“Skunk,” a Short Story by Yours Truly

pit bull

Life through a pit bull’s eyes. A short story I wrote during my leisure time, please stop and read it during some of yours. Feel free to leave your thoughts about it, criticism, whatever.

I am not human, but I like to think I have accumulated some useful wisdom in my thirteen years. As I lay here on the cold metallic table, facing an operation that may keep me alive for a few short years or may end everything for me now within hours, I look back on my childhood, which was mostly, I like to think, a happy one. Funny how a dry clinical term like ‘bone cancer’  can be half-heard on the television, read in a newspaper, if one is the possessor of a good set of eyes and hands, but has a certain kind of finality when applied to you. But, still, my heavy heart bears a kind of relief, for my seemingly endless weeks of pain may finally be coming to an end.

I was dubbed Skunk when I was born, named for the black and white stripes that run up and down my back. I was born in the pound, and resigned to a short and fleeting life due to my kind. ‘American Pit Bull,’ written in fine print across a piece of paper on our cage, has a certain foreboding for potential puppy buyers. Yet I have never bitten a human being, despite extremely mitigating circumstances I’ve had to endure. I guess it was my mother who made damn sure that if I got picked up it wouldn’t be for naught. She was a extremely poised, proper bitch who loved her whelps with the fierce devotion that is attributed only to people.We were expected to give the humans no reason not to trust us, to be lovable little ‘spokespeople’ for our breed. I never knew whether Mother (credited as ‘Pearl’ on our pound papers) made it out. I was one of the first ones to escape, not that conditions were really that poor. We were cared for by nice people. But at 2 1/2 months of age, I was destined for better things, or so I believed.

I remember crying for my mother for a while, then falling asleep on the  car seat. It was comfortable grey leather, though of course I had never been on a car ride and had nothing to compare the relative comfort of the seats to. I woke up in a sticky, moist puddle of my own urine. I remembering the human mother (although she was not my mother, nor did she intend to be) being angry at that. But she didn’t hit me at that point. I was a novelty.

I was handed over to three kids, two of which poked, prodded, and pushed me to no end. Only the youngest, Susan,  a girl of seven, was gentle and kind. She would slip her doll’s bottle into my mouth, and though at first I was indignant that the makeshift teat didn’t contain milk, I became comforted by the memory of my mother’s soft nipple. The boys, Ryan and Joey, were not so gentle. Joey was the worst. He would try to  run me over with his remote control car, laughing manically. I guess boys will be boys and so forth and so on, but sometimes I thought Joey’s behavior ran a bit deeper than that.

I was a willful pup, resentful of being taken away from my mother and in the midst of a troublesome age. I urinated on the floor, chewed up shoes and slippers, and nipped outstretched fingers and toes. I never bit, but I loved the sensation of a pink wriggly finger in my mouth, so much more satisfying than the rough, unyielding teat of Susan’s toy baby bottle. I remember the day I chewed up the remote controller and the mother kicked me hard across the floor. Initially I thought it was the beginning of some brutal new game, and I rushed towards her, expecting… what? Something. An unspoken signal that she didn’t mean any animosity behind the attack. But it was not so. She kicked me again, and I yelped with pain and worry.

“Stupid fucking dog,” she muttered, trudging away in her slippers and bathrobe and those awful rollers in her hair.

Then they started to hit me. It was nothing big at first, just a slap here and there, a ‘dumb dog’ tossed carelessly in my direction. Only Susan refrained for striking me. Suddenly it got worse. The mother would get all into a fluster and beat me wielding a newspaper, with wild abandon and a maniacal gleam in her eye. I began to chew newspapers, and they beat me for that. It was a tough time, and I had to struggle against my baser instincts, everything my mother had ever warned me about- in other words, the urge to sink my teeth into human flesh. I refrained for my mother, and I refrained for Susan. Some says, only the girl’s wide-eyed innocence (coupled with my own sense of self-preservation) prevented me from taking a chunk out of one of my sadistic new ‘family.’ In another sense though, despite my rage, I simultaneously forgave them all their sins and transgressions, and I remembered what my mother had once told me “They’re human beings. They think they love you, they think they want you, but then they toss you aside like a disused plaything.” Human Beans? I had thought foolishly. I’ll make sure to stay away from those, whatever they are. Yes, they were only human. They are the less evolved mammal, after all.

Mother’s prediction came full circle, as they say, when the family (they were called the Browns) decided to take a move from Virginia to Seattle, Washington. Once they had packed the kids into the van and Susan had fallen asleep, they enacted their evil plan. They left me on a freeway in the pouring rain, pausing their journey briefly to drop me off and then speeding away, discarding their unwanted plaything on the dirty rain-soaked concrete.

I wandered across the freeway for what seemed like days, and still my heart was filled with not loathing as much as forgiveness. They had to come back. Surely my abandonment was nothing more than a cataclysmic mix-up. They would return, panicked and concerned and apologetic. Wouldn’t they?
When I finally realized the Browns weren’t coming back, I trotted into a litter-speckled field and lay in the dirt, feeling despondent. I wondered what the Browns had told Susan, poor, sweet Susan, in the wake of my absence. That I had escaped, run away from the only family I knew? That I had joined the circus? Ha. I lay lamenting in my misanthropic grief, hungry and cold and scared.

Then he showed up. I saw his beard first, a big white bristly thing that stood out on his ruddy features like a hedgehog. Then a nose that looked as if it had been on the receiving end of a thousand bar fights. Then the eyes, icy blue yet warm and kind, like the eyes of a friendly neighborhood fireman or Santa Claus. That’s who I thought he was at first. Santa Claus.

“Santa?” I groaned. But of course he couldn’t hear me.

His name was Stu. He lived under the bridge a few miles down from the dirt pit where I had laid to die, and he begged for change outside the local Exon station. He explained to me, as if I was one of those ubiquitous human beings, that he was a Vietnam Veteran suffering from ‘a mild case of PTSD and general psychosis.’ I didn’t know what PTSD was, I thought I could catch it. But as he held me close during the cold autumn nights, I came to realize I was not all worse for it.

“Here’s my humble abode, my home sweet home,” he said as he introduced me to his place under the bridge, laughing bitterly but not unkindly. “It’s not much but… beggars can’t be choosers.”

He trained me to do tricks outside the Exon station, and people went Gaga for it. He told me he made twice as much money with me by his side. He said it happy too. Like I was special. He always made sure he made enough money to feed me, even if he and I had to perform for the stragglers at the station late into the night. If he couldn’t feed himself and me on any given night, he settled with seeing to it that my belly had food in it. If I didn’t want to take the the peanut butter crackers or the sardines he had bought me, he shook his head grimly and said “Eat up, Miss Priss. Food is Food.”

He called me Lady. after that ‘dog in that movie he couldn’t remember the name of.’ And I loved him so much it hurt, I loved him with every fiber of his being. I was there for him when he woke up hearing the screaming and the gunshots in the back of his skull. And I was there when he started prostituting at the truck stop. For the men-folk, he said, like it was a joke. He had been born this way, he didn’t care what anyone said. It had caused some problems for him in the military.

He called himself Last Resort Stu. He said he came in when there was absolutely no one in a man’s life. “Isn’t it sad when people have no one?” he asked me.

Some of the men tried to be as gentle as they could, and got a kick out of me. “You’ve got the best behaved dog this side of Virginia,” they would say. “Yup, she’s a good ‘un,” Stu would reply. One man tried to buy me for $120, more than Stu made in a month. Stu turned him down, said he needed me. “For business.” You don’t need me for this kind of business, I thought. All you do is mount and make sounds while I lie on the floor. I felt proper useless.

One day, gradually and all at once, Stu got sick. He reckoned it had to do with the kind of business he had been doing. I didn’t understand. What exactly had made him ill? He lay in the gutter, hacking and coughing, and, as winter descended, freezing. By the time he was rushed to the hospital, saving him was an ugly joke. Come springtime, Stu was dead.

I was taken to Stu’s funeral, where I glared, uncomprehending, at his myriad relations. Why hadn’t they come to Stu’s rescue as he had come to mine? What were humans for, anyway? Stu’s parents were dead, but Stu’s sister, Marybeth, stood and fingered the little gold cross around her neck as the priest condemned his body to the earth. And Stu’s so called family ultimately betrayed him in one more important way, too. Stu had written on the back of a McDonalds napkin on more final will and testament, that I should be taken care of. The family declined. And, once more, I was taken to the ASPCA.

Which is when my story takes a happy turn. A family, the Johnsons, came and picked me up from the shelter and out of my loneliness.

Mike, Helen, Sammy, and Carol Johnson. Sammy was in a wheelchair and was haunted by loneliness and his own physical limitations, so the Johnsons thought I might be a good companion dog for him. As soon as I met him I knew he was a good one. I served as a conversation starter for Sammy and potential new friends, and while mostly it worked, sometimes it didn’t… kids called him ‘CP boy’ in ugly tones and made fun of the fact that he garbled and sometimes stuttered and lay twisted in his chair. But mostly, the walls around Sammy were the ones he built himself. I saw him through his first crush, his graduation, and his moving out of his parents’ home into an assisted living facility. Not once in those years did I regret my the direction my life taken.

There was another dog in the Johnson house, a rottweiler named Magnolia (‘Maggie’ for short.) She wasn’t considered an ideal companion for Sammy because she was old and grumpy and mostly ignored everyone. But I found when I moved in as a new addition to the family that she was not apathetic at all. Quite the opposite, actually. In truth, she was extremely protective of them.

Yeah, we got into it a few times. Magnolia would eat from her bowl, gobbling thickly like a pig from a trough,  then eat from mine, which I allowed her to do rather than get into a scrap (however resentfully.) I eventually learned to eat fast, even faster than Maggie could down her own kibble, which was a real challenge. Maggie was a high-class bitch, bought and paid for from a Rottweiler breeder upstate. She hadn’t seen how bad life could get. But I rather enjoyed her orneriness, and we rarely fought, except when she really pushed me or outright attacked me (this happened a few times, and the Johnsons had to pull us apart, me cowering in shame, her pleased as a pig in a dung-pile, properly satisfied.)

Magnolia died when I was about seven years of age. She wanted to show me who was boss til the very end, and I obliged her. The Johnsons had a grieving period of a few months, then the brought home Francie, a two month old miniature poodle. Mike Johnson was afraid I’d hurt him. As if Francie could stand still long enough for me to lay a paw on him! Off the bat, Francie would desperately try to mount me with his small miniature-poodle-sized member, oblivious to the fact that I had been fixed in puppyhood. I kind of liked it though. It made me feel young and virile.

So, that’s the story of my life. Excluding one last detail. My death.

Oh, I’m not dead yet. But the cancer has started to creep through my bones like an ivy, making it hard if not downright impossible to walk like I used to. I’ve seen a lot in my dealings with the Johnsons. I’ve seen Carol, the daughter, lay aside her Barbies and stuffed animals for more womanly things. She’s growing up and it makes me happy and sad at the same time. I’ve seen Sammy become more independent, turning from a shy, introspective kid to a more gregarious, outgoing man. I’ve seen Mike and Helen fall out the love they had for each other as starry-eyed youths and then back into it again. I’ve been there during both their rough patches and their good times, and alternately seen how bad it can get and the happy moments between the family. I like to think I figured into that happiness.

Can I tell you a secret? Are you listening? Good. I’ve been having dreams lately. About Mags. About Stu. About a place existed in the white space after life. Do you think there’s life after death?  I think so.

I wonder what those two will do when I see them.  Stu will probably hug me, call me his good girl and try to entice me in a game of fetch. I wonder if he’ll smell clean in heaven. I think so. I think he’ll smell like fresh soap, and have as much to eat as he wants. We both will. We’ll eat ourselves sick with the most succulent cuisine. And he’ll never have to frequent another truck stop again.

Mags will probably try to put me in my place. I wonder if I’ll let her.

I have a sneaking feeling I’m not going to survive this operation.

But it’s okay.

It really is.

I eagerly anticipate the next adventure.

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