Micro Fiction Contest 2019
Dead Dogs and Swimming Pools
Where do bad folks go when they die? I didn’t know. I was seven. I knew good folks went to heaven, and that heaven was like Christmas at my great-grandmother’s house, except that somewhere in among the legs of elderly relatives I didn’t know, I might see a white robe and a pair of sandals and look up and there would be Jesus. No one had told me about hell, but I knew in my stomach when I saw the dog lying stiff and twisted by the side of the road that it ought to exist. The kind of person who hit a dog with his car and left it in the gutter couldn’t go to heaven and eat red velvet cake off paper plates with everyone else. What kind of universe would that be?
I’m not sure the things a child believes in a moment like that ever all-the-way stop being believed, even when the child is an adult who has seen things and done things and better understands the complexities of weighing a human soul.
I believe no one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes, and it’s never too late to do better. I don’t believe in the death penalty. I don’t believe in heaven.
But when a man takes something nice that he can’t do anything but look at, and he cuts it, burns it, grinds it down into flat dirt and erects something ugly and profitable on it, then I get a familiar feeling in my stomach.
We buried the dog in a patch of woods across the street. They weren’t our woods and it wasn’t our dog, but the woods had always been there for wandering into, and the dog didn’t have a collar. We found a good tree with a lot of squirrels in it and buried the dog at its base, under a flat rock we moved there for the purpose.
Over the summer, my mom and I made many trips back to that tree. We took scrap-wood and a bottle of glue and made a dozen little huts that we arranged around the tree’s roots or squeezed into its crevices. Most were just about big enough for a chipmunk to turn around in. We made villagers out of clothespins wrapped in colored yarn and gave them names and drama of their own. The village was called Dog-Stone, and its people were protected by the spirit of the creature whose bones lay underneath them.
The new apartments are called Oak Wood. I don’t know where the dog is. Somewhere else. Protecting the pile of dirt dug up and driven out to make room for the pool.
When I was seven, I asked my mom, and she said bad folks go somewhere bad. That felt right.
Now I’m older. I believe in forgiveness. And kindness. But what I really believe is that a person should be marked forever by the things that they’ve done. When you destroy something beautiful, everyone should know about it.
I live and sell donuts in North Carolina. Previous work has been published in Hobart.