Me and ol' Blue get back late from our walk. Thelma's hollerin' about dinner being ready an hour ago and how she has to heat it up all over again and why can't I get my lazy ass home on time instead of foolin' around with the damn dog. I tell her it ain't my fault Blue didn't wanna go out in the July sun.
I pop open a Pabst and sit myself at the table. That gets me a dirty look and another tornado of cussin' from my old lady. I don't bother askin' what I did wrong this time.
Blue lies down between us, closer to me than to her. He's my dog, ol' Blue is, and has been for some sixteen years. Never knew a dog to live that long, but Blue keeps on tickin' like that electric bunny rabbit they used to show on TV. Problem is, Blue ain't got no appetite today. Just noses at his food and walks off. Hasn't even had a drop of water.
"I think he's sick," I say.
Thelma ignores me. "Joe Jones from the tax office came by again. He's talkin' about seizin' that old rustbucket truck of yours iffin you don't pay up. Says you're in 'a rears' somethin' or other."
Blue looks up with tired hound-dog eyes and sulks back down on the floor.
She dishes out the stew she reheated—she reminds me a third time—and starts in about Ferguson from the next farm. "He's complainin' about the roosters. Says you got five too many and he's gonna take it up with the county if you don't do some cullin' right quick."
"Uh huh," I mumble.
Blue lets out a blast of dog fart, but it don't smell like nothin'.
"And get that stinkin' pile of hangtoothed mange outta my kitchen. How's a woman s'pose to eat with a dog passin' gas next to her? 'Sides, it gives me the creeps."
"Go on, Blue. Go catch a squirrel." I wave a hand towards the porch and Blue moseys off, checking the old trout with one last look.
"High time it goes to doggie heaven, dontcha think?" she says, and it's not really a question. A dribble of stew misses her mouth and plops onto the table. She goes on about her Sunday church meeting and how I have to clean up the house spic 'n span so 'her ladies' can chit-chat and sip sweet tea all nice-like. "And I don't want it around, either."
"His name's Blue, Thelma. Blue."
"Uh huh." Thelma hoists herself from the seat that's permanently indented with the shape of her butt and I make for the quiet of the porch with another Pabst. Blue's not here, but a wail of sirens floats over the cornfield. They're comin' from Ferguson's place.
"What's all that racket?" Thelma yells from the kitchen.
"Dunno." I'm about to go in and turn on the TV when Bobby from the sheriff's office drives up. Bobby got deputized last year on account of him being the sheriff's cousin, which is sorta like sayin he's the sheriff's brother-in-law. Bobby ain't none too bright.
"Hank!" he yells from the car. "Y'all better get inside, quick-like. Somethin's out there."
"What sorta somethin'?" I drain the last of my Pabst, crush the can, and scan the field for Blue. He ain't back yet. It's the second night in a row he's gone off, and I'm startin' to worry.
Thelma slams through the screen door and folds her arms, waitin' to see what all the fuss is about.
Bobby's breathin' in short gasps of air, like he's just had the last of his wits frightened out of him. "June Ferguson called in a 9-1-1. Said somethin' got her husband. When," he stops to catch his breath, "when we got there, Joe was lyin' face down in the grass, white as a sheet."
"Coyote." Thelma says.
"No, ma'am. Doc says he don't know what it was, but it weren't no coyote."
"Lotta coyotes about this summer," she drawls.
The deputy shakes his head. "Doc says Joe ain't got no blood left in him. No blood at all."
"Blue's out there," I say.
Thelma snorts as Bobby drives back to the main road. "Just another damn coyote. Bobby ain't got brains enough to know a coyote from a pussycat. Now you never mind about your mutt and help me with them plates. I ain't runnin' no restaurant in here."
I'm still settin' in the rocker when Blue busts out of the tall corn and bounds up the steps, fulla piss and vinegar. Maybe all that sleep he got today done his old bones good. He runs inside, and I hear Thelma squawkin'. A minute later, the house goes quiet.
"Thelma? You okay?" I realize the back door's still open. "Blue?"
She don't answer, but Blue swaggers onto the porch and sets himself next to my rocker, pantin' like a pup. Two white canines shine in the light, and a drop of red hits the floorboard next to my shoe. There's sparkle in Blue's eyes, all the tiredness of sixteen dog-years gone away.
I swear ol' Blue's smilin' at me. I get up, pat his head, and walk through the kitchen to where Thelma's body lies on the back porch, pale as a ghost. Two seconds later, I'm on the phone.
"Sheriff's office," the girl answers.
"Hank Bucks, here. Looks like we got us a coyote problem after all."
Over the line, I hear her punchin' her switchboard buttons. She'll be trackin' down Bobby, I guess, and callin' the ambulance back from Ferguson's farm. Before I hang up, I see Blue out back, settin' next to my truck. I tell the gal to send someone out to check on Joe Jones.
"The tax guy?" she asks.
I get another Pabst from the fridge. Three's more than my usual, but I sorta feel like a celebration. Blue's hops up on the porch, lickin' the last of the red from his teeth.
"Good dog," I say, and wait for Bobby's car.
Christina Dalcher is a linguist and novelist. She doesn't own a mobile phone; she hasn't watched television since Seinfeld aired. Home is the land of Styron, crabs, and barbecue. Her short bits can be found in The Molotov Cocktail, Saturday Night Reader, Pidgeonholes, Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, and Platform for Prose. Alec Shane of Writers House represents Christina's long work.