It started when Malachi was eight and he taught his poodle Francine to dance. The dog learned to prance on two feet and stretch her front legs to Malachi’s hands. It wasn’t the waltz and it wasn't the mambo, but it would do for them.
Malachi sang Pennies From Heaven, though the dog just heard a crackling noise that meant, no one's talking about food right at the moment. That year Francine got pregnant through a consensual rendezvous with the pit bull next door.
Mr. Jones, Malachi’s farther, got angry. I don’t get home til midnight just trying to feed you. He gave Malachi the kind of look that said, even for a frail eight year old you eat too much.
So Malachi began thinking. He wanted to see the pups but how would they pay for the food? What if Francine needed an operation like their corner neighbor did? Drowning them was a cruel waste, he knew that from the TV.
That Thursday before payday when they ate the heel of the bread, it came to him. They could eat the puppies. He was so proud he sat up so straight til his backbone nearly popped. He sneaked Francine more food from the table than usual to fatten her and the puppies up.
He hugged her in bed that night. Just wait. Dad can't complain if you're bringing us food instead of taking it away. You'll be our little dancing cow. He squeezed her and looked deep in her eyes.
Francine laid her head on his pillow and snuggled her nose behind his ear where it fit just in the space Mr. Jones had accidentally cut when he was trimming Malachi’s hair the evening he heard about the puppies to be. It had that nice healing smell that older wounds did and she licked it and sniffed it til they both fell asleep soothed by the routine.
As Francine got rounder, the boy got prouder. He would show her off to the neighbors like a prize sow. He had never been proud of anything in his life and it was unusual of him to brag this way. Every time someone said that dog of yours sure is getting fat, he pulled his shoulders back YES SHE IS. And he beamed at her and she back at him.
He began to look through random magazines for recipes for puppies. He looked in the waiting room at the doctor and at his friend Bobby's house when he went over to spend the night. Do you have any dog recipes? he asked Bobby's mother.
Well, l think there's a recipe for dog bones over by the record player. My grandmother used to always take old bones, make soup and then let ‘em have it afterwards. She called it dog bone soup. She laughed and thought of her mom’s mom putting the beef bones in the tall pot and the nice smell it brought into the house.
The marrow is the best, she said. The absolute best. The marrow. Okay. Thanks. He wasn’t sure what marrow was, but his dad would have to be happy with anything that was the best. And dog bones had it. The marrow. He tried to think of words that rhymed with it so he wouldn’t forget it.
He walked back in the room and asked her to write it down on a piece of paper for him. Sure she said and whisked off the word marrow in just a moment’s time, not slow and long like it took his dad who sometimes just handed the paper back empty with a glare.
He had been going to wait til the big day itself but found that he couldn’t. It was like holding back a surprise party when you just have to spill the beans to someone, no matter whom.
When his dad got home that night, Malachi was waiting up for him. I figured out what to do with the puppies. I got a recipe. We make marrow from them. It's the best. Bobby's mom said so. He said this all in one breath and then stepped out of the way in case the mention of the word puppy caused a swing of Mr. Jones' arm before he could hear the good news.
The man was tired from the factory, but his gray face at midnight still had enough blood in it to turn bright red in outrage. EAT THE PUPPIES. You little profaner. What are you talking about? You can't eat them damn puppies. You're a profaner. You're a profaner. That's what you are. A profaner.
He was too discombobulated to punch Malachi much less spit on his proud kitchen floor. He kept spinning around, literally, his toes doing a dance he remembered from when Malachi’s mother was still alive. Daddy Loves Mambo was going through his head. He sat down for the first time in twelve hours. EAT THE PUPPIES?
By this time Malachi knew he had done something wrong but he wasn't sure how. His dad had fairly toppled into the chair no one sat in, the one the Grandmother who said Malachi was a bible word for messenger said keep open for company. He had planned to parade Francine in front of his father showing off her chubby tummy and now he wasn't so sure.
He kept out of arm’s reach as he asked, What's a profaner? Did pro mean he was good at it? Go look it up, his dad said. Where? They didn’t have a dictionary. Well, go find one.
Malachi took the leash, the best one with the purple cloth and the diamonds on the handle and took Francine for a walk to the marrow lady’s house to borrow one. It took him two blocks to realize it was midnight, his errand was so important. So he went to the park and sat under a poplar tree listening to the leaves make music with each other. And Malachi Jones waited til morning.
Author Meriwether O'Connor raises livestock and writes short stories in between mosquito bites and milking.