Larry rolled down the window, letting the scent of cow manure and fertilizer sift into his Ford truck. It was Friday and the Allman Brothers were on the radio, and he fantasized driving south to the hills. Instead, he was driving north to his younger brother’s farmhouse off Poden Run. He promised Mama that he would check on Campbell; it was the last place he wanted to go.
Larry spied the clump of fur at the side of the road about a quarter-mile from Campbell’s home. He slowed down to get a better look, hoping it was a deer but he instinctively knew it was Caruso, Campbell’s loyal but dumb black lab mix. He pulled over, put his flashers on and climbed out of the truck. The old boy lay on his left side, his back legs crushed and bloodied, eyes fixed. Larry covered his mouth, silencing a whimper.
His first thought was to get back in the truck and turn around, but he grabbed a blanket from the cab. He spread it out in the bed of his truck. Larry lifted Caruso off the graveled roadside, placing him on the blanket. He shivered, though the sun was shining and it was 80 degrees. It didn’t matter that the dog wasn’t his; he gave it to Campbell. He knew its friendly wag. And dead animals broke Larry. Women told him that he had a tender heart. He knew it to be true. Mama forgave him this; his father did not.
He pulled up the driveway and saw Campbell’s vintage Mustang up on the blocks and the rusting Escort parked in the grass. He decided to leave Caruso in the truck bed and break the news gently. The screen door flapped with the light breeze. Larry noted the decay settling on the planked porch floor, the empty Old Milwaukee cans, crushed and strewn on the porch and grass. This layer of crap was new.
He yelled through the screen door, “Campbell!”
He heard nothing but a mourning dove cooing on the telephone wire. Larry opened the door, walked through the front room, found Campbell passed out in the reclining chair, barefoot, shirtless, drooling.
“Hey,” Larry said. He grabbed Campbell’s left ankle. “Hey.”
Campbell opened his eyes and then closed them. He waved Larry off, saying, “I need to be alone, man.”
Larry sat down on the scratchy plaid couch he’d always hated. He sat on the edge and said, “I don’t know how to tell you this.”
Campbell opened one eye and looked at Larry. “Spit it out.”
“I found Caruso by the side of the road. He’s dead. I’m really sorry, buddy.” His throat was dry and the words felt like sandpaper.
“Oh, fuck. I left him there. Fuck,” Campbell said, pushing the hair out of his face.
“What do you mean you left him there?” Larry was confused.
“I hit him and I left him by the side of the fucking road.”
“Jesus, Campbell. He’s your dog.”
Campbell grabbed a cigarette. He lit it and slowly inhaled, watched the smoke stream up, forming a question mark as he exhaled. “I don’t know about that.”
Larry saw damage hiding in corners of the room. The bowling pin lamp knocked on its side. A shattered plate on a stack of newspapers. The curtains unraveling at the edges. “You’re drunk.”
“No shit. Leave me the fuck alone.”
Larry shook his head and turned to leave. He stopped at the door to say something. Campbell barked first. “Fuck off, Larry.”
Larry walked to his truck, looked at Caruso’s still, dark eyes, and tucked the blanket up to his neck like he was taking a nap.
He remembered Mama saying, “Some people are just born mean.” He had known then, at 10, that she was talking about Campbell. But she never took her brush to Campbell’s behind. It was as if she got all of her slapping and whipping out on Larry. By the time Campbell was born, she was slapped out.
He took the long way home, driving through town where the square’s lilacs were comforting. He heard bluegrass music playing, a dulcimer and banjo. The sun filled between the buildings, casting long rays that glinted off car bumpers. He cried.
He would bury Caruso in his back yard, digging near the grave of Pepper, Caruso’s older brother. What we give away returns to us, changed, Larry thought. He would give away Campbell; he would let go of this place.