“Jim-bo quit chewin’,” Karen said while collating. “No more black breath. No more spit cups.”
We were the only teachers in the building on a Sunday exactly a month ago. Karen was making copies of the Periodic Table and talking about her husband’s vices, while I was laminating random shit, pretending to prepare for my classes too.
And then, I swear, she was all over me right there on the copy machine. Over the following weeks, we violated our commitments to the Bible in her car, my truck, under her desk, my desk, my truck, my truck, my truck, and one time in her bed when Jim-bo was pulling a late shift.
“Over,” she said during Lunch, Taco Salad Day no less.
“But — ” I protested, a mouthful of meat.
She cut me off with her teacher voice, “No. Over. That’s it.”
I don’t know where Jim-bo fits into my sudden lack of relationship with his wife, because she wouldn’t tell me what he knew. All I know is it’s over.
I saw Karen at school today in the teacher’s lounge. She looked skinnier.
I’m still lonely.
So I bought a ferret.
Ferrets are good, cute, but what I like about them most is they literally, in my opinion, have no backbone. You don’t know what you’re gonna pet.
I call him Backbone, Bone for short.
Ferrets are quick, but fragile. Bone hurt his knee. When you go a hundred per cent like Bone does, an injury will happen sooner or later. He tore his ACL – ligaments, no lateral stability whatsoever. He’s practically immobile. Fat too – he got fat in like three days.
But I love him. Ever since he hurt his knee, I’ve let Bone sleep in my bed at night. Well, he’s hobbled and I’m still all-the-way lonely, so, I mean, it’s been good.
Unfortunately, the knee just wouldn’t mend on it’s own.
I was waiting in the waiting room while Bone was having ACL surgery. What they do is take the ligament off of a dead cat, remove Bone’s bad ligament from his bone, and attach the dead cat’s ligament to Bone’s bone. Then rehab.
I was a wreck sitting there, worrying about my ferret friend.
That’s when Jim-bo burst in with Lucy and made a bee-line for the receptionist desk. The jingling bells from the front door jangled my insides. Lucy had her leash on, but Jim-bo, clearly frazzled, was carrying the beagle in his arms like a swaddled baby, and I swear the dog was smiling.
“I gotta appointment for Lucy here,” he said to the receptionist.
“Ooooh, Lucy!” The receptionist was excited. She was small up top and big on the bottom, the kind of woman that looks beautiful driving a car. “I love Lucy. How ya doin’, girl?” Pet, pet. Lucy doesn’t bite her. “Such a great coat on this beagle. So, what can we do for Lucy this morning?”
“Ah…” Jim-bo paused, looked down at his front shirt pocket where his pack of Skoal used to be, cleared his throat, and softly said, “Euthanasia.”
“What was that?” The receptionist didn’t seem to hear him.
“Ah, Euthanasia,” he said louder.
Now she heard. Now there was attitude.
“Excuse me?” she asked, putting both her hands on her giant hips.
Jim-bo finally looked up. If he were still chewing, he would have spit at that moment. He sneered at the receptionist, talked slow and way too loud for the room:
“I need — ta put — my dog — ta sleep.”
There was a pause. A digestion.
“But, but, but, Lucy is too young,” she pleaded.
“She bites children.”
“Lucy is a good dog.”
“Look, okay?” There was honest-to-God effort on Jim-bo’s part to keep it together, “Jesus-in-a-kennel, I got me an appointment for Chrissakes!”
She huffed off, mumbling under her breathy breath. Jim-bo came and sat down next to me with Lucy on his lap. He grunted a hello my way, as if he had expected for me to just be there, like we were next-door neighbors cutting our lawns at the same time.
“Can’t even kill a dog anymore,” he said. Lucy took a snap at me, but I didn’t flinch this time. She nipped me last week too when I sat on Karen’s bed.
“What are you in for?” he asked me.
Lucy nestled herself into his owner’s lap. She rolled her body to make it fit, and then nudged it up against Jim-bo’s belly, and let out a content sigh through her nostrils.
“Karen couldn’t do it,” Jim-bo said, petting Lucy’s snout.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“So I gotta do it, and deal with this.” He motioned to where the big-bottomed receptionist used to be.
Jim-bo told me the beagle finally had to be put down after the Vet removed a slab of their neighbor young Billy Camble’s left ear lobe from Lucy’s back molars.
“Karen loves the dog, I know she does,” Jim-bo said almost pensively. If he were still chewing tobacco, he would have put the spit-cup aside while he talked. “But there’s damage that can’t be repaired. I mean you’d like to rewind, right? Turn back to the moment just before the dog lost it, before he bit that boy, and, and stop it. Stop the bite.”
“Can you do that though?” I asked, hardly realizing I was talking.
“Can you stop the bite? Even if you know when it’s gonna happen?”
He turned sharply, stared in my eyes, and watched my pupils juggle my paranoia.
“Bite’s a bite,” he finally said deliberately. “So…no.” And then he looked away from me finally, and sort of gazed motionless out the window. “If a dog’s gonna bite somethin’ it’s gonna bite somethin’.”
The receptionist came back with her tail between her giant legs, held the door open, and called Lucy’s name. The beagle leapt off of Jim-bo’s lap, biting down hard on her leash. She was in a hurry. She needed to get there.
Aaron Levy currently teaches creative writing and English at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta, GA. His award-winning plays have been produced nationally and internationally, and published by Dramatic Publishing and Smith & Kraus. Recently he has had or will have short fiction and short play pieces appear in Eleven Eleven, Black Heart Magazine, The Kennesaw Review, and Apollo’s Lyre.
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