By Stephen Edward Brown

 

I pull back the tarp. It looks like a black Lab, but it’s large enough to be a Newfoundland. I don’t see any blood. 

I put the tarp back over and stand for a moment. I don’t think it should be part of my job to dispose of people’s dead pets. But I’m in the back of the truck already, so it’s too late to say anything. Not much I could say anyway. People are allowed to dump live animals here whenever they want, so I guess nothing can stop them from dumping dead ones here, too. 

I wish I had gone into the break room and got my coat. My Dickies work shirt will be soaked through in no time. But anything you wear while working here gets nasty real quick, and the laundromat is taking too much of my minimum wage paycheck as it is. A coat would nearly be a full load on its own.

Leah had been working the front desk when the guy came in. Now she is standing beside the truck, holding a navy blue vinyl stretcher vertically, with one hand near the top. She’s wearing a maroon Slippery Rock hoodie, but despite the heavy rain she doesn’t have the hood up.

The dog’s owner is next to her. A round, stump-shaped man with a bushy moustache.  Grey curls poke out from under a beige baseball cap that is pulled down low, and his wire rimmed glasses are streaked with rain, obscuring his eyes. His hands are shoved deep into the pockets of a navy skiing jacket, and he’s staring down at his muddy hiking boots. He’s quite appropriately dressed for some rainy-day dead dog unloading, but he doesn’t look too eager to get involved.

I never know what to say to people when stuff like this happens, so I don’t mind at all that the stumpy man is ignoring me. I’m just worried about dropping the dog into the mud, which would make an already depressing situation look even worse. 

“You wanna get Bill for me?”

“Bill? What for?”

“The dog’s huge. I’m gonna need help.”

“I’ll help you. Bill’s working in the back.”

Working in the back means putting animals to sleep.

“You sure?”

“Yeah. I used to work in the kennel, y’know.”

“ I know. It’s just... it’s gonna be really heavy.”

“It’ll be fine. C’mon, I’m getting soaked. Take this,” she says, and shoves the stretcher up towards me.

I lay the stretcher next to the dog and kneel down. Leah climbs up and kneels down on the other side.

“I think we should get Bill,” I whisper. “I don’t want to drop it on the ground in front of the guy.”

“Then don’t drop it!” Leah hisses. She takes a pair of pale blue latex gloves out of her back pocket and starts pulling them on. “Sorry, I only brought one pair.”

“We only have the small ones anyway. They don’t fit me.”

I start pushing the dog over from the left, while Leah tries to shove the stretcher underneath from the right. 

“He’s too big for this thing, man.”

Leah stands up and tells the dog owner kindly, “You can sit back in the truck if you want to. No sense in all of us standing in the rain. Just come back into reception to finish the paperwork once we get him moved inside.”

Without a word, the man climbs back into the truck.

“Christ, you’d think the guy would at least offer to help.”

“He’s really upset. It was his own son that ran the dog over. Right out front of their house, coming home from school.”

I wish I could stop myself, but I can’t.

“Stop, it’s really sad.” But she starts to crack up, too. This is how you get when you work in a place like this. Otherwise you won’t last.

“You’re horrible.” 

“I’ll tell you what’s horrible. I’ll bet you the son is a little spoiled shit who was speeding up the street in a car Daddy bought him for his sixteenth birthday. And now we gotta clean up the mess.”

“It’s our job.”

“Like hell it is. Did you ask Kathy?”

“Kathy knows. She said she’s gonna come and get the door for us. Let’s just get it over with.” 

“Fine. Switch sides with me for a second. There’s more room on that side. I can’t get any leverage over here. Ready?”

“Ready.”

“Push!”

I struggle with the stretcher, trying to wedge it under the dog with one hand, while pulling him towards me with the other, but we don’t get very far. The floor of the truck bed has rows of ridges running lengthwise, making it difficult to slide the stretcher underneath the carcass. At the same time the floor is too wet for me to gain any traction when I push.

“Shit. This is fucking awkward.” 

“C’mon, use your muscles.” 

“Use your tits.”

“At least I have tits.” 

“Whaddaya sayin’ I don’t got muscles?” I curl my arms like a bodybuilder showing off his biceps. Leah is totally unconvinced by this display and laughs in my face. 

“I think you just proved my point.”

“Hey, I got an idea.”

“What?”

“Why don’t you find the street this guy lives on and go play in it?”

Leah calls me a prick and I decide to just let her have the last word because I know she will anyway, and I need a moment to think of a strategy. But the only one I can think of is to jump out of the truck and just go, leave, quit this place altogether. I’ve been fantasizing about this more and more often lately, despite hating this job far less than any one I’ve ever had. I’m twenty-four, and this is my eighth job. I got fired from one, the rest I quit. 

“Do you know his name?”

“The dog or the guy?”

“The dog.”

“No. Forgot to ask.”

“Oh. So do you know the guy’s name?”

“Milton.”

“No way. I’ve never met a Milton. I thought that name was like, extinct.”

“Names don’t go extinct. They go out of fashion. Now come on, let’s go.”

“Seriously, just get Bill. Even if we get him on the stretcher, I think this dog is gonna be too heavy for you.”

“I can do it. Stop being sexist.”

“I’m sexist? You girls gang up on me all the time.”

“Aw, poor you.”

It’s true, though. I’m the only guy working here as a kennel assistant, which makes me the usual target for all male-directed venom in the workplace. It’s probably the only reason Bill keeps me on despite my chronic lateness. Without me, he’d be at their mercy. The fact that he’s the boss and kills things wouldn’t matter a bit.

“Hey, it might be easier to turn him the other way.”

“The stretcher won’t fit.”

With a blast of frustration-fuelled strength I grab the dog by the scruff of the neck and try to pull him over the stretcher. I get him moving, but the stretcher moves with him. I try once more, but my grip slips and I end up with just a handful of wet fur.

“He’s still shedding,” Leah laughs. 

I throw the fur at her face. 

“Dean!” She snatches at the black hairs that landed on her and tries to fling them back at me but they don’t reach, so she reaches down and tears another handful of fur out of Milton’s dog. Before she can throw it I grab her arm, but the sneaky bitch swings a punch towards my groin with her other hand, forcing me to release her so I can block the attack. Seizing the opportunity, she wipes the furball across my face.

“Ppffffhhht!” 

There is dog hair all over my chin and in my mouth and everything.

“Hey, when did you start growing a beard?” she cackles. 

“You’re a dirty fighter.”

“That’s why I always win. When in doubt, go for the jewels.”

“Yeah, probably the closest you’ve ever been to a cock.”

“How would you know?” she says, and I’m about to say something mean but I think better of it. I know it’s been quite a while since she’s had a boyfriend, or even a date, and her last boyfriend got another girl pregnant while they were together and she didn’t find out until one day she came home and all of his stuff was gone because he went to go live with the other girl. That must have been rough.

“Look, we’re getting soaked, let’s stop fucking around.”

“Why don’t I try to push the stretcher under him and instead of you pushing his back, just try to grab his legs and roll him over?”

“Okay, I’ll try.”

“Hey, your shoe is untied.”

“Aw, man. That’s your fault.”  I go to tie it and try to take some deep breaths, collect myself for a moment. But Leah starts talking again.

“You know, not everyone from around here is well off.”

“It’s the richest county in the state.”

“Yeah, but there’s housing projects all over the east side of town.”

“And mini-mansions everywhere else. This place is like the worst of both worlds. I dunno how you live here. Anyway, let’s get Milton’s dog inside before we both drown in the back of his goddamn truck.”

“Can we take the sheet off? It’s just in the way.”

“Fine.” I rip the tarp off and shove it to the side. 

“Ready?”

“Yeah.”

I gather his two pairs of legs together as if I was going to hogtie him and roll him over, exposing torn flaps of flesh on his hindquarters and a series of deep gashes on his bloated abdomen. Some blood leaks out from the pink and red sticky mess.

“Eeeeeew!” Leah squeals.

“I was thinking he must have been hit on the other side,” I say casually. I take great pride in never getting grossed out by anything. Leah grabs the tarp and shoves it towards me while turning her face away. 

“Put it back on!”

“Thought you were a bad bitch who used to work in the kennel?”

She waves at me frantically as she makes gagging sounds. I’m really amused at this but I do as she asks. 

We finally have him halfway on the stretcher, and I feel better knowing I can put my hands under the dog to push him without the possibility of plunging my fingers into a wound. Leah gives a few half hearted tugs to help, but her enthusiasm for the job has petered out. When we get it all the way over we can see that the dog’s torso is indeed wider than the strecher itself, leaving the limbs sticking way out over the side.

The back door of the shelter opens and Kathy, the reception manager, appears. She’s a tall, older lady, but not in any way frail. She’s our mother hen.

“Do you guys need help?”

“No, just hold the door. We got it,” Leah yells back.

“We don’t got it. We’ll never be able to carry him like this, he’ll roll off. Maybe if we turn him on his back. Hold the bar on your side up, keep it there.”

I try to hoist my side of the stretcher up to flip the dog over and gather him in the middle but I slip, nearly going right over the side of the truck, causing Kathy to yelp.

“Ooh, be careful!”

“I’m fine.”

“Dean, you jump down and just drag him to the edge. I’ll hold him steady.”

This actually works okay. We get him down by turning him slowly and now we have the whole package off the bed of the truck, hanging between both of us like a hammock, the weight of the dog forming the vinyl stretcher into a U shape. The black paws are sticking up towards the sky. I’m at the front, walking backwards. We move in little shuffle-steps, saying ‘You got it?’ and ‘You okay?’ back and forth to each other.

Kathy smiles as we reach the rear of the shelter. She flattens herself against the door to give us space while still holding it open with one arm. 

As soon as the door closes, we let the stretcher crash to the floor.

“Oh my God, that’s the heaviest dog ever.”

“You guys deserve a raise. Or at least a tip.”

“Man, we still got a ways to go to get him to the freezer. Can you help with the doors again, Kath?”

Kathy nods, but suddenly her eyes grow wide. She presses her face up to the small window in the door. 

“That guy just took off!”

“What?” 

Leah opens the door and we push past. 

“Hey!” she cries after him. “HEY!” 

But the truck just scrambles up the hill and turns onto the highway, it’s tailgate still lying open, bouncing slightly as it speeds off.

“Fuck you Milton!” I shout, but I’m not even mad. I’m actually laughing. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to yell fuck you Milton. It’s probably the only fun thing I’ll get to do today, other than the fur fight, which I lost.

Leah turns back around. “That was so rude.” she says, shaking her head.

Kathy opens the door for us again. “So no tip, I guess. Did he fill out the paperwork at least?” 

Leah continues shaking her head back and forth. “I told him we could do it after. Unbelievable.”

“Well,” I shrug, “he was really upset.”

She raises her hand to slap me. I duck, but the slap never comes, and her hand falls back down to her side.