Post Road Magazine #16

The Day They Were Shooting Dogs

Samuel Reifler

The snap of gunshots could be heard from the other side of the highway that ran past the school.

“They’re shooting the dogs!” Some of the boys whooped and darted out the double glass doors into the parking lot.

One of the teachers, a gray-haired woman in blue padded overalls, pulled a remote from her pocket. The doors slid shut and locked. “It’s nothing, people,” she said.

“My Brando is out. They’re going to shoot my Brando.” A girl in a pink sweater was slapping her hands against the glass.

“If he’s out, he deserves to be shot,” said a boy.

“I want to go home.”

“He’s breaking the law,” said another child. “Your dog is supposed to be inside the house or tied up.”

“I want to call Omni and have Mommy pick me up.”

“I’m sorry, Candace, we’re in intense learning mode,” said the teacher, indicating a large circular LED, which was now pulsing above the television screen.

“Somebody should shoot you!” screamed Candace.

“You should be glad that it’s only your dog that’s going to get shot,” said a small, owl-faced child. “It’s really your parents who are breaking the law. Your dog doesn’t know any better.”

“Don’t worry,” said another boy. “If your dog gets shot, I’ll come over and poop on your lawn.”

Candace charged the teacher, who raised her arms and let the girl hammer at her chest. She wasn’t quick enough to stop another child from reaching into her pocket for the remote.

With a snap the doors unlocked, and most of the class ran out and away across the blacktop.

In the hush that followed, the teachers sat beside a window and chatted softly. “It’s The Village of the Damned,” said one. The others laughed. The gunshots came less frequently. The sound of the yelling children had faded. In an office down the hall the principal was phoning the parents.

A man with tousled hair and heavy-lidded eyes burst into the classroom as the final beep sounded. “Come on, Liberty, we’ve got to go. They’re shooting the dogs.”

“I know,” said his daughter without looking up from a large computer screen. “Most of the kids went out to watch.”

“I believe it,” said her father grimly. “We have to go to Mother Kugel’s and make sure she keeps Brownie and Schnaapsie in.”

“Take it easy, take it easy,” said Liberty. “Keep in the right state of mind, remember?”

“Put the screen back in your desk and let’s go. When you grow up, you’ll understand.”

As they drove through town, Liberty watched her father attempt to get into the right state of mind. He took a deep breath, dropped his shoulders, settled his weight evenly on his buttocks, and exhaled slowly. He ran his fingertips over his lips to reduce their tension. His mouth dropped slightly open. He let his thoughts flow above him, as if he were the bed of a stream. In only a minute or two, though, he was hunching his shoulders and drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. With a tragic droop of his mouth, he pulled a joint out of the ashtray.

Through the window of the old Honda pickup Liberty saw that the city was quieter than usual. Even when they passed the hospital, where there was usually a throng in wheelchairs going in and out, she saw no one. When they reached Mother Kugel’s neighborhood, a band of hollering children suddenly dashed from one driveway to another and disappeared. They passed a large yellow dog, unleashed, urinating on a rhododendron beside a house, a yellow face watching it through a window. Her father was driving slowly now so he could finish his joint before they arrived at Mother Kugel’s.

Mother Kugel’s tiny living room was dominated by a curvaceous brown velvet sofa and a pink and green marble coffee table supported by a pair of elaborately carved, bare-breasted mahogany mermaids. Across the room from the sofa were two deep, soft green armchairs, a small plush footstool, two mahogany end tables, and an empty, fan-shaped mahogany magazine stand. On a number of small bookshelves and in narrow cabinets were displayed souvenir plates, pastoral ceramic figurines, and family photographs. A worn, faded Oriental carpet covered the floor.

In a straight chair near the sofa, like a dry, wrinkled nut in a rich fruitcake, sat Mother Kugel, slapping her knees. Liberty had sunk into one of the green armchairs, her father into the other. Brownie, one of Mother Kugel’s dogs, lay on the couch, one eye cocked open.

Liberty’s father jounced fitfully in his chair. “I should really go look for Schnaapsie,” he said.

“Sit awhile, sit awhile, bubby,” said Mother Kugel, waving him down as she continued slapping her knees. “Where you going in such a hurry?”

“To find Schnaapsie before he gets shot.”

“A shot? He’s going to the vet’s?”

“No. No. With guns. It’s like when they put him in the pound, only they shoot them instead.”

Mother Kugel laughed. “Don’t worry. Schnaapsie is a tiny little hot dog. They’ll miss him for sure.”

“They won’t miss him. They’ll shoot him dead. Kaput.”

“So?” Mother Kugel shrugged. “That’s why I have two dogs. If one dies, then I already got another one, and he’s good training for the next one, by example, since he already knows his way around. Listen, I hear on the radio there are plenty people want to give away their dogs. No trouble getting another dog.”

Liberty’s father struggled to rise from his chair.

“Sit awhile, sit awhile, bubby. Where you going in such a hurry?”

“I’ve got to find Schnaapsie so he doesn’t get shot.”

“Who could have the heart to shoot Schnaapsie? He’s just a fat little hot dog.”

“There are people out there with guns who are looking for excuses to use them.”

“Would you like a cup of tea, or some soda?”

“What about Schnaapsie?”

“Here in this house,” said Mother Kugel, “there are three of us: Schnaapsie, Brownie, and me. This one”—she motioned toward Brownie—“he can take care of himself, kinnahurra, but Schnaapsie is old and not so smart. There is no way to stop from what happens. It’s all up to God. You can never tell. What the future will be, not a single person can tell for sure. You could walk out the door and get hit by a car, God forbid, and your daughter, God forbid a hundred times, could get a cramp swimming, and the people could shoot Schnaapsie, and this one, Brownie, could fall down a hole and break his neck. So. Who would be left? Me. I’d be the only one left. There is no way to tell for sure.”

“Listen, Great-Grandma,” said Liberty’s father, “you have an obligation to watch out for Schnaapsie, and I have an obligation to take care of you. Uhhhh!” He heaved himself into an upright posture.

“Sit awhile, sit awhile. Where you going in such a hurry?”

“Don’t you care whether Schnaapsie lives or dies?”

“Sure, sure. But I care about something else much more. That is to have you sit here with me for half an hour. That really is important for me.”

Liberty’s father sank back into the chair and shook his head. “Why is everyone else so wise and I’m so stupid?”

“You’re just mixed up in here, bubby”—Mother Kugel pointed to the center of her chest—“not stupid. You remind me of my father. His father was a pretzel baker in Cernovitz, and my father, naturally in the old country the son put on the father’s shoes, so he was a pretzel baker too. When he married my stepmother, she brought with her a little bit of money. It was the custom in the old country that the bride would bring some money to the groom, something she had put aside, maybe, or her parents had put aside for the occasion, maybe a little something left to her by an older person, already dead, in her family. So. Now that my father had some money, he decided that he wanted to go into business for himself, so we moved to another town, I can’t remember the name, so let’s call it Poughkeepsie; it was about as far from Cernovitz to this new place as it is from here to New York. And there, in the Poughkeepsie that was in the old country, he took a shop and went into business, but as a pastry baker, not a pretzel baker. Why? Who knows? Maybe it was a step up the ladder, as we used to say. But the other pastry bakers in that place, that Poughkeepsie, not this one, the one in the old country, there were already four or three pastry bakers there, they had made a kind of union together, for protection, and they didn’t want another pastry baker in that place. So. These four or three pastry bakers, this union of pastry bakers, came to my father and said, ‘We have enough pastry bakers in this town. You can’t be a pastry baker here.’ And my father, who was very stubborn, very gruff, he goes like this: ‘Who says?’ he says. ‘Who says?’ he says to these men. They were standing in the shop. ‘We are asking you nicely, Herr Schniemann,’ they said to my father, ‘there is no reason for you to be so gruff.’ ‘You so-and-sos,’ my father said. ‘You so-and-sos,’ he says to these men, ‘you mind your business and let me mind my business.’ Then he puffs himself up, like this. ‘I am paying the taxes.’

“These pastry bakers were afraid of my brother. He was big and strong, so the pastry bakers were afraid to get rough with my father. They knew that Yakob, that was my brother, Yakob, they knew he could fight them all down. He was big and strong, like this. So. The pastry bakers went away and made a clever plan, a clever plan about how to make my father not to be a pastry baker. They waited outside the schule until Yakob came out, and then they were friendly to him, like this, ‘How are you, old pal?’ they said to him, or whatever a man said to his friends at that time in the old country, and they slapped him on the back, or whatever. ‘Come on, Yakob,’ they said to him, ‘come on, Yakob,’ they said to my brother, ‘let’s go have a schnaaps.’ I cannot truthfully say that my brother was a smart person, but beside that, he was a very friendly person, a happy person, he liked to have a good time. So. He went to a bar with these pastry bakers, or maybe it was friends of the pastry bakers, but anyway, he went to a bar and got drunk, and when these men had gotten Yakob good and drunk, they came to my father’s shop—I think they had to carry Yakob or help him on his sides because he was so drunk—and Yakob went up to my father, and he was so bad that he had to lean against the wall not to fall down. The pastry bakers stood around to see what was going to happen, and Yakob said to my father, ‘Papa, these men are right. We must get out of the pastry business. They will let us go into the pretzel business.’

“Right away my father could see that Yakob was drunk, so he took his fist and made to hit him with it, like this. As soon as my father did this, as soon as he raised his hand against his son, like this, the pastry bakers, they were acting as a kind of union, and when my father made to hit Yakob, like this, it was, what you call it, a signal, and they all came and grabbed my father and began punching him. Yakob just stood there. He was so drunk that he could not leave the wall to lean on. ‘Please, Papa, do what they say. Please, Papa, do what they say.’ So my father agreed. What could he do? ‘All right. I’ll be a pretzel baker,’ he said. Maybe there were no other pretzel bakers in that place, or maybe just one, maybe there was enough business for a new pretzel baker in that place, or maybe whatever pretzel bakers were there were not as friendly with each other as the pastry bakers were. So. That is how we came to be pretzel bakers in that place, whatever the name of it was, I just say Poughkeepsie in the old country because I can’t remember, but it was the same distance from Cernovitz to that place as the distance from New York to this Poughkeepsie, the one we live in now.”

Depressed by the dark, overheated room, Liberty was not listening to Mother Kugel, nor was her father. For a while he had pretended to listen, but at the end his attentive expression failed him and, like Liberty, he simply stared, unfocused, into space.

A gunshot broke the silence that followed Mother Kugel’s story. A screech of tires was followed by another shot and the sound of children calling to one another. Liberty jumped to the window and pulled aside the heavy drapes, then ran out the front door onto the porch. A brown-spotted white mongrel was wobbling along the sidewalk on the other side of the street, laying down a train of shiny blood. A small group of children, walking backwards, watched it with rapt, silent concentration, while the dog gazed trustingly up into their faces, the tip of its tail flicking back and forth in confusion.

An electric car buzzed down the street, its horn blaring, a bare arm holding a long pistol protruding from a window. The children scattered. The dog glanced backwards, stumbled, and fell as three rapid shots rang out. The car sped away around a corner.

Liberty dashed down the steps and across the street, joining the children, who had regrouped around the dog. She heard her father call her name but paid no attention.

The dog lay on its side, making swimming motions. Liberty counted four holes in it. One was in its jaw. Broken teeth protruded through the rip in its black chops; behind the teeth a scarlet tongue trembled. The second hole was in the dog’s shoulder. It was a perfect little circle, the source of a rhythmic geyser of blood that ran down the white fur to pool on the sidewalk. A third hole was in the dog’s back. The fur around it looked much like the other reddish brown blots that mottled the dog’s coat, except that it was moist. The fourth bullet had torn a rent in the dog’s penis The white sheath hung open like a purse; the bloody glans lay inert on the moist concrete.

Liberty felt her father’s hand grip her shoulder. “You answer me when I call you.”

            “What do you want?” she said.

“We’re going home.” Her father raised his voice. “And I think you all should let this poor animal die in peace.”

“We’re not bothering him,” said one of the children. “He’s already unconscious.”

Her father grabbed Liberty’s wrist, wrenching her toward the street. “Now,” he snarled.

“No. I want to watch! Salveme!

With a yell, the children turned from the dog and swarmed on Liberty’s father, some of them pulling him backwards by his belt, others butting his stomach. He let go of Liberty and fell over onto the pavement, curling up to protect himself.

Non los muertos,” said Liberty.

The children laughed, returning to their vigil around the dog. Liberty’s father stood up and tucked in his shirt. “I’m going home, Liberty. You can do whatever the hell you want. I don’t care if I never set eyes on you again.” He crossed the street, threw himself into his car, slammed the door, and started the engine. He turned it off after a few seconds, slumped down in his seat, and began to read a newspaper, which he propped up on the steering wheel.

The dog was no longer swimming. Its blood flowed more slowly.

“Watch his eyes. When they begin to glaze, it means he’s starting to die.”

“They’re glazed now.”

“No, they’re not. Glazed means they get foggy.”

“Glazed means shiny.”

“Crystals form on the eyes.”

The dog was motionless now, except for an intermittent dilation of its nostrils.

One of the children sighed in satisfaction.

From her father’s car came the wail of a shenai. The dog squeaked, as if in response to the sound. Liberty looked at its eyes. They seemed to be made of glass.

On the way home Liberty’s father smoked a joint, absorbed in the intricate runs of a bluegrass banjo. When the music was over, he turned to his daughter. “Do you understand what it means for a grown-up to be attacked by children? Can you imagine what it feels like inside?”

“How could I?” said Liberty.

“It is degrading. Humiliating. Emasculating.”

“Do you know what it feels like for a child to have a grown-up pull her away from sharing an activity with other children?”

“Of course I do. It’s not the same thing.”

“It is degrading, humiliating, and emasculating.”

“You can’t be emasculated,” said her father. “It means cutting off the testicles.”

“Yech!”

Her father slapped the steering wheel with his hand. “This is so surrealistic. I can’t believe it.”

“Everything is surrealistic to you.”

“Shooting dogs on Worrall Avenue.”

“But people are being attacked by dogs, and the police won’t do anything.”

“This is the What Is. If I had inner peace, I could accept it, I could be happy. Instead I’m involved in the What Was and the What Should Be.”

“You make things too complicated,” said Liberty.

“But things are complicated, and when you say I make things too complicated, they get even more complicated.”

“Why?”

“I can’t explain. It’s too complicated.” He laughed.

“Why don’t you smoke some more grass, Daddy. Maybe that will help you figure it out.”

Liberty’s father grinned. “Don’t get fresh with me, young lady,” he said. He switched on the CD player, and the reverberations of an electric oud filled the van with the sound of swarming bees.

Samuel Reifler is a lapsed Taoist who lives in Dutchess County, New York. He has written short fiction for numerous periodicals; his novella, October Snow, was published in 2004 by Pressed Wafer; his 1970 I Ching: A New Interpretation for Modern Times is in its tenth or eleventh printing (to his mild embarrassment).

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