All The King's Horses
Someone rang the bell while I was getting face of the shower. They rang it again when I was getting dressed and I yelled no one’s home. Then, they pounded.
“You got a black lab?” the guy asked when I opened up. My hair was wet and so was the collar of my shirt from the dampness of my skin. The guy took off his cap and scratched the back of his head with the brim. “Named Suzieburger?”
“Why?” I asked. I opened the screen to see if she was taking a shit out front like she does when she figures out the gate. “She out again?” Carol was always nagging about the gate. Said the dog would get out for good if I didn’t finally fix that latch. Or worse.
Out in the street, my neighbor Rachel was crying next to the pickup running idle, from where the guy had left it after he stopped. Underneath, Suzieburger growled at everyone and everything. Her nose was frothy, and when I bent down to pet her neck, the way she likes, she snapped. “Hey,” I said, and caught her snout. Her hind leg was bent backward and her intestines had come out her anus.
“Oh, Mickey,” Rachel said, standing there. She wiped her eyes with the collar of her spaghetti-strap. Her short-shorts showed thick legs out for the first time since it got warm. Behind her, she had closed her curtains before coming out, so her daycare kids couldn’t see the goings on outside. If Carol hadn’t gotten custody, William would’ve been over there right now, wondering what was taking place on the other side of the glass. Wondering why Ms. Rachel had suddenly rushed out the door. She wiped her eyes again, little spots soaking her low collar. Carol always wondered how she got away with dressing like that, what with her supposed to be watching children.
“I don’t know what happened,” the guy said, kneeling next me. “Just ran out into the street.”
I wrapped one hand around Suzieburger’s nose, to keep her mouth shut, while with my other hand petted her coat. She growled under my grip. If Carol had gotten her way, she would’ve taken her too. Said she was the one who picked her out at the pound, after all. Before Michael was born. Besides, I was the one who made my decisions, she said. What right did he have?
“You think we ought to move her?” Rachel asked. She took a deep breath between words, but it only made her voice quiver worse.
“How else we going to move the truck?” the guy said.
With me holding her head down like that, Suzieburger’s eyes went from me to the guy and back. Milky saliva bubbled from her nose. Her ear was wet with spit. I tried wiping it, but she jerked, as if to snap. She never did that to William. William could tug on those ears, while everyone else would have lost a finger. Only reason it seemed she ever came out from behind the couch was to eat or shit or because Will was over for the weekend. Only reason Will didn’t cry about the coming over was because of her. And Carol wondered why we got lawyers involved over a dog.
“Well, you can’t just back it up with her under there,” Rachel said.
“I understand that,” the guy said. “But I don’t know how we move her like this. What do you want me to do?” Rachel’s sadness turned to blame turned to anger. I knew she wanted to tell the guy she wanted him to not have done this. I knew she wanted to start screaming at him, like she does when she’s only even slightly mad, right there in the street. Carol said she wasn’t surprised when it didn’t last. I held Suzieburger down so I could wipe the spit from her ear. “Shh,” I said.
“It’s not my fault,” the guy said. “She just ran out--”
“Well, how fast were you going?” Rachel said, her knuckles finding her waist, her skin so pale it looked like she might already be burning.
“It’s not my fault,” the guy said.
“It’s no fault of the dog’s,” I said. I wiped her ear, but the spit just spread between my fingers.
The guy took off his hat. “Mister--”
“I just meant it’s no fault of the dog’s, either,” I said, still wiping, even through her growling grew limited to the shortness of breath.
About the author:
Jonathan Danielson received his MFA from the University of San Francisco. His work has been named a Top 25 Finalist for Glimmer Train’s “Family First” contest (2012), and is published or forthcoming in The Saturday Evening Post, The Southern California Review, Able Muse Press, Monday Night, Fabula Argentea, The Rambler, Noctua Review, Fast Forward Press, and The Feathertale Review. He lives in his home state of Arizona with his wife, Sarah.