The night was young and its opportunities were endless. This aspect is what Alfred Covington loved about those first couple hours of darkness, and also fear. In Jackson, Mississippi these hours of summer were perfect for the mischievous. The mosquitoes had gone away to fornicate and multiply and strategize about their dawn assaults. The snakes were out swallowing things whole. The old people had long retired for the night having nightmares of terrorist attacks, West Nile Virus, advertisements in Spanish at Walmart, rap music, long-haired grandsons and granddaughters with thongs and tongue rings. The drunks, they were still drinking. The potheads— they were probably playing video games and eating candy. The crackheads— they were waiting for the drunks in the parking lots of bars or for the potheads around the convenient stores. The sound of a basketball thumbing the asphalt was constant, no matter the hour. The whores were everywhere. They were in places you’d never think. Ready to freak all of them. Neither rain, sleet, snow, pregnancy, venereal disease or unions could keep them from their jobs or God or Allah for that matter.
They were almost ready to go out on the town, but Alfred was in no mood for all this madness. There was going to be trouble for sure. He had to think of an excuse his friends might believe. It would have to be really embarrassing. Sleep, a date, work– all of these would lead to ridicule. Don’t be a little bitch, they’d say. And with that, Alfred would give in and be in the mix with them. Once, Alfred had told them that he had contracted a terrible case of jock itch and was going to the emergency room. That one had worked, but they were still always bringing that up around girls.
So Alfred simply walked casually to the door and walked down the steps to his truck. He was headed for the refuge his bed offered. Alfred was excited to have escaped for the comfort and safety that sleep offers from the darkness and trouble that night brings. He had been going out too much this week and really wanted to get to sleep at a decent hour for once.
The back roads home to Alfred’s were roads that he had traveled more than any others. He had walked them and then road his first bike on them. He had ridden his old rusted, rust colored go-cart there. Now it was Alfred driving these same roads in his compact pick up truck, a Tacoma.
Alfred had seen numerous families move into and out of the various homesteads along the way. Hence, he’d wreaked havoc on these very same mailboxes and garbage cans and Christmas decorations and pumpkins. No malice intended just the boredom and freedom that youth offered. Alfred turned onto Dogwood Place and gave it a bit of gas. There was a couple of hills that with the right speed, you could bounce the truck up and into the air. Alfred and his friends called this section the Kipper’s Knickers and Goody Gap Haven and finally settled on Knob Hill. When they had girls with them, they would crowd into one car. The excuses varied: high gas prices, the economy, expired tags, headlights out. The girls would sit in their laps. They would hit the bumps so they’d bounce into the air with the girls in the boys’ laps. First it was a challenge to not get a boner. Then, Alfred and his friends would just do it on purpose. They liked that shit. It was a way of telling them girls that they are sexy without saying anything. One time some pretentious girl tried to make fun of Alfred for it.
She said, “Oh my God, you’ve got an erection.”
Alfred said, “Damn straight.”
He was a legend that night. Alfred’s friends thought Goddamn that Alfred is so witty. Sharp even.
Alfred topped the second hill and briefly hopped his truck into the air. A magnolia tree shaped shadow loomed in front of him. From the depths of this shadow, the darkness seemed to leap to life. He slammed on the brakes but he was already air borne again from whatever the shadow had spat before him. The tires locked and the truck jerked to a halt. Alfred could feel some of the gravel through his feet as it pelted the undercarriage.
Alfred flung open the door and the yelping was immediate. He began to follow the yelps. He jogged a couple of paces and then slowed to a walk. Alfred could feel the panic and so he took some deep breaths to calm down. The yelps wouldn’t have any of that so he jogged again. And there it was. Vomited from the shadows, wrapped and contorted grotesquely around the Maleys’ mailbox was a heap of broken, twitching yelps. The yelps wouldn’t allow Alfred the ability to think. Panic was full upon him. Alfred knew what to do, he just hadn’t worked out what to use. He ran his fingers through his hair. Then he took a few strides this way and that. The cursed yelping. It had brought to life the whole neighborhood. Dogs were barking at it and running around the confines of their fences setting off motion detectors that blinked and momentarily whole yards were awake. Bug Zappers sizzled and popped steady as the humidity. No one noticed them, just white noise like the fans that hum us to sleep. But they noticed all those dogs yapping, calling to one another, extending out in a radius quicker and more unpredictable than any cell phone network. Quit that racket, some dog’s name or Shut up some other dog’s name or I’m going to blow Fido’s head off Mr. Henderson if it don’t quit barking. Fido fucked right off and ran up under the house when he heard that.
Alfred needed something blunt, and he needed that something quick. He picked up an old log but it was rotten. He spotted a bat in someone’s yard and he ran to get it, but it was an old whiffle-ball bat. Alfred ran over to the yelping. Spastic broken limbs convulsed struggling to stave off death, in spite of all the relief and peace that death offered. The brain tells the body that this is it but the body says - not for me, motherfucker, it's not - and tries to run. But the body can't go without the brain. It can only flop about with lungs pumping madly like a fresh hooked fish in the bottom of an old john boat. All that pain was all too much for Alfred. He stomped on its mouth. The yelping subsided as did most of the other noise from all the commotion. Alfred nudged it on the back with the toe of his shoe and its back legs began to spasm. He placed his foot on its head and exerted pressure. It was of little help. He stood up on both feet on its head and hopped up, slamming his feet down. It ceased to budge and so Alfred could think now that all that noise and ruckus was over. He began to study on who the owner of this once yelping, twitching, spitting, frothing black lab was. The Maleys had a golden retriever named Trooper. It was barking at Alfred. So he walked to the house across the street. Alfred never had met them.
In the couple of minutes of waiting after Alfred rang the doorbell, he began trying to find the best way to tell these people I ran over your dog and then proceeded to stomp it to death—if it was their dog at all. He thought euthanize might be a better term to use. I’d better leave that latter part out all together, Alfred decided. They might not understand it was a mercy killing. It would be a lot worse if they had to see it yelping and twitching, all but dead.
All of this time waiting, nervously, Alfred had been wiping the blood off his shoe on a beige welcome mat. He looked down to see if he’d gotten all the blood from his tennis shoe. The face of a black lab stared back up from where it had been embroidered onto the welcome mat. Now it was bloodied. So much for the suspense, bring back the anxiety of panic. A woman appeared at the door. She had dark, sleep deprived, sunken eye sockets. Her left eyelid sank lazily down and fluttered slightly, hovering just enough to see out. Only her face peeped out through the door crack. She had the door knob in one hand and with the other she had her gown clasped together above her breasts. Alfred made out the shape of a cross hidden beneath her gown, between her breasts.
She said, “I never ordered no pizza.”
Alfred wished he had brought a pizza. He was thinking too hard on what to say when he thought the person answering the door would say something like it’s 1 in the morning, what the hell do you want? Alfred put his hands in his pocket and fidgeted with some loose change.
He said, “Do you have a black lab?”
She said, “My son has got one. Why?”
She opened the door. She motioned towards the living room, which lay open to the foyer. The child was more than heavy. He was obese even. She didn’t look to where he was, just motioned that direction. He was naked from the waist up and he was filthy. He was really hairy for a boy. He had big, irregular patches of it on his shoulders. The boy was knelt in a box of kitty litter. He had been playing in it like it was a sand box. He had a big lump of it in his hands. He was watching Alfred with blank, black eyes. He took a bite of the kitty litter and then he smelled it. He poked around at it with his finger, then wiped the remnants on his chest and down his sides to his hips. Alfred turned his gaze back to her eyes. She looked beyond the realms of exhaustion.
Alfred said “I think I may have run over your dog. I mean … his dog.” He didn’t figure now to be a good time to tell her about the kitty litter. She looked back at into the room.
“Clarence, get out of there” she said to her son.
Clarence didn’t say shit, just stared back unawares. She left the door open, went in and grabbed him by the arm and led him into another room. Alfred heard her say something like how many times I told you not to play in Cat’s box. She returned.
“Where is it?” she asked.
Alfred motioned down her driveway.
He said: “I’m real sorry Ma’m. I have a dog too. It was just lying down in the middle of the road. I live just a couple streets over. I am Alfred Covington.”
She said: “It’s okay. I’m Mary Wilson.”
They walked down the drive and Alfred took her to the mail box across the street. Alfred offered to carry it up to her garage. He bent down to pick it up and it was awkward to carry. Alfred never had thought about the term dead weight till then. It was probably about 75 pounds. He also hadn’t noticed the steepness of the driveway on his walk both up it or on the return trip down. His lower back ached as soon as he got the dog cradled into his arms. He could feel the blood soaking through his t-shirt. It was slick on his forearms and his shirt clung to his stomach. He walked up the hill with his back arched way out and his crotch thrust out like someone who had been goosed and then paralyzed in this state of recoil. Alfred thought that this was the closest his spine and pecker had ever been, but he didn’t want the lady to see him straining and try to help. If she did, she’d have blood all over her on top of everything else. The dog’s body was really warm and it smelled like burnt rubber. When they got up to the garage, she had Alfred put the dog into a wheelbarrow. Alfred sure wished he’d noticed that wheelbarrow. She put a blanket on top of the dog.
“Come inside and wash off” she said.
She led Alfred to the kitchen and he started scrubbing off his forearms and hands.
She said, “I’m going to change into something more decent.”
Mary left Alfred in the kitchen. Clarence was sitting on the kitchen floor. The boy was dumping fruit loops on the floor and then picking up the individual bits and eating them. He had plugged two of them into his ears. He was watching Alfred. Alfred had his back to Clarence at the sink but he could feel its stare through the hair on the back of his neck. Alfred wondered who was going to bury that dog. He turned around and looked at Clarence. Clarence stared inquisitively back, tilted his head and went like he was going to scratch at a flea or something in his ear. His finger jarred loose the fruit loop and he snorted with delight or simply better air flow. Clarence’s attention was now solely on the fruit loop. He picked it up and gave it a big whiff with his nostril and ate it. He started digging in the same ear for more fruit loops. The cereal box neglected. Alfred hadn’t even thought about whether she was married until then. Mary came back into the kitchen and picked up the fruit loop box and put it into the cupboard next to some Captain Crunch. Clarence was still digging in the wrong ear and pulling his finger out and sniffing at it, testing it with his tongue.
Mary Wilson’s new attire was a red hoody, some worn jeans with white paint splotches and she wore a pair of pink sock mittens. Alfred noticed that adorned on her big toes was a watermelon which stood out to him because of its contrasting color. He also managed to make out a pig on her little toe. It was outlined in black. Her toes looked so dainty he lost his train of thought.
He said, “Uhh, uhh”,
She said, “Yes?”
Alfred looked over at Clarence for a little help. Clarence was still searching the wrong ear.
Alfred said, “Are you gonna… I mean …..do you have anybody to bury it?”
She said, “I was hoping to call the city and wheel it down to the street for them to pick up.”
Alfred figured the man of the house must have wheeled out a long time ago by the state of these fruit loops. Who would do such a thing as wheel a stinking dead dog out to the curb, Alfred thought.
Alfred said, “Mrs. Wilson, I..”
“It’s Miss and call me Mary please,” she interjected.
He said, “I know of a pet cemetery and I’d be glad to bury it there for you.”
Mary didn’t respond immediately and Alfred took this as contemplation.
He said, “I insist. Please. I’d feel a whole lot better if you’d just let me take care of it.”
And so it was agreed. Alfred backed his truck up the drive and loaded the dog into the truck bed and let out—glad to be done with the awkwardness of the situation. He sure as hell didn’t want to bury it and had no idea where he would do something like that. He didn’t even know of any pet cemeteries. He just said it to be done of the whole business and maybe free up some guilt for something more worthy of God’s wrath. But hell, it wasn’t his damn fault; Alfred figured. She let him take the blankets to keep from getting all bloody again. Alfred wondered whether or not that was an item she intended him to return. Was it more like Tupperware or sugar?,” he thought.
Alfred drove down Fern Way and turned onto Eastover Drive. When he came up onto the bridge that ran over Twin Lakes, he slowed the truck to a stop. He opened up the tailgate and then shut it back. Scared of being spotted by anybody, Alfred drove on up a ways and pulled off the road into a shadow. Alfred pulled the dog to the end of the tailgate. He squatted down with his back to the truck and pulled the dog by its collar until it was resting on his shoulder. He cursed at the dog as he freed his truck from its burden. His lower back was really strained now. The dead dog and Alfred stumbled up to the bridge. At the bridge’s middle Alfred placed the dog on the rail. The dog’s head lay on its side with its back legs dangling down towards the lake. It’s big, black head lolled about, bobbing slightly above the pavement. Alfred walked a bit down from it and slumped over the rail to catch his breath. He spat into the water. Then he pissed over the rail and into the lake.
Alfred didn’t really want to throw the dog in there. There were an awful lot of snakes hidden down under that bridge. Hr didn’t know if they even would eat pieces of a dead dog. He just wasn’t sure what would. Maybe a snapping turtle would eat that. It had flooded recently and Alfred had seen an alligator in there. He knew an alligator would love some of that. He wondered whether or not that alligator was still in there. It probably had swum off back to the Pearl River by now. Gone back between the two dams on the Pearl to be with the 4.999 other gators within that two mile span. Alfred grabbed the dead dog by the back of its collar and jerked. Its body did a full flip and its big old black head smacked onto the pavement and it paused for a split second like that. Its face looked like it had a smile or something. It looked kind of happy. Then its body’s momentum carried it down into the darkness. It sure made a big splash or it sure sounded like one to Alfred. It floated there. He hadn’t thought about that. Alfred had a notion that if you couldn’t swim, then you’d drown. And drowning was sinking. There was no current, so it just floated there. The wind blew just barely, and he watched the dog slowly bob up under the bridge. A thought did occur to Alfred to sink it but he wasn’t about to go under that bridge. Not with all those copperheads and cottonmouths.
When Alfred was a boy, his older brother Clyde and he would go down under that bridge in their canoe. Clyde was seven years older so he was always in the back, the captain. Plus Clyde always got to shoot the BB gun. Alfred wouldn’t have nothing but a stick. He’d be in the front of the canoe with that stick and they’d go under that bridge. All around the foundations there were piles of sticks and garbage and shit that snakes would hide in. Clyde and Alfred always had to worry about the ones that would sun on the pavement of the bridge above. When a car or someone came along, they could just slither off and drop into the water below. Alfred had seen them do that on numerous occasions and he was all the time afraid of one falling on his head. He had nightmares all the time of snakes falling on his head and dropping off his head and settling on his shoulders. It would wrap around the back of his head, gripping to gain purchase. Alfred would feel the slickness of the snake on the back of his neck and he’d wake up wanting to jump up from his bed, but he was just frozen there in that dream state. Then he’d finally convince himself that it was a dream and he’d wake up. Alfred could never get back to sleep after one of those dreams so he’d have to get his flashlight where he kept it on the dresser across his bedroom. He would high step the whole way there and back scared the floor was littered with snakes of all makes and models like in that Indian Jones movie. Then he would go get his dog from outside and put it in his bed with him. His momma sure hated him to let the dog in the house and damned if she wouldn’t bitch at him with a fury when she caught the dog asleep at the foot of his bed. She didn’t know everything Alfred had always thought. But Alfred’s parents were gone now. Dead gone. So Alfred went on home to do as he pleased.
Once home, Alfred made himself a scotch and let his dog out of the house to go piss. Hiss momma hadn’t known shit he thought. A dog was good for protection. What good did it do you with it sleeping in the yard at night? Who cared if it kept your yard safe? What you really wanted was for you to be safe where you were, in the house. His momma always had differing views from him. Alfred wasn’t allowed to wear shoes in the boat. His Mom wouldn’t have that. She would say something like what if the boat tipped over and you got your shoes wet Alfred. They’d be ruint.
There had been two times when the snake had slithered right from one of those piles into the boat, but Alfred couldn’t tell her about that. The first time, he’d just jumped right out of there and flipped the whole canoe. Clyde had whooped Alfred’s ass for that. His BB gun sank. But that snake had scared the shit out of Alfred. It had crawled right into the front of the boat and Clyde had been all the way in the back. The second time, Alfred started backpedaling towards Clyde and he tripped over the seat and then started scooting back with his hands still on his backslide. But that snake had slithered right after Alfred and he’d pulled his bare feet down from the seat rest and kicked at that fucking thing. It bit Alfred’s damn foot and he liked to have gone into shock. He knew it was a cottonmouth. He knew why they called them cottonmouths but he’d never been able to tell a copperhead from a cottonmouth or just a water snake. But when Alfred saw that snake open its mouth and watched it as it bit the knuckle of his left toe, he was officially let in on that secret. He felt those fangs sink in but couldn’t see them. All he saw in that mouth was white. Clyde started smacking the hell out of that snake with his paddle and it slithered back to the front of the canoe. He pulled his little brother up and put him behind him. Clyde was scared the canoe was going to tip over at any second. He had started to the front careful as he could, but he wanted to smack the shit out of that snake. Then Clyde paused and he turned and looked at Alfred.
Clyde said, “Do you want me to kill it or do you want to do it?”
Clyde balanced the boat for Alfred and gave him his paddle. Alfred hit that damned thing with the blade, trying to get at his head. Then he turned the paddle over and used the T-grip. It worked a lot better and Alfred felt better. He was scared as hell that he got bit, but he didn’t cry. He had been too scared to cry before, but on the way back home Alfred was about to start. Alfred wanted to be tough though and his brother had let him steer the canoe back this time. He was scared and thought that he might die, but he couldn’t let on like that. Captains were tough.
Alfred’s parents raced him to the hospital and he got a shot. All that happened was that he got a bit of a fever. He felt a lot better the next day. Alfred still wouldn’t get into a boat or go swimming without some shoes on. He would get into a pool without shoes, but he didn’t like it. People sometimes ask Alfred why he is all the time wearing shoes swimming and he just tell them it’s on account of his hairy feet— which isn’t really a lie, because his feet are hairy as hell.
Alfred went outside to throw the ball to his dog a bit. Damn dog would retrieve the ball but then he’d plop on down and roll all over it. That dog sure was bad about bringing the ball back. Alfred went back in and freshened up his glass of whiskey. He went back out on the patio and took a seat. He watched his own dog roll around on that ball. Alfred tried to think about how that Clarence boy’s dog had lived its life. He thought about it being a mentally challenged kid’s dog. The dogs he had owned would follow him around and hated to see him leave for school. How he had played fetch with them and they loved playing fetch. Except for his current dog, he thought. Well, it did fetch good, it just had a long process of returning or retrieving. But what the hell could that dog do with Clarence? Shit, Clarence would just as soon eat the dog’s food. Clarence ate kitty litter. The damned cat didn’t have a name. They just called it Cat. What was the dog’s name? He bet it didn’t have a damn name. It probably just sat there listening to Clarence yelling all sorts of incoherent gibberish. It was probably scared as hell all the time. Not knowing what to do when he pulled its tail and whatever the hell else that thing, Clarence, did to it. Alfred felt better about the whole thing now.
Alfred went on in and took a shower and scrubbed away the rest of the blood. He sat down and drank a bit more of the whiskey. He figured he just put that dog to a peaceful rest. Its whole life had probably been like Alfred’s when it was yelping at him and causing all that commotion. He had about panicked, but he knew what to do. That Clarence’s dog probably hadn’t ever known. Maybe that is why he was laying in the middle of the road in the shadows. It might have been just waiting for someone to come along and give it some peace. When Alfred thought about that, he made a drink in a plastic cup. He got out in the canoe and paddled out and found that dog in the shallows by the shore. Alfred took off the old muffler that was now used as an anchor. He tied it around that dog and then sank it out in the middle of the lake. Sank the dog far off from that bridge. Away from all those snakes and garbage and shit.
Author: Heath Corlew
I have an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. I reside in Asheville, North Carolina where I have several boring part-time jobs to support my writing problem. I was born in Pascagoula, Mississippi.