The shovel's tip cut sharp into the ground. Joe pressed his instep down, leaned the long handle back and felt the satisfying churn of earth separating from earth. He scooped the dirt up and added it to the growing mound beside the front tire of his pickup.
Joe had a way of knowing things. Always had. A sudden drop in barometric pressure. The knock of an unexpected guest.
That morning he'd kissed Marla goodbye, took one look at Curly and said, "Give this dog a steak."
"Just do it." Another kiss on her cheek, and he was out the door, hard hat and list of build sites on hand.
Throughout the day he'd thought of the dog. His squat legs and squished nose. The grunting sound he made when he slept in the evenings at Marla's feet, dreaming.
"Chasing rabbits," she'd say, looking up from her book to watch his wiggling. The roundness of his belly kept his top legs suspended sideways in silent running.
It'd been a year since Curly's episodes. That's what the vet had called them, the vomiting and shit squirts that woke them at two in the morning, that Marla so sweetly asked Joe to clean up. She had a way about her that he couldn't deny. Always had.
The vet prescribed a change in diet. Grains instead of meat. Poor dog had lived on barley oats for a year, even when his bulging pug eyes pleaded for meat.
Instead of heading inside that night when he'd returned from work, Joe walked to his shop, rolled open the door and set to task. The table saw whined as it chewed through the pine board planks. Sawdust clung to Joe's sleeves and settled in his hair. Sweat collected at the rims of his safety goggles and flecked off his nose as he brought the hammer down again and again on the nail heads.
His work finished, he went inside the house and found Marla there, kneeling over Curly. His top legs still didn't touch the ground.
"The steak killed him," she said, her voice choked with anger and tears.
"He was gonna die today anyway," Joe said. "And a dying dog deserves some steak."
"How did you know?"
"Just did." Joe knelt down and tucked his hands under Curly's limp body. "Did he suffer?"
Marla wiped her nose on her sleeve. "No. He was chasing rabbits. Then he just...stopped."
Joe looked at each hazel fleck in her eyes. "I loved this dog."
She smiled an ugly-cry smile. "I know."
Curly weighed nothing in his arms as he walked him to the truck and the box smelling of fresh cut pine.
Driving through the desert, out past the furthest build sites, out where the stars still shined, Joe listened to Stevie Ray and Lonnie J. Music fitting the task ahead. The late sun glared harsh through the dusty windscreen.
When a jack rabbit darted across his path, Joe knew he'd found the right spot. "Ready to chase some rabbits, Curly?"
The shovel's tip cut sharp into the ground. Joe pressed his instep down, leaned the long handle back and felt the satisfying churn of earth separating from earth.
This work by Amy K. Nichols is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.