Post Road Magazine #25

Missing

Jacob Melvin


On a Sunday afternoon in early September, after a particularly emotional sermon by Brother Baker on the importance of saving others from eternal damnation, my seven-year-old brother killed a dog. We had only been home from church an hour, just long enough to see our mother leave for another lengthy business meeting. This particular trip was in Chicago, though in recent months she had seen Boston, Albuquerque, Denver, and Atlanta. We were used to her absences, as well as the familiar spiel about me being my brother's keeper while she was away. At fourteen, I was the only man of the house. My father was the permanent version of my mother: absent, distant, and chasing other things. I learned how to feed my brother Spencer, force him into clean clothes, make sure he went to bed at night, and see to it that we both made it onto the school bus each morning. And though I felt like the most mature eighth grader on my block, a man among pubescent boys because of my exhausting responsibility, I still wasn't prepared for his kill.

I remember the look on his face more than anything else. The dejected blankness of his normally lively mannerisms initially drew me to his pacing. For a month he had been nothing but positive, the trophy of the second grade class at Heritage Christian Academy. Shortly after starting school, the kid thought he was Jesus. He began speaking in proverbs that made no sense, most likely bulletin board material that he was memorizing in the hallways at the same speed he was learning to read. Yet as he marched past my open bedroom door, each time peering inward, hoping for the invitation that his big brother rarely provided, something felt different. Normally I would have ignored him, pretending his presence was inconsequential to my world. And he would've kept pacing, too, had I not grown weary of the infinite scuffing of his dress shoes on the hardwood floor.

"Okay, what did you do?"

My brother stopped in his tracks a few feet before my bedroom door. "Something bad," he whispered, still out of sight.

"That's nice." I was used to his routine. Usually "something bad" prefaced a hole in the wall or a broken lamp. "Just clean up after yourself," I warned, sounding more like my mother than I was comfortable with. I rolled my eyes at the thought.

He entered the room slowly, head down in his Sunday best, fingers interlocked at his waist. His hair was parted and greased to the side and a brown magic marker had given him uneven facial hair. "It's Muffy."

"Cool mustache, David Koresh. And who is Muffy?"

Without explanation, he raised an outstretched finger towards the other end of the hall. "She's in the bathroom."

I suddenly remembered the monster, a ten-year-old Pomeranian that nipped at our heels when we got off the school bus and always dragged trash into the yard. She was fat and hairy, the kind of dog that probably spent her evenings at the foot of an expensive floral print sofa eating grilled chicken out of a crystal bowl between sips of Evian. I once heard my mother call Mrs. Stapleton, the owner of the beast, after one of Muffy's escapades, threatening to "put the fear of God into that little bitch" if she ever so much as squatted in our grass again. The phone call never deterred Muffy, however, and her appearance in our driveway every afternoon was almost a certainty. Though we boys were too proud to admit it, we were afraid of her deceptive speed, pearly fangs, and razor sharp pink claws. Just the idea of being around Muffy sent chills up my spine, and yet the dog was in the master bathroom, my mother's bathroom, and I was on my way to finding out why.

Nothing seemed out of order. I began to believe that my brother was playing a trick until I realized that after five steps inside the lavender colored room, I was alone. Turning around to see if he was laughing at me for believing his ruse, I noticed Spencer leaning on the side of the doorway, reluctant to come any closer. He was fidgeting with his hands, tracing fresh cuts with his fingertips and wiping the blood away. It was then I knew that something was wrong. My attention focused on the whirlpool, our home's private sanctuary aligned with candles and oils. And when I peered over the side of the tub, I realized my brother was right. Muffy was in the bathroom. Muffy was dead.

Still ripe with the look of life, Muffy could've passed for one of those taxidermy creations if she had been a deer or fox. She lay on her side, black hair damp and matted, with her eyes open and tongue protruding to the bottom of the recently drained tub. Her body appeared bloated as if she had tried to swallow the bath water and drink her way to safety. The stillness of her appendages both horrified and intrigued me. I had never been to a funeral but wondered if this is what it would be like when grandpa died. My eyes returned to my brother, who refused to look anywhere but down. "Did you do this?"

"Yes."

Immediately after his confession I began to see him in a different light. He was no longer my innocent younger brother but a future serial killer forming sick pleasures and rages before my very eyes. Next there would be dissected bugs in his dresser, magazine clippings of women's limbs under his bed, and wadded pieces of paper with angry voices screaming incoherent rants across the pages. In a few years, I'd probably find Mein Kampf on his desk, vials of blood in his clothes, and black garbage bags in his closet for disposal of bodies. At Christmas, he'd ask for knife sets and rope. At sixteen, he'd drive a large van with tinted windows and no license plate. In a matter of seconds, I was unexpectedly fearful of the little boy in the corner. "You're going to Hell."

With that remark his eyes widened and blurred. He shrank to the floor and began letting out a strange coughing sound, some sort of shocked cry that began well enough but wouldn't finish with the complimentary whine. Then tears began to flow and his nose ran uncontrollably as he sat confused and alone. "I was baptizing her," he mumbled, burying his face in his hands.

I caught another glimpse of his scratched fingers, some covered in dry blood, and began to understand what had happened. He had gone outside, scooped evil Muffy into his arms, and fought to save her in the tub. Somewhere in the process of struggling to breathe and stay afloat, Muffy left the earth, drowning in an expensive, soapy abyss. My brother, realizing that the dog wasn't moving, probably drained the tub and tried to revive her. But it was too late.

I understood the concepts of good and evil but couldn't decide where his transgression belonged. While being sympathetic to the fact that my brother was doing something he felt was right, he did steal a woman's dog and drown it in my mother's bathtub. Something about sinners and saints had been lost in translation, and I didn't know how to explain a situation that at fourteen would've been difficult for even the brightest youth to convey. He wasn't my son, and circumstances such as this had not been covered in my own childhood. Who was I to tell him he made a mistake? Was it wrong to try to fix an animal that our entire family had seen as a problem? My anger at my brother soon disappeared, and I thought about my mother. How could she miss out on one of the most difficult moments of our young lives, when my brother and I were both in way over our heads? Would she even have answers?

I walked over to Spencer and pulled him up to his feet. He wiped his eyes and finally looked at me, searching for answers. Not knowing whether to console or warn him about his actions, I did the only thing that felt right. I kept it between the two of us. "I'm not going to tell on you."

His sniffling quickly subsided, and some color returned to his cheeks. "Am I still going to Hell?"

"I don't know." I thought about it for a moment. I couldn't decide if it was a sin to accidentally do something bad while trying to do something good. I could've told him that he would be forgiven, but then I would've risked finding a Labrador in the shower the following weekend. "You probably shouldn't do that again." And with that, I sent him after a garbage bag, one of those big black ones serial killers hide bodies in, while I searched the garage for a shovel.

 Copyright © 2016 | Post Road Magazine | All Rights Reserved