Andrew Bertaina


He weren’t much of a dog to begin with. Got that tail tucked tween his legs and no balls to speak of. Dog’s got to have hisself a pair of big ones: ones to make other dogs turn up butts in shame. He didn’t ever make no dogs turn in shame, fact is, I think they was laughing at him.

I came to live with you from the general store parking lot—wagons that turn on rickety wheels, dust becoming mud, ruts in the street, a young man, blue vested, watching the women shaded by bonnets, an old man, smoke sliding through fingers, a drunk, vomiting in the trees, a swift kick to the slats of my ribs. I licked your cold hand with my warm tongue. Lucy held me by the tail.

He always barkt at the God dang night. Hated it; thought the damn thing was gonna devour him alive. Like his momma had barkt him some ghost stories at her tit, told him it could swallow your soul. And no amount of fireflies burnin out their faint lights over water could get him to stop whimperin. I let him start sleepin with the girls; he practically pissed hisself in delight.

The house always smelled of coffee. Little Lucy, golden hair like summer rain, grasping fingers tangled in fur, and Jenny, with her stern older sister voice, rough hands on my nose, a warm body curled in sleep. Beyond the window: chipmunks on bare limbs, tiny paws, little squeaks, small teeth hammering acorns, ungraspable. How I would have liked to have ground my teeth into their small bones.

He never were much of a huntin' dog. We took him out one day to help us on the trap line. A fox was all tangled up—leg half chewed off, staring at us wildly. He just puts his sad little tail down and whimpers against my leg. “Go on, git him. Git him.” Boy just sat there still as pond scum. “You whiny little pup,” I said.

The coppery smell and taste of blood, the eyes that were still wild; I’d have chewed through the tendons and ligaments, lit into the bone to know how to be wild, to not have to beg for chicken scraps from little fingers. But I need you, so I lick your hand and whine at your side.

He sure made them girls happy though. They dressed him up like he was a dolly. He didn’t never complain, just sat there, calm as shit in the ground. I’d have lectured the girls even if he’d nipped them.

Small laughter and tail tugs. But he was a good dog till the end, small balls and all. He walked beneath those low hangin elms with a knowing look in those brown eyes.

Worn and tattered clothes, thin pale arms, blue veins. The ribs of Lucy, of Jenny. A cold and clear morning, the trees all standing in shadows.

He held his head up straight, took it right between the eyes. I’d tell them he’d gotten lost. We had to eat; a rusty stain on the green moss.

The coppery taste of blood, shallow breathing. Ah, how strange, this life.

Andrew Bertaina currently lives and works in Washington, D.C. He enjoys most people.
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