Short Fiction/Final Part
Ted bought me a sketchbook at Murphy’s five and ten cents store on Light Street, but who knows why? I turned thirteen in October, so maybe that was it. Maybe not. Anyway, I loved it, ’cause it made me feel like a real artist. In the front I drew things I wasn’t good enough yet to draw—like that big cannon on top of Federal Hill Park that points dead center at the city—and in the back of the sketchbook I wrote stuff I didn’t understand. I’d go back and back to those mystery items, trying to dope them out. There was a bunch of crap in there that Ronnie told me Alice said about me. He said his momma called me “One sick snake,” so I wrote it down. And she claimed I had too many opinions—that I could find fault with a sunset—and I was lazy and sat on my laurels, whatever they are. He also said Alice said she made allowances for me, but I never saw a penny of it. I wrote it all down. One time Alice hollered right to my own face that I needed to learn a lesson, that one day I’d be taught a hard lesson and she’d do the teaching of it and she couldn’t wait to see the day—all that and she never took a breath. None of it made zero sense, so I wrote it down to study on later.
Most times I followed art rules when I drew in the sketchbook, but when I didn’t it was because I rushed too fast to see how the picture would turn out. Once, during recess at school, I did a naked woman for Tiny for five cents. Naked pictures were dangerous to draw on school property, but a nickel was a nickel. For some unknown reason that fat doofus Tiny liked his women skinny, and skinny is hard to draw. Fat people have big rolls of flesh—clouds of meat—so it’s easy to get a pencil line around that, but with skinny folks you’re desperate for something to make a decent shape out of. The fingers on my woman looked like spiders. Hands are hard, period, but skinny ones, well, you can just forget it. I had to erase one of her hands five times and do it over and it still came out dumb.
That night Ronnie said I was a lousy drawer again, but that wasn’t why I ambushed him from behind his bedroom door and twisted his arm up his back and shoved him face-first into the wall—SMACK! The sound was beautiful, like in a gangster movie. I did it again—SMACK! Ronnie didn’t try to escape but let me keep him pinned, almost like he liked it. Again I did it, even harder, SMACK! Ronnie went limp, zero resistance. It was perfect but no good, ’cause he gave up too easy. “You know what’s up, Ronnie. Admit it.” Not a word from him. “Say it!” He kept on quiet. I slammed him again—SMACK! Ronnie started to whimper. I yelled, “Say it! Say it! SAY it!” He started to cry. I cried some too. See, Ronnie knew what was up with his folks but he wouldn’t admit it. Ted was on the way out the door—maybe for good—and Ronnie could stop him. Maybe. At least maybe. Anyway, it was worth a try. It was worth that much. I leaned into Ronnie harder, maximum body pressure, shoved his arm up to just before the bone broke. “Damn you, Ronnie!” Not a word from him. Nothing. Nothing.
That next day Ted used a pitchfork to make the back yard dirt loose. Me and Ronnie shoveled it off to one side, careful to keep it away from Alice’s flower bed, away from her tulips that would come up again next spring. Meanwhile, Ted’s old dog was laid up in the shade by the tree trunk looking peaceful, like he was asleep. Ted forked over the last clump of dirt. “She’ll never know,” he said, meaning Alice.
Ronnie did his usual suck-up. “Never, Daddy. Momma will never know. Never, never, NEVER!”
Ted smiled. “We’ll tell your momma some of it, but not all of it, but what we do tell we’ll tell at an angle.” He picked the dog’s body up by its ears and held it over the hole. “Feel him, Andy,” he said.
At first I didn’t want to, but then I did, so I touched it. The dog’s belly was cold and just a little soft, like a school eraser.
Ted swung the body over so Ronnie could feel it, too. “Nice,” Ronnie said, and grinned real big.
“Ice cube cold,” Ted said. “See where old age gets you?”
I said to Ted, kind of sharp, “You plan to tell Alice he died, though, right?”
“Sure I will, but she don’t have to know where we planted him.”
“She don’t like you to fool her,” I said. “Might chase you off.”
Ted laughed. “Ain’t likely, Andy. No sir. Right now I plan to still be around here when the next dog dies, and the next one after that. Why, I already got me the replacement for this guy on order.” He dropped the dog in the grave hole. Ted pointed at me and Ronnie, then at the shovels. That was our signal to go to work. “This ol’ boy don’t ever plan to not have him a dog,” Ted said. “Yes sir. And, somehow, I plan to keep me a woman close at hand as well.”
Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.