And Never Let Us Cry, Part 5 of 5
April 14, 2006
By William Christy
A series of stories sliced from life during the thirties in the central and Sandhill areas of Nebraska
When a Dog Dies
Part 5 of 5
Maggots were hatching in piles of warm cow manure that morning. Old hens were laughing and chuckling hilariously as they kicked apart these brown castles and devoured the pale inhabitants as quickly as their idiot eyes detected movement.
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The tank was running over. Water, slopping over the rounded tin lip, flattened carefully to the outer edge as it made its way to the sand. Here at the bottom of the tank the drops of water regrouped and then made their way together through the treacherous forest of broken corn cobs, cockleburs, horse weeks, and chicken feathers, to a small stagnant pond.
Everything was alive it seemed to Mart – everything except Ole Buster. Of course Buster was dead. Dad hadn’t let him look at the dog’s body, but Mart believed he was dead. His mother said Old Buster was up in heaven, but that didn’t seem quite right. Mart had looked up a lot of time trying to see if Buster had made it yet. Once he saw Ole Buster in a cloud, but Buster just stared and it was spooky so he didn’t look anymore.
He remembered when Ole Buster wouldn’t move away from the screen door and Uncle Andrew said, “Let’s throw hot water on him!” No one had said not to, so Uncle Andrew did it, and everyone thought it was funny the way Buster howled and ran. Mart wished he had said no. I could say it today because not I’m six. You can’t say much when you’re four because the words always make people laugh when they listen and say: Did you hear that? It’s easier to pretend you’re like everyone thinks you are. That way they don’t worry so much.
Oren Shultz told Dad that he hadn’t put out any coyote poison anywhere around there, but then that was what Dad knew he would say.
Ole Buster used to chase birds out of the cedar trees. He would run, and bark, and jump as high as he could. They always came back to the cedars though, and Buster would let them stay until they got too noisy. “It’s tough being a dog,” Mart said aloud and startled himself with his own voice. He glanced about to see if anyone had heard. He satisfied himself that he as alone and again reflected, “It’s tough being a dog.”
“What’s so tough about it?”
“What’s so tough about being a dog?” asked his father walking on past as he spoke with a five gallon pail of slop in each hand.
Mart jumped up and tagged after his father. Catching up, he put one hand on the bail of a slop pail and pulled up mightily, trying to ease the weight for his father and failing, he knew, to make any appreciable difference in his father’s burden.
“Well, Dad, you know how a dog is?”
“No, I’m not sure I know how a dog is.”
“Well, you remember when Ole Buster would chase birds?”
“He never caught one did he?”
“Now that you mention it, I guess he never even came close.”
“Well, that’s one thing that’s tough about being a dog.”
“And besides that, a dog doesn’t hurt anything if he lays down in front of a screen door.”
His father, by this time, had fed the pigs and stood with one foot on the fence silently counting them. Then he looked at Mart without changing expression and cleared his throat. Slowly he turned both slop pails upside down on the loose sand and sat on one. Mart sat on the other. They both looked across the fence, over the backs of the pigs, toward the pasture.
“Do you think it might be tough being a pig?” his father asked. “The pigs just eat, and grunt, and look for a hole in the fence. A pig hardly ever chases birds.”
“I guess maybe a pig might not be too smart.”
“Oh, pigs are smart enough; it’s just that they act different than dogs or people. Do you suppose Ole Buster liked to chase birds?”
“Yes, you know how he sort of used to laugh about it and breathe real fast.”
“Maybe it’s not too tough chasing birds, then, if you like that sort of thing.”
“But that hot water …”
“It wasn’t hot,” his father lied.
Mart studied his father carefully for a long while. Slowly he worked saliva back and forth between the gap in his teeth. “Is it tough being grown up?” he asked seriously.
“I don’t know,” his father answered, “I just don’t know.”
They both rose and walked toward the house, each carrying an empty pail. Mart looked up at his father carefully. I’ll be glad,” he said, “when I can wear overalls that have a place to carry a hammer on the side.” He looked at his own overalls and shook his head slightly. “It’s tough when you’re only six.” he said quietly. He thought he heard his father laugh a little, so he laughed too. They laughed together all the way up the path to the porch, and the loose sand, blown by a stray puff of wind, made a tinkling sound against their slop pails which was heard only by a few birds in the cedar trees.