By Marieke Steiner
It’s dark out with just a fingernail of moon and no real streetlights on over the backcountry roads the night I decide to put Chase, my ex-girlfriend’s dog, out to pasture. As soon as I get her in the truck, the old mutt starts whimpering from the floorboard underneath the glove compartment. If my legs were longer, I’d lift my foot off the gas, reach around the center console, and kick the miserable beast in the haunches. Hard. Anything to get the old cur to shut up. Since all my work tools including my screwdriver and hammer are still on the toolbelt I’ve flung into the bed of my truck after my shift, I run my hand along the dashboard to find a blunt object to prod her with. No such luck. I even feel around the seats, digging my fingers down under the cushions to hunt for something, anything that will do the job. No pencil, pen, ruler, nail file, or emery board is to be found. Anywhere.
Whenever I swerve to miss a pothole in the road, I can hear my tools hitting the tailgate and denting the fender wells, and I imagine they’re scratching up the paint pretty good too. Between the howling of the dog and the clanging of the tools, it’s so loud that I reach over to turn up the volume on the radio to drown out the noise.
I turn the steering wheel sharply to the left, narrowly missing a street sign that’s popped up in my path. It’s all the lousy mongrel’s fault for distracting me. She’s the whole reason I’ve run my truck onto the curb in the first place.
The little bitch.
Chase, I mean. Not my ex-girlfriend Delia. This time.
I inherited the female dog when Delia and I started shacking up. I didn’t have much say in the matter. Before then, I didn’t even know Delia had a dog. When she moved into my house, Delia brought Chase along with her crate, food, bowls, leash, harness, toys, and dog bed. Also, a large vial of Trazodone. Chase’s elixir for anxiety.
The dog was a rescue that was physically and verbally abused and had separation issues, Delia said. It was true that Chase rarely left Delia’s side, sleeping curled up next to her on our mattress, her own bed remaining – naturally – unused.
Whenever we were away, she would tear apart everything she could sink her teeth into — towels, blankets, pillows, the bedframe, what-have-you. Chase became a terrorizing machine. The Destructomatic, I called her. She emptied the trashcans and spread their contents all over the floors. If I put her in her crate, she chewed through the latch or bent back the bars far enough to slip out. The little shape-shifter.
When I got home from work the day after our breakup, Delia’s car wasn’t in the driveway and the house appeared abandoned — the shutters themselves seemed to be sagging. As I approached the front stoop, I could see the little she-devil jumping up to look out the transom window above the door. She looked happy and for a split-second I regretted what I was considering doing. Of course, she was ecstatic to have the place all to herself while I was on pins and needles all day wondering what I would find when I returned home. What animal wouldn’t be?
I pull the truck onto a dirt road and cut the headlights and that’s when I see her, lurking in the shadows behind some trees. The most beautiful doe I’ve ever laid eyes on, nuzzling a tree trunk. I open the passenger side door and lead Chase out by the collar. Her ID tag jangles too loudly, annoying me. That’s all right. She won’t need it anymore anyway. I unhook her collar and lay it down gingerly on the front seat. When I bend over and whisper “Heel!” into her ear, her nose sticks practically like Velcro to the back of my pantleg. We are standing spitting distance from the doe when I crouch down and grab a pebble and throw it past her. The deer spins and with a flash of her white tail, crashes headfirst into the forest away from us. Chase follows, paws barely touching the ground. Once they both disappear into the distance, I walk backwards slowly to my truck.
I then slide into the driver’s seat, slip my key in the ignition, and drive without regret into the night, keeping my eyes on the road ahead.
Marieke Steiner is a technical writer who lives in Hampton Roads, Virginia, US. She has been published previously in Spadina Literary Review, Terror House Magazine, The Literary Yard, and Mystery Tribune, among others. She also reads poetry and fiction for the Old Dominion University literary journal: https://barelysouthreview.com/