Last of the Great Rattlesnake Hunters

Neighbor Bob visited Camille every weekday morning during the summer. His wife, Dora, had a job that got her out of the house early, then he’d walk the half-block in his bathrobe and slippers while tossing a personalized coffee mug into the air. All gifted items from this past Christmas.

Bob and Camille never wasted a moment claiming their positions at the window-seat dining table, where they’d sip her homebrew through a multitude of pardons, so to gossip about the people they knew in common. The pair also hammered out quite a bit on politics and world issues. Still, they were no strangers to the more intimate topics, as Bob was at the top of Camille’s short list of trusted friends she carefully assembled away from her waitressing gig at The Jolly Rodger’s cocktail bar.

Camille was surprised by the results of what seemed like a risky move at the time, namely that this arrangement with Bob turned out differently than any male-female coupling she’d so far experienced. What the two had together only winked at any impropriety, with the secret of it being theirs alone, which amounted to no more than a quiet curiosity brought to light between friends of the opposite sex. The truth of it, however, would have come as a surprise to the nosier of onlookers, who spied Bob meandering over every morning with his hairy legs sticking out between the bottom of his bathrobe and the tops his slippers. He showed the scandalous air of a man who doesn’t give a shit. So casual was his presentation it seemed a sleight of hand trick, intentionally drawn to keep these lurid gossipmongers from fully seeing into a forbidden, yet hopeful, moral debauchery.

Thankfully, Bob stuck around. He was the guy Camille called upon when she needed the type of help that usually comes at the expense of tolerating a man around the house. Even though Camille had dated a handful of boyfriends since her last disaster, she couldn’t see herself with a steady as of yet. It was not right. They were not right. That way of life was too complicated and those she’d tried were by her estimation but parrots to real men. Neighbor Bob carried out the tasks of the role nicely, safely, and he didn’t seem to mind playing the part. Neither did Dora seem to mind. She had the gusto appearance of an independent career woman, while her Bob wore the suit of a househusband mildly mimicking a philanderer.


First of three

Tuesday stepped right over it on the front porch, but by some nameless intervention, she was not bitten. A running Keaton followed and made it to the door when the sound hit. He saw the bad news and leaped a full stride, landing a safe distance out onto the driveway, right as the rattler struck the emptiness the kid had just cleared.

Soon they would know it as a young three footer, though at this point in the coil it was anybody’s guess. The triangular head was deeply low, almost disappearing into the round, while the vibrating tail stayed high making that one pitch sound – even, steady. Camille emerged shouting and motioned to the kids to back off with frantic body movements. She danced in the doorway, timing a jump of her own, in advance of remembering there was more than one way out of the house. And knowing her son had a propensity for snake handling, she yelled at him once more to keep away from the rattler before she turned at the door, ran through the back, and rushed alongside the house to meet the kids out onto the blacktop drive.
Keaton held a long switch that fell from their tree but, minding what he was told, hadn’t disturbed the snake. Camille was somewhat taken aback by her son’s newfound self-restraint when she made it around front. The three of them stood for a while listening and watching the viper writhe and adjust in its coil, as it wound from edge to edge; but alas, the thing would not leave their porch. It had found shade and decided to make proper use of the cool cement. Camille figured the slithery invader might simply move on if they gave it enough space. She saw the car keys sticking through the fingers of her fist and considered driving off, but just couldn’t bring herself to let the rattler go free and remain nearby the house.
Camille thought back and remembered she’d only seen two rattlers in her whole life before this day. Both incidents happening late during the same summer when she was just ten years old. Each time so deep in the season that the oven heat of Hansen Dam created its own unique alchemic vessel, marrying a thirsty wild sage to the fruited-moss lying atop the stonework of the Tujunga wash narrows. Its sharp bouquet preceded the ominous events. Camille and big sister Kay knew to steer clear of the distinct warning sound, as earlier described by their mother. To Mae Frances, they promised to ride in a wide arc or to back the hell up when it came, since come it would, for this truth was taught as an uncontested eventuality to all the youth raised beside the river basin.

The first rattler they met was mature and measured more than six foot in length when stretched out. Its tail went off beneath some cover in a souring marsh to the left of their path, and, directed by the sound, the girls side-passed their mounts to begin the wide arc as instructed. Once relieved of the threat by the sisters’ good work, the viper crossed below the overlay through mud and sand, then slipped into a patch of river reed, but not before they saw it’d spanned the entire width of the trail. By its grand size, the girls believed that fair rattler could have swallowed Mr. Beeches’ giant jackrabbit in one try: the now gone, prized, cousin of a hare he displayed in an aquarium at the stone-house neighborhood market on the corner of Wealtha Avenue and Little Sheldon – before he had to go and shoot it for giving his entire family lice.
Their second meeting was with a baby that initially appeared as a thin and straight stick resting on the trail before them. It held an inert spiritless position, trying to pull it off, not clued in that Kay was trained and afterward known as sort of an eagle eye. She spotted the creature even though it was lined out utterly still, penciled and camouflaged, against the dusty river sand. They backed up their horses for that one, as slowly and as quietly as possible.

It was considered a duty to kill a rattlesnake in those days, or it had been just a short while before their time. The Kennedy sisters were fresh to the experience, perhaps too young to be messing around with anything delivering poison anyway, for neither of them had yet developed the skill to stone a viper nor had they the stomach to experiment with the time-honored act of it when met with either encounter that one summer. Riding in a wide arc or backing the hell up seemed good enough.

When she finally figured out the right thing to do, Camille tried to drag both her kids around the back of the house, but they wanted to stay to marvel at the rattler and were not about to give up the fight. Mother finally surrendered after Keaton promised they’d keep safely away and that he’d track the snake should it move from the porch. She rationalized there was no other option than to consider this as a good strategy, then ran alongside the house and in through the backdoor to make the emergency call. Keaton grabbed Tuesday and placed her behind his back from where she peeked as he made swishing sounds by waving the switch back and forth in his grip. And since Camille’s curly cord reached to almost any spot in the house, she called Neighbor Bob while spying on the rattler through the open door of her entryway.
Here came Bob in the same bathrobe and slippers, swinging a well-used flat nose shovel instead of tossing a coffee mug. Camille saw him walking toward the driveway and wondered how often he actually showered and got dressed for the day. The snake made a move but for some reason didn’t like the rock garden beside the stoop, so it slid down the two steps onto the asphalt paving. Camille screamed at the kids to get back. They’d already done so and kept stepping calmly backwards as the rattler worked its getaway. The brother and sister were learning to discreetly ignore their mother’s hysteria during her frequent, self-imposed, penance trials.

Bob made no rush and said nothing to them as he walked easily up to the snake. It swiftly recoiled and started in with the sound. The neighbor gauged its length and held the shovelhead slightly forward and above the trespasser at about two feet from the coil. The snake checked and tightened its wreathe. Bob called it out with a mesmeric taunting from the shovel-wand. The round of it shimmered in a quick tremor, then taking the bait, struck the metal and hit the ground at full length to land a couple of feet from Bob’s fuzzy slippers. The thing hadn’t a chance to do anything more, certainly no time to recoil, before the shovel’s edge came down and chopped it in two. Bob had done the masterful job of lopping it straight through a diamond pattern just a few inches behind the head.

Keaton and Tuesday shouted a victory cheer. Camille, evidently just as bedazzled by the shovel-spell as the snake, responded with automatic actions rather than by any willful choice, again ran out back and alongside the yard to join the three and see everything up close. She jumped onto the steps of the elevated porch as a reaction to the severed viper. Bob reached past her to shut the front door, and Camille realized her mistake when he paused with gentle eyes smiling.
He scooped the head with the shovel, explaining it was still quite dangerous even though it was now lifeless, but picked up the 3-foot sinewy length by hand with promises of giving the rattle to Keaton. Neighbor Bob made it clear to all that the boy’s heroic switch-work on the viper was what led to its ultimate demise.

The family had three rattlers that summer seeking out the cool of the shaded porch, three during the same summer, right at their front door. These occurrences were not unlike what Kay and Camille experienced all those many years ago, right on their horse trail. They must come in waves. Bob was there to help them. He killed all three for Camille in his bathrobe and slippers, wielding a well-used flat nose shovel.


Convincing inducements

Bob’s two daughters began to miss him. At least they were curious where he went and what he did every morning after leaving them behind on the living room carpet watching the television set. So soon and with regularity both Darlene and Ava began wandering over to Camille’s place, although in the beginning they only had courage enough to sit along the brick planter bordering the one side of the garage. It is unknown how many times they spent the day out there before Camille spotted the girls pulling snails from her geranium and invited them inside.
In the beginning they just stared at their dad, who sat with Camille at the dining table in his morning scrubs, drinking coffee and talking in detail about a variety of subject matter. Never had they heard him verbalize to this degree and certainly not in the same carefree fashion. He behaved in such a relaxed manner with Camille, so differently from how he appeared to function with their mother, since Darlene and Ava only ever witnessed their oddball parents communicating in a way that implied an emergency could take place at any moment.

Dora always provided instructions for Bob, whereby his usual reply was a simple affirmative. There were, however, occasions when she so stressed what serious consequences would result should he not complete the many details of the given assignment, the househusband felt it necessary to go through the laborious act of note taking. What the girls now saw happening with Camille came across as totally new. Bob was chatting it up and giggling like a girlfriend at a sleepover while consuming hot coffee and cigarettes as if they were the very nourishment of his soul.

Keaton and Tuesday eventually pulled Darlene and Ava from the kitchen, but only after the sisters were thoroughly convince there was no figuring out their father. The adults couldn’t have been any happier when Bob’s daughters gave up their lingering, so they, acting as the keen pair, could continue solving the world’s major problems without the spectatorship of such obvious inexperience.

Now that the kids had moved on and away from the adult area, and so devoid of anything resembling supervision, these summer mornings were spent in the condition of a lot of nakedness. This alternative pastime had been at Darlene’s prompting and started out by slowly disrobing in the usual way of children’s games, but before long, the gang just spontaneously removed all of their clothing each time they met in Tuesday’s room. Nothing much of anything else was going on between them, as they played like normal, with the lone exception being the kids went without cover. It was admittedly entertaining for Keaton to be around three naked girls so much of the time, and in his study of them, he noticed there was something unique about Darlene. She possessed a mystery that made her unusually attractive.

In truth, both sisters had an amusing appearance but in drastically different expressions one from the other. Darlene was a white blonde who wore the dangerously pale skin tone of her mother, but, conversely, had inherited the rather dramatic facial characteristics of her father, boasting his same mask and springing forth the trademark curly ringlets. Ava was a silky brunette who lucked out with the Mediterranean coloring of her dad, but she was also the unfortunate recipient of her mother’s extremely wide set eyes, bringing to mind nightmarish comparisons to a suntanned frog. What it boiled down to is, the two sisters were really an even mix of their parents but all screwed up and so distinctly unlike each other.

As he became familiar with the individual specialties of the nude girls, Keaton had the wherewithal to notice Darlene fawning his direction and figured she must like him. They exchanged knowing glances, and when that went well, the two began having fun away from Ava and Tuesday. Their plans realized by sneaking around in search of private corners and cubbies of the house to get a good look at each other.

It didn’t take long before Darlene started coming over with the sole intention of flashing her privates at Keaton, and in short order this activity grew to the point of several times per day. Wondering why their older siblings kept running off, Ava and Tuesday sought out the two and busted them interlocked in a maze of old furniture stored in the garage. The younglings threatened to tell if they didn’t agreed to knock it off and start playing with them again. Without much choice, Keaton and Darlene went back to goofing around with the littles, but in no way did it have the same appeal since Ava and Tuesday had given up the practice of nudity in the absence of Darlene’s convincing inducements.

The elder sister had an especially hard time going back to the way things used to be. She was eerily distracted in her magnetism to Keaton, and knew by a predacious instinct that he too was moved by the attention she gave, so Darlene dreamt up new ways to again lure him off. The girl-kid then presented him with a handful of gimmicks that worked as a fix for the monkey clinging to her back.

One method Darlene came up with was for her to give him a quick peek whenever she arrived at the front door for a visit. It would be a sudden flash and then she’d walk through the doorway acting as though nothing at all had happened. She also developed a habit of calling him into the bathroom from where he’d find her turned around showing off her bottom. As Darlene’s desire grew to present her naked body to Keaton, it took precedence over everything else, pushing aside all other appropriate interests she might have developed. The exploits became so constraining for her beginner-boyfriend that he soon did all he could to avoid her, but she proved to have a far superior determination to continue.

For want of a safe haven, he tried hanging out at the table with his mom and Bob. While it was well known to Camille that Keaton had an unusual talent for listening in on and contributing to adult conversations, the acting out of this particular skill stunned Bob into the befuddled stillness of catatonia. There he sat, peek-a-boo/cross-legged in his robe, wild-eyed, as if they were in the presence of a dwarf instead of a seven-year-old kid.

Camille tried to shoo Keaton away, but he wouldn’t budge, knowing what was waiting if he left the table. Darlene could no longer resist the tug and hovered just out of the way, swooning, with a leer aimed at the boy-child from the end of hall. Camille noticed Darlene’s lascivious look and then fixed her own sight onto Keaton, who was carefully avoiding eye contact with either female. He had instead engaged Bob in a discussion about the resounding plight of George McGovern’s presidential bid, saying: all hope was lost in getting that fascist Dick Nixon out of there, now that the nominee had been caught red-handed performing a child sacrifice for the Satanic Church. This outlandish statement broke Bob’s silence so that he debated Keaton over the monstrous details claimed by the charlatan preacher, as heard on midnight radio, before he caught himself having an argument with a second grader.

All Bob really wanted to do was get back to the regular chitchat with Camille. He felt no other recourse than to place his face into his palms and shake his head in disbelief. As he returned from an accidental catnap, Bob’s focus went straight to Camille whose gaze was not at him but over his right shoulder. The concern in her eyes brought the tender image of Darlene to mind, and he turned around in his chair to see that she was still standing on the sidelines waiting for her friend. Bob could now see what caused the worry in Camille’s expression. He paused and thought for a moment, dismissing it as the fickle business of children, before asking Keaton to work it out and play with the other kids. The boy tried to stay but finally did as he was told after Bob insisted that Darlene’s feelings were being hurt by his standoffishness.

Camille wasn’t sure how to bring it up to Neighbor Bob. She didn’t know how to tell him that the look Darlene gave seemed to be one beyond her years. It had the evidence of utter absorption, as if fixated on the boy Keaton. But it was Bob who started in on it.

“What the hell do you think is going on over there?” he asked.

“Well, umm? I’m not sure?” she replied.

“Damn it all, I’m PRETTY sure!”

“Yeah, but they’re just kids. How bad could it possibly be?”

“I’ve seen that look before. Her mother gets the same vacant expression around a distant cousin of hers. You think there could be a contagion? Maybe Darlene has caught it?”

“No, you’re exaggerating. Come on, that’s impossible?”

“It’s real. She goes fucking crazy.”

“She does? That surprises me.”

“She sees a shrink over it. We both used to see him but it turns out I was getting in the way of the process.”

“The process?”

“You know, her recovery from a deviant sexual disorder. That process.”

“Deviant? Sexual? Dora? There’s just no way. I’m sorry, that can’t be right.”

“I’m telling you. I’ve caught her.”

“Caught her? Doing what?”

“Well, the first time…”

“The first time?”

“Yeah, the first time was when she made an embarrassing scene at a family reunion. I thought maybe she’d gotten drunk or was coming down with the flu. She went all flushed and I caught her quivering as this guy cut into the roast beef. I stood up to get her a glass of water and that’s when she got away.”

“What do you mean, ‘She got away’?”

“I mean she slipped under the dining table trying to get at him, I shit you not.”

“No? …”

“She made it as far as biting the inside of his thigh.”


“Oh, yes, I swear it’s true. And if that wasn’t bad enough, later on, after the ladies had sobered her up with a pot of coffee and laughed the whole thing off as feverish dementia, she excused herself and hid in the shower waiting for him. When the door opened and the light was flipped on, she lifted her blouse and mashed herself up against the shower glass, giving him a full look at her pressed tits. Only, it wasn’t the cousin. It turned out to be the grandfather … Ha! The noble but ancient patriarch who owns the place!”

“You must have been mortified …”

“Mortified? Are you kidding?  I’m just glad there’s finally proof Dora’s actually alive. For all of these years, I thought she was a corpse.”

“Oh my God, Bob.”

“Wait. That’s not all. She also has an obsession with vacuum cleaners.”


“Yeah, can you imagine? For the life of me, I don’t even know what a woman can do with a vacuum cleaner?”

“Oh, Bob.”

“One time she stumbled out of the closet with it running and there were suction cup marks all over her nude body.”

“I don’t mean to laugh, but? I’m trying not to. Really, I am!”

“When you catch your wife naked in the closet with the vacuum cleaner, that’s when you call a shrink, right? Ha! … RIGHT?”

“Jesus … I never would have guessed it in a million years, Bob. Not in a million years.”

“Oh, god … Well, they tell me she’s much better now! Ha!”

“Do you mind if I ask her about the vacuum cleaner? I mean, I must know.”

“Shush, don’t you dare! Keep quiet about the whole thing, okay?”

“Shit … okay.”

Bob took a long deliberate hit from his cigarette. He got it going really hot and then pinched it tightly right behind the cherry, watching the glowing head fall into the ashtray. He was lost in a moment, looking at it smolder cooler and cooler, growing gray, before he twisted the end of the butt to a wrinkled point and placed it into his bathrobe pocket. Camille went to refill his empty coffee mug but he put his hand over it.

“Maybe I should get the girls out of here? You know, give the kids a little break from each other,” Bob continued.

“All right … I see. I guess that’s probably a good idea.”

“Okay, yes … Right, I’ll see you later.” Bob held his mug, mulling over a thought, and then said, “C, what are you doing tomorrow morning?”

“What am I doing every morning, Bob!”

He stood up, keeping his eyes on her. Something was stirring in him.

“Listen, I’m going to go first and have a look around. Will you send the girls home in ten minutes?”

“Sure, of course. Hey, I don’t know what you’re thinking, but don’t go looking for suction cup marks on Darlene or anything like that. She’s too young for this type of thing.”

“I won’t … it’s just …” He stopped and looked up to a faded stain on the ceiling that went unnoticed before now.

“You can’t catch stuff like that, Bob. Everything’s going to be okay.”

“Thanks, C.”

He moved with his coffee mug, rinsed it in the sink, and stepped for the door.

“Hey, Bob!” Camille called.


“You wear anything under that bathrobe?”

Bob winked and said, “There’s only one way to find out.”

Camille sighed, returning his smile.

Bob went straight for it. He knew right where Dora kept her hidden cigar box, even though it had been a while since he’d last searched through it. Maybe the concerned look Camille gave when she noticed that peculiar something in Darlene was what got him going. Got him again curious about the hidden box. He pulled the container from beneath the loose floorboard their hallway carpet runner had now dutifully covered for as long as he could remember. Bob accidently came across this odd floorboard two Christmases ago when he moved the rug aside to place a ladder in the hallway in order to reach the attic door. The plank creaked and shifted under the weight of the ladder as he began to climb. He, coming back down and moving the ladder to a steadier spot, noticed the claw marks on it. Somebody had pried the plank up at one time. There wasn’t much space beneath the floorboard, but there was enough to keep her secrets.

In the beginning he checked regularly to see if Dora had added new pictures of herself with the cousin, and to catch if the amount of money she kept with the pictures had changed. He was always freshly troubled that these were not Polaroid images, meaning, his wife was in with somebody who knew how to get this type of picture developed.

Bob took his time. He set the box down on the kitchen table and started a pot of coffee before getting back to it. Strange how there was never any dust on the box, only fingerprints along the edges near the lid that needed the right angle of light to be seen at all. He was reminded of Dora’s small hands by the number found there. Bob drew the cigarette stub from his bathrobe pocket, tilted his head enough to get it going, and then had a look inside. There were no additional pictures with the cousin, but he thumbed through a few new ones of she reclining alone. Who took these pictures? He too saw the amount of money had not changed. It was still an even $1,600. He remembered how it used to bother him that she went to such lengths to collect this great a sum without his knowing.

Bob heard by the end-steam that the coffee was done and rose to pour a cup. It was too hot to drink but he hit it anyway. He had learned to deal with difficult things. His face twitched a wry intensity as he made his way back to the table. Closing the lid to the box, he walked with it from the kitchen to return the secrets to its coffin. He studied the grain of the plank and saw it was a well-matched piece before setting it aside the others and rolling the runner into position.

The girls stormed into the house. Their father had finished before the return, avoiding any interruption from them. And the coffee was now good. Even before taking the next hit, he could tell it was just by being near. This is the kind of detail Bob knew. There were certain things he needed to be good at, certain recognitions in life he had to appreciate well, better than anybody, in order to keep his shit together.

Bob stood looking at his girls as they flopped down onto the carpet in front of the television. He breathed deeply, absorbing the two, reasoning that Camille must’ve been right with her idea of Darlene being just a kid, but still, the grave suspicion wouldn’t leave him. No matter by what method, it proved exhausting to resist the pervading stray from logic that declared today’s behavior as a foretelling act, suggesting their family was carried by a current of Calvinist predestination. And the father was inundated with indecent flashes of his own young daughter as he imagined a blood-endowed impurity trickling through veins, seeking its own level.


Stop, until you do know

Following in the usual order of routine, Bob made it to Camille’s shortly after Dora left for the office that next morning, with the one clear difference of asking his girls to stay home for the day. He offered that Camille had phoned earlier to say Keaton and Tuesday were both showing the onset of a summer cold and thought best to let it pass before entertaining any friends.

Bob was not a natural liar, and so he heard the words slip out as though they came from a foreigner’s body. Switching his coffee mug from his right to his left hand to wipe clear the film of perspiration that had pooled in his palm, he reached over their heads and spun the dial on the TV- one agonizing click at a time. The two girls looked at him like he hadn’t yet finished the statement, and seeing this was so, their father tried to mask his careful brevity as a mere pause before repeating the same strained line. He switched the mug to the right and dried his left palm on loose terrycloth before cinching it up tight and making for an exit. Ava’s eyes followed Bob all the way until he shut the door on them, only to spin the dial back to whence it came.

On the second morning, Bob said a simple goodbye after breakfast and got as far as the threshold before remembering he had something to bring with him. He turned back, moving toward his bedroom. A door closed as he pulled the drawer to the nightstand. Looking over his shoulder, he decided it had only been someone entering the restroom before getting back to the task of grabbing the item and placing it into his bathrobe pocket. Ava was entranced by the TV, as he walked past the second time, so he bent down and tickled the back of her neck to break the hold it had over her. She growled as a response.

While on his way, Bob tossed his coffee mug into the air a few times with each turn going a little higher than the last. He was pleased for some unknown reason, a rarity, like all was right in the day, showing the plain experience of life sometimes wins out over any understanding of it. This idea raised a smile and he looked outward toward the driveway just in time to see a blur of a person sidling through the juniper hedge framing the left side of Camille’s front yard. He strode tall in slippers, and adjusted his trek in secret agent fashion for a better view, but couldn’t make out a specific form through the density of the growth. Bob chose a shortcut, carving his own path straight into juniper, from where he spied Keaton opening the door for Darlene. She slid her shorts down past her thighs and tilted her hips toward him. The boy heard his mother and tried to shut the door but Darlene jammed her foot in the way. Bob rushed from behind the shrub and his girl saw Keaton’s eyes go wide. She hiked up the shorts in one move, though it came too late as her dad was already on her. Darlene tried to run but she was snatched by the wrist and jerked back, front and center, allowing Keaton the opportunity to disappear.

Camille made it to the door to see Bob twisting Darlene’s arm around her back. He was studying her finger pads, searching, and there too he saw the smallness of Darlene’s hands. The coffee mug fell from him onto the porch, settling into three broken pieces.

“Bob, what are you doing?”

There was no answer. The wry intensity, unknown to Camille, returned to Bob’s face. She stepped onto the porch, placing a tender embrace to his forearm. “Bob? What are you doing?” Even calmer than the first time.

“I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“Well, stop then. Until you do know.”

Darlene was silent. She was bent over forward from the twisting but made no protest nor did she convey any evidence of pain.

Pamela and Arthur, the English couple across the street who held a special interest in Bob and Camille’s activities, were now jostling for a better vantage from their front lawn knoll.

“Bob, look at me. Stop it. And come inside.”

The trance was unlocked and his concentration went from Darlene’s tiny hand up to Camille’s eyes.

“Okay, C. All right.” he agreed.

Bob loosened his grip on Darlene’s wrist enough for her to turn around but he didn’t completely let go. He looked back down and saw that even though there had been no protest from her, nor any evidence of pain, she was weeping.

“Bob. Get in here,” Camille cautioned again.

“No. No, Camille. Everything’s okay,” he said while reaching into his bathrobe pocket. “I just brought this over for Keats. That’s why I’m here.”

Bob pulled out a leather cord with the snake’s rattle attached. It swung between the two a few times before Camille timed it right and nabbed the gift.

“Oh, Bob. He’ll love it,” she responded. Keaton’s head reappeared from behind his mother’s back so that the neighbor had the chance to speak directly to him.

“A promise is a promise.”

Bob found his same gentle smile and unwound the hold on Darlene’s wrist. Placing her hand into his, he saw there within, she was almost lost. He leaned over and kissed each one of her knuckles.

“We’re going home.”

Keaton grabbed the necklace from Camille and looped it over his head where it hung just right. He shook the sectioned tail a few times to make sure it worked. Then seeing the three broken pieces on the porch were likely to match up, Keaton stooped low to puzzle them together while Camille watched Neighbor Bob walk his kid all the way to their own front door and enter.


One revealing day

Even though there was no way to pinpoint exactly what sung from outside, a lazy siren wailed. It announced an awful grieving, only to beckon a truth beyond a first impression. Also relevant, and most unfortunate, is the purpose of a siren’s call had been lost on the moderns, since its classical role was not to alert, but to summon. Often inviting a subject to fateful tears. For only what lives can cry.

A writhing animal squalled, half-stamped into tar and gravel. Hit by a car that fled the scene. Nobody even saw the driver reach the curve out of there, but they could imagine his haste, because whoever it was had fully escaped before the neighbors followed the shrieking outside.

What they found was a purely black dog with his right shoulder and a portion of his head plastered into the street. Gathering people circled and were soon witnesses to shocking intervals of nonbeing and being, absence and presence, where the face of the fighting canine switched off and on from bland dispassion to sudden horror. His hindquarters worked madly to peel itself free of the earth, while waves of yelping pierced through, causing hands over ears, before ultimately winding down to an otherworldly rippling that refused to entirely give up the imitation of a rushing emergency vehicle.

Being quick on their feet children, Keaton and Tuesday were the first to run outside, but when met with the violence, they switched course to get their mother who was viewing a house across the street from their own. Camille’s sister, Kay, had brought her new husband, Ian Hicks, early this Saturday to make an offer on the property. That’s why cousin Joly’s dog had the opportunity with misfortune, entering the roadway just as a speeding car drifted enough the bad direction.
Joly only found the wandering beast a few weeks earlier and, by way of begging and pleading, tried like hell to convince his mother of the reasons why they should adopt him into the family. The young stray had a smooth black coat, so named “Jet” by Kay after she yielded to the wishes of her son, making the lost dog theirs. Ian Hicks wasn’t at all pleased by the decision, most notably, because he had not been consulted beforehand. His stern manner attested this shit was now on them.

Joly pushed through the surrounding neighbors, right up to the scene, only to match Jet’s wailing. The two were a blend for a time, in wavering tension, like an out of tune double-track. Kay and Camille caught up with Joly and tried to pull him from the nightmare, but he broke away and fell to his knees beside the dog. Hicks made the most of the opening, leading Kay by the hand to emphatically state, the boy must be left alone in this event. His point being her son needed to learn the ‘lesson of loss’ that meets every person who is responsible for a life and fails it. To comply was against everything the mother believed, but since they were positioned as a fresh couple, she did as she was told.

Jet’s hind legs were fully beneath him as he bucked and thrashed while whimpering a baby’s mewl. Joly was powerless but to try to comfort him. He consoled the passing animal by stroking his blackness, until at last the throes of death grew too convulsive, and the fright from it too great for his young hands and heart. A merciful blindness descended, overtaking any further spectacle, till he awoke throwing up at the curb. Bloody palms marked blue jeans as he braced a stance, and fingers spotted a face red where he scratched the burning fluid from his mouth.

Two men from the street, Tim Hovey and Marcos the Hungarian, sought to carry out crowd control by asking everybody to step back and make some room. None who were there listened, nor did they step back, so in an effort of appearing useful, the pair worked the perimeter, attempting to shield the eyes of the women. In the vanity of their own conventions, all those present tried to ease the dread of watching an animal undergo a horrific death. Bound by trepidation, confusing nervous activity for solutions, they lost any inability to act successfully on behalf of each other or for themselves.

Jet did all he could before decelerating into an abnormal posturing, his body now jerking out of time, when a shadow closed in on the semicircle without notice. The metallic tone of a shovel pitched into the street is what broke their attention from the suffering. The group turned to see Neighbor Bob wielding a two-by-four high overhead. One of the presiding men ducked and ran just as the dark truth came down onto Jet. Finishing off what was left of his head.

An absolute silence ruled as the near-strangers jointly experienced the grace of deliverance. Those attendants holding a maturity of soul hung their heads in shameful reverence, made plain by the deficiency of their own works. It is a harsh realization when a human finally confronts the deep mirror that merely reflects an inept observer to life, who does nothing, while the hero stands alone. Just as with the three porch vipers, Neighbor Bob was the one.

This was the first time Camille had seen her friend in over two weeks, and he looked unlike the man to which she was accustomed. Bob was cleaned up. Probably nobody else cared enough to see anything beyond the entertainment value the philandering rumors had brought them, and if true, then they hadn’t any personal clues about the fellow on their street beyond the exterior appearance of his bathrobe, slippers, and coffee mug costume. The lone imaginative exception being what they’d dreamt up during his clockwork morning visits to Camille’s house that only a couple of weeks ago kept them on lawn knolls vying for the better vantage. But Camille noticed. More than that, she knew.

Neighbor Bob was dressed for the day, with his hair combed and slicked back, his face absent any trace of beard. The neighbors took him in, though not seeing physicality so much as contemplating the deed performed. Revealing a certain savagery is required of a person who does the right thing by turning off the misery of life. Standing in the presence of the man before them made it clear that only a particular type of individual has such a calling.

“Keaton, get that sheet of cardboard from Arthur’s driveway. The one under his car.”

“Huh? What’s that you say, Bob?”

“Go on. Go get it.”


Keaton ran to the driveway as Bob went for his shovel.

“Lay the cardboard next to the dog.” And so he did. Keaton glided the sheet right up beside the body.

It only took one move, it being the right move. Bob slid the same damn flat nose, with the sharp strike of steel on asphalt, beneath the animal’s midsection to separate him from the street. He heaved and lifted, with Jet’s rear-end hanging crookedly off the side of the scoop, before resting The Black down upon an oily sheet.

“Joly, come on now. Come here. You and Keats grab the cardboard and take him to my backyard. We’ll bury him there.”

Joly wiped his mouth on his shirttail and stood from the curb. The boys counted three and rose together. They only got a few steps in when the sheet slipped from Joly’s grip, but he jammed his knees under the falling board so it wouldn’t hit the ground, and Jet slid on that downward angle, brushing up against Joly’s forearms to add wet crimson strokes to the already dried dirty brown.

Something noticeable had changed in the crowd. Arthur was right beside Joly to take the weight, giving the boy enough time to adjust his hand position for the better hold, making it possible to carry on. Joly lifted a second time and a balance was found between the cousins, then Neighbor Bob led them the six houses they needed to go.
Marcos the Hungarian retrieved a second hose from his garage and connected them as Hovey went to the spigot to let the water flow. One streamed, while the other worked the broom. They all viewed the red go to pink and to clear as canine hair was devoured along with thinning blood by the curbside storm drain.

The neighbors slowly returned to their places just as Kay told Ian Hicks she wanted the house right across from her sister. The same house overlooking the street where Jet the Black was killed. Tuesday sprinted far off and stood atop a planter’s basin to peek between fence cracks into Bob’s backyard. A curtain moved and the kid scooted aside to make room for two friends who’d lately gone missing.

Camille wasted no time, stepping toward her own door at a thoughtful pace. When making the kitchen, she slid a bar stool right below the neglected stain on the ceiling. The ignored tarnish Neighbor Bob had noticed that one revealing day. Camille held a breath and let it go, feeling reasonably sure the point was now within reach, as she grabbed the bucket and sponge from beneath the sink.