A Dog’s Tale

A Dog’s Tale

by Alvin G Burstein

Brownie was really, really sick. Though he was eating hardly anything, he had thrown up several times, and he was lying, listless, instead of asking to be petted or have his ears scratched. When Rodney asked about taking his pet to the vet, his step-dad and mother said there was no money for such foolishness.

After school that day Rodney walked the two miles to the vet’s office anyway.

“Dr. Vetch, Brownie’s real sick, throwing up and all. Mom and my step-dad say we don’t have money to bring him here. What do you think I should do?”

The vet questioned Rodney closely about the dog’s symptoms, “Is his nose hot and dry? Are his eyes red and watery?”

“Yes, sir, and he is just kind of lying around, not peppy like usual.”

“Well, young fella, I can’t tell for sure without examining Brownie, but it sounds like it could be distemper.”

“But how can I help him? He’s real sick.”

The vet shook his head, “There’s not much in the way of treatment. Get him to eat if you can, and he might get better on his own.

“If you make him a broth with kidneys, and cook some oat meal in that, and hand feed him, he might take the food. That might help him get better.”

Rodney knew there was some oatmeal in the pantry. The problem was kidneys. He walked to Lippett’s, the little grocery store around the corner from his house.

“Mr. Lippett,” he asked, “The vet says I need to feed my sick dog some kidney broth, but I don’t have any money. Is there any way I could sweep out the store or something, and earn enough to buy some?”

“Tell you what, son, I’ll donate the beef kidney, and when your dog gets better, you can make a couple of deliveries for me after school, and we’ll call it square. Unless you want to make more deliveries for two-bits each.”

“Yes, sir, I’d like that just fine. That would be real great. I could use the money, but I’d like to get Brownie better first.”

Mr. Lippett wrapped two big beef kidneys up in pink butcher’s paper and handed them to Rodney. “You better talk to your mother about cooking these. They might be on the aromatic side.”

“Yes, sir. Thanks a lot,” Rodney answered, taking the package.

When he got home, Rodney told his mother and step-father about his visit to the vet and what Mr. Lippett had said and done.

His step-dad scowled, grumbling that he didn’t want the house stunk up cooking kidneys for the damn dog.

“Now Isa,” his mom reassured her husband, “the boy can cook them on a hot plate in the basement. We won’t smell a thing.”

“Can I make a bed down there for Brownie, too, Mom?” Rodney asked. “The vet said I needed to hand feed him kidneys and oatmeal. He said that would help Brownie get over the distemper.”

“That damn dog is probably gonna make us all sick—sick as a dog,” Isa said sourly. “I expect you’re gonna be sorry about this mess.”

Rodney set up a nest for Brownie in the basement. He carried the dog there, and connected the hot plate. He wasn’t sure how to prepare the broth, but he set a pan of water on the hot plate, added a cup of oatmeal, and put the kidneys in the mixture. It simmered, the liquid thickening as the oatmeal and kidneys cooked. After forty-five minutes the kidneys looked done, and Rodney let the preparation cool to room temperature. Then he cut the kidney up into small cubes, mixing them back into the broth, which was now pretty thick.

Rodney sniffed the pan doubtfully. “It doesn’t smell real good Brownie, but the vet says it’s good for you.”

He knelt next to the dog, using his fingers to hold a dollop of kidney and oatmeal up to Brownie’s muzzle. The dog licked at the mixture, and to Rodney’s surprise, seemed to like it.

“Atta boy!” Rodney praised, and helped the dog eat over a cup of the food.

Three days later, Brownie was much better, eating his regular food again. A week after that, he was fully recovered. Rodney started making deliveries for Mr. Lippett, earning about a dollar each day after school.

Just when Rodney had fallen into a comfortable routine of school, store deliveries, and back home, he returned to discover that Brownie was nowhere to be found.

Rodney panicked, “Mom, Mom, I can’t find Brownie!”

He was met with an awkward silence and an exchange of looks between is mother and step-father.

Isa finally grated, “I got rid of that nuisance, your mother… “

“You what?” Rodney cried.

“I said he was a nuisance. Your mother has enough to do without…” Isa went on, but his face tight with rage, Rodney had bolted from the room, ignoring an attempt from his mother to call him back.

Slamming The door to his bedroom, Rodney flung himself face down on the bed, sobbing. Minutes passed, and he turned over, staring at the ceiling, his fists knotted in anger. Then he got up and stared out of the window into the darkening afternoon. I hate them.

He tossed and turned that night, his sleep troubled by inchoate, ragged dreams. The next morning, he and Isa ignored each other, and Rodney replied to his mother’s attempts to engage him with monosyllabic fragments.

“Now Rodney, honey, don’t be sulking. Your father meant for the…”

Rodney’s shout cut her off, “He’s not my father and he had no right, Brownie was my dog!”

“Now look here, boy!” Isa began, but he was speaking to Rodney’s back as the youngster stormed off to school.

At school, Rodney tried to turn his focus away from rageful thoughts boiling within. Later at Lippett’s grocery, he found himself thinking of stealing one of the sharp butcher knives in the meat department.

I hate them. The thought was like a red neon sign in his mind, flashing, flashing, over and over.

After work, Rodney, still withdrawn and silent, went to the basement. He cleared up the treatment center he had built for Brownie. Then he sprawled on the basement floor, tears for his dog running down his cheek, while muttered over and over until it became a mantra. “I Hate Them.”

Finally, Rodney went upstairs. He passed his mother and stepfather sitting at the kitchen table. Eyes downcast, avoiding theirs, he muttered, “I’m not hungry. I’m going to bed.”

Throwing himself on the bed, he felt a pounding in his head, punctuating the scarlet mantra. A fitful sleep came, and with it, a tortured dream.

He was a ravening wolf, red-eyed, shaggy, snarling in anger, tearing at the remains of two tattered victims, whose screams of pain were his music.  

It was midnight when wakefulness came. Red turned to pink as the water eddied into the drain during his shower. He packed a knapsack, and walked into the night, howling hate at the full moon.

◊ ◊ ◊

Alvin G Burstein

Burstein is a retired psychology professor and psychoanalyst with numerous scholarly  works to his credit. He continues on the faculty of the New Orleans-Birmingham Psychoanalytic Center, where he also serves as librarian,. He is a member of  Inklings, a critiquegroup that meets weekly at the local public library to read its members’ imaginative writings. Burstein has published flash fiction and autobiographical fragments in e-zines; The Owl, his first novelette is available at Amazon. He is a committed Francophile, unsurprisingly a lover of fine cheese and wine, and an unrepentant cruciverbalist.

21 thoughts on “A Dog’s Tale

  1. A different take on “A Boy and His Dog.” It really wrings the full range of emotions out of the reader, from the sympathy and empathy we feel toward Rodney, to the anger at the stepfather, to the catharsis of the ending. Well done.

  2. I enjoyed the story in the sense that the beginning, while heart-rending, seemed plausible. The outcome/ending of the story was both subtly conveyed and a surprise. This writing was effectively affective in few words.

  3. A really engaging short story. Not at all syrupy sweet but sadly all too realistic. There are cruel people in this world. I wounder if the dogs 3 day illness that didn’t quite kill him was the father’s 1st attempt at poisoning. What a courageous and kind son. Also, I couldn’t help but wonder if the mother was also often abused. She did not intervene!
    A little too sad for my taste, but obviously really great writing – some of the best you’ve done in my opinion. . Keep up the good work. Al Olinde

  4. I read it twice and each time you captured my attention, making me reflect on my own childhood and a similar experience with my dog and father. I did have a different ending…

  5. A heart-rending story with an ending, both surprising and subtle. This short story is an enjoyable read whose beginning is quite plausible.

  6. Both heartbreaking and chilling – skillfully combines a very real and all too common horror of life and the horror of fantasy. Very well written!

  7. D’Wanna, Thanks for the kind works. As you might suspect, I began with reality base memories and tried to segue into the horrors that lie under the surface of many “childish” emotions. AGB

  8. I enjoyed this story. I am an animal lover. My son (just retired) has two golden labs (One belongs to his daughter) and those two are a joy to behold (CLICHE?) Sometimes at a party I enjoy the company of an animal more that humans. Sad ending, but that is life. Keep up the good work.
    QBall aka Les Quilter.

  9. Al. I enjoyed your “dog gone” tale.
    For better or worse , Rodney was stired,poked, and prodded until his ” sleeping dog ” was aroused!

  10. Wow, the story really takes an unexpected turn. It gains its power by reminding us that everyone has his/her breaking point and could result in us reverting back to our common primate ancestry (apes can be very violent). It also reminds us that it is not the “objective” nature of an event, but its subjective meaning to us which is important. For some, animals/pets mean more to us than do people.
    Al, this is like a modern-day version of a Grimm’s fairy tale. Enjoyed it.

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