The last dog on the list is a shepherd mix, an old man with spongey veins and testicles like rotting plums. His blood flashes red in the hub and seeps like black branches into the mix, which is candy blue and, no kidding, trademarked Fatal Plus. I press the plunger home and press my stethoscope between his ribs. I listen, as through an apartment wall, to a hurried conversation. It suddenly stops.
It can get to feel like you missed something, some step in the process or bit of paperwork, so the dogs are just sleeping or never were, as if nothing ever happened at all. I ask myself, to ward off this feeling and keep me honest, how did we get here? Pay and benefits, of course, but ostensibly it started when a dog loped up to the front porch of my trailer in the Chihuahua desert maybe fifteen years ago. It was just after sunset and I was smoking a cigarette in the porchlight, thinking about jobs and where to find one. I named him Jasper and fed him bargain kibble every morning until one morning I smelled him under the trailer. I had to break his forelimbs to drag him past the pipes. He came out dusted with yellow insulation, and it was an ordeal to bury him with the sand rushing in to fill up the hole. I was utterly exhausted and alive and the sweat on the back of my hands was gritty and I must have believed, for a moment, that sand is teeth and bone and what becomes of dogs. Or maybe I was just tired.
So now I tell myself we got here by hunger and the dark, all the work it takes, and other things we can’t or don’t control. I carry the last dog on the list like a sack of grain to the furnace and pitch him in and shut the hatch. The dogs in there, afforded more time, would have come with bristling hackles between me and my death. As it is, I’ve been licensed to negotiate a peaceful end to our hundred-thousand-year affair.
Barrett Travis’ writing and illustration has appeared in Border Senses, Story South, Barrelhouse Magazine, Melee, Furlough Magazine, and elsewhere. He is an assistant fiction editor at Cream City Review in sunny Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
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