[The woman] doesn’t recognize her sweetheart because his face is changed by
battle scars. Which makes Virgil think of Vernon in harm’s way fighting for
his country, a patriot. A hero. What might happen to his face? He could come back
like the faceless chicken. Or at least a face you wouldn’t know. Or he could
be getting killed today (right this second) and the family would know nothing until
the telegram came …
—Virgil Francis Foggy, in The Law of Falling Bodies
Excerpts: The Law of Falling Bodies
Part One: Every Morning the War Arrives
Virgil Francis Foggy
Chop . . .
chop . . .
chop . . .
You hold it by the legs.
Place its head on the chopping block, setting it there in blood and wedged feathers.
Eye rigid, leathery lid blinks.
Eye like a target, yellow, alive, stunned.
Says, Mercy, Virgil, mercy!
But you are fourteen: fourteen knows no mercy.
The body becomes a pillow on legs. The pillow runs into the fence. It bounces off.
Quivers in the dust of the killing yard. On the chopping block, the head in profile
is flat, triangular. Resembles a red leaf. Needle-tongued silence. Beak curving
is—a toy banana.
∼ ∼ ∼
There are two galvanized tubs side by side on metal sawhorses. A small, round charcoal
stove beneath the first tub keeps the water hot. Wet feathers, humid flesh float
in front of your mother and grandmother as they dip the bodies into the steaming
water and tear the feathers from the prickly skin.
Into the cold-water tub the naked go. Floating like decoys.
∼ ∼ ∼
Your step-sister/cousin Ginger reaches inside the cage. Grabs another bird. Hands
it to you. Using the blade of the ax, you brush the head off the block. You put
the new, living thing down, senses alive, heart pumping, lungs panting, feathers
feathering. Senseless blood and oxygen coursing through pulsing veins. On the block,
no mercy, head down. Plump chicken by the legs. Its eye gaping at the ax. At the
boy who came for eggs this morning. Whose hand ran softly over the silken back.
Whose throat clucked quietly in the haze inside the coop at sunrise. The birds stirring
awake in a world of peace without end—We’ll live forever, won’t
∼ ∼ ∼
Is this the same boy, then? The eyes are not the same. The simian brow. The pitiless
lips. This boy shows teeth. He mimics a dog.
Mercy, Virgil! Mercy!
Fall the ax—chop!
The scarlet heads pile up. Candy for cats snaking through the yard, snatching this
head and that. You promise the cats that you will chop their heads off too. But
they come anyway, one by one dashing from under the milkhouse, dashing past the
bloody blade. Tricky, swift, slinky. Snapping heads in their pin-like fangs. You
kick dirt at the cats. You whirl the blade overhead.
“Will sure kill you cats! Gimmee nother chicken, Ginger! Gimmee that one there!”
“Watch it with that ax!” shouts your stepfather—your Uncle Dick.
He is sitting on the patio in front of the house, slouching on his neck, his long
legs stretching, crossing at the ankles. His fingers play with his hair, pulling
at thinning strands, stringing them back like shoelaces over his balding pate. Dick
and Pappy in the shade of the live oak, drinking iced tea, watching the work twenty
yards away in the killing yard.
∼ ∼ ∼
The windmill tucked between the tool shed and chicken coop whirs in the breeze,
its piston slipping up and down the platform guides—tick-slip-tick-slip-tick-slip.
You smell the organs, the wet feathers, sweet blood, dusty droppings in the yard.
Faint whiffs now and then of Gramma’s potent White Owl cigar. She rips more
feathers. Rips them as if she hates them.
∼ ∼ ∼
Forty yards away on the other side of the road, the Crow River makes the same sound
as the wind through the trees. The blue sky observes your skill with the ax. The
deft, murderous killer.
You salute Dick with the blade.
“It’s not a toy!” he growls. “Take care of business, boy!”
He lights a cigar, jabs it at you like an accusing finger.
You lower the ax. Reach for another panting bird. The cold, scaly legs rasp against
your palm. The wings flapping weakly, go suddenly limp. Its target eye fixing on
you. With wonder.
∼ ∼ ∼
The two women cut the bodies open. Ladle the guts. Hearts and livers, stomach and
bowels. And soft pink eggs, broken eggs, eggs half-formed filling the cardboard
box. The bottom rim of the box oozes bird. Livers and hearts and gizzards and kidneys
are saved in a pan of water. When the killing is over, you will start a fire inside
the oil drum and burn the guts and the feathers and the membrane eggs and the open-eyed
heads. Burn them to ashes for the garden. You will work the ashes into the dirt
with the shovel. The ashes will aerate the soil.
∼ ∼ ∼
You watch the women dip the bodies. The stove beneath the tub has a rim of ash around
its mouth. The charcoal inside the bowl is as white as Pappy’s bristling chin.
Stripped of feathers, their skin steaming, the bodies bob in the tub. The cold water
tightens the skin. Baubles of fat harden along the seams of gaping bellies.
∼ ∼ ∼
“Make it clean!” orders Dick, fingering his glass, long fingers draping
like spider legs over the rim. “Make it clean! Don’t shame yourself
like that dumb bastard in the paper!” Dick chuckles and says something to
Pappy, who cups his hand behind his ear, “Who?”
∼ ∼ ∼
You recall the story of the farmer who didn’t make it clean. Who chopped the
chicken’s face off, but didn’t kill it. Saw it strutting around afterwards
and felt sorry for causing the chicken such suffering. So the farmer kept it alive
by dripping Cream of Wheat down its throat. And the farmer bragged about his headless
phenomenon. Made bets that it was not a trick, that the faceless chicken was truly
alive. Gawkers came to see what seemed impossible. The farmer charged them a dollar
to see. And the chicken got famous. Got put in a carnival, sensation seekers lining
up. The grotesque bird in a cage, scratching the floor, dipping its neck as if pecking
at grain. The chicken with no face lived several months like that. Got written up
in the newspaper, a professor explaining the autonomic nervous system, how it was
all the chicken really needed for its organs and muscles to function. A human being
could live that way, faceless and fed with a tube.
Dick read the article to the family and took it to Lando Lakes Tavern, where he
read it to Art Lando and to customers. Art tacked it to the corkboard for others
to read. The article is there every time you go in with Dick and sit on a stool,
eating hamburgers and drinking Coke and waiting for Dick to get wobbly and need
to be driven home. He doesn’t dare get stopped again and lose his license
again and have his car insurance go up again. The cops won’t bother you,
Virgil driving the car. The cops are used to farmboys going back and forth in pickups
from the farms to the mill.
∼ ∼ ∼
“I been making it clean!” you answer. “I’m a pro! Nerves
of steel, Uncle Dick!”
Dick turns his head and says something more to Pappy. Dick grinning goatish.
Pappy cups his ear again. “Who?”
Dick wears a sleeveless T-shirt and blue jeans, the top button open, hairy belly
button exposed, waistband curling back like insolent lips. On his left biceps, a
fading tattoo of an eagle strangling a snake and the blue words SEMPER FI. You hear
Dick saying, “—half-wit parading a blind bird and both of them falling
in a ditch.” He throws his head back, laughter barking.
Pale-yellow Pappy smiles. His reedy voice adding, “None so blind will not
“Yeah, I know, I know,” says Dick.
You see their eyes swing round on you. Judging your manhood. But you handle your
job flawlessly. No more severing a chicken comb or nicking a throat. No chopping
off a prayerful wing. That was when you were little and learning, but years of practice
have honed your skills, made you efficient at murdering.
“Nother very dead Dick,” you whisper.
Ginger frowns. She says, “Let him hear you say that, smarty-pants.”
Her thighs and shorts and the backs of her forearms are freckled with blood. You
can see blood on your hands and jeans and shirt. Fresh drops of bright blood mix
with old black drops on your boots. You take your cap off, check it for blood. Your
cap is black. Silver treble clefs bracket THE WHO logo on the rim. You wipe your
forehead with the inside of your wrist. Resettle your cap so the brim shades your
eyes. So no one can know what you’re thinking. Your hand shoots out. Fists
reptilian legs. This particular chicken is braver than most and tries to peck you.
“Do what!” you say. “You fighting me!”
You bully the bird onto the block. Pin-feathers wedged in wood shiver in the wind.
Fall the ax—chop!
∼ ∼ ∼
At last Gramma Nez counts the chickens and says it’s enough. Virgil has killed
thirty and she wants to stop because thirty is an even number. Must never be an
odd number or the dead will call for a companion. “Ask the Asians. Them that
wrote the I ching. They know the numbers and hexagrams that tell your fortune.”
Her voice is bossy. “Read the inscrutables,” she says. “You’ll
see.” She has two books she’s been reading ever since Vernon was sent
to Vietnam—The Mysteries of the Orient and Book of Changes.
She says, “The Orientals are strange but no stranger than Europeans. No stranger
than Americans dealing with the Beyond. All deal with death in the same way—prayers
and icons, sacred rituals and magic numbers. Holy stones and medals blessed in holy
water, lots of charms full of thunder. Everyone is superstitious, don’t kid
me. Earth, wind, fire, water, they all mean something to yin-yang. Hey, Regina?”
“Hey, Inez,” agrees Regina. Her volleyball belly leads the way as she
turns a crate to sit on, and Virgil tells her that thirty isn’t lucky for
them. He points at the floating bodies and grins.
“Be respectful of the dead,” she says. “Even if they’re
only chickens, God sees you.” She rolls her eyes upward to see if God is watching.
“You make fun of the dead and God marks days off your life. You’ll remember
that and weep when your time comes and you’re thinking how many more days
you could’ve had if you had showed some respect. Lord, I’m weary today.
This kid weighs a ton.” She gives her tummy a tug.
Gramma Nez is chewing her unlit cigar. “Tell the boy, Regina,” she says.
“Tell him what he needs to know.” She adjusts her glasses. Her steely
gaze pierces him.
“Is that true?” he asks.
There is a chill around his heart, the chilling power of the occult that his mother
and grandmother know all about. He remembers the time of the mirror, the
mirror his father broke by accident, his mother and grandmother weeping, bemoaning
seven years bad luck. And in the end, someone dead.
In fact, it happened that way. A few months short of the deadline, his father died.
Grew cold in the pasture before anyone missed him. An aneurysm behind his right
eye. You see what comes of working so goddamn hard, Dick had said at the funeral.
It killed my stupid-ass brother.
“You killed him,” Virgil murmurs.
“What?” says his mother.
“I wasn’t making fun of dead chickens. It’s just a fact, I’m
saying. These leftovers are the luckys.” He points to the three red hens in
the holding cage. Unchosen others prance in front of the coop, scratching, pecking,
mumbling—spwaaak, spawaak, humans are crazy.
“They’ll have their day,” says Ginger. Her mouth sneers in a way
that is similar to Dick’s upward curve of the lip that shows a tooth.
Wearily Virgil’s mother says, “Just understand what I’m saying,
honey. These poor birds gave all for you. You need to be grateful.” She is
dressed for killing. Her raven hair wrapped in a red scarf. The butcher apron smeared
with blood and pinfeathers clinging.
“Yes, ma’am,” Virgil answers. He rubs his Holy Mother medal for
luck. No broken mirrors for him.
∼ ∼ ∼
The women sit on the crates, backs resting against the tubs, the box of guts and
the box of feathers at their feet. Regina lights a cigarette. Gramma Nez relights
her cigar. They have been discussing bad luck with men, how so many of them have
died in the past five years—uncles, brothers, husbands, grandfathers—but
the women keep living the way women generally do. Most of them, anyway. Except for
Ginger’s grandmother dying so young. But then again, she had bats loose in
“Women gotta be tougher than men. It’s nature’s way,” says
Gramma Nez. “We’ve got to bear the burden. Birth em and bury em.”
Elbow on knee, she holds the cigar between her first two fingers and moves her falcon
profile to it. Her hair fits her head like a bowl. No fuss, she cuts it that way.
Thumb flicking the moist butt, she adds ashes to the ashes between her boots.
“Jim was the best,” Regina says. “Though more vulnerable than
I knew, God love him, a prince among men. It was that damn mirror. That goddamn
“That shitten mirror,” mumbles Gramma Nez. Her wrinkled mouth twisting
“I told him, but he laughed,” says Regina. “He called me silly.
But who looks silly now?”
Her voice is rich with insight. What she knows, she knows. She knows things that
Virgil can’t even guess at. Knows who is good and who is bad and how everyone
should live and even what the government should do. He doesn’t know anyone
smarter. She has an entire wall in the living room filled with books. She has vowed
to read all of them. One of these days. She and Jim got halfway through. Up to Finnegans
Wake before he died. She will read the books in memory of him, she has said,
because he would want her to continue improving her mind. “An impossible book.”
She told Virgil and Ginger one day. “So far I don’t understand much.
Except there is a sacred river running to a sea, the Irish Sea I think, and a man
named Finnegan has fallen down a ladder and died. But he’s not really dead.
No one is really dead! The resurrection, you know. Christ rises.”
Virgil’s father told him that Regina was special—a high-strung filly.
A nervous, impulsive nature needing to be handled with care, he said. She should
have stayed in college, he said. Done more with her mind. That’s when she
was young and full of sass. That’s when she was slim and pretty. She’s
gotten fat now. Double-chinned. Blames the baby.
∼ ∼ ∼
“Jim was too good for this world,” says Gramma Nez. “The good
die young. It’s true. Never an unkind word from that man. No farmer I know
ever worked harder, not even Pappy.”
Since he’s been dead, nothing bad is ever said about Jim. He was the salt
of the earth, a saint in farmeralls and work boots. Earth is a poorer planet without
Jim Foggy. Both women cross themselves and kiss their thumbs. They stare at the
sky. Smoke mingling.
“Yep, too good for this world,” Gramma Nez insists. The straight line
of her glasses hides her brows. The thick lenses magnify her eyes. Virgil has seen
pictures of her when she was young and a sexy babe in a hip-hugger dress and pearls.
Naughty eyes. Come kiss me lips. Her lips are thin now, full of vertical lines.
There are age spots on her forehead. Lots of veins roving the backs of her hands.
In hot weather the blue veins swell. When cold they shrink to purple threads.
“Dick is mostly good. But he’s goddamn lazy. Not what this farm needs,”
“Handsome bastard trading on his face,” Gramma Nez says. “Really,
though, he’s just a damn kid. Some men are like that.” Her sigh says
she’s tired of Dick Foggy.
“Some men never grow up,” Regina agrees.
“Most men don’t, that’s what I say.” She glances over the
rim of the tub at Pappy. “Took him getting sick to knock the nonsense out
of him,” she says. “Slowed down overnight. Got old in a flash. But truth
be told, I’d give ten years of my life to have a strong Pappy back. Except
this one is nicer than the other. I have to give his illness credit for that. This
version don’t yell at me. This one needs me now. But he’s not strong
and how do you get used to a man not being strong when all your life he was such
a bull! A weak Pappy scares me shitless. I’m used to him running things. I
never thought I’d live to see—“
“I still can’t go there,” says Regina. “Let’s don’t
talk about it.”
“But give him credit, he gets up every day and gets to the barn and milks
those cows with me and Virgil.”
“He doesn’t complain,” adds Regina.
“But he’s turned inward now. There’s the thing, you see. I don’t
know how to handle the silence. I’d rather he cussed and fussed. He’s
how men get when they’re going to pass beyond.”
“I know, honey, I know. Let’s don’t talk about it.”
“The other day he said he was a short-timer. That’s what Dick used to
say when he was getting out of the Marines. I don’t know what I’ll do
when that old bastard dies. How could I go on living after forty years of him in
my bed? Short-timer. We’re all short-timers. All time is short-time.”
She clicks her fingers.
“Let’s not think about dying, honey. This is your home. This is where
you’ll be. You’ll be with us and we’ll be doing whatever we need
to do. Life goes on. If anybody knows that, I certainly do, after what I’ve
suffered. Next year when it’s time to cull chickens and fill the freezer again
and slaughter a lamb and a steer and harvest corn again and the haying again, you’ll
be here beside me. To everything there is a season.”
Their eyes glance upward, as if the bringer of pain is picking on them. They etch
crosses on their bones. Kiss their thumbs. Gramma Nez spits.
“After winter, spring isn’t far behind. That’s what you’ve
got to keep in mind,” says Regina. She is looking across the killing yard
Gramma Nez says, “Another baby in the house before then. A baby to take care
of. Think of that. That should liven things up.”
“A reason to live.” Regina looks at her belly. “It’s amazing.
Who would’ve thought three years after Jim passed, I’d be having his
brother’s baby?” She shakes her head.
“Once a Foggy, always a Foggy,” says Gramma Nez. “Who else should
you have married? I know Jim would be glad of it. They were close, they were bosom
“Vernon will never forgive me.”
“Stop that now! Vernon’s just a boy and he don’t know a damn thing.
The Army will teach him, you’ll see, and he’ll come back a man knowing
the ways of the world. And besides, it’s your life, not Vernon’s. He
needs to give you a break. Ornery cuss.”
“I’m gonna have Father Hess say a mass for him.”
“I already took care of that,” says Gramma Nez.
“We could do a Rosary.”
“I’ve prayed for him every night. That boy will be fine. I’ve
run the hexagrams. His yin is balanced with yang. You hear what I’m saying?
Metal cuts wood. Fire melts metal. Water puts out fire. Earth conquers water. Wood
conquers earth. All are saved in the blood of the lamb.”
∼ ∼ ∼
Ginger and Virgil lean side by side against the cage. He takes a nervous hen in
his arms and pets her. The women flick ashes over the guts in the box. Ashes to
“Vernon doesn’t like the Army,” says Virgil. “He can’t
stand orders from stupid sergeants.”
“Well, he’s always been smarter than anyone. Just ask him, he’ll
tell you.” Regina turns to Gramma Nez. “See, there’s another thing,
Inez. He’ll write to his brother, but not to me. If it wasn’t for Virgil,
I wouldn’t know a thing. Is that the way to treat your mother?”
“He’ll come back a man, you mark my words.” Gramma Nez tosses
the stub of her cigar into the box. “He’ll come back to us with knowledge
of the world, a wiser man than the boy that left. You mark my words. Who was it
said there are no atheists in the foxholes?”
“I don’t think Vernon meant that, do you? He was just mad. He was just
saying stuff to hurt me. How could a son of mine be an atheist?”
“A few masses for him, a few Rosaries.”
“That’s right. Fire melts metal.”
A black cat slips toward the box, its belly dragging. Gramma Nez kicks dirt at it.
“No black cat crossing my path! Scat, you ferlie, you bad luck devil!”
The cat hurls toward the milkhouse. Slips under the warped footing. Turns back and
watches with vengeful eyes.
Gramma Nez winks at Virgil. She adjusts her glasses, looking at him over the rim.
“Did I ever tell you why Mr. Cat is such an ungrateful bastard?” she
says. Without waiting for an answer she says, “Because Mr. Cat was given nine
pennies by the Lord and told to spend the money wisely and he could buy whatever
he needed. So Mr. Cat said, ‘I’ll give you three pennies if you’ll
let me see in the dark.’ ‘Done!’ said the Lord. ‘And I’ll
give you three more pennies if you give me nine lives.’ ‘Done!’
said the Lord. ‘For the last three pennies I’ll have a plate of milk
every day.’ ‘Done!’ said the Lord. And that’s why, what
with his seeing in the dark, his nine lives and plate of milk, no gratitude can
be expected from Mr. Cat, no matter what you do for him, because he figures he’s
paid his nine pennies and owes you nothing. People are like that, you know. If they
could make a bargain with the Lord, they’d dismiss you with a wave of their
tail. They’d be just as ungrateful and arrogant as cats.”
“Is that true?” Virgil asks. “Did Mr. Cat get nine pennies from
the Lord?” He kicks at the chopping block, feeling a pleasant vibration in
his toes. He snuggles the chicken under his chin and kisses her rubbery comb.
“Everything adds up to one big true,” says his granny.
The two women bow their heads. Standing up they brush their backsides.
Ginger leans over and says mockingly, “Is that true? Did Mr. Cat get nine
pennies from the Lord? Jesus Christ, Virgil, how lame can you be?”
“Shut up,” he tells her.
“You’re such a dope,” she says. “Fourteen going on four.”
He tries to spank her, but she scoots to the other side of the crates. The hen is
asleep in his arms and the jostling startles her. She starts thrashing and squawking
as if she’s having a nightmare. He throws her in the air and she flaps heavily
to the ground. Stands amazed for a few seconds, before joining the others in front
of the coop. They all strut warily, looking left-right-up-down. They talk among
themselves and throw distrustful glances at Virgil. They scratch dirt, stabbing
at bugs, bits of grain, tiny rocks for their craws.
Can they smell the blood? Virgil wonders.
“What you women fibbing about?” yells Dick.
“Shit and shinola,” says his wife.
“Pig shit and pepper,” says his mother.
Dick’s long mouth smirks. “Smart-ass broads,” he says.
Pappy scratches his whiskers thoughtfully. He gets up and wanders towards the door.
Looking over his shoulder at his wife as he says, “I need my hat, Inez. Sun’s
comin round.” He walks thump into the wall.
Gramma Nez yells, “Watch where the fuck you’re going, Daddy! Sit down!
I’ll get your goddamn hat!”
“Sweetheart, burn this stuff,” Virgil’s mother tells him.
The War According to V
I am told that the NVA have a 200 mile tunnel all the way from their border to about
a third of the way into South Nam. I dont know what to think of an enemy who would
build a 200 mile tunnel. I wonder if it true. If so, it seems like a wonder of the
world. Think of that! 200 miles underground! All dug by hand. Shovels and picks.
Of course he has had 30 years of war to build it and thousands of other tunnels
that run like underground highways through mountains and flatlands and jungles,
you name it. These asian fellows are master miners and no one is better at gorilla
war. They know ten times as much about it as we do. If they would fight in the open,
Army to Army, man to man they would be wiped out in a week and we could all go home.
But they know what they are doing Virge. Aint stupid. They beat the French that
way and now, frankly, everyone says they are beating us. I am going to keep my head
down and put in my time and get out of here as soon as I can. But that is months
from now. Some guys get to rotate back sooner if they apply for OCS and become a
Second Loony of which there is a shortage. I dont have any intention of re-uping
so there aint no point in my taking the exam though my company commander has ordered
Duty calls. Gone hump the boonies lil Bro. Ambush time. Search and destroy. CO says
to pour on the steel. West of me napalm dropping on the horizon. Fablous horrible.
Looks like the god of war. Take care of our farm! Our corner of the earth is whats
important. I am counting on you! There it is.
Your Bro V
You have a row of dominoes set up; you knock over the first one, and what will happen
to the last one is that it will go over very quickly. (President Dwight D. Eisenhower)
We should declare war … We could pave the whole country and put parking strips
on it, and still be home by Christmas. (Governor Ronald Reagan)
[It is] the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time … it is unwise militarily,
unnecessary to our security and unsupported by our allies. (President John F. Kennedy)
It became necessary to destroy the town to save it. (U. S. Army Major Not Identified)
Tell them they’ve got to draw in their horns or we’re going to bomb them
back into the Stone age. (Gen. Curtis LeMay)
The advice ‘bomb them back to the Stone Age’ may show that the speaker
is already there himself, but it could, if followed, force all of us to join him.
(Senator Robert F. Kennedy)
I wish it were possible to convince others with words of what we now find it necessary
to say with guns and planes: Armed hostility is futile. (L. Johnson)
The yella bastards do all their shootin from hidin, don’t they? (John Wayne)
Virgil Francis Foggy
Virgil thinks about the slaughter 10,000 miles away that his brother and the papers
write about. And the slaughter of Sharon Tate, her unborn baby and friends. The
Kennedy brothers are dead. Martin Luther King Jr. is dead. Riots on campuses, riots
in Washington in the cities. Half the country trying to kill the other half. He
feels that the End is near.
He takes his plate to the sink and looks at the sampler—NEVER FORGET THE JOY—and
feels a splinter of hope. Maybe it’s all as Gramma Nez says it is. A part
of God’s cosmic plan.
Virgil’s heart lifts as he goes out to fetch the cows to the barn. Behind
him the main door closes with a chunk. The screendoor hangs cockeyed, the
hinges jiggling. Voices fade as he walks away. He reminds himself to never forget
the joy of Christ popping out of the tomb and showing his wounds. If Virgil could
see them, all fear and doubt would vanish.
As he crosses the patio he sees Husky sitting on Pappy’s chair, licking wine
stains on the table. The sun has moved to tree level west. The woods and the sky
are shades of red. Some of the cows are clipping grass. A few are lined up at the
back of the barn, looking in the Dutch door, waiting for Virgil to open. They want
their cornmeal. They want alfalfa. Virgil tells Husky to fetch the cows. “Go
get them, boy! Good dog!” The dog’s purple tongue slips back in his
mouth. Slanted eyes fix the boy. Virgil whistles to show him that they are friends
again, no more playing with willow whips, some fun was all that was. “Good
boy, get them cows!”
The dog’s ears lower. His fur is a serious mane.
“Aw, come on!” Virgil tells him. “Knock off the bullshit, man.
Get the cows. Go get em, go get em!” Turning his head toward the pasture Virgil
hollers, “Cooom boss! Woo boss! Cooom bossies, coooom!” He looks over
his shoulder at the dog. “Come on, Husky, hey?”
Nothing doing. Husky refuses to move. His upper lip trembles. But Virgil has known
the dog all his life and is not afraid. “Get your ass in gear!” he orders,
marching up to the dog, reaching out to pull him off the chair.
∼ ∼ ∼
The instant fingers touch fur, the dog leaps for your throat. There is a roar and
a flash of fangs, a blur of purple tongue. The teeth stabbing here and here. You
know you are being killed, but it doesn’t hurt at all like you thought being
killed would hurt. The killing of Sharon Tate zips through your head and you wonder
if it was painful to be choked to death like that. Your lower lip is ripped like
a zipper; it spanks your chin. Twisting and turning, you try to get away. Teeth
are everywhere whirring, catching a chunk of ribs, biting your left leg, the hamstring.
Your chore-hardened muscles won’t let you fall. Falling means dying. Down
means out. Throat ripped open means bleeding to death. The dog hangs onto your left
leg, while your right leg works to drag you to the house. You pull the dog inch
by inch toward the cocked screen.
At some point Husky realizes that you won’t be hamstrung, won’t go down
and make the job easy, so he lets go of the leg and races to block the path to the
door, seizing now on your right arm, biting just below the elbow, canines locking.
Head shaking the arm as though it is a rag and the two of you are playing.
Are you screaming? You think you are screaming, but you’re not sure the screams
are leaving your mouth. There is a power in you that moves you on somehow, a power
that drags the dog. Your eyes fix on the cockeyed screen, the worn knob, the heavy
door. Ox-like moving, pulling the plow that is Husky, until at last your hand grabs
the screen and gives you leverage—jerks you forward, your hand clutching the
knob, the door flying open. Your wail reaching.
“Oh, my God!” shrieks your mother.
“The boy! The boy!” cries Pappy.
In your mother’s hand is a broom, which she uses as a club. Pappy is kicking
the dog. The dog lets go and you sink into Ginger’s arms. You watch Husky
tumbling backwards under the blows. Dick fills his hands with fur and lifts him.
Whirls him overhead. Hammers him onto the concrete patio. He lies there leaking
blood from his mouth, one leg pawing, trying to run. Your mother wraps a towel around
your gushing leg. Ginger takes her shirt off and ties it around your arm, above
the pumping hole, trying to make a tourniquet. Ginger is blubbering. Gramma Nez
keeps trying to zip your lip back in place. Pappy is biting his fist.
Well, it is a fuss all right, much more than any of the other times you have been
hurt on the farm. You try to tell your mother it isn’t your fault. You look
for Husky and see him limping towards the pasture. Too late to herd cows now. Why
did he go crazy? Dogs go crazy like people go crazy and kill eight-months-pregnant
ladies. When Husky was a puppy, a ball of reddish fuzz, the two of you played with
a sailor doll. Husky chasing it, bringing it back as you threw it again and again
and said, “Fetch, fetch!” The two of you tumbling, Husky biting playfully.
Not for killing. This day in August 1969 when he attacks, he means it.
“He … he tried to kill me,” you say, feeling your mouth splattering
blood with each word, lowering your eyes, seeing the blood fall. “Like that,”
you say. “Like cherries.”
“Goddammit do something!” commands Gramma Nez.
Your pregnant mother tries to carry you. Dick takes over. He picks you up, rushing
you to the car. Your mother jumps to the door, opens it and sits down. Dick places
you in her lap. He runs around to the other side. There are seconds of panic when
the car won’t start and your mother yells, “Get us to the fucking hospital!
Get us to the fucking hospital!” The engine roars, the tires spray gravel,the
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