Bella’s paws touched the edge of her driveway, where the gravel turned from the small rock of the main road to the larger stones of her lane. The line here was clear and left no questions. What was hers was behind the culvert and lined up neatly inside the white three rail fence. What was not hers stretched out in front of her, never-ending and lit up by soft November sunshine.
She drew a deep sampling of air through her moist, black nose. A raw scent had drawn her here. She now separated that scent from all others — parting out the odor of fall leaves and cow shit; piecing away the burnt oil smell of the tractor a half mile to the east and the sour smell of the squirrel that was watching her from the oak tree.
The air that remained hinted at torn flesh and gunpowder.
She closed her eyes and her nose twitched rhythmically back and forth, focusing on each molecule as the breeze offered it up until she had narrowed the scent into two distinct smells — the musky, heavy odor of a buck deer and the lighter, neutral smell of the neighbor man, Sidney.
She opened her eyes and her gaze traveled across the road and down a narrow lane to where it led past a massive walnut tree and arrived at a small white house with a wrap around porch. Under the winter bare limbs of the tree she saw a man at the bed of a pickup truck move back and forth with steady determined motions. A chain-on-metal sound perked her ears as she watched him hoist the deer from the bed of the truck into the branches.
She stood up. Over there was forbidden. She looked back over her shoulder at her house — up to the window which looked out over the yard from the kitchen. There she saw Madeline watching her.
Madeline shot the black dog a look that left Bella no options. She laid down obediently at the edge of the driveway and rested her head on her paws with a sigh. Madeline looked back down into the sink of dishes and picked up a coffee cup. She ran a crocheted dish cloth over and inside the cup by feel as she looked back out the window just in time to see Sidney pulling his truck away from the deer, leaving it hanging in the tree.
As Sidney’s truck disappeared behind the house, his wife, Arlene, stepped through the front door with her little dog in her arms. “Damn thing never walks anywhere,” Madeline said aloud. Arlene placed the dog gently on its feet in the front yard. It was wearing a red sweater vest. Arlene looked up in the direction of Madeline.
Arlene could see the shape of Madeline through the window at her kitchen sink. Get a dishwasher, Arlene thought, they were invented in the fucking 50s! Why her neighbor even had dishes to do was an amazement. Madeline’s husband had drank himself into a stupor and drowned in his own pond over 15 years ago.
Not that you did much better, she thought. She looked back around at her house. Small, plain, and dull just like Sid. He didn’t make much money and she’d had more enlightening conversations with her hens. Plus he was a dead fuck — never could get her pregnant.
Arlene looked down at Chester. He was finishing his business and blinking up at her with his little brown eyes. “Hurry up,” she said to him. “It’s fucking cold.” The little pomeranian gave a long blink followed by a big squeeze of his hips. He then bounced to an upright position and kicked the ground with his hind feet until Arlene grabbed him, still kicking, and tucked him under her arm.
Inside the house, Sid was at the kitchen sink washing his hands. “Damn it, Sid, don’t wash that deer shit off in my kitchen sink. For craps sake that’s where we eat. Use the hydrant outside.”
The only thing Sid noticed as Arlene ranted was that her hair seemed to be redder than he remembered it being this morning when he’d rolled off the couch and walked by her on his way to the bathroom. Did she have it done today? He shook the water off his hands, reached for the towel hanging from the cabinet handle, stopped mid-motion, feeling her eyes on him, and grabbed instead for a paper towel to the left of the sink.
“It won’t happen again,” he said. It was a lie. It happened all the time. He was always washing up where he shouldn’t, not washing up where he should, using some towel that shouldn’t be used or not using some towel he was supposed to be using. “I put your chicken feed in the tub,” he said. “I picked it up after I got my deer. Did you see him? A nice buck for the freezer.”
“Didn’t you feed them?” Arlene said.
“Last time, I gave them too much, remember,” he said.
Sid opened the back door and stepped out onto the porch. The autumn air greeted him with a cool kiss and he smiled. He walked down the stairs and around the side of the house to admire his kill. The buck he’d taken this morning was really trophy worthy — not that Arlene would let him hang a deer mount in the house. A gentle whining noise at his side caught his attention and he looked down to see Bella.
“You’re not supposed to be here, Bella,” Sid said. She looked up at him and wagged her tail in the dirt.
As soon as she’d heard Madeline turn off the water and leave the kitchen, Bella had trotted across the road to investigate the deer. But, when she saw Sid, she’d gone to his side instead. He’d been known to let her slide on trespasses with a treat — usually a goody from his hunting or an egg from Arlene’s chickens.
“I can’t give you anything right now,” he said showing her his empty hands.
Bella tilted her head to the left.
“I’ll bet any minute she looks out the window and we’ll both be in trouble.” He motioned back across the road and Bella’s eyes followed his hand, but she didn’t move.
“I mean it, com’on,” he said and started walking toward her house.
She joined along, right at his knee. They were half way up the lane when, over the sound of Sid’s footfalls on the gravel and the rustle of the breeze through fallen leaves, Bella heard the click of her front door. “BELLA,” Madeline screamed.
“Told you,” Sid said.
She gazed guiltily back up at him before she faced forward and picked up a trot heading home.
“Damn it, dog,” Madeline said as the retriever folded herself into the ground at her feet, exposing her belly in apology. “Why can’t you just stay in our yard?” She reached down and rubbed the warm bare spot behind Bella’s rib cage. Inside the house, the phone rang.
Madeline ushered Bella through the open door and then grabbed the wall phone from its cradle. “Hello?”
“Your dog is in my yard again,” Arlene said.
“No she’s not, she’s right here.”
“She just got there then. Took a big shit over here. Sid stepped in it.”
“I don’t think it was Bella,” Madeline said. She walked to the kitchen window and looked out. Sid was walking down the lane toward home. She smiled.
“It was Bella,” Arlene said. “And if she comes back over here again I’ll call the law.”
Arlene pressed the off button of the cordless phone with as much venom as a pushed button would allow. She missed the old heavy phones that you could slam down with a point.
“Bitch,” she said and then smiled at to Chester. “Let’s go feed the chickies, shall we?”
Arlene stopped at the back door to put on her chore coat and then tucked Chester under her left arm and stepped through the door. To her left, she could see Sid’s deer swinging in the tree. She started down the steps and by the time she reached the bottom, Sid appeared around the corner of the house.
“Going to feed your chicks?” he said.
“Of course, what the hell else would I be doing outside in the fucking cold ass weather?”
Maybe leaving me for another man. Please, God, leave me for another man.
Sid watched her as she walked down the slight hill to the chicken house where he could hear the hens softly singing. At least her backside was still appealing, he thought. He walked to his truck and opened the driver’s side door. Here he folded up the jacket he’d worn while hunting and piled his ammo and a bottle of doe urine on top of it. He then reached into the back seat for his rifle.
Down the hill, the chicken coop door slammed open. “Damn it, Sidney you got the wrong chicken feed. Layena! For crapsake, all you have to remember is one word!”
Sid felt the rifle in his hands, ready, able — almost begging to be aimed and fired. One shot, it seemed to say to him. He lifted the gun and let the barrel point toward the chicken house, but he kept his gaze down, focused on the truck’s seat. If I look up, I’ll shoot her. But his thumb moved over to the safety and pushed at the small knob of metal it found there until it clicked. The rifle bucked in his hand and the sound of shattering glass filled the air.
The gunshot was loud and caused Bella to go from flat to on her feet in a heartbeat. She went to the door and scratched, hoping it would open. When it didn’t, she looked at Madeline who was cleaning the entryway.
“Really?” Madeline said to her. “It’s just hunters and they won’t share.”
Bella wagged her tail and let her mouth fall open just a little. Madeline walked toward her and pulled the door open. “Stay in the yard,” she said.
At the road, Bella hesitated, but the gunpowder and blood scent was too tempting. She loped across the road, down the lane and rounded the corner of the white house. There she saw Sidney standing at the rear of his truck, drumming the fingers of his left hand on the tailgate. He held his rifle with the butt supported on his right hip and his gaze was fixed down the hill toward the chicken house.
Bella slowed. The scent of blood was so overwhelming she could barely sort out the smells she associated with Sidney himself, the transmission leak under his truck, and the odor of Chester wearing his sweater. Sidney didn’t move when she came up beside him, so she sat down quietly at his feet. She then followed his gaze.
Arlene was there, lying flat on the ground with a spreading pond of blood surrounding her. Chester sat a few feet away, licking at his sweater. Bella looked up at Sidney and he stopped drumming his fingers on the tailgate.
“Well,” he said transferring his rifle to his left hand and reaching down to rub Bella behind the ears. “I guess that, is that.” He cocked his head to the left and looked back at Arlene.
Several minutes passed before Sidney walked around to the open door of the truck, where he put his rifle in the seat. Bella watched as he walked down to Arlene, picked up her feet and dragged her to the truck, where he wrestled her body into the bed.
Bella then followed him to the garden hydrant and watched as he hooked up the hose, turned on the water and sprayed at Arlene’s blood until it mixed with the earth and became indistinguishable from mud.
Sidney put up the hose, returned to the truck, closed the tailgate and got in the cab. Bella noticed a small trail of Arlene’s blood leak out through the closed tailgate and drip down the bumper, mixing with the dried blood of the buck. Beside her, Chester sat down and pulled at his sweater with his teeth. Sidney started the truck and drove out into the pasture past a group black heifers.
Bella waited, but when Sidney didn’t readily reappear, she went to the open chicken coop and helped herself to two eggs. Then she trotted home followed by Chester. Once on her porch, she laid down and curled herself in a circle. Chester curled up at her side.
Madeline heard a soft whimpering sound outside the screen door and when she went to see what was wrong with Bella, she found her curled up in her bed with Arlene’s ugly little dog. “Oh shit, there’s gonna be hell to pay now,” she said.
Madeline stepped through the door and started to pick up the little dog but hesitated when she saw he was covered in something brown and sticky. “Great, Bella, what the hell’d you do, roll him in the deer parts? I’ll have to pay his grooming bill.” She went back inside the house, grabbed an old towel and came back out. She wrapped him in the towel and started down the lane. Bella followed.
Sidney had just finished washing his hands in the kitchen sink and was drying them on the towel hanging from the kitchen cabinet when the doorbell rang. He took a moment to shed his hunting coveralls and toss them in the hamper. “Just a minute,” he shouted and hustled across the living room floor in his socks.
Through the window he could see it was Madeline. She looked so pretty in a dark green sweater that showed off her curvy breasts. He smiled until he saw, in the crook of her right arm, Chester wrapped in a towel.
“Oh no,” he said opening the door. “I hope he wasn’t over there bothering you.”
“Ah, no,” Madeline cocked her head. “I just figured Bella came over here and he followed her home.”
Sidney smiled at her. “As long as neither of them are hurt, it’s all good.”
“Except he’s covered in something nasty,” she said.
Sidney reached out for Chester, “Why yes he is,” he said examining the little dog. “I’ll give him a bath later.”
“Oh, she went to her sister’s for a visit,” he said. He’d rehearsed this as he’d dumped her body into the burn pile. First she was going to be gone to her sister’s, then to her cousin’s, then she was going to leave him. And that, was, well that. “You want to come in for a cup of coffee? It’s been a chilly morning.”
“Sure,” Madeline said. “Bella, stay.” She looked down into the retriever’s dark eyes.
“No,” Sid said. “Bring Bella, come in.” He swung the door wide to admit them both.