Saturday, 26 June 2021

'The Dog' by Debra A. Daniel

Gwen opens the gate, releasing the dog from the backyard. It isn’t really a yard at all, more of a long, narrow pen so that her ex-husband can avoid walking the dog. He doesn’t think a dog needs to be exercised if it has a fenced-in run.

Gwen doesn’t share his philosophy. He believes a dog is for hunting, not petting or coddling with something so frivolous as a walk or a chewy toy. He thinks dogs are for jumping into freezing ponds, swimming through icy water, and retrieving dead soggy ducks.

“She loves it,” he says. “That’s what she lives for.”

Gwen went hunting with her ex and the dog. Once. A frigid frostbitten February morning before dawn in a small boat with shiver-inducing seats. The ducks had flown low over the marsh. Her ex had shot. She remembers him commanding the dog to jump into the water, the plunging of feathers.

She’d watched the dog paddle out into the bone-numbing expanse of liquid winter, watched her swim back, the sodden dead lump in her mouth.

Again and again, her ex had pulled the dog into the boat. Sixty pounds of heavy wetness. Later in the truck, among the hunting gear and waterlogged bird bodies, she and the dog had exchanged looks. She imagined the dog shrugging and saying, “I can’t explain it either, but I love him so I do it.”

Now Gwen’s ex was remarrying a woman allergic to animal hair and dander.

“I thought you might take the dog,” he’s said when he called. “It’s you or the animal shelter.”

Driving home now Gwen glances into the rearview mirror at the dog sitting in the backseat. Comfortable and paying no attention to the new stuffed duck toy on the seat beside her.

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