Dog Years by Michael Grant Smith

“Pete, would you please fetch me another extension cord?”

Mom vacuumed the front sidewalk twice a week. In my childhood she paid me an allowance of $2 per month if I caught Dad’s cigarette ashes before they hit the living room carpet.

“As a bonus, every time you extinguish one of your father’s fires, you’ll get to choose a treat from the bowl of root vegetables in the kitchen.”

When I thought about meteors at all, probably never, I considered them vast craters looking for a place to call home. The biggest were someone else’s problem: trailer park residents in Arkansas, reindeer foraging on a Siberian tundra. But the lesser ones — who cares?

My parents gave me a dog although not until I was nearly fifty. Dad kept the motorhome running, handed me a leash, and laughed because he knew the gift would slip my brain out of gear. Told me the dog was special, could sniff out meteors.

“You can’t see shooting stars if you stare right at them,” said the old man, Marlboro number sixteen-billion stuck to his lip. “It’s a blind spot. Just let old Hutch find them for you.”

Mom leaned out of the passenger-side window. “You’ll find he tries very hard,” she said. The dog and I stared at each other. My eyes narrowed. His tail wagged. To whom did she refer?

Dad backed out of my lane because there’s no room for turnarounds in relationships. I bent to touch the dog, who flopped down and showed me his belly. His pink-leather tongue dangled sideways. The armpits — turns out Hutch loved to have his armpits scratched. His breed? I suspect he was spawned from saliva and felted fur.

“Who’s a good dog?” I said in the over-earnest voice people use while pleading for sexual intercourse or when they talk to pets. “Who’s the best boy ever?” All conversations with pets are rhetorical.

At that time, “Pete sees a burning rock” had its own page in the brochure of things I hadn’t done. I would’ve assumed meteors were cartoonish red balls of flame trailing long, slow, fiery tails across the sky. Hutch knew better.

In fact, most fingerquote typical meteors end-fingerquote are brief needles of light whose visible journey can be hidden by your upheld hand. They fade in two blinks of an eye but my Hutch still found them. The outstanding ones drag accordion pleats of atmosphere. A wake of constellations, clouds, birds, the occasional airplane. Truly a fan-folded fun-factory. If you’re an admirer of plummeting celestial crap, you’d swoon if you experienced for yourself a meteor’s leash-dragging gravitational attraction.

The mutt and I stalked darkness. Clear weather was best, obviously, but Hutch tracked his prey no matter the conditions. Purpose swelled within me and my ears rang with it. Even during long sunlit hours spent on the porch, when I lounged in my skivvies and painted portraits on raw rice grains, Hutch barked and whined to alert me about incoming fireballs.

Most humans are smarter than canines, and opposable thumbs will carry you far, but our principal advantage over dogs is longevity. It hadn’t occurred to me I would outlive my dog.

There came a night when Hutch grew agitated, which I assumed was due to incandescent flying objects. I took him out to my front yard and he laid down in the chickweed and clover. No skyward-pointing nose, no sniffing, no howling; he simply curled up as if on a hearth and closed his eyes.

I was unaware of the convergence until later, but my parents, both of them, passed away the same night as Hutch, almost to the minute, except they expired in their Winnebago parked at a Walmart in the suburbs of Orlando, Florida. The cause of death was asphyxiation due to a small, smoldering fire.

Their attorney phoned me. She’d defended my Mom and Dad all three occasions I sued them.

“Their final wish was for you to straighten up and fly right,” she said. “I’m a lawyer, not a genie, so in this matter there’s no specific legal action I can take.”

I thanked her for the information and then we chit-chatted. She was a professional wrestler trapped in a jurist’s body. We’re dating now, but not each other. Every evening, I wait for sky-towing meteors. If one were to bounce onto my property I am bound to throw it back.

 

Michael Grant Smith wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in elimae, The Airgonaut, The Cabinet of Heed, Ellipsis Zine, Spelk, Bending Genres, Unbroken Journal, MoonPark Review, and elsewhere. Michael resides in Ohio. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. To learn too much about Michael, please visit www.michaelgrantsmith.com and @MGSatMGScom.

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