Jan was one of those truly beautiful women who everyone liked, and most guys lusted for, and her boyfriend, Tim, was one of those guys that most people merely tolerated. The two of them always had good pot, sold it pretty cheap, and their house, an ancient and huge wood-frame building, was the center of gravity for those of us looking for a place to light up and sit down.
We had a massive party there one night, to celebrate someone’s birthday, and we played poker until about two in the morning. I was far too wasted to try to drive, and so were most of the other revelers that night.
There were still a few people wanting to play poker, but I went outside to sit beside the fire, with the rest of those who were losing money or just too stoned to try to figure it out. I was never any good at poker. I suspect, and this isn’t a scientific theory, is that well-liked people win more in poker than less-liked people. No one minds losing to someone they don’t mind spending time around, but if a man doesn’t like you, he’s going to hate losing to you, and he’ll try harder to get his money back. I read thick books about science fiction and wasn’t a redneck. I didn’t kill snakes and I caught venomous ones barehanded. Most of the people there considered me just short of an alien.
Out by the fire, there was one guy, Carl, still upright, and a couple of other people half asleep. There was a couple who pulled a blanket out into the weeds, out beyond the light, and she was trying to keep her jeans on, and whoever she was with, was trying hard to get them undone. Drunks are never quiet people, and horny drunks even less so. Carl and I whispered about possible candidates and combinations of who it might be when Barbara Whitney came out looking for her husband. She glared at us both for laughing hard, but a few minutes after Barbara left, her husband Tom came out of the weeds, pulling up his zipper, and saying he just had to take a leak, that’s all, nothing to be seen here, move on.
Sandra Smith emerged from the weeds a few minutes after that, clothes on, kinda, hair a mess, with the blanket, and she neither looked at us nor spoke.
Carl and I waited until Sandra had left before dissolving into laughter again, but it was getting late, and I was sobering up, some.
“My Belle just died,” Carl said, looking away. Carl was famous for having an old mutt that looked like part Black Lab and part bear, who rode in the back of Carl’s truck.
“Damn, man, I’m sorry,” I said, and meant it deep.
“Fourteen years. Raised her from a puppy,” he said and lit another cigarette. “She just went to sleep one night and didn’t get up the next morning.” Carl’s voice cracked, and right then, I liked him a lot. There’s something really good about a person who gets hurt bad losing an old dog.
“Where’d ya bury her?”
“Down by Sowhatchee, near the old mill, that’s where I found here. That’s where I like to go fishing. I got a place the warden don’t go, I can seine enough for a fish fry and don’t nobody know about it, mostly.” Carl was also famous for providing fish for fish fries.
“You ought to come with me, tomorrow morning, I could use a hand with the net,” Carl said, and I could tell he meant it.
“I like to get out there ‘fore light, set a fire, and then get them out of the water about sunrise,” Carl said.
“Way too early for me, hell, that’s just a couple of hours from now!” I protested.
“We’ll camp out on the sand bar next Saturday, get Sandra to come out and keep us company,” Carl laughed as he got up to go. “Really, help me get some fish next Saturday morning.”
“Okay,” I said and even though it was illegal to net fish, hell, it sounded like a great time.
Carl left and I stared at the fire until I started to fall asleep. Carl was a few years older than me, so he must have found Belle when he was just old enough to drive. Fourteen years. That’s a long time with a dog, and I know that now. I know what it feels like to raise one from a puppy, and then lose an entire lifetime of a dog.
I woke up about noon the next day, still slightly stoned, but sober. Jan called me, in tears, and told me that Carl had fallen asleep at the wheel, and slammed into a tree on the way home. He was killed instantly.
Mike writes regularly at his site: The Hickory Head Hermit. Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.