Phil Primeau

Dog Day

It was just past noon but already the snow was beginning to fall. They had said on the television that the storm would not be over Easterville until the evening. They had said it would be a poor time. Everyone was advised to get to the store for bread and milk.

Sam stuck his hand out before him and caught a few flakes on his fingers. "We'd better get on with this before it gets worse."

Alex nodded and tugged at the leash he was holding. "Max is pretty slow."

"Give him a yank," said Sam.

"I just did. I've been doing that, he's just slow." Alex pulled again at the frayed red leash. Max raised his head and yipped a few times.

"Probably just knows what's in for him," Sam told his brother. "An animal is smart like that."

Alex considered that for a moment. "Dad always says they can smell what you're thinking."

"Dad's probably right about that," Sam granted.

They walked on in silence. All around them now the snow was falling. Already the ground was covered with an inch or two of the stuff, as it had flurried on and off for a few days. The trees looked boney and sick under the white dusting. From the north a stiff wind blew. The boys struggled against it. Their wool hunting caps were down nearly over their eyes.

Sam led the way. He cut a path of his liking through the woods, having abandoned the main trail miles before. This he was not happy about. The dense shrubbery made the going tough, but there was no point in making a mess on so public a route. He had to do what he had to do.

Sam ambled with an easy swagger that complemented his general sense of confidence. He was blessed with a sort of Yankee self-assurance. He was sure with a hammer in his hands, sure with a girl in his bed, sure with his nightly two line prayers. Now he was sure with the lean rifle which he carried like a trusted Louisville slugger.

His face was rough for so young a man and thickly bearded too. For this his friends would often rib him, but like all things he took it in good humor. He would tell his buddies that the girls really liked it. Maybe they did.

The land began to slope upwards. As the elevation increased, the tree coverage thinned. The snow fell harder and the wind stung more fiercely. Sam wished the thing to be through. He wanted to be back home. There was a game on the television and a fire in the den. And he was hungry, also. When they were back at the house, he would ask his mom to make a ham sandwich with mustard and cheese and lettuce. Once he warmed up before the fire, he would enjoy a can of beer.

A few feet behind him, Alex was soldiering through the ever thickening curtain of snow. His nose was runny. Every now and then he would wipe the snot on the cuff of his blue and white flannel jacket. He was hungry and cold, but his thoughts were mainly of Max. Max had been his first dog. They were good, old friends.

Alex had known that this day was coming ever since the visit to Doctor Meyers. "I'm afraid he has canine leukemia," Doctor Meyers had said in a decidedly clinical tone of voice. Alex knew that he was not afraid at all. "It's really too late for treatment. Anything we do now will just prolong the pain, I'm afraid." When Sam heard the news he banged his fist on the kitchen counter. He declared earnestly, "That goddamn Jew should've picked up on something like that a long time ago." Sam was almost as good friends with Max as Alex was.

As they reached the top of the hill, Alex began to lag. His boots seemed heavier. He took a quick look back at Max. Sam caught the glance.

"Now don't start anything like that."

"I'm not starting."

"Good. You know that this is something important. I've done it before and you'll do it again."

"Yeah, I know."

"It's just gotta be done and we're not about to let that two-bit vet do it in his fucking lab. That's no way to go. Not on a metal table. Not with some guy in a white coat with a big needle."

Alex knew that his brother was right. He respected Sam and loved him in a very strong but quiet way. They would fight about many things but over this there was no argument. And like Sam told him the night before: "Part of growing up is learning to suck it up."

Close to six years younger than Sam, Alex was only just on the cusp of maturity. In his looks and his demeanor he was more boy than man. His face had a softness that embarrassed him. He imagined, though, that he would be handsome once his eyes and chin hardened.

For a boy of fourteen he was already quite strong. His physical power he attributed to long, dirty hours playing tackle football behind the middle school. During the coming summer he would work for his dad doing stone masonry. Then in autumn he would try-out for the high school's football team. Sarah would like that.

Sarah lived on the other side of Easterville and had beautiful blonde hair. Alex loved how it was sometimes curly and sometimes straight. He liked it when she wore it up and he liked it when she wore it down. She also had long eyelashes and round, interesting breasts. He sat one desk behind her in algebra. Whenever he went to the front of the room he would try to catch a glimpse down her shirt. One day Sarah caught him doing this and smiled. They kissed at the next dance. He bought her a gift certificate to the shopping mall in Cranford for her birthday.

She was angry at him for going along with his brother. "He's just a small dog, Alex. Would you want someone doing that to you? It's cruel."

In hesitation, he had told Sam about her misgivings. Sam had snorted and guffawed. "What would some little chick know about it? Look, Alex, let this be a lesson. You tell a woman more than she needs to know and she'll walk all over you. You can talk nice with them but you keep real business to yourself. Either that or you'll have your dick cut off before you get a chance to use it for what's good."

He was not sure if Sam was exactly right, but he admitted that his brother had to know something about women. He was never without one. Sometimes he would take one home for dinner. He would show her off to their dad, giving the old man a nudge in the gut when she left the room. In their old house he and Sam had shared a bedroom. Many nights Sam would shake him awake. "You gotta get out of here, buddy. I got someone with me. Go watch a movie in the den for a little." Maybe someday he would take Sarah to his bedroom . . .

Sam interrupted this pleasant distraction. "This is a good spot. Not much snow here." They had stopped at the very top of the hill, just next to a patch of healthy oaks. The wide limbs of the trees had caught much of the snow, and yellowed grass was still visible in spots. "Tie him up and we'll get digging."

Alex looped the leash around the nearest tree and slung two shovels from over his shoulder. He handed one to Sam and they attacked the ground. The earth was frozen December hard. They threw their shoulders into it so they were both sweating and panting. When they had broken a number of roots and displaced a respectable weight of soil, Sam stepped back and leaned on the butt of his shovel. "This is fine. Lucky he's just small, the ground is tough this time of year."

"Okay," said Alex slowly.

Sam squinted at him. "You wanna do it? He's your pup."

Alex took a step back and worked his lip. "I don't know if I can do it, Sam. Maybe you should. I'd hate to mess up and hurt him."

"Well that's true."

"I think you should do it."

"Alright," he said flatly. Sam was not fond of his brother shying away, but he knew that Alex was still young and had only even killed game once or twice. And Sam was real sure with his hands. "You got anything to say or something?" Alex did not.

Max sat quietly on his haunches. The wind picked up a bit. Sam opened the rifle and slid a lone slug into place. He looked at Alex and saw wetness on his cheeks and around his eyes. With the snow blowing hard in their faces and melting against the warmth of their skin, he could not tell if his brother was crying or not.

Phil Primeau: "Bionote...bionote......"Weeping may endure for the night, but joy shall come always in the morning." --Psalms 30:5"

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