I took up smoking at fifteen, and quit at twenty, thirty-two, and, finally, again at forty-one. A week after that, I bought a dog from a guy living illegally in a run-down house over the interstate. I’d gone over there as a favour to a friend, to see about turfing him and his family out, but ended up paying him twenty hard-earned American dollars for a mutt. Funny world. I called the dog ‘Duke Jr.’ as I figured I was never going to have an actual son.
When results from an x-ray came back ugly, it was Duke I worried about. He was mean, lazy, and hadn’t ever caught a ball in his life. We were similar like that and maybe that’s why we got on so great. What with all that overcrowding in the state pounds I knew a death sentence for me served as the same for old Duke.
So, I decided we better hit the road. I had one place he could go and I saw it as my sacred duty to get him there. You might have had a meaningful life, and if you have, then good for you. But I haven’t. Seeing Duke right was about as good of a man as I ever got the chance to be. As we set out Duke stuck his wrinkly brown head into the slipstream and let the desert air ripple his ears like a muddy river in a storm.
The journey was biblical. We camped under shooting stars and looked the universe in the eyes every night. We ate when we could. As fall started to crisp up the sun, I started coughing up blood. We passed the yellowed billboard for Duke Malaroy Sr.’s pig farm in late-September and arrived later the same day. It was, and remains, the only place on earth to give me the chills. I didn’t get out of the car. I stroked my affection onto Duke’s ears and then opened the door and let him go. He bounded across the yard making loud greetings, and I heard the screen door creak open. Then, for the second time in my life, I drove away from the farm without looking back.
Hannah Clark is an MA student at Manchester Metropolitan University, studying Creative Writing. She is currently working on her first novel and is a freelance writer for The Quietus. Her fictional work has appeared online and in print with a variety of publications and has been shortlisted for various competitions.