FICTION- Small Bodies of Water
It was a hot day when Bull and I were stopped by a man in a $99 suit, with an odd expression, and an injured dog bleeding between his legs. He said his name was Norman, but I really couldn't be sure. The dog was bleeding in a peculiar way, as if the blood was rippling out from its belly in a perfect, growing circle. I believe it was a Labrador.
We had been headed for Blue Whale Rock, which was about a 20-mile drive and a one-mile hike. It was the summer of the heat wave, and the heat had wormed its way into our brains. We needed to get out of town. Bull had gotten into a fight with his dad again and thrown him through the old fence beside their house. After that, his dad had beaten him pretty bad.
Blue Whale Rock really did look almost like a stone whale breaching stupidly out the side of one of those mountains, caught half way into the air. It wasn't going anywhere now. Along the trail to Blue Whale Rock, I knew there were small pools of water that sat idle in the mountainside and would help us fight the heat.
Bull lived with his folks a ways out town, in a place called Lake Woods. I never understood why. It was a poor area, and I knew Bull's father was a lawyer. My image of lawyers was slick-haired men in pinstripe suits shouting nonsense to men in robes. But I guess, like anything else, there are some who have it and some who don't. His mother was from some Eastern European place-– Romania maybe– and I'm not sure how she ended up in Lake Woods, but I don't think she ever forgave Bull's father for taking her there.
The houses in Lake Woods were small and painted odd colors. Bull's neighbor's was a dull pink, and his was straight black. In all my years since, I've never seen a black house. I remember many times seeing small children in overalls running around in circles on muddy front lawns, their parents asleep on large green chairs on the porch. Where I lived, you almost never saw people outside; the porches and fields were all in the back. But the house across from Bull's parents' had a large red pickup truck parked perpetually in front with several Mexicans sitting in the back just staring at us.
When Bull called me, I'd been sitting around doing nothing, reading a magazine maybe, with my mom getting lunch ready in the kitchen. I got excited, grabbed some swim trunks, and hopped in the car. As I drove up to Paul's Gas Station in my Volvo wagon, Bull was wiping the sweat off with his t-shirt. His fake ID had gotten us a 12-pack of Pabst and even just sitting there in the shade he had to have his shirt off, something Bull doesn't like to do on account of his arm. It was so hot it felt like the sun was sucking all the air out of the atmosphere. We drove off with all four windows down.
I forgot to mention Bull's arm. It was normal until the elbow, after which it was twisted and gnarled into something wrong, almost like a piece of driftwood, but pink and made of flesh. Bull was a big guy, and he had a temper. I've seen him get in more fights than George Foreman, and he normally won, so he was rarely picked on in school. Still, I've always thought that arm made him grow up with a chunk of meanness in him, like he had something to prove.
We had both just about finished our first beer when we ran into the man with the dog. He was standing in front of his Jeep Wrangler and waving his arms around like a referee. There wasn't any blood on his hands, though.
"What's up with this yuppie?" Bull said.
"I dunno. Should I stop?" I asked. I was weary of the situation, but I knew Bull would not let something this interesting pass us by.
"Yeah. I gotta piss anyway."
I pulled the car over on the gravel by the side of the road, and Bull hopped out, ran to the ditch, unzipped, and let out a sigh. I stayed in the car looking at the man, who had a funny way of puffing out his left cheek, like a chipmunk.
When he was done, I hopped out, and we walked over to the man, who had lit what I thought was a cigarette, but when I looked closer, I saw it was one of those mini cigars.
"You boys gotta help me. I was just driving along, and this beast jumps out of nowhere and smacks right into my front grate."
"Are there even any houses around here?" I asked. "Where did he come from?"
"Hell if I know, but I have to thank you two. I've been waiting and trying to pull cars over for 20 minutes, and you're the first who stopped."
The man kept trying to look at Bull's arm without showing that he was, bouncing his eyes off it in a way that irritated me.
"Yeah, look, I'm really sorry but I've got a wedding I have to get to. My daughter. My only daughter. The groom is a jerk, but what can you do? I'm already late."
"So what do you need us for?" Bull said.
"Look I feel terrible about hitting someone's pet. If you could take the dog back to its owner, I can make it worth your while."
"How worth?" Bull asked.
"I'll give you a hundred."?
I thought then of all the things I could buy with that much money, and how we had already run out of pills. Then I thought maybe the weekend wouldn't turn out so bad after all.
"Two hundred," I said.
"So you want me to take this dog to a veterinarian? I don't have any idea where one is near here."
"No, no, just bring it back to the owner. Tell them it was an accident and give them this number, my cell phone. The address is on the dog's collar."
"You sure? He looks like he's gonna die any second."?
"I don't think so. I've seen hurt animals before; they just surprise you with their blood. You wouldn't believe how much they have inside them. He'll be all right."
The man pulled out a black wallet and paid us quickly, three fifties, a twenty and three tens. Then he got in his Jeep and drove off. Right after he left I realized I should have memorized his license plate. It seemed like something one should always do in a situation like this, but it was too late now. So I took my key and opened the trunk. Inside I had an old blue sleeping bag I used when I took girls out. I laid it across the back seat.
"Alright Bull, you grab the front legs, and I'll get the back," I said.
"There's no fucking way I'm having a half-dead dog's mouth six inches from my crotch," Bull said.
I thought about it a moment. "Okay, Other way then."
Bull grabbed the dog's two back legs with his one good hand while I bent down and got a close look. The dog's face was motionless, his tongue hanging out like a dirty sock. His fur was a dirty orange color, but it was almost gleaming in the afternoon sun. When I leaned real close I could hear his thick breath spilling out onto the pavement.
"Come on," Bull said. He was standing up while holding the back legs in the air. It was a big dog, almost the length of my back seat. We carried the dog to the car and threw him in the open sleeping bag, then tossed the flap down so only his head stuck out. It was the end of that sleeping bag for me, but I mentally deducted the price from the cash we had been given.
"That fucker better not bleed all over my floor" I said, but Bull didn't respond.
I started to drive really fast, partly because I felt responsible for this dog's life now, and partly because the wind helped to cool us down. Bull popped the cap of another beer, but one was my limit while driving. Outside I could see the empty fields of Virginia hurrying by. Skeletons of once-thriving farms that now were plots of weeds guarded only by empty shacks. It used to be that everyone down here was spread out across those hills, but long ago everyone gravitated to the cities and towns like little grey iron shavings to a magnet.
A lot of time passed, and I realized that I could no longer hear the dog panting. I reached one hand back and shook it, but it didn't move.
"We gotta take it to a hospital or something," I said.
"You know where one is, Grey?"
Bull was right. I didn't. I started shouting at it, "Come on, Carl, you're gonna make it! I know it fucking hurts, but you're gonna live! Don't you fucking die on me, man!"
"I dunno, he needs a name."
"Are you sure you don't want to just ditch this mutt?"
The odd thing was, I had really started to feel attached to that dog as we drove along. I wanted it to live. I wanted to be the one who burst through the door with the creature in my arms, the one to bring him home.
Plus, I thought we could get a second reward from the owner, and I said so.
"All right, but do you even know how to get to this place?"
I had only known the general direction– my Uncle Tucker lived out that way– but I realized we needed to pull over somewhere soon and figure it out. First I had to make sure the dog was alive. If there was one thing I knew about dying animals, it was that they needed water.
"We gotta find a stream!" I said, pulling the car over and jumping out. Immediately I felt stupid, but I ran up the dirty hill and scanned the area for something, any small body of water. In the ditch by the road, a crushed Dixie cup lay amid the trash, but no creek. In the distance I saw a rift that might have been a stream once but was all dried up. When I looked back, Bull was pouring beer on the dog. Not into its mouth, but just on its face. It was simply spilling down to my car floor.
"Gotta try something," he said, shrugging.
I walked aroundand opened the side door. I crouched down and looked into the dog's large wet eyes. They were like sinkholes, black pits that told me nothing. He was not moving, and suddenly everything seemed so pointless and sad. What was I going to do with the body?
"Fuck. I think he's dead," I said, pushing down on his stomach with my hand. Suddenly the dog whelped loudly and popped its head up like a snake to bite my hand.
"Motherfucker!" I said. "Shit!" Bull just laughed.
"Give me that beer," I said, cradling the dog's head in my arm and pouring Pabst carefully down its throat.
A little while later we saw a gas station and BBQ place with a "Big Jim's Pig Pit" sign. We parked around by the side and got out. All the lifesaving had made us hungry, and the sun, like some brilliant vampire, had sucked all the water out of us. Luckily there was a wooden picnic table out back in the shade. A large shirtless man stood beside it in front of an even larger bull-black grill. His hills of fat were so covered in sweat he was almost dazzling. A thick trail of black smoke wormed its way into the sky as we ordered two cheeseburgers.
When we finished, I went inside and bought a bottle of water for Carl while Bull got directions from the cook. When we got back, four barefoot boys were standing around the car with their hands and heads to the rear windows.
"Get the hell away from there," Bull said, waving his other arm.
They all took a step back. The tallest boy said, "Where'd you get this dog?" but the rest were staring in awe at Bull's arm. It got really silent except for the sound of the fat man whistling out back. Because I never knew what Bull would do in a situation like this, I watched him as closely as the others. One of the little boys actually reached his hand out slowly as if to touch it. Then Bull snapped his twisted arm out in the same way Carl had tried to bite me. When he grabbed the little boy's hand with his tiny finger-nubs, the boys all screamed and ran away.
"Little brats," Bull said, laughing.
The day was getting heavy in the middle when we finally found the house. It was a nice house, large and white, with a circular gravel driveway enclosing beds of flowers and bright green plants. I felt good. This seemed like the right place for Carl, a place that would heal him.
I stopped the car half way around the circle and Bull and I opened the rear door. The dog still looked almost dead, but I was pretty sure it was still alive. When I put my hand in front of its big black nose, I could feel a little breath. I was wondering whether it was acceptable to ask for a reward, but I decided to just wait for them to offer. Using the sleeping bag like a stretcher, we lifted him out of the car.
We had gotten him about three-fourths of the way to the porch when I suddenly heard a scream and looked up at a beautiful brown-haired woman running at us. We dropped the dog.
"What the hell did you do to Vincent?"
"Vincent?" I said foolishly. But the lady was already down on her knees cradling the dog's big head in her lap. She flipped open the sleeping bag, and we could see that all its golden hair had turned red.
"Jesus, what did you do? Jesus, shit, damn it!"
She went on and on.
Bull and I stood there stupidly for about a minute listening to her and not saying anything. Finally I said that a man had accidentally hit the dog and paid us to bring it back.
"A man? What man! What did he look like?"
I told her about the Jeep, the suit, and the chipmunk cheeks. She sat there for a minute staring up at us before her eyes widened and she let out another, louder, scream.
"Charles?! Charles sent you!"
"My ex-husband sent you?! That goddamn jerk! He shot my dog, and you drive here and drop it dead in my doorway?! What kind of sick freaks are you?"
I looked down and suddenly noticed that all the blood was emanating from one spot in the dog's gut. It really did look more like he had been shot than run over. I hadn't noticed when he was wrapped up in the sleeping bag.
Then I heard another, smaller voice crying and saw a little girl, who could have been only about five, standing in the doorway. That was when the woman started going ballistic, throwing handfuls of gravel at us and my car.
It was all too much for me. I had only wanted to help, but somehow it had gotten all fucked up along the way.
Bull and I jumped in the car, the woman screaming in my window. I turned on the engine and sped off– I didn't even try to get my sleeping bag back.
We'd driven a ways back and I was replaying the day in my mind, trying to figure out exactly where we had gone wrong, when Bull burst out laughing. He couldn't stop, not for almost the entire drive to Blue Whale Rock.
That's the way I like to remember Bull. Years later he got in a lot of trouble. His temper caused him to beat his girlfriend pretty bad, and he got locked up for a while. When he got out, I heard he skipped south with almost no money and some stolen weed he was going to sell, but the people he stole it from got to him first. I guess it was inevitable he would go down like that, but when we were younger I like to think the meanness had only eaten him up to about his shoulder, and that was an amount he could handle.
We did end up getting to Blue Whale Rock that day. There was a pretty steep path that got more and more vertical the higher we climbed, but we made our way up to the top when the sun was still swinging low in the sky. My legs felt like they were going to fall off, so I lay down on the rock. But Bull was really excited.
"You can see the whole town from up here!"
I turned my head and saw only a wide green sea of treetops rolling over the hills and valleys.
"We ought to just set up camp and live up here, man. What the fuck do we need down there? Everyday we can just piss off this rock here and have it land all over the town."
It was a pretty idea: us just laughing and pissing at the town down there with all its rottenness and anger.
"It really is beautiful," I said.
Bull put down the last of the Pabst and unzipped his pants. He started dancing around and pissing off the edge. We had been drinking on the way up the mountain, and I was afraid he might get careless and slip off into that big green sea. But he didn't fall, not that day.