, balancing himself on one foot from Buck’s animated fulcrum point. Fortuitously, with a single swipe of his hand, he scooped up the baby duck. The bird began to emit a shrill cry of alarm, as Eric deliberately stepped toward shore, some distance away.
From out of nowhere, a fast moving shadow plunged toward Eric. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a large, football shaped object, hurtling in his direction. At the moment that he recognized it as a duck, the screaming bird rammed into his shoulder— dislodging the duckling from his grasp, as he fell backward into the water. Sensing slack in the line, Buck alertly bolted, ripping himself free from Eric’s control. The mother duck circled back around and swooped down again, sharply pecking Eric as it passed.
In the mean time, Buck had bounded to shore, where Evie held tightly to his rope as he shook himself dry. Eric stood up and trudged dejectedly across the pond. As he advanced toward shore, Evie looked up at him, surprised.
“You didn’t get my baby duck?” she asked, with a tone of disappointment in her voice.
“No! Weren’t you watching? I was attacked out there by a rabid mother duck.”
“It’s only a duck Eric.”
He pulled open his shirt, exposing a nasty gash on his shoulder. “Well I’m not going back out there without a suit of armor, Evie. Those things are dangerous.”
Ignoring Eric’s anguish, she shaded her eyes with her left hand, peering out at the noisy ducks— which were gathering back in a circle at the center of the pond. “Well they look pretty harmless to me.” Buck sat peacefully next to Evie. The rope was hanging limp at her side.
“Then you go get a duckling, if they’re so fucking harmless.” His pride had been wounded as deeply as his shoulder. In a huff, Evie marched back in the general direction of the Hillman with Buck following dutifully behind.
Eric hopped from the water, sitting down beneath the willow tree. He rolled down his sopping pant legs, reaching blindly for his shoes. Horrified, he discovered they were full of the water that Buck had shook into them. Disgusted, he poured the water out of each, while noticing that his socks were drenched as well.
He quickly slid his socks on, then his shoes. And his shoes squeaked, as the water squeezed from them, while he trotted to catch up with Evie and Buck. When he did, Evie was deep in thought, wrinkles of concentration creasing her forehead.
“What’s up Eve?” Eric said suspiciously, familiar with that expression on her face.
She stopped walking and stared off in the direction of Skavone field at the other end of the park. Eric was struck by a sharp recollection.
“Evie, this is the exact spot.”
“Exact spot? What are you talking about? Exact spot what?”
“This is the exact spot where we were standing last night when we saw the bright light!”
“That’s right! I’d forgotten all about that. It seems so long ago. The moon. That’s funny. When can you get some more of that stuff?”
“Oh probably this week. Michael should still have some left. I can get a few more grams from him. If not, I know another guy at the college who knows how to get some.”
“That would be great. That was really weird last night.” Laughing, she started walking again. “Come Eric. Let us walk our dog.”
“Right ho Miz Neville.” he thrust toward her the crook of his elbow. Hooking her arm through his, she swayed back and forth as they walked.
After a moment, she asked, “Eric what should we name him? We should give him a name that fits him.”
“What’s wrong with Buck? He seems to recognize that name.”
“I don’t think so Eric,” Evie said provocatively. “Dog’s can’t understand words. Silly! They understand sounds. Besides, he doesn’t look like a Buck. He looks gentle.”
Eric gaped at the big brown dog walking at Evie’s side. With a huge triangular shaped head, Buck looked less than gentle. His robust, muscular body only fortified that impression. But the broad, liver-colored spots that covered his thick, short coatÑ coupled with that oddly elongated bob-tail, lent him a certain clownish air. Eric shrugged. “How ’bout Bozo?”
Evie slugged at Eric playfully. “No, not Bozo. You moron!”
She pushed at him again. “No. It’s got to be something really gentle like… Like Warding.”
“Warding?” Eric chuckled. “Where’d you come up with a name like that?”
“I don’t know,” Evie replied blithely. “I heard it somewhere. I think he was a president or something. But that’s the kind of name it has to be… gentle.”
Eric ran the name by. “Warding.” Shaking his head, he said. “Warding. A president? I don’t think so Evie. Warding does sound like a contraction of Warren Harding though.”
“Yeah that’s him, Warren Warding.”
“Harding.” Eric corrected.
“What’d I say? Warren Harding.” Evie nodded, confirming for herself the president’s name. “Warren Harding. Warding. It’s a good name.”
Eric asked incredulously. “What’s so special about Warren Harding? He had a mistress while he was in the white house and led the country into the depression.”
Evie continued to nod. “Yeah. But he was very handsome. He and Kennedy were the handsomest presidents. But I don’t want to name him that.”
Eric was confused. “Name him what Evie?”
“Kennedy. No, I like Warding better,”
“Jesus Evie,” Eric groaned. “Whoever heard of a dog named Warding? Or even Warren, for that matter. Or Warren Harding…?”
“Oh. Eric that’s it. That’s it!” Evie screamed
“What’s it? What’s what?”
“His name Eric. His name. Jesus!” She expectantly scanned his face, searching for a reaction. “Jesus,” she repeated.
Eric crossed his eyes. “Uh, Evie. Are you sure you’re thinking this one through? Jesus? How do you think the world at large will respond to a dog named Jesus?”
“Eric,” she grumbled defensively. “Jesus is the gentlest name of all. I mean, really, how Christian can you get? Besides who cares what people think?”
“Well how about your parents then Evie? Think about how they’ll react.” Evie winced visibly. They really had not resolved the issue of her parents and the dog. “You know Eric… They’re gonna be so pissed that I got a dog, they’re not gonna care what the hell I call him.”
He knew she was right about that. But he sensed that she was only adding insult to injury. “You’re sure you don’t want to call him Ferlin?”
“No Eric. He looks like a Jesus.” Jesus gazed up at her beatifically, his golden brown eyes gleaming in the afternoon sun. “See,” Evie said. “He likes the name.”
Eric sighed. “Oh Evie. I think you’ve really done it this time. Jesus.” He started to laugh maniacally. “Jesus.” Jesus barked blissfully at the sound of the word. Jesus.
“You know Eric,” Evie whispered pensively. “We should probably think about heading home.” They turned the procession around, guiding the new Jesus in the direction of the car.
“Shit!” Eric exclaimed. “Shit. Shit. Shit.”
“Now what’s the matter?” Evie cried.
Sniffling childishly, Eric groaned. “I still have to clean up that barf from the back seat.”
By happenstance, Eric was fortunate enough to find a piece of roofing tile lying next to McLaughlin Boulevard. He used it as a mortar, to remove the greater portion of the pile of dog puke from the back of the car. Scouting up large maple leaves, he was able to wipe down the backseat and floorboard, eradicating most of the odor in doing so.
Evie and Eric loaded Jesus into the back of the Hillman. Evie opened the front passenger door, leaning in over the seat to roll down the back window; as Eric came around to the driver’s side. Gingerly he opened the door, hopping behind the steering wheel in one swift, fluid motion. Twirling into her seat, Evie pulled the door closed behind her.
“See how much better he’s acting since we changed his name?” Craning her neck, she half-turned to observe the dog. “Look at him Eric. Doesn’t he look holy?”
Eric started the car, looking over his shoulder at the slobbering dog. “I don’t know Evie. Moldy maybe, ot spotty, but not holy exactly.” Jesus proudly vented a long, hissing fart, as Eric and Evie shrieked in undiminished dread. Simultaneously, they rolled down their windows.
“Let’s get moving Er,” Evie suggested. “We’d better get some air circulating in here. Fast.” Checking the rearview mirror, Eric pulled away from the curb, setting off in the direction of Milwaukie. He made a quick right and two lefts, aiming the car east on Tacoma Avenue. As he steered the car through the winding turns up the hill, Evie began cackling.
“Oh shit. Are my parents gonna be pissed…! The kids at school are gonna just love him. Becky has a dog named Carrot. And Kay has one too. Oh what’s his name? Ricardo! That’s what it is. Ricardo. He’s named after some movie star. Ricardo Mondobomb or something. Kay told me he was on Star Trek the night they brought him home from the pet store.”
“Yeah,” Eric added. “He played Khan.”
“That’s right. Cause they were gonna name him Khan, but Kay’s mom liked his commercials for some car…”
With a bad accent, Eric imitated. “Fine corinthian leather…”
“Yeah. That’s him. You’re so talented. So they named him Ricardo. But we call him Ricky Ricardo. When we yell ‘Lucy you gotta lotta splainin’ to do,’ he barks and does a little dance. And we yell ‘Baba-loo Ricky.'” Evie giggled heartily.
Eric stared at her, deadpan. “Well,” he said seriously. “You probably have to be there.”
Evie snickered slightly, and with a serious squaring of her shoulders, sat up proper in the seat. “It’s better if I buy Jesus from you, rather than you just giving him to me. My parents are more likely to let me keep him if they think I spent money on him. Do you have any paper in here?” Evie snapped open the glove box, expertly rifling through its contents.
Making a right onto 32nd Ave at the north end of Milwaukie, Eric looked over at Evie. “Jeez Evie. Make yourself at home,” he said good-naturedly, for he was familiar with the erratic patterns of her thought processes. His goal at all times was to try to keep up with her. “There’s probably a napkin or something in there. What do you need paper for?”
“We need a bill of sale. You’re right… A napkin.” Flipping closed the glove box lid, Evie yanked a pen from the sun visor above her. She propped the napkin on her knee and began writingÑ precisely printing each letter.
Despite his promises of allegiance, Eric was wary of having his signature on any piece of paper regarding Evie and Jesus. It was as good as a signed execution warrant in his relationship with her parents. “Evie, do you really need a bill of sale? Can’t you just tell your parents I sold him to you, and let it go at that? Why do we have to be so formal?”
“Protection. It protects you from them. How do you spell chattel?”
” Uh…C-h-a-t… What do you need chattel for?”
“That’s what you’re selling me isn’t it?”
“Well yeah… But couldn’t you just say dog?”
“Yes, but chattel sounds so much more legitimate. Is it one T or two?”
“Um, two, but Evie…”
“L-E? Or is it E-L?”
“E-L. But Evie, do you think this is absolutely necessary?”
“Oh yes Eric,” she finished her document with an X and a long solid line. “Yes I do. It’s the only way to be safe.” Her choice of words heightened Eric’s intuitive fear of impending doom. Evie shoved the napkin toward him. “Here. Sign it.”
“Well not while I’m driving Evie. Besides, I want to read it.”
“What for?” she asked defensively. “Are you afraid I’ll cheat you?”
“Cheat me? How? No, I just want to look at it, that’s all. I mean, I’m signin’ my life away, for godsakes.”
Rather stung by the exchange, Evie intoned “Well. I wouldn’t cheat you.”
“Oh sure you would. But that’s got nothing to do with this,” Eric lied. “I just want to look at it— you know, check the grammar and punctuation for legitimacy.”
“Eric, let’s pull into that store there.” She pointed a finger past his face. Eric spun the car into the parking lot and shut off the engine. “What’s the matter? Is he going to throw up again?”
“No. I think Jesus is hungry”
“Well I could see how that might be, emptying out the contents of his stomach in the back of the car and all. But Evie, we can be at my parents house in five minutes. We could feed him there. They’ve got plenty of dog food… for Yeller and Earl. Can’t we wait?”
“Eric, he seems awfully hungry now.”
Eric looked back at Jesus, who had his upper body fully extended out the rear window. “How can you tell?” He inquired.
“I just can,” Evie said, opening her door. “I’ll just run in and get a few things. I’ll be right back.”
Eric waved his hand as she closed the door. “Buy buy. Buy buy buy.” As she disappeared into the store, he snatched up the napkin document from the seat next to him.
Be it beknownst this 5th day of May,
one Henry Eric Carus did willfully transfer
the ownership of one piece of chattel,
which will hereafter be referred to as
Jesus— for the consideration of $5.00.
The buyer is Eve E. Neville.
Amused, Eric shook his head, glancing back at Jesus as he drooled down the outside of the half-opened window. “How do you feel about being called a piece of chattel boy? Huh?” Jesus did not respond, but kept his eye trained on Evie’s silhouette, moving around inside the store. Interpreting the dog’s silence as agreement, Eric flipped over the napkin. He picked up the pen, scrawling—
I sold Eve the dog for $5.00
Eric peered in through the doors of the tiny corner market. He could see Evie standing in the checkout line behind an old man, who would occasionally turn and smile in her direction. Evie ignored the man with skilled precision. Eric noticed that her hands were full, suggesting she was probably purchasing more than a can of dogfood or a box of dog biscuits for old Jesus.
Jesus struggled over the seat into the front, to inspect the car interior more closely. Eric patted him on the head. “Yeah that’s a good boy. Can you see Evie in there boy?” Jesus’ ears lifted alertly at the sound of Eric’s voice. The dog panted heavily, filling the atmosphere with hot, moist breath.
Withering from the sudden increase in humidity, Eric pointed to the backseat. “C’mon boy, I think we’d both be more comfortable with you in back.” Jesus scrambled over the seat, flopping into the back with a loud fart. Fanning the air, Eric looked back at himÑ he had resumed his vigil from outside the window. “You’re quite the dog, you know that? Hard to believe your owners gave you up.” Involuntarily, Jesus wagged his too-long bob-tail.
Placing Evie’s bill of sale back on the seat, Eric watched her paying for a sack full of items at the checkstand inside the store. The old man came out one of the doors, ambling over to the side of the entryway, where he paused to light a cigarette. Smiling contentedly, Evie emerged from the store, as she moved toward the car.
“I got some food,” she said excitedly, opening the car door. She tossed the sack on the seat next to Eric and got into the car.
“So, what’d you get?”
“Well…” Evie said with a hint of pride. “I got this.” She lifted from the sack a box of a dozen applesauce doughnuts. “And this,” sliced ham. “This,” a quart of chocolate milk. “And this,” a package of beef jerky. “This,” a dog collar. “And this,” parakeet seed.
Eric raised one eyebrow. “Parakeet seed? Is that like a special diet, or what?”
“No silly, it’s for my parakeets. At home? My parakeets?” Evie turned her head sideways. “George and Virginia?”
Eric nodded his head in recognition of the names, still mulling the other items she had bought. “But what did you get for Jesus to eat?”
With a flourish, Evie gestured toward the pile of food. “This! Don’t you think he’ll like it?” She reached into the sack. “And I got this for us.” Hartz Mountain Dog Yummies. She pried opened the boxtop. Pouring out a handful, she popped one into her mouth. “Here.” She placed four of the hard, blood-red biscuits in the palm of Eric’s hand. “Try a couple of ’em. They’re great for your teeth.”
“Eyu-uh,” Eric groaned, staring at one of the unappetizing chunks.
“Try one Eric,” Evie urged. “They’re really good.” She popped another into her mouth, crunching loudly.
“Evie, don’t talk with your mouthful,” Eric stalled.
“I won’t,” she said, crumbs falling from her mouth. She swallowed hard. “But just try one. They’re great.”
Reluctantly, Eric tossed one of the nuggets into his mouth. Biting down, he broke the gritty lump into pieces in his mouth. It tasted like dirt.
“Aren’t they good?” Evie asked. Eric was in a quandary. He could not decide if she was serious or not. She actually did seem to like them.
“Oh great. Great.” Eric managed to blurt. “Very tasty.”
Evie smiled at him smugly. “See! I told you. But Eric?”
He looked at her blankly.
“Don’t talk with your mouthful.” Evie opened the bags of foodstuffs. She reached over the front seat, first handing Jesus a doughnut, then a piece of jerky and a ham slice, chased by sloppy gulps of chocolate milk. Jesus was in heaven.
Out of the corner of his eye, Eric noticed the old man gawking at the spectacle.
“What’s the matter old timer,” Eric muttered. “Never seen a dog eat doughnuts before?”
“Do you know why he does it?” Evie asked.
“Who? Does what?” Eric wondered. “That old guy there?”
“No Jesus. Do you know why he eats doughnuts?”
“Un-unh,” Eric shook his head doubtfully.
“Because he can.” She tossed another doughnut towards Jesus’ snapping yap. “Did you check over the bill of sale?” She pulled the napkin out from under the food sack.
“Uh yeah.” Eric cleared his throat, swallowing the last of his Dog Yummie. “Yes. I did.” He tried to think of a reason why her version was not acceptable.
“Well? What did you think?”
“It’s, uh, very interesting Evie.”
“Interesting?” She repeated sarcastically. “What’s wrong with it?”
Hedging, Eric mumbled. “Well… nothing exactly. It’s just a little wordy, that’s all.”
She scanned her draft objectively. “But I left out all the first party, second party stuff.”
Aware that he had again wounded her pride, Eric said. “I know that Evie, but for something like this, it just seems a bit much, that’s all. I just changed it a little and rewrote it on the back.”
She flipped over the napkin. Reading it quickly, she asked. “Well where’s the rest of it?”
“That’s all there is. It’s all there. It doesn’t have to be so formal Evie. We’re only worried about your parents here, not some FBI sting for the illegal sale of animals.”
“But I worked hard on this,” she grumbled, handing Jesus a slice of ham.” “It’s just too much Evie. It’s nothing to get upset about. But look, if it’s that important to you, give it here.” He reached for the napkin. “I’ll sign your version too.”
Evie glared at Eric reproachfully. Rolling up the napkin, she slid it down the front of her leotard, nudging it between her breasts. She handed Jesus half a doughnut, stuffing the other half into her mouth— and in a muffled voice said. “Let’s go.” Sliding away from Eric across the car seat, she folded her arms, leaning against the door.
Eric started the car. And as they pulled away, he waved at the old man— who seemed disappointed that the show had ended so abruptly.
They had not traveled more than a few blocks, when Eric heard Jesus retching in the back seat. “Evie, I think Jesus is throwing up again.”
Still fuming over the bill of sale. Evie snapped back. “Well what do you want me to do about it?”
Eric smiled. “Well… Could you tell him not to vomit so loud? I’m trying to digest my Dog Yummies.” Evie smiled faintly. “I’ll clean it up after we get you home.” She nodded silently.
The final few miles of the journey home were spent in idle small talk. Eric described to Evie the great house that he and his roommates had found. Evie described her part in the Senior play.
Eric took the back way up 37th Avenue, stopping at the top of the hill, overlooking the Neville house. He pulled to the shoulder of the road, turning off the engine. They sat in silence for a long while, staring at Rowe Junior High School, across Lake Road below.
“Thank you for Jesus Eric,” Evie said earnestly. “I’m really happy.” She leaned over, kissing him ardently on the lips. A familiar unsettling manifested itself in his pants. She grabbed the new dog collar from the seat and got out of the car quickly. As Evie led Jesus from the back of the car, Eric looked over his shoulder at the obscene pile of half-chewed doughnuts, jerky and ham slices that lay steaming on the seat.
Evie peeked in the rear door, saying. “You’d better go now Eric. They’re gonna be real mad when they see the dog. I’ll call you tomorrow night. Bye.” She waved forlornly and slammed the door. Eric started the car and let it roll down the hill, passing right in front of the Neville house. He gazed in the rearview mirror, to see EvieÑ her black skirt swaying sensuously, walking slowly down the hill with Jesus at her side.
It was just as he turned right, onto Lake Road, that Eric remembered the dead cat in the trunk.