Frozen Jonas by Sam Slaughter

“Get up,” Jacky said.

    She tossed a boot at Tim, who’d been passed out on the couch for an hour. She stood in the doorway in her ski jacket and hat with the tassels that said made her look like Pippi Longstocking.  The boot landed squarely on Tim’s stomach, pushing the air out like someone deflating pool toys at the end of summer.

    “I’m up,” he said, sitting up to put the boot on. He motioned for her to toss the other one. “Why am I am up?”

    “Jonas is gone.”

    Tim usually left Jonas, the mutt Jacky had brought home six months earlier, outside during the day while she was at work. Fresh air and sunshine, he’d tell himself over the top of a bottle.

    “He’s in the yard,” Tim said. He’d joined Jacky by the apartment door and was pulling on a ratty fleece sweatshirt. Tim stood and blinked, first one eye, then the other, then both. He picked at a crust that had formed in the corner of one.

    “No, he’s not. He’s gone,” Jacky said. “Let’s go. We need to find him.”

    She hooked a finger through a hole in his sleeve and pulled him down the stairs and through the front door that never locked.

    “I left him tied up after he shit,” Tim said. His boots clopped like a rubber horseshoes on the sidewalk.

    In the car, Jacky rolled down the windows. It was December in New Hampshire, but when Tim tried to roll the window up she engaged the child lock, stopping it midway.

    “No,” Jacky said. “You smell. You always smell. Like sweaty beer. Our apartment smells like sweaty beer.” She paused. “I wonder sometimes when the last time you actually sweat real sweat was.”

    Tim sniffed. The air did have the vague aroma of a dive bar.  Jacky switched between staring out the front and driver side windows.  Tim faced ahead, blinking. He shook his head and tried to crack his neck. He flexed his fingers. He sighed, then farted.

    “Look for Jonas,” Jacky said.

    “How are we going to find him? We live in a fucking city,” Tim said. “I mean, are we going to drive up and down every damn alley? One of those little hood rats is probably trying to sell Jonas for crack money.”

    Tim heard the smack to the side of his thigh, but didn’t feel it. Jacky told him to turn his fucking body and look out the fucking window. If he saw anything, he needed to open his fucking mouth.

    The radio was off and they were left with the crunch of tires through snow crust and rock salt. Jacky worked her way through their neighborhood’s grid system. She rolled along, the speedometer never creeping over ten. Except for tapping her fingers on the top of the steering wheel, Jacky was silent. Her eyebrows were bunched—whether against the violent glare of sun on snow or something else, Tim couldn’t decide.

    “Where are your sunglasses?” Tim asked. He opened the glove compartment, letting registration papers and the owner’s manual spill out onto his feet. When Jacky didn’t answer, Tim stuffed the papers back into the compartment and shut it.

    Tim stared out the window. He felt the tip of his nose ceding to the weather. He saw the Somali refugees sitting on their stoops in brightly-dyed dresses and thrift store parkas. He saw shopping carts, at least one every block. Some were flipped like animal traps and some sat collecting snow. Tim thought of summertime and how the kids would run up and down the block yelling because they weren’t in school and because they didn’t know there were better things than shopping carts. He didn’t see the dog.

    A few blocks away, Jacky pulled to a stop in front of a man who stood with a husky on a leash. The husky was peeing on a car tire.

    “Excuse me,” Jacky said. The man looked over, raising his eyebrows.

    “Have you seen a little terrier running around? He’s black and has a white spot on his side.”

    Jacky pointed to her ribcage. Tim thought about how the guy wouldn’t be able to see that behind the door.

    “Oh, you guys,” the man said. “I’ve see you guys at the park over there. Your dog doesn’t shut up, does he?” He laughed. “It’s okay, Kit here doesn’t, either. Do you, girl?” He patted the dog.

    “Sure,” Jacky said.

    “No, I haven’t seen him. What’s he go by?”

    “Jonas.”

    “Funny name for a dog,” the man said. “You need something different, not a human name. It makes it better.”

    “Yeah, because Kit is so much better,” Tim said to his window.

    “I’ll remember that next time,” Jacky said.

    “You guys have a number just in case? Kit loves the cold so who am I to deny her?”

    Jacky rattled off her number, the man nodding with each digit. After saying thanks, Jacky put the car in drive and continued searching.

    “Why aren’t you looking?” she asked soon after. They were stopped at a light and she was squinting at the cemetery next to them. Like she was trying to find the ghost of them, Tim thought.

    “I am,” Tim said. “I’m just tired.” He slouched and his head rested on the seat belt.

    “You’re drunk.”

    “I was drunk,” he said. “You woke me up.”

    Jacky sighed. “Keep looking.”

    Outside a school, Jacky asked a group of kids if they had seen Jonas. Most wore shorts and one held a soccer ball. Tim thought about his favorite shorts—his sleeping shorts. He wasn’t wearing them for his nap that day because the drunkenness had snuck up on him, but he fully intended on putting them on when they got back. He’d lie back down on the couch under a few fleece blankets and let the rest of his Sunday melt away like ice cubes in a glass of Svedka.

    The kids knew nothing and Jacky kept driving. They had circled back around to their block. Tim thought they were done, that Jacky was giving up. He thought she was being nice for a change. He thought maybe she was letting him go to take a nap. They’d look again later. She hit the brakes early, though. They weren’t parked in their usual spot under the tree.

    “I think I saw Jonas. It looked like he was back by those garbage cans. Go look.”

    Tim sat, nodding and not looking at her.

    “Damn it, Tim. I said go look.”

    She slapped his shoulder with the back of her hand and pointed across her body with the same hand to a clump of blue garbage cans.

    “I didn’t see anything,” Tim said as he heard the locks click down. Jack turned to face him. The car idled. Jacky cocked her head and raised her eyebrows at him.

    “Go,” she said.

    Tim pushed the door open with his boot and got out, stretching. He walked around the front of the car, suppressing the thought that Jacky would take her foot off the brake, and tiptoed across patches of ice to the cans.

    He called for Jonas as he moved, alternating whistles and cheek clicks. He didn’t see the dog anywhere. When he got to the cans, he pushed one in an effort to make it seem like he was looking hard, like he cared. He knew it wasn’t there. He knew, even though the world wobbled, that he wouldn’t see the dog. The dog was gone. The dog was gone because of him. The dog was probably dead because of him. He must not have clipped the leash right or something this time.

    “Do you see Jonas?” Jacky yelled from the car. Desperation pulled at her words. She didn’t need to yell, Tim thought. She was only seven, maybe eight feet away.

    “No,” Tim said over his shoulder. He tried to move another can and found it frozen to the ground. He looked down and saw iced-over wheels. He thought about the ice in his freezer down the block—the half-moons that he felt cooled his alcohol quicker than crushed ice. They provided relief when Jacky got to be too much. He loved her, but she still got to be too much at times. She was almost always yelling these days.

    “Get away from my cans,” a voice above Tim said. He looked up to see a woman, obese to the point of caulking herself into her own window, staring at him from the second floor.

    “We’re looking for a dog.”

    Tim squinted against the glare from the raised window. The reflected sunlight seemed to pierce through his eyes and into his brain.

    “Those are my garbage cans, not dogs,” the woman said. Her words drowned in saliva.

    “I know,” Tim said. “We thought we saw him, though. We were just looking.”

    “There’s nothing there. They’re my cans. I wouldn’t put a dog in there. That’s cruel.” The woman paused to catch her breath. “I’m not cruel. I own six cats and they’re all fat and happy.

    Tim didn’t disbelieve a single word.

    “Well, there’s no dog so we’ll be going.”

    “Of course there’s no dog,” the woman said. “It’s probably dead, anyway. It’s freezing out.”

    Tim hoped Jacky hadn’t heard that, but couldn’t imagine how she would’ve missed it. She was yelling. The entire neighborhood could hear her.

    Tim nodded at the trashcans, like he was thanking them for something, and got back in the car. Jacky had rolled the windows up and blasted the heat. Her nose and cheeks were florid. She sniffled every few seconds.  She didn’t say anything about the woman. Tim was glad for that, glad for not having to talk about what would happen if they found a frozen Jonas.

    “Tell me why,” she said, speaking slowly, “Jonas is gone. Why did you leave him outside? Why didn’t you, if you hated him that much—and I know you do—why didn’t you at least make sure he was secure and freezing and not just fucking freezing?”

    Her tone, Tim thought, matched the weather. Nothing but ice.

    “I don’t know,” Tim said.

    He remembered the PBRs. He’d drained three in the twenty minutes it took him to shower and change after his shift at the Cumberland Farms. Then he finished the six-pack and started another while he made grilled cheese. Jonas had begged and pawed at his shin, waiting for food to drop. He remembered Jonas smacking the bells by the back door. The stairwell was dark because the landlord cared about light bulbs as much as Tim cared about sobriety. Tim followed Jonas down and opened the screen door for the dog. He thought he had hooked Jonas to the stake in the yard, but his memory was snowy.

    “You don’t know? How could you not know?” Jacky asked. She then laughed one of her sarcastic laughs, one that announced to everyone she already knew the punch line.

    She turned down another street and pulled over, leaving the car running. Heat fogged the windows, spreading like a puddle.

    “You make it seem like it’s a problem that I have a couple beers after I get home from work that I go to every morning at five A-fucking-M,” Tim said.

    Jacky turned in her seat to face him. Tim shuffled to do the same.

    “It is a problem, Tim,” Jacky said. She had her palms up in a show of no shit, Sherlock, fingers splayed like she was the ten-time champion of arguing. “You make it seem like you have it so damn bad there. You sell coffee to the migrant workers and gas to those with real jobs.”

    “Is that what this is about?” Tim asked. He could feel his drunk burning off. “I told you, I’m working on it.”

    “Yeah, you are. Sure.”

    “You know it’s been tough.”

    “I love you and all, you know I really, really do,” Jacky said, “but maybe you shouldn’t be blowing the money you make on weed and beer.”

    “Shouldn’t we be looking for Jonas?” Tim asked.

    “No. You opened this up, so we’re going to talk about it.”

    “I didn’t open anything,” Tim said.

    “You mean like a beer bottle?”

    “So what the hell exactly are we talking about here?”

    “Everything, Tim. Or nothing. Does it really matter? I do everything around here.” She took a moment to pinch the bridge of her nose and sigh. “No, sorry, I don’t do the drinking. You’re great at that. Too bad you couldn’t have gotten a BA in that.”

    Too bad, Tim thought.

    “I told you. I’m trying to find a job. Good for you, you have a full time job at the clinic. You test piss. Woohoo, Mom must be so proud.”

    “Fuck you,” Jacky said.

    “You wish,” Tim said. “You know why I don’t wish that, too? Because you creep me the hell out when you try and talk sexy. It isn’t sexy. It’s weird.”

    Jacky’s eyes widened for a moment before shrinking to slits.  Her lips moved, but she didn’t speak. Tim saw her hand twitch. Her nostrils flared with every breath.

    “We should be looking for Jonas, he could be cold,” Tim said, smugness lacquering his words.

    “You should. You lost him.”

    Jacky pulled out of the parking spot and began driving down one of the major arteries of Manchester. Tim scanned every black lump, every piece of garbage that could’ve been the mutt.    

    They’d driven two miles away—Tim knew the distance from the days that running mattered—when Jacky slammed on the brakes.

    “What?” he asked. Jacky pointed out the window. Next to the dirty brick wall of a pizza restaurant was a pile of snow with what looked to be a tail sticking out of it. The tail was black and nubby. Tim’s stomach dropped. When he looked back at her, Jacky was biting her lip and scratching her cheek.

    “Go look,” she said. Her voice shook just a little, like Tim’s hands did when he didn’t have a drink for a few hours. Jacky pulled into a parking space and turned the heat up. “Go.”

    Tim sighed. There was no way to get out of this. He unbuckled himself and pushed the door open with his foot. Wind and loose snow whipped around and hit him in the face. He cursed under his breath and hauled himself onto the sidewalk, feeling his weight move like he was underwater. He stared at the tail. How could she have even seen it? It was barely two inches long and could’ve just been a rock.

    It was not a rock. Tim knew that. He wanted it to be, but that part of your gut that reacted before your brain had done so, lighting a fire and twisting just like when he’d figured out his parents were getting divorced before they said so. They’d never taken him to Chuckie Cheese together like that before.

Jacky had leaned over and pulled the door closed. She had her hands crossed over her chest and her eyes locked on Tim. His flicked to the door and saw it had locked behind him. He sighed. Tim shoved his hands in his pockets and walked over to the tail. His first thought was to kick it—that was what he’d always done when he found a dead animal as a kid, he kicked it. Or if he had a stick, he poked it. There were no sticks here, though, and even if there were he could already here Jacky yelling about it.

Tim squatted. It was a tail all right. It didn’t look familiar, but how often did you stare at your own dog’s tail? He touched the tip of it, but his hands were numb and he couldn’t tell if it was warm. He figured it wasn’t, looking at the three-foot-tall pile of snow on top of the dog. He stuck his hands into the pile and began to pull the snow behind him. After a minute, Tim stopped to look around. He could only imagine what people were thinking. He probably looked like just another crazy homeless person. Over his shoulder, he could see Jacky watching. He turned back and continued to dig.

A few more scoops of snow gone and Tim could see it was a dog, but it wasn’t Jonas. His heart sank, not for the dog, but for the fact that his job wasn’t over yet. He’d have to be out here more, longer. The dog’s eyes were open and Tim turned away while he put a hand over the dog’s face and tried to rub the eyes closed with a numb hand. It didn’t work and when he turned back the dog was still staring into the last space it ever occupied.

What was he going to do? It wasn’t Jonas. Jonas was probably in this same position somewhere else in the city. He’d have to stay out here, looking, freezing the entire time. And for what? Another dead dog? Wasn’t one enough?

Tim stood and walked to Jacky’s window. He decided to try something. He had no idea if it would work, but he had nothing left to lose.

Jacky rolled down the window, eyes large as they stared up at him. She looked to Tim like a child, waiting to hear if her stuffed animal made it through surgery okay.

Tim lowered his head. A sob cracked the air between them.

“I’m sorry,” Tim said. Jacky was crying now. She made a move to unbuckle her seat belt.

“No,” Tim said. “Don’t. I mean, I don’t want you to see him. Let me take care of it. Let me bury him and then you can come pay your respects.”

Jacky didn’t say anything for a minute, but then unzipped her jacket and handed it through the window.

“You’ll need this,” she said. She sniffled, “make it somewhere nice, like the park down the block, no one will be there right now.”

“Okay,” he said. “Yeah, okay. The park.”

Tim thought about the liquor store next to the park. “I’ll take him. You go home.”

Jacky nodded. She then grabbed his hand and kissed it. Her lips were warm and it felt like fire. He couldn’t remember the last time she’d done that. He couldn’t remember the last time she’d done anything even borderline romantic. Tim let his hand hang in the space between them. Somewhere, something that had settled below all the alcohol in him told him he needed to tell her the truth. He shook his head.

“I love you,” Jacky said, and she meant it.

“I love you, too,” Tim said.

A moment later, Jacky drove off. Tim turned to the dog. He wasn’t going to bury it in the park. No. He’d earned some love and affection and all he had to do was cover the dog again. It’d never occurred to him how easy it was to lie to Jacky. He didn’t, usually, but this? This was a revelation, like the first real snowmelt in March. By the time this snow melted, someone else would take care of the dog. He’d need to make a cross or something for Jonas, but he could do that later.

Tim kicked snow over the dog, making sure the tail was not visible. When that was done, he walked down to the liquor store where he bought a pint of Old Crow. The clerk was someone he knew from the locals’ bars and they chatted for a minute. There was no one else around, so Tim cracked the top and raised it, catching eyes with the clerk. This one was for Jonas, he thought, wherever he was.


Sam Slaughter is a fiction writer based in Central Florida. He serves in various editorial capacities for Atticus Review, Entropy, and Black Heart Magazine. He’s had work published in Midwestern Gothic, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Heavy Feather Review, among others. His debut chapbook, When You Cross That Line, will be published in May 2015. He loves playing with puppies and drinking good bourbon.