I aimed carefully in the low light. It was eerily quiet. He was in a dark messy office moving erratically in the beam from Bill’s light and I had to do the deed. Then, just as I squeezed the trigger he turned. Instantly the deep country Kansas barn/shop was consumed with a sickening screaming. God Dammit! Not like THAT!!
Bill came down from Washington State to try his hand at meaningful accomplishment. He was a hell of a worker for 3 weeks. 3 weeks was great actually considering that twenty-year-olds usually don’t last that long. He was broke when he showed up so I fed him till he started making money. Holy Jesus this guy can eat! Most of the time a meal at Denny’s Cafe is enough to feed a family of five. This kid needed seconds. He’d eat so fast that one day I used the toilet after him and the floater was a full lettuce leaf neatly undigested. Still looked fresh.
Anyway, the story isn’t even about Bill, he just happened to be there.
We had driven 80 or so miles to meet a sweet old country lady who needed our services. Her husband had passed and she was country lovely. I had called her a few days earlier to let her know we were getting close to her area and could she give good directions. She was real glad to see us as I doubt many folks stopped by just to visit.
While Bill and I surveyed the condition of her request this mangy cur came bounding out of the 80 acre weed patch that used to be her late husband’s pride and joy. It was howling and yipping with a crazy way about it and out of it’s backside was about 16 inches of its colon turned inside out and had bits of grass and dirt stuck to it.
“JESUS Lady! What’s the matter with your dog?”
Well, it wasn’t her’s or the neighbor’s and she allowed that she was scared of it and was hoping it would just die. It had been hanging around for a few weeks and keep jumping out at her like it just had us and was starting become a problem.
“Want me to kill it?” She spun so fast I had an instant of concern that she was upset at the question. “Oh could you? Would you do that for me?” “Uh, sure. You got a gun?” She spun for the house and came back with a .22 rifle and a box of ammo. “This is my husband’s. Are these the right bullets?” They were and the dog wandered into the tractor shed.
Sitting at my dining room table pecking out this story feels pretty normal but following this deranged and obviously sick dog into a dark shed had me a bit rattled. Entering the darkness straight out of bright Kansas summertime had me blind for about 30 seconds until my eyes adjusted and I started looking around for the pooch. For all I knew, it might have slipped unnoticed out a different opening which would’ve been fine but he could be lurking in the dark shadows of the shed like in a horror movie. My mind was encouraging the second one so I hollered at Bill to help me find the dog. “Fuck that! I’m not coming in there.”
He came and helped me and we found the dog in some sort of cluttered room off to the right that was about 20 ft x 20 ft with shelves, boxes, a workbench/counter top along one wall and a table or two. I’m guessing it was some sort of office back in the farm-hand days. This animal was lying among the clutter in a dark area near the counter. Bill was shining the flashlight saying “See him there? Right there, right there, Can ya see him?” “Yeah I see him. Hold the light.”
He was laying down on his stomach but was kind of making these odd movements and swaying and turning. It was weird. Bill keep saying “Shoot him dude. Just do it.” “I AM Goddammit. Shut up.” I think we were both a bit off. I rested easy and waited till he was still for a few seconds and was looking straight in the light. Perfect.
At the exact instant I let ‘er rip, the dog swung his head to the left. MY left, His right.
I had never fired a gun inside a building before and was NOT ready for how loud it was gonna be. The only thing louder than the screaming of my eardrums was the shrieking of this poor wounded animal.
Being rural, you might have to put an animal down from time to time and it is a bit grim. No one likes doing it, its just a fact. The thing is, I had never not made it instant before nor had I ever felt bad about it before. Always before it was !!!BAM!!! and it was done. This one wasn’t done and now instead of putting a potentially dangerous, wounded animal out of it’s misery, I now have a horribly suffering animal screaming and shrieking and I caused it.
I hope I never have to go to war.
He hid again but with all the noise he was easy to find. He was under an old pickup truck parked near the great sliding door at the front of building. It was a nice truck and I wanted NO part of accidentally shooting it or have a bullet ricochet and hit it. Nor was there ANY way in hell I wanted to take a chance and not finish the job with the second shot.
I crawled in close and did what I should have done the first time and the yowling ended at the EXACT SAME INSTANT as the report of the rifle.
Bill and I wrapped it up in 3 garbage bags so it wouldn’t start stinking before the garbage man comes next Thursday and we went to work.
It only took a few hours so the cookies and pie were still hot when she signed off on the work order and we accepted her fresh baked gifts. I started turning toward the truck when The Old Lady offered to shake my hand. She held it for an extra second then we pulled in for a long hug.
“Bye. You boys be careful.”
“K. We will”
Bill: Dude, that lady was nice!
B: She made us a pie dude. Do all these old ladies do that?
M: I dunno, Not really. Only the country ones.
B: Have they always been like that out here?
M: I think women started making pie a few weeks after country women were invented.
We were crunching along the gravel leaving her farm, going slow to keep the dust down. I was memorizing the directions to our next project and Bill was squinting at a windshield full of the best nothing that Kansas farmland has to offer.
B: Till you called me a few days ago, I didn’t even know there was a place called Kansas.
M: We go 17 miles then left for 84 miles till we hit the river. Then we follow……
B: That Old Lady HUGGED you dude!
M: Shit! I hoped that kid at the supply outfit remembered our order.
B: That Old Lady didn’t want to let go. I started wondering if she was in to you or something.
M: Hey Rodney, can you call Rick and see if he still needs help at that church.
B: Would you have done it? Like with an old person. Like, do you think old people still do it? I hope I die before I’m old enough to want to do it with an old person.
M: Hi Mrs. Klatt? Hi, this is just a quick call to let you know we are just a few miles from your town. We will be starting your place today and finish tomorrow.
B: All these old people like you. I don’t get old people. My Grandma, my Uncle Pete… they all told me I should work with you.
Radio: Money talks, but it don’t sing and dance.. and it don’t walk.
Bill blew out cigarette smoke and flicked the butt. “Fucking Kansas. I haven’t even been here two weeks yet and I can’t stop thinking about my wife. I’ve never been away from her like this before. God dude. How do you do this? You ever miss your wife and kids doing this shit?
Radio: Forever in Blue Jeans
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Me: Yeah…….. I miss my Wife…. my family. You want to check in the mirror there and make sure that ladder is OK?
I didn’t want that Old Lady’s Hug to end