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Teeth on Bone
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Buddy is a black pointing Labrador—he points and flushes—and when I said to Scott over the two of them spooning on the living room floor, “I don’t know why you need a girlfriend when you have Buddy,” I felt immediately that it was wrong to have said and wrong to have thought. Buddy is the best friend of seven years, not the girlfriend of less than one. He came from King Kennel in North Dakota, where Scott lived during graduate school and trained his puppy in the yard and, later, hunted with his partner in the woods. Buddy grew into his name, and he moved with Scott to Utah, Alabama, and Oregon, traveling the states in between with his head out the window, on alert.

Jam, my coonhound mutt, just wants to play. He’s only sixteen months and has been with me for eight. I met Jam before I met Scott. I wasn’t looking for a best friend, or a boyfriend, just a distraction, something to keep me from navel-gazing. Jam adores Buddy. He barrels over to him, sticks his nose around the elder’s anus, under his legs, between his paw pads, into his ears. I like to think that Jam can smell the impending infections in there when Buddy eats wheat, those Milk-bones from the mail lady, but Buddy doesn’t need a detective—he’s already flinging his head from side to side, making flapping noises—he needs a doctor, so Scott gets up to retrieve the ear drops. Jam follows to sniff the applicator.

No food allergies on Jam’s side; he can eat anything, and does—when we walk, he scarfs the stray pizza rinds and week-old burritos he finds before I can rein him in. Once he ate a wad of aluminum foil and the worst that happened was worry on my end and a bout of hard green stool on his. While he’s been staying here at Scott’s these weeks, when I’m away for work, he’s learned Down, all the way down, and Heel. This is more than I was able to teach him in months; something about my tone is unconvincing as a command. It’s unclear to me whether this is because of my larynx or my subconscious.

Positive reinforcement sounds right, but Scott says, “At this age, Jam needs discipline.” I figure Scott knows these things—he was raised on a farm in the Midwest, near where his grandpa kept cattle and his grandma reared eight children. She boiled pig parts on the stove, he told me; he remembers bringing friends to family reunions and them peering into the pot, recoiling with expressions of What the . . . ? Scott’s father always had dogs, and Scott and his brother had pigs, until they were butchered, and raccoons. As Scott tells it, his brother’s raccoon was a lover and Scott’s was a fighter, startling him from sleep by biting his nose.

I was raised in a suburb of Boston. My grandpa kept accounting books, my grandma reared one child, my mother, and ordered delivery pizza on all major holidays. My childhood included one parakeet that died on the way to the vet, one hamster that died on April Fool’s Day, and Rocky, a tabby, who pounced on my feet under the covers. By age six, I knew to be still in bed. I’d stay awake as late as possible, staring at the red lines of my bedside digital clock, inventing games by rearranging the lines into different shapes. Once, when Rocky stayed out, some critter of the night nearly scalped him. I never saw the blood, I only saw the stitches, and his defeated slink around the house those weeks while his head healed. I also had a pink kisser fish; he lived for thirteen years and, when he died, was buried in the backyard in a plastic Boston Chicken tub.

Maybe that burial occurred the year one of Scott’s grandfather’s bulls extended then stepped on his own member, as Scott tells it, and went to the butcher. (The goat gets a little more leeway...


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