NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY
The paramedics would have come too late; and according to the automaton lady on 9-1-1 they don’t deal with animals anyway. In short, the Chancellor’s dog was dead and there was nothing that could be done. I knew, per the all-Bible bookshelf in the Chancellor’s living room, that he was Christian. I called the only priest I knew, my Uncle Billy from Preston, 20 miles away.
“Christ,” Billy said when he saw Woozie’s corpse. The VW bug was still running, blowing toxic exhaust clouds. He exhaled his Camel Wide into the frigid morning air. “Almighty. This dog is dead, what do you expect me to do?”
“Bury it,” I said. “In some humane, Christian way. I don’t know how you people do these things.”
“We throw them away in the dumpster like any normal person would.” He flicked his butt down the concrete gutter, wiped his hands on his black slacks.
“Normal people don’t throw dogs in dumpsters,” I said.
“Oh really, Socrates. What do they do, then.”
“They bury them,” I said.
“Dogs?” he asked, and put three fingers to the heart-area in genuine surprise. “I didn’t know that.”
“Jesus,” I said.
“Jesus never owned a dog,” he said. “Maybe a lamb. I don’t know.”
“Billy,” I said, and nodded toward Woozie.
“What do I look like, a gravedigger?” Billy asked. He put another cigarette in his mouth. “I drove all the way from Preston, what, to dig a hole? I’ve never dug a hole.”
The Chancellor’s garage was locked the same way he locked his liquor cabinet so we had to drive to Home Depot to get a shovel. Billy’s VW Bug was so loud there was no room for conversation on the way. In Home Depot, we chose the least expensive option and got in line. Billy was rubbing his beard and looking at a tabloid on the rack, reciting some scripture about loose women. I flipped through a magazine about tractors and pretended not to know him. I stared at a red tractor, thinking, that’s nice, maybe I would like one of those. I could drive it from the campus market to the dorm, from the cafeteria to the quad. Then I closed it, thinking, who am I kidding. This is it. This is the beginning of the end of my education. This is why you never say yes when you interview the Chancellor for the school rag and he randomly asks you to dog-sit his Pomeranian, saying, no experience necessary.
We buried Woozie beneath an apple-pear tree in the Chancellor’s back yard. As the dirt rained on his ginger fur, I saw a sunset of life events eclipse; I saw success suck backward into itself like a dying star, a black hole of textbooks and words eating themselves, those classrooms and long-haired girls with glasses and graduation tassels. The soil made a thump-thump sound as it rained on the dog.
“How did it happen,” Billy said, shuddering and wincing at the clods falling on the still animal. “God, this is disgusting.”
“The dog was just dead. I don’t know how. I woke up this morning and he was dead.”
“But he wasn’t dead yesterday.”
I shook my head. “Nuh-uh.”
“Say a prayer now,” I told him, and handed him the shovel.
He pretended the shovel was a guitar for a minute, then put it down. “I don’t know any dog-prayers,” he said.
I stared at the upturned earth. City college wouldn’t be so bad, actually. Save some money. Get my gen ed done.
“Don’t cry,” Billy said. He had his hand on my shoulder. His eyes were welling up.
“I’m not,” I said, and shook his hand off me.
He wiped his eyes. He turned around from the sight of the upturned earth like it was too much, then breathed deep and faced me again. “I’m glad you called me,” he said. “Glad I could help.”
“Sure,” I muttered.
“Lying’s a sin, you know,” he said. “So’s stealing, and so’s thinking bad thoughts about people around you.” He lit a cigarette. “You want a ride home?”
I nodded, though I was scared of home now, because campus was home.
On the ride my mind drifted to cheeseburgers and fries. Was it worth it to ask Billy to stop off somewhere? What was worse, more time without a cheeseburger and fries, or more time with Uncle Billy? My stomach grumbled and my decision made itself. Billy dropped me off near the clock tower, which was a half-mile walk from my dorm but I didn’t tell him that.
“Trouble you for a wee bit o gas money?” he asked. “Drove all the way from Preston.”
“You did,” I said gently. “But you didn’t really do anything, did you?”
“You little twat,” he said before rolling up the window and driving away. I stared at the white choker of his collar disappearing and thought, yeah, I get why Dad told me it would be best not to call you at all. Shit Twin, Dad called him. Saint Bum. What can I say, it was my first semester. I was green. I was a coast away from home.
I sat on the grass right there for a long time and watched the sun sink in the sky, watched the color of the world burn from yellow to orange then pale to blue. The Frisbee people and dog walkers disappeared and then it was just me. The clock chimed at some point, a long cascade of bells that was a song I knew but didn’t know the name of. I could see my dorm light up with windows and I couldn’t say which was mine, from there, from my seat of wet lawn. All my things in that dorm room could fit in four boxes. I could pack them up as quickly as I’d packed them out. My body so elastic. The air was a mean cold kiss. There was an unease in my bones that felt like wings.