A Summertime Killing

Summer. I was just a kid, eight, maybe nine years old, standing out in the backyard watching. The grass was still wet from the sprinkler. He folded a saddle blanket in half before opening the gate to the dog’s pen and slipping in. He latched it behind him. The dog bared her teeth and growled. She was sick and it made her mean. He backed up against the fence. He held the blanket in front of him, folded over an arm. A muzzle dangled from his free hand. It shook a little. Sweat dripped off his chin. The muscle in his jaw jumped. He threw the blanket over the dog and knelt down on her side with his knee, slipping the muzzle over her snout. He tied the dog feet up with twine so she wouldn’t run away. The dog never moved. She just lay there on the ground, panting. We loaded her into the pickup. It smelled of old smoke and hot upholstery. There were cracks in the windshield and the dashboard. He reached in, pulled the ashtray out and dumped it in the garbage can next to the garage. I watched the houses go by. The dog whined and whimpered in the back, but he ignored it, so I did too. He was quiet. It was spooky. It wasn’t just quiet, but intense, like the air would rip if either one of us tried talking. He knew exactly where he was going. He drove without hesitating. When we got there, he stopped. Dust rolled over the top of us just like in the movies. We were in a box canyon out in the Palisades. All around us huge, tall walls of red and black rock held up a thin strip of sky, streaked with a few clouds and a contrail. Sagebrush and prairie grass and thistle grew wherever they got a chance. He got out and threw his cigarette down. Nothing happened. he just stood out there in the sun with his hands on his hips, looking up at the rocks and the sky. He looked down the road and walked back to the tailgate. I got up on my knees in the front seat and watched him take his pocketknife and cut the twine around the dog’s feet. He pulled her out of the pickup still wrapped in blankets. She hit the ground with a thump. He reached under the seat and got the gun. It was heavy and black, a military issue .45. I slid out and stood next him. We backed away from the car, never taking our eyes off the dog as she wrestled in the blanket. It was like playing war and I was all excited. I didn’t say anything, but I thought about asking him if I could shoot the gun too. He whistled. The dog pushed her way out of the blanket and turned around a few times before walking toward us. He stared at her as she came and when she was almost halfway to us, he lifted up the gun and fired three shots. I’d never heard anything so loud in my life. Fire blasted out of the end of the gun. Echoes jumped back and forth for a long time. The dog’s head kind of caved in on itself and flew out again in pieces and spots. I stood there and stared at the mess that used to be our dog. Tears rolled through the folded flesh of his cheeks, but I didn’t care. I wanted to cry, to ask him why he had to do that, to make him go back and not do it. After a second, he turned and punched me in the mouth hard enough to split my lip. “Everything dies, boy,” he said. “Remember that.”

by William Alton

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