My Dog Sherman
My dog watches TV.
He is not a very smart dog.
Whenever an animal appears on the screen, be it real or cartoon, Sherman charges the damned thing. He has won, however. We seldom turn it on anymore, as television is filled with animals that the dog cannot abide, while I cannot abide his infernal barking. Curiously though, on our walks he never meets a dog he doesn’t like. As I said before, he is not a very smart dog, though there is a curious glint to his eye.
So I am trying to teach him to read.
We sit on the porch of an evening while the shadows creep and the swallows circle.
I read Jack London aloud while Sherman watches the squirrels hop o’er the yard.
I am not sure which of us gets the most from the time spent, but I feel better for having tried, even though the dog still can’t read, and isn’t liable to. After all, TV can’t do a dog any good, while Jack London is surely medicinal for man and beast (It is no accident that we picked London). Sherman doesn’t seem to care either way for “To Build a Fire”, but his ears definitely pick up for “White Fang”, and “Call of the Wild”, so there must be at least a lick of sense in there.
Stupid dog will not read it though. He will only listen with pricked ears while he watches the squirrels play under the oaks. Sometimes he is struck with the urge to give chase, but instead he sits back down again to await what the frozen Yukon might present next.
My wife wonders about our combined intelligence, all the same she sits and listens too. Me? I think it is just the dog.
Charlie Moss starved to death. I carried Charlie up to the Greenville Sanitarium myself. There was no money. The doctor looked at him despite it, but it was too late. Charlie died all the same. Doc said it was pneumonia, but I knew better. Good Ol’ Charlie starved and froze.
The work ran out a good while back. Most everyone we knew had hopped the cars for Nashville, or Birmingham, but when Charlie got sick I stayed there with him. That shanty was cold, what with the wind blowing in through the chinks, and Charlie was real thin. Hell, so was I. It wouldn’t be long until I was too weak to chop the wood, and then we would both freeze, if'n we didn’t starve first. I couldn’t cut wood fast enough now to heat the plywood walls of that shack, but I did my best to keep Charlie warm. With all of that though, there wasn’t much to do about feeding him. It was nothing but a damned shame for Ol’ Charlie, is what it was, that he picked the very worst time to go and get sick.
I knew Charlie Moss my whole life, going all the way back to grade school in Bristol, and then we did our service time in France together afterward. Once back home I courted Charlie’s sister until she ran off with a medicine show drummer. She never did come back home. I always wondered if she ran away from that town, or if'n it was me she ran from?
It hurt some when Charlie died. I cried a bit when I got back to the shanty alone, and I kicked that dog for watching me do it.
But for me the car was empty. Those able had already gone to where the work was, leaving the shanty-town long before cold struck the mountains. I jumped the train on the eastern slope when her speed was down, the wind shivering me in my shirtsleeves. I looked back once through the boxcar door and that dog was running alongside, but she couldn’t hang with it for long, could she? I mean, I would have brought her along, but how could I hold that dog, run with the train, and jump the car, too?
It was good that I was alone, my mood being sure enough sour. The rough plank floor of that car gravelled my ass with every clickety-clack, so that I was fairly miserable when we passed through the gap. I tipped my slouch hat down for a nap, but couldn’t sleep for thinking of Charlie Moss. They buried my friend with everything he owned, excepting that dog, of course. Charlie sure thought highly of that bitch. I expect he starved himself while slipping his slivers to it. That was the kind of friend Ol’ Charlie was. I had watched that dog lick Charlie’s face right before I toted him into Greenville. Charlie had smiled as he wrapped her head in his arms. I reckon that was the last time Charlie Moss ever smiled on this Earth.
Charlie would have been plumb disappointed to hear of it, of me leaving his dog to chase after the train. But damn it, if I didn’t find work I would like as not starve too, then what would that dog do? Hell-fire! She was better off than any of us! She’d go right on catching rabbits, I reckoned.
I left the train as it was sailing down off the Cumberland Plateau. It was a fast stretch, but distance was mounting. If I was going to ditch, it would need be soon. I hit gravel feet first, but from there it was ass-over-tea kettle, so that it hurt pretty good when I stopped rolling. It would be a long, hungry walk back to that shanty, and cold over every bit of this mountain, but I knew that dog would be there waiting, lying across Charlie’s olive-drab army blanket, never understanding why she was left there alone.
I knocked the dust and gravel from my duds the best I could, and started walking. I reckon I’m not the man to betray a friend, not even a dead one, nor his damned cur dog, neither.
A Day on the Water
I reached across the seat to scratch his head. It was soft in my palm, his ears like velvet on my fingertips. I put my hand back on the wheel. “Come on now,” I said to myself. “Stay strong. It’s just a dog. The world isn’t ending.”
But it sure felt like the world was ending, or at least like it would never be the same. A piece if its magic was slipping behind the curtain, about to disappear. Reb and I were just waiting for the wand to wave.
We were still a ways from the ramp when Reb smelled the water. He whined, seaching inside himself for a last vestige of excitement. The water scent grew stronger when we pulled into the boat ramp. Despite his sickness, Reb grew restless, pushing his head through the opened window, his tail wagging slowly behind him, beating against my arm, still unsure.
When I backed the trailer to the water Reb found his strength, and shouted it through the window to whomever might hear. We walked together across the floating dock, stepping gingerly into the aluminum, olive-drab boat. He took his accustomed seat between my legs, his eyes eager if not his body. An Autumn mist clung to the water, but the morning air was not cold. There were no other boats in sight. I set the throttle on three-quarters and we plowed a furrow up-river, toward the shoals. There was good hunting around the shoals, but we weren’t here to hunt. Not today.
The boat slid comfortably into the calm, deeper waters upstream of the shoals. The expected mallards were there, bobbing on the water, their iridescent heads shimmering blue in the sun. Lucky mallards! Any other day would have ended badly for them. Knowing the spot, Reb pulled himself up onto his stand. He eyed the ducks through the mist, snuffling the air, awaiting the shot-gun’s blast. I reached under the seat for the dummy, and tossed it into the still water. Reb marked it patiently, waiting. He would stand there for hours, maybe forever if I did not release him. I wondered how long he would wait.
“Go on, then!” It was not the time to break trust.
It was more fall than leap, but Reb swam hard for the dummy, safe in the ignorance of neither knowing, nor caring, that he was sick, and near his end. He mouthed the dummy and struggled back, his head low in the water, choking, but he made it. He climbed the makeshift ladder to his stand, and released the dummy to my hand, as he had for the better half of my existence.
“Atta boy!” I wrapped his head in my arms. His tail wagged with joy upon wobbly legs.
“That’s it Reb. That’s the last one.”
Somewhere on the ride back to the dock Reb laid down in the boat. Lost in my thoughts it went unnoticed. And somewhere on the ride Reb took his last breath, but wondering what I would tell Little Jack, I did not notice that either.
Back in the truck, riding by Doc Bell’s, I was thankful for not having to stop. Little Jack would want to help bury Reb, it was his dog, too. I wondered if it would be the first time he saw his father cry?
“We should bring him back here,” I thought, “to lay him down. Back to the river. We should put him where his spirit can sniff the water on the wind, where it can see ducks bob, and hear the geese honk overhead. Someplace where the guns will bang, and the dogs will bark through the morning mist. A good place for a dog, or for a man.”
Someplace where, God willing, our spirits might meet again for another day on the water.
“Wait here, Reb. Stay, boy! I’ll be along shortly.”
The face in the fly-specked mirror was a hard one, shaped even meaner by the rusty room. The smell of stagnant humidity lingered behind the stinking mixture of excrement and paper that filled the mineral stained toilet in the graffiti scratched stall, a literal shit-hole. Cyrus Bohannon had recently added his own bloody shat to the odorous pile in the bowl, carefully hovering himself overtop, so as not to touch his ass to the filthy seat.
“Perfect! No hot water!” Cyrus shaved with the tepid water dribbling over his cheap, pink, “toss-away” plastic razor. His toothbrush was in his pocket. He did not pull it out, afraid that somehow the putrid air might carry the shit smell into its bristles. He was successful in washing the sweat from his skin, and from his face, but he could not scrub the red, nor the tired from his eyes. Cyrus Bohannon’s life smelled about like this cankerous Arkansas highway rest stop.
Cy reached into his other pocket, the one without the toothbrush. He removed a clear sandwich baggy from it, the baggie’s bottom a rainbow of colorful pills. He deftly split one of the capsules in two with his right hand before pouring the powdered contents of each half into the hollow at the base of his left thumb and index finger, then he tossed the empty halves into the sink’s trickle. Lastly, Cyrus Bohannon lowered his face into the powder and inhaled deeply, feeling it burn as it sucked through his nostrils. Soon came the familiar acidic drip down the back of his throat that preceded the rush.
The sun was bright upon re-entering the world. Cyrus squinted into it, using a hand to shield his red-rimmed eyes. His boot heels were worn down on the outside edges, giving him an uncomfortable looking, bow-legged stride, or maybe that was the hemorrhoids, it would be hard to guess between them if one were to try.
Cy climbed onto the fuel tank, grabbing for the grimy Stuckey’s bag he had shoved between the rig’s seats. There were picnic tables close by the toilets, but Cyrus did not care for company, so he found a shaded curb near the rig where he lowered himself gently down to the concrete. He gripped the greasy bag with shaking hands, not really hungry, but knowing that he needed to eat. That was the problem with the speed, you never felt hungry. Cy closed his eyes for just a few seconds. On the highway behind him the hum of tires, and the roar of the “Big-Rigs”, zipped along with frequent, and soothing irregularity, lulling him despite the jittery-tingle of the pills.
He closed his eyes. In a brief, but vivid dream snow fell, and the Freightliner slid down Monteagle while Cy held tight to the wheel. The air-brakes whined a lonely whine, a high-pitched and hungry whine just before the crash. Cy lay dead in the twisted metal, but he couldn’t be dead. He could feel the heat of the day, and the weight of the crushed door pressing against his thigh. He could still hear the whoosh of the passing cars on the highway. He squeezed his eyes tighter, wishing to be dead. But the cab door moved against his thigh, and then it pressed on him again. Strange? Reluctantly, the “dead” being peaceful, Cy opened his eyes.
It wasn’t the door of the cab pressing against his leg in a dream. It was a damned dog that had crawled its way up beside him while he napped, a damned flea-bag stray! Cy “shoo-ed”it. The dog took a wary step away, its back arched, but it did not go. Instead, it whined. The same whine as the air-brakes in his dream. Cy “shoo-ed” again, and the dog took another step away. Now Cy could get a good look. A mutt, spotted brown and white like a Holstein cow, long eared and long tongued. Ugly. That was one ugly dog! The dog took a circle, sitting itself down on Cyrus’ other side, leaning hard against his right thigh this time.
“Shoo, dog, “he hollered! Once again the dog stepped off, but not away. Instead it stretched its nose toward the Stuckey’s bag, eyebrows high and hopeful. Cy noted then how thin it was, even for a dog. He pulled the burger from the bag. The dog sat. Cy put the burger back in the bag, and the dog stood. He took it from the bag again, “hooting” as the dog sat once more. “Well, how about that?” Cy didn’t even realize in his excitement that he was speaking aloud. Cyrus unwrapped the burger, smiling as the dog sat. He took a bite. Nothing from the dog, not even a whimper. Cyrus pulled the patty from between the buns and tossed it at the dog, who promptly snagged it out of the air and smacked it down. “Whooeee! I reckon you are a smart dog!” Cyrus took out the french fries next, and tossed them one-by-one at the cur, who yanked each one from the air and smacked them down, just as it had the meat patty.
Fries gone, Cyrus wadded up the bag. The dog sat. “That,” Cyrus thought aloud, “is really something! I reckon she knows just when to sit. That is a smart bitch, ain’t it now?”
Cy grabbed at the air, pulling himself up from the curb. The dog stood as well. Cyrus limped his way towards the Freightliner, the dog limping along behind. A mini-van sailed by, its children waving at Cyrus and the dog through its opened windows. Cy found himself waving back. He wasn’t sure which was more noteworthy, children waving at him, or him waving back.
Cy climbed into the cab, settling his hemorrhoids into the warn cloth of the freightliner’s seat. The big diesel roared beneath his boots, shaking the cab like an atmospheric re-entry. The dog sat hopefully outside, looking up at the driver’s door. The brakes hissed, the gears ground, and the big rig shuddered forward fifty slow feet before the brakes hissed again, lurching the rig to a stop. The man climbed back down, and gestured to the dog, who dropped her ears, and trotted forward.
At sixty-four years of age Cyrus Bohannon finally caught a break. He found his luck in Little Rock, so that’s what he called her. And so that everyone would know, he painted it beside the Queen of Hearts on the sides of his cab:
Me and My “Little Rock”
General Sherman (A Spoiled Dog’s Tale)
If you have followed my posts then you may already be familiar with my dog Sherman. I have made little headway in teaching Sherman to read, but we are progressing in some other equally important subjects. For instance, Sherman drinks scotch. Blended scotch. Dewar’s. It’s not quite up to the well-aged, single malt stuff, but it is still higher toned than my father’s bourbon. And Sherman smokes. Marlboro lights, in a flip top box. Don’t roll your eyes! I have a picture! None of that generic, economical, South American tobacco for my buddy! He is a “Man’s Dog”, no doubt, who also enjoys college football and SEC Gameday, particularly when the University of Georgia’s “Uga” is in the mix. I could easily feel as old as I am, or older even, but for General Sherman keeping me young... that dog and his wonderful vices.
By saying all of this I am not advocating smoking or drinking, especially if the preacher is nearby. In fact, I would discourage it in any other dog. What is good for General Sherman’s physical and mental well-beings would more than likely kill another dog, one with a weaker disposition (Yes, to my father’s mortal agony my dog is named after that Yankee general who burned Atlanta, but I am an evolved Southerner, so I saddled the dog with the name as a declaration of my pride in all of America, and not just in its lower half. Besides, isn’t it just like Father to complain about my innocent dog’s name-sake even as he sips on the General’s scotch?) I have another dog, as well. Josey Wales. Josey abstains from both tobacco and liquor, yet she and General Sherman somehow remain friends. Josey Wales is good, and she is undoubtedly smart (if a bit plain), but Josey only barks like any other dog, while Sherman... Sherman has a style!
Sherman also has a paper, a diploma, a piece of paper that states how very smart he is, but don’t believe everything you print off of the internet. That internet is full of lies. His damned paper ain’t worth the cartridge he wasted printing on it. To prove that, I will tell you that he used up the expensive color cartridge to print it, even though he is both color-blind, and black and white... literally. More proof that he is undeserving of any educational accolades.
I must go now. The bell is ringing. It is probably the “Amazon Prime” truck bringing Sherman’s new slippers. He finally found some that match his smoking jacket.
“Come Sherman, and bring your wallet!”
The Good Dog
The smell of death wafted from the cabin, finding her nostrils on the covered porch, drifting heavily on the panhandle’s wind like the poisonous gas it was, but she did not move. Yes, it was the smell of decay, but it was also his smell and she would not leave it.
He was the “alpha”, and was all that was left of what had been her pack, a strong pack with people and dogs and live-stock. She was a social creature. She needed others. There had once been others of her kind here, but she was born into man’s world, so she was friend to man, as he was to her. She was proud to belong with the man, with her man. He was her reason. She had lived with his pack, and so she would die with it.
She lay now on the porch, her paws crossed in front, her chin on top. A rabbit hopped warily from the scrub oak, moving slowly, testing its luck. She watched him with her ears pricked, but her chin did not lift, so the ears laid back once more. Even a rabbit could not interest her now. How lucky he was.
She climbed in fits to her feet and walked to the room. He was lying on the bed. The smell of death was strong... very strong. The air was hot, putrid even. She limped on arthritic legs to the bedside and whined. She licked a still hand, hoping for a response, a pat. She gave a single, loud bark in trial, as if to say, “rise up!” But here laid God, unable to rise. She glanced at the water bowl but passed it by despite the heat. She pushed through the slit in the nylon screen door, her slit, and plopped heavily onto the weathered boards of the porch, boards scoured clean of paint by sand, red sand blown hard like rosin upon the West Texas winds. This place on the porch was her spot, the spot where she laid and awaited the man. The air left her body in a long sigh. She would wait here now, in her spot, for she knew not what, nor how long.
The man told her she was a good dog, and she believed.
A howl escaped her. A despairing howl. The rabbit heard the howl and hopped away. It turned its ears back in case of pursuit, but not in fear. The rabbit understood its adversary. The howl told him that the dog would chase no more.
The man told her she was a good dog, and she believed.
Bobby’s Lucky Break
It was a beautiful fall day. He witnessed it with his nose pressed to the window’s cold glass. Brief patches of fog upon it blurred his vision with every breath. Beyond the fog, crimson and gold leaves dropped by one’s and two‘s from the Maples and the Birch into an Autumn collage on the lawn. Beyond the falling leaves were kids playing touch football in the street. Bobby watched them out the window, out beyond the falling leaves as they threw and caught and yelled in their play. It was crimson, and green, and gold outside. Inside, it was only blue. He sat on the sill alone, wondering why it was that some boys got to play football in the street while others had to watch from their windows.
Bobby had gone outside before, but it never ended well. Sometimes he was ignored, which was all right, he could play alone while stealing glances at the other kids, the “real” kids, those kids who were made to be outdoors, the ones who were made for fun, and were good at having it. Other times he became the center of attention. Those were the bad times. Those times were the reason he sat inside alone, watching, and blue. It was usually AJ that started it, but soon all of the kids pitched in. The meanness seldom got physical, but it didn’t have to. The exclusion and the torment were enough to keep Bobby inside, to keep him blue.
On a whim Sheriff Brown picked up the phone and dialed his sister. “Yea, Diedra! He’s a full bred collie, looks just like Lassie. He killed a farmer’s sheep outside of town. They want to put him down, but he seems like a good dog, Diedra, and I remembered you saying that a dog might be good for Bobby? What do you think?
“I don’t know, Ollie... he killed a sheep? What if he attacks Bobby?”
“Let me bring him over, he seems like a great dog, he just doesn’t belong around farm animals. Let’s put them together and see how they get along, I really hate to see him get put down.”
“Ok, Ollie, but tell Bobby it’s your dog. I don’t want him to get his hopes up, you hear?”
“Yea, I hear. I’ll be over around five... you are going to love him, Sis!”
Diedra set her phone down. The trouble her mouth got her into!
Ollie was right, the dog did look just like Lassie, and she did love him, right away. Once inside it came to her for a moment, allowing her to stroke his head before sniffling at the air and heading straight for Bobby on his window sill. The big dog laid it’s big chin on Bobby’s skinny-little knee and batted soft brown eyes at him as though he knew who it was that he was here for. Diedra’s breath caught when her sad, lonesome little boy reached a hand for the dog’s head. “We’ll try him, Ollie, but no promises.”
It was not original, but they called him “Lucky”, as he was lucky to be alive, but it turned out to be a great name for other reasons. Bobby quickly took to feeding Lucky, and Lucky thrilled him by choosing to sleep at night on the rug beside his bed. It was their third day together that Bobby and Lucky came upon the football game. AJ broke away from the game long enough to snear at Bobby and his dog.
“What you got there, ‘Booby-head‘ Bobby?” AJ wasn’t the biggest of the “real” kids, but he was the one with the mean eyes. It was always AJ that started it, and he was starting it now. Bobby felt that familiar coldness in his chest, and the lightness in his head as the blood flushed from his face. He didn’t speak, as he knew from past experience that speaking would only make him begin crying, and then the teasing would get even worse. He tried to walk away, but AJ followed while the others began to wander closer.
“I said, what you got there, Booby-head?” AJ laughed and looked back over his shoulder to make sure the others were watching.
Lucky started towards the bigger boy, walking slowly, but deliberately. Bobby tried to pull him back, but he was not strong enough. Being behind the dog, Bobby could not see the curled lips, nor the long, white teeth, nor the blackened gums that AJ saw, but he did see the flush in AJ’s face, and he did see the bully’s quick retreat. AJ took several slow backward steps before turning to run.
Over time the walks grew longer, and even longer yet. The boy reveled in being outdoors, where he and his dog found no end of marvels, and adventures. His world had grown to unlimited proportions. At times they passed the other kids, the “real” kids, but no one shouted Bobby’s way as they continued their games, letting Bobby and Lucky pass in peace.
And then came the day that one of the kids did walk over. “Hey Bobby, can I pet your dog?”
Bobby shrugged. That familiar coldness crept to his chest, and face, but the other boy just smiled and put his hand down for the dog to sniff. The “real” boy dropped to his knees and happily scruffed at the big dog’s mane. Soon the other kids were there, gathered around Bobby and Lucky, each taking their turn sliding hands along Lucky’s silkened back. Eventually the kids all stood, and turned to go. The first one looked back, “Cool dog, Bobby!”
“Yea,” Bobby felt a different feeling spread through his chest, a warm feeling this time as it swelled with pride. He was suddenly, and unexpectedly, the “luckiest”, and the “realist” kid in the world. “Yea,“ Bobby whispered, so that only Lucky could hear. “Yea, he is the coolest dog!”
Bobby and Lucky walked quickly away, before the “real” kids could tease him for crying.
An incredible coincidence it was, that she should show up now. My dog General Sherman and I had just been hoping, praying and wishing for anything that might add some Cajun spice to a boiled chicken day when the knocker sounded on the door...
General Sherman showed her in. Beautiful she was, dark-haired and dark-eyed, just like the Hunk-papa Sioux Motorcycle Cowgirl Goddess I had spent the morning pining for. Sherman eyed her distastefully, seeing in her a threat to any hope he had left for an afternoon fishing excursion. With a low growl he returned to his chair by the window, and to his e-copy of “Show Dogs Illustrated.” My attention returned to her. Her shorts were short, her boots tall, her bikini top revealing. I could imagine my neighbor Clyde’s consternation when this All American Beauty rumbled her Harley up my drive.
She purred rather than speaking, her words like warm syrup over powdered-sugar, huckleberry pancakes. “Your dreams called me here,” she cooed. “Now that you have me, whatever will you do with me, Big Daddy?”
And she knew my nickname! “Do you mean that you will do anything I ask you to do without question? Anything I want???“ I could hardly contain my excitement! I closed my eyes, and could almost feel the yank on my rod already!
She licked her lips seductively while looking me over head-to-toe, obviously liking what she saw. “Yes, Lover. Anything... and everything. How and where do you want me?”
Unbelieving of my good fortune, I ripped the list from my pocket with trembling hands. “Oh Yes! Thank you Lord!” I hoped upon hope that my neighbor Clyde would see this. What a “one up” it would be! I looked at her hopefully, “Do you have any qualms with getting busy outside? So the neighbors can watch?”
“Oh! You are a dirty boy. No, Sugar-britches... I love to do it in the grass!”
My God! The perfect woman! “All right then, you can start with the mowing. The mower, string trimmer and blower are in the shed out back. The light bulbs in the eaves need to be changed. You’ll need the ladder for that. It is also in the shed, you’ll need to move a bunch of stuff to get to it, though. The shrubs need to be trimmed, and the driveway needs to be sealed... say... just how long are you going to be here anyways, cause Pooky-Bear is wanting the shutters painted, too? Don’t just stand there, Dream Woman... get crackin’!”
“Come Sherman, I’ll get the tackle in the boat, you fill the cooler!“
Sing along with us, if you know the tune!!!
Now... get to work half-naked lass,
The wife won’t let the chores get past
But... now we have a free hall pass
We can fish and still mow grass
Here... last is first and first is last
Thanks to the wish on a genie’s glass
So... bite the hook you fargin’ bass,
Huck and Gen’ral Sherman are after your...
My Twice Weekly
I think that my dog Sherman is a ”crack” head.
We wander out into the misting mornings to see what limbs are down, or what havoc the raccoons and possums have played the night before. Sherman immediately loses his mind. He races across the yard, zipping this way and that, his muscles bunched tight with anticipation... it’s no different really than the junkie on the corner looking for his fix, except that Sherman’s “fix” is much, much more horrid, and odious than any found in the bottom corner of a clear sandwich baggie.
I know immediately when he has found it. He scratches the ground furiously, with brief intervals as he bellows to the hound-dog gods. He then plunges his face into the hole, his tail swatting the air in great, swirling loops of joy at his good luck! When the face emerges again, it carries a great and unmistakable doggie smile, with peeled gums and crazy, tilted eyes.
I shake my head and smile at the happy fellow.
”Pooky-bear! Come quick? “Your” dog has been skunked again!