Johnny was always with the dogs. There were three of them, and they looked the same to me, but Johnny knew exactly which was which. He kept food in his pockets he always gave to them. One day the wind was blowing so hard in the fall, a huge branch cracked and broke, landing on the dog. He was back there for an hour with him before I finally went to check on him.
Johnny didn’t say anything, just kneeling on the ground next to his dog. When I got close I could see the dog lying there panting hard, short shock breaths, and his stomach was split open, spilling part of his intestines on the ground in front of him. Johnny had his entrails in his hands like rope, trying to stuff them back in, but as soon as he let go they just spilled out again. The dog’s back was obviously broke. It kept moving its hind leg pawing the ground as if to get up, but the rest of his body wouldn’t listen, whimpering.
— Johnny, it ain’t gonna make it.
Johnny didn’t answer. The dog was just slowly dying. We lived in the middle of nowhere.
—Why don’t you just take a rock and get it over with.
—Dude, fuck off.
—It’s just in pain, there ain’t no way it’s gonna live through this.
Johnny didn’t say a thing, he just sat there with his long arms spread wide. You could always tell it was him when you saw him from far away from his arms. He was crying. He picked up this big stone, heaved it up, sat there breathing hard and balancing the huge rock.
—What if it doesn’t kill it? still grunting.
—You better make sure it kills it.
—I can’t see his fucking head, dude, I can’t do this.
—What else are you supposed to do?
He heaved the rock down as hard as he could. It hit the dog in its leg. “God damnit!” The dog cried mercilessly and just looked at Johnny, betrayed, “God fucking damnit!”
Johnny was crying great merciless gulps of air. He loved that dog. He used to drive for an hour to get out of town so he could take it down to the river. It would sleep with him. He was shivering now. It was really cold out.
“Finish—” his eyes turned red fire on me.
“I can’t do it,” he sobbed. “I just can’t.” The dog had this faraway look in its eyes now, was only dimly whimpering. He tried to tell himself that it was thinking about some long lean steak or impossible rabbit, on a sunny day, in ever-youth. It was probably really thinking his last thoughts of his master betraying him, cursing the day he ever looked in his eyes with love, no longer wishing to live.
Johnny put his hands on the rock again, the dog sensed it and his ears pricked up. Johnny heaved it up, the wind was blowing his tears away as quickly as they came. “It would be better to let it die, wouldn’t it?”
—What are you, God?
—Shut up Garry!
—Do you want me to do it?
Viciously—He’s my fucking dog! Go fuck yourself!
He heaved the rock with all his might, he was passionate in his throw. He wished his dog well, he really had loved him. The rock flew with all its power at the dog’s head and landed straight on its snout. If that snout has been its head, the dog would have been really, really dead. The rock shattered it. Pieces of bone shot through it and up into the air. The dog screamed in agony. It didn’t even have a sense of betrayal anymore, you couldn’t recognize anything in its eyes, just pain.
—God fucking son mother fuck Ahhhhh you!
—God damnit Johnny!
You know those guys at the bowling alley? In the winter everyone went bowling in Springfield. There was ice on the ground, you couldn’t drive, and there was absolutely nothing else to do. Johnny always came, even skipping school. But he always lost. You know those guys that can throw really hard, but have absolutely no aim? Johnny was one of those guys.
I picked up the rock, smashed it on the dog’s head as quick as I could, never letting go, doing it over and over again. Johnny was all white. He didn’t say a single word. He walked off towards the road with the wind blowing and all. Occasional cars were passing, the headlights showed the dust from the road swirling up in great clouds. After a while I went up to him and spoke.
—What happens in the wild, when some animal gets hurt? What if flies are eating at him before he’s dead? Wouldn’t you want to kill it?
—If you were on your deathbed, and were in incredible agony, and someone told you they could go ahead and get it over with, would you say, “Yes! Kill me!”?
— Johnny we live in the middle of nowhere, there’s no doctors or hospitals and a dog can’t say anything.
I went inside to get away from the wind. Johnny just kept standing there by the road in the darkness. The windows were rattling. We were in a valley, nature in all her power. The waving pine trees were almost bent half-way over. Rain started pleating against the window. That branch could have hit me or Johnny just as easily as that dog.
The next day the sun came up grey and wet, but when it went down it turned red again for a minute, below the grey clouds. It painted fire across the sky, the crickets started chirping, life as normal. The two remaining dogs played a little, still pups. Lightning bugs started dancing in the half-dark. The river kept its calm rolling sound, the indubitable force of gravity, the cycle of life.