Sunday, March 4, 2012

Thoughts on a Photograph

They’d been married a long time, fifty years almost; they’d had five kids and three remained; Davey had been killed in a car accident 22 years ago and Joe had simply vanished, almost like he’d never existed at all and sometimes Vernon had to look at family pictures to make sure that he’d had two sons. The daughters, Mary, Anne and Julia were respectively in Texas, Iowa and Maine, they called for birthdays and Christmas.

They’d been married such a long time that now they seldom spoke, and even situations that might have been new were already old. There was no subject they had not discussed, no argument worth having that they’d not had. Now they mostly argued about the dog.

The dog’s name was Butch and one day years before he’d followed Vernon home. Vernon would have taken the mutt to the pound but Gracie decided they should keep him, and so they had. Butch was pretty useless as a dog. He ate, he slept, he farted. He allowed a burglar to come into the house once and make off with the engagement ring Gracie had stopped wearing when her fingers swole up and the Discover credit card she kept in the kitchen drawer for groceries.

Vernon hoped Butch might die soon but the likelihood was Butch would probably outlive Vernon. Butch didn’t have hemorrhoids, or kidney stones, or a heart that skipped a beat or two every now and again. He didn’t have ingrown toenails or psoriasis or cataracts.

Gracie talked to Butch in a slow, never-ending monotone. She talked about the weather and her sister Iris, she talked about the price of groceries, the state of the neighborhood streets and—her new favorite subject—her certainty that Mr. Ayoub who lived two doors down and didn’t mow his lawn often enough was a terrorist Arab who would one day kill them all. Butch listened without blinking, his head cocked so that his right ear drooped while his left one stood straight up. Sometimes he growled softly which was enough incentive to keep Gracie talking. Gracie kept a baggie of Kibbles in the huge straw carry-all she was never without, and doled them out to Butch as her monologue went on and Vernon thought his wife and the dog had the perfect relationship, he could walk away and never return and neither dog nor wife would even notice.

And the people who passed them, who watched the old couple starring at the far horizon from  their folding chairs, the young women in bikinis and the teenagers in bathing suits that hung down past their knees, the kids eating French fried and the boys and girls with sticky fingers from Sno Cones, all those people, young and old, they knew there was something final and desperately fragile about this scene, that the slightest wind could blow these frail beings away, and then, they wondered, who would take care of the dog?

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