The Mutt is the Greatest Breed of Dog
I had no idea where I was, and the landscape outside – nondescript dying farmer’s fields – weren’t helping me none either. I could have been on the Amtrak, I could have been on a Greyhound. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d worked, maybe it had been a year. I was moving fast along the track or the road, depending on what way I wanted to look at it. I had a jumble of clothes in my bag under my seat, mixed in with a few other things I’d gotten in a town maybe a few dozen klicks back. I had work now, and I was going there. I had nothing better to do. Teddy said the work was good, fine work if you can take it. He said he’d provide everything I needed but that I should bring a case of clothes to keep me going.
We pulled into a stop. I noticed, now that the haze of waking up had gone, that it was a big old bus that I was travelling on. A man got on, and I could smell him from way back down, that strong stink of booze that I’d smelled before, years back when I was still friends with Old Bob. The man walked down the aisle and put himself down next to me. He looked around and grinned semi-toothlessly, and put his battered old suitcase next to mine under the seat. He was clutching a brown glass bottle in his hand, something nondescript but strong. I knew straight away that he was going to be a talker.
“I’d take you for a travelling man,” he said.
“You may be right there,” I said.
He laughed, a bit of sour spit hitting my chin. I wiped it away.
“I came a long way to be here,” he said. “Many miles back I started my journey. I’m grieving.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes it is. I lost my dog, see. I went to the toilet and I left him tied up outside and when I came back he was gone.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Well, that ain’t going to bring him back, but thanks all the same.”
He offered me his bottle, but I refused. I had half of a bottle of whiskey in my own case if I so wanted it, but I didn’t. He chewed his face as he spoke, some kind of mix between a grimace and a smile.
“You’re a quiet kind of guy, huh?” he said.
“That may be true,” I said.
He laughed again but his spittle missed me this time.
“Man, I miss my dog. He was a scruffy old mongrel. A real mutt. Loyal, though – more loyal than women are, that’s for sure. I miss my mongrel more than I miss my kids, to tell you the truth. That dog, though, he stayed with me longer than they did. I knew him for years before the kids. He was getting old. None of the people in the diner saw where he went, or so they say. I didn’t much like the way they were looking at me, though. I’ll never get another mutt like him, but I’ll still get another mutt. The mutt is the greatest breed of dog.”
He sat back and lightly bounced his head off of the headrest and hummed a little bit. I could see words forming in his head, looking for something new to talk about.
“You look like army to me. You army?” he said.
“Not any more.”
“Well, all the respect to you, if I may say so myself. I wanted to be a combat man myself but I couldn’t pass the physicals.”
“It takes dedication.”
“That’s true. I guess I didn’t have it in me.”
“I’m sure your country will forgive you.”
I was looking out of the window at a field, sickly-looking corn as far as the eye could see. I still couldn’t figure out whereabouts we were.
“See I didn’t serve but I keep myself protected. See,” and he showed me a concealed handgun.
“Maybe you don’t want to be advertising that none,” I said.
“Don’t worry, I’m safe with it, I know my safety.”
“I mean for the others around here, I don’t know if they’d appreciate it much.”
“I guess you’re right there. Where’re you headed, anyway?”
“West a bit more. Working.”
“Working? Well, that’s not bad. I could do with some of that myself,” he said, itching at his eye. I noticed that his eyes were jaundiced some, along with the bloodshot of a long-term drinker.
“It doesn’t come easy,” I said.
“What work are you doing then?”
“Not much to say about it really. Travelling out to places and meeting people with my friend. Maybe a bit of intimidation.”
“Sounds like a killer’s job, if you ask me.”
“That may be so,” I said. “Nothing wrong with it. I’m not hurting anybody.”
“If you say so,” he said, and winked at me.
“I do say so. You mind if I get some shut eye?”
“Sure, I’m not dictating nothing.”
Free from his chatter, I’m driving my old car through a woody path I used to bike down when I was young. The path gets bigger every now and then, and stretches out so that kids on bikes, ones similar to the old rusty piece I used to ride, can swarm around me and then go off again the other way. The trees never end but I can see the sunlight coming through the cracks, morning light that used to wake me up through the window in my parents’ house. Then I’m sitting outside of my old house, furniture stacked up around me. I’m looking over at the neighbors’ houses across the road and I can see Joe through his kitchen window. He sees me and nods, but his head keeps going down until it loops back round and points at the ceiling. Somebody joins me on the couch, my old girlfriend from high school, Mary Luther. She’s about my age now, looking better than she’s ever been. Then I’m knocking down a door with my rifle, moving slowly through the house until I find the bodies in the back room, piled up in mounds, a pin-less grenade in the corner that I spot and I throw myself backwards, the force of the explosion pushing me out of the door and into space. I start to choke.
I woke up and checked my watch. Three hours on. Only a couple left now. The talker had gone, and my suitcase with him. His suitcase was still under the seat. I pulled it up and opened it. It was full of bottles, all brown glass and without labels. I opened one of them and took a sip from it and looked out of the window and the setting sun hurt my eyes.