Bringing The Dogs
Cave Drawing outside Austin, Texas
Luther caught the vivid scent on a slight southeasterly gust as beside him his mother still dreamed of rabbits. China’s arthritic legs gamely jerked in her sleeping chase, kicking traces of pursuit from her paws through the dust beneath the cedar deck that extended from the big limestone house. Luther’s broad black head listed on the tantalizing odor on the wind. Deliciously agitated, his wet nose twitched as his simple mind closed over the heady contours of cooking meat. The dog rose on his four feet,wagging is tail with such force that his rump shook and he barked, waking his mother who opened one eye, still dimmed to the world beyond. Luther turned to her and yelped once before running out from the deck’s shadow to the waking morning, firmly fixed on the redolent transit of the burning deer. The dog’s powerful legs took him across the blacktop driveway and over its low bordering wall of piled stone and into a field of grasses–buffalo, bluestem and muhly— where he stopped and wheeled about, calling urgencies to China who was now pushing her reluctant body alongside the house, her step accelerating to the fragrant breeze that had finally come to her senses. By the time she reached the driveway, the dog was huffing. She wisely cleared the wall at a broken juncture and was only some dozen yards behind Luther when he bolted through the dry high stemmed muhly grass toward the wisp of smoke writhing above a distant bristling treeline.
Out of the field, down the rough back of the hill, over limestone and granite outcrops, under twists of scrub oak and thicks of juniper, the Labradors pursued paths familiar to only them, the deer and the two boys who had long since forgotten the way.
The dogs arrived at a dry creek bed where they turned west and kept to its westerly upward slope for some hundred yards until they reached a signpost invisible to the human eye that turned them clambering up another hill and down into a narrow draw choked with hackberry and wild persimmon. The siren’s call to roasty flesh was dimmed in the windless draw bringing the dogs to pause. Luther whined as he reconnoitered the air, his head lifting in measured jerks, rapidly scanning the odorous prolixity cacophony of olfactory messages, designs, deaths and bafflements from which Luther plucked, like an Eureka!-struck scholar who suddenly discovers in the gibberish of some lost language scroll, the words of Abraham: greasy fat-fired hot slaty blood and marrow man-handed meat!
Luther left his mother asthmatically struggling through a devilment of thwarting scrub and hurled himself between two cedars. The great dog ripped his way through an undefiled needling latticework of branches, a vicious tangle of bois d’arc that tore a four-inch strip of skin from his right shoulder. The dog, like the best of his breed, was utterly heedless of obstacles and their possible pain when in pursuit. The purpose of existence was simple: pursuit and retrieval, an economic cycle of perfection where the presence of God was manifested between the two.
Luther was very near the summit of the hill when his way was blocked by an awkward jut of limestone. The dog confronted the massive boulder with a censuring string of barks, growls and whines until he spotted its weakness, a smaller companion stone. Luther leaped to it and scrambled up onto the great stone itself where he sighted the fire and the familiar car. The dog rejoiced in a series of triumphal barks before racing across the flat expanse of high grass and mesquite.
Below, China had stopped to sniff the drops of Luther’s blood and, though confused, she reflexively lapped them up with a dutiful mother’s tongue.
She followed their trail until she reached the big slab of limestone. Seeing no relief from the obstacle, China turned and waddled against the hillside until she came to a dead oak that had toppled over from the hilltop’s edge. She climbed up on the log where she sat her haunches and rested, panting. From here, she saw with her rheumy dark eyes what might be Luther, a black figure darting through the blonde grasses further into the distance toward a fuzzy horizon. She smelled the wood fire, the smoky meat and her Gavin. China stood and, in an alternate amble and trot, made her way across the plateau toward the beckoning billows of smoke.
Luther was delirious with happiness. The dog thumped his tail against Gavin’s leg with the enthusiasm of a drunken football rowdy, raucously jigging away from the man’s late swinging boot to the edge of the fire where he sneezed and sputtered from its smoke before waggling back to his master feet where he gazed up with the grinning stupefaction of the inveterate party-crasher, drooling thanks and greed.
China slowly made her way through the stone circumference and stopped, staring into the wasting flame. Addled from the mile long trial and the hazy confusion now before her, the dog lowered her gray muzzle and waited for clarity to assemble around the baited aroma which had reeled her in like a helpless fish.
Gavin looked down at his pitiful animal and clucked: “Oooh, China girl. What’s a matter darlin’? Look. Look. Your legs are shaking.” The old bitch, sparked to her senses by the man’s crooning, made a halting turn in his direction. Her tail, bleached parchment peeping through thinning black bristles, swayed in weary measure as she finally fixed Gavin in her murky eyes. Insufferably doubtless love swam over their forming cataracts, steely scales of blindness flaking the polished orbs that once shined like licked drops of coffee candy. The pangs of lost time and blinded dogs wrenched Gavin and he fell to the old dog’s side and threw his arms around her thick ruffed neck, the silvertipped fur clotted with burrs and small twigs. The man rubbed tenderness through it with aching fingers and with them, plucked the tormenting debris, murmuring words of a commiserating child.
“You’re such a good dog! Yes, yes. You are. Good ol’ dog. Aww. You thought there was barbeque for you. Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Aww. Poor ol’ China dog. Aww.”
Gavin’s show of affection fanned Luther’s dimwitted excitations. An eager beery teenage reveler, he yawped and pranced around Gavin and China until he finally bounced against the man’s leg with such exuberant force Gavin had to thrust out both hands into the dirt to keep from plunging headlong into the fire’s rim.
“God-damn it! Shit!”
Gavin got to his feet, towering over Luther who wriggled abjectly, his tail sucked tight to belly between quivering hind legs.
“Get down! Jesus christ. I bet you stirred up your mama on this, didn’t you? God-damn. GET DOWN.”
Luther launched into fully orchestrated canine capitulation by flipping onto his back, submissively canting his forelegs, their paws dangling helplessly on his heaving chest, his tongue flapping from its flews like a bright rubber bandana, his wet brown idiot eyes showing maniacal whites as they fearfully darted from side to side—the very embodiment, manifestation of reeking subservience. This display invariably repelled Gavin in its obscenely detailed thoroughness, perfect in preternatural gesture right down to the screaming red revelation of the dog’s unsleeved doghood, an abased punctuation now throbbing on Luther’s black belly.
“Get up! Get up, Luther. Stop that shit and SIT!”
With a quick, powerful twist of his body, Luther flipped to his feet and sat, his eyes fidgeting. China took this to be a general command and responded accordingly. She eased her haunches to the ground and turned her eyes up to Gavin.
“Now. You two made a long trip for nothing. This ain’t a barbecue, you understand?”
The dogs gazed up at the man from vast reservoirs of incomprehension.
The man met their gaze and moved his further into theirs.
“Of course you don’t understand. It must be paradise down in those smooth simple brains of yours. No. No paradise. Sorry. Just surprises from time to time. Right? Some good. Some bad. Well, kids, this is one of the bad surprises. You don’t eat this. Hear that?”
Gavin bent down and caught their muzzles, one in each hand He squatted to meet their eyes at level to gain their full attention.
“You hear this?”
He turned their muzzles to face the animal wreckage now burning in patches, a smoldering blackened diorama of some distant past battlefield’s aftermath.
“See that? No. You don’t get any. You two ain’t gonna grub around on that deer.”
Gavin jerked their confused eyes back to his.
“Hear? No. No. No. No.”
He shook their heads with each negative command.
Gavin released them and went to the rock where the skull perched. The sun was well clear of the green horizon, its onslaught having removed the skull’s ghostly luster. It was now the dulled yellow of weathered piano keys or an ancient billiard ball, gone pocked and chipped useless. No longer playable. The man picked up the skull and turned it to his face as the dogs watched him with curiosity.
“Roy, you know I start talking to these dogs like they were cedar choppers. I could just as well speak to them in cadences of Henry James for all it would mean to them.”
Gavin cradled the cool skull in one arm and walked to where they dogs sat, still in his check but now stretching their necks as they sniffed drifts of the deer’s smoke.
“Dogs don’t give a shit what you say to them. They know, what? Ten, twelve words? Tops. It’s how you say them. Right, you two? Come on.”
He slapped his thigh with the palm of his empty hand and started toward the Cadillac.
“Come on, Luther. China. Come. ‘Come’ they understand.”
China waddled up in step with Gavin with Luther reluctantly following, pausing to whine longingly over his bloody shoulder before reaching Gavin’s side.
“Get in the car. Go on.”
Luther lunged past Gavin and his mother, landing in the backseat where he discovered gory reward. With a furious tongue, the dog lapped the still sticky blood from the upholstery. China followed, pulling up her bulk on decrepit legs.
Gavin slid behind the wheel, setting the skull next him and started the car. He set the stick into reverse, backing the Caddy parallel to the dying fire. He turned to the charred spidery ruin where shards of orange fled skyward in worried flurries. A modest scene of carnage.
“You know, Coppola could’ve ave some serious money and grief on Apocalypse Now if he had burned large animals like that and shot them as miniature landscapes instead of half the Philippines. The effect is just as strong as burning trees. Stronger, don’t you think?”
The question evoked a sudden breeze, a guttural whisper.
“Like oil drums of burning shit. Jungle garbage. The meaty stink. Words going up in burning acetate. That plastic smell. The Black O in your throat burning blue. And lots more. Burning, I think. Always burning.”
Gavin felt the sun’s scorch on his neck and he felt his sweat breaking beneath the filth on his face, scabby with dried blood and dirt and the stink of smoke and whiskey. He put the car into Drive and hit the gas, scattering limestone and ashes in the Cadillac’s wake. The dazzling coruscation of the eastern sky ricocheted from the hood, multiplied through the windshield, assaulting Gavin’s eye with a volley of long bright needles. Blinded, he braked and fumbled over the dashboard for his Ray-Bans and fixed them to his face. He glanced in the rearview mirror where Luther’s tail flagged merrily as the dog nosed out the last remnant of the deer’s bleeding. Gavin hit the accelerator.
“Watch yo’self, boy! Don’t go chewin’ on that fuckin’ seat!”
Gavin squeezed his nostrils between finger and thumb and noisily snuffed, the cocaine dregs leaving a faint numbness at the back of his throat.
“You got country dogs, you talk country. You got the leftover brain jar of a ghost you talk…what? Crazy horrors. Bierce, maybe.”
“No literature, boy,” came the whisper. “It’s just you and me.”
Gavin felt a weight on his left shoulder where China rested her head, smiling into the onrushing wind with serene lidded eyes—a delighted spinster aunt out for a rare drive in the country who turns and gives an appreciative kiss on her nephew’s ear, tickling him to laughter.
Copyright 1986, 2012 Joseph Michael Reynolds, All Rights Reserved