I’ve taken a bit of a break from Beelzebub and Lucifer, but I hope to get back to it soon. In the meantime, here’s a piece I submitted somewhere and got the accustomed rejection.
When A Pet Dies
“What should we do with the body?”
“I don’t know. It’s too big to flush down the toilet. Remember when we flushed my goldfish when I was a kid? The mouse, too.”
“You flushed the mouse down the toilet?”
“Sure. It was a little guy …”
“Do you remember what you named the fish?”
“Wow, that’s some creative shit, right there. What did you name the mouse? I forgot.”
“Even more creative.” Bob, my brother, shook his head. “You never were the smartest one in the bunch.”
“So what.” I looked down at GP’s corpse. “You got the creativity. You can paint and write and have that damn voice of yours. But I got the athletic talent, the physical prowess … I mean, you couldn’t even hit one of those bowls with a ping pong ball let alone actually get the ball inside one.”
“Woohoo. Sparky has talent because he got a goldfish at the county fair.”
“It’s not just that, you know. You never made it out of right field when we played baseball, or got off the bench in football.” I took my eyes of the dead animal and glanced at Bob. “Besides, what’s all that creativity got for you. You work at Chili’s, for christsake.”
“You just wait.” Bob started to wrap GP in a stained dish towel. “I’m gonna try out for American Idol next year and write a book about it. You’ll see!”
“Sure you are.” I laughed, hoping that Bob would laugh with me. “Just like I’m going to be playing first base for the Cubbies next year. Maybe you can write a book about that.”
He didn’t laugh. “Whatever.” GP was fully wrapped in the towel. “So what are we going to do?”
“We can bury it.”
“Where? There’s no backyard here. We live in a frickin’ apartment. Haven’t you noticed there’s nothing but concrete.”
“Mom and Dad’s?”
“No way. I’m not going over there.” Bob shook his head. “Have you forgotten what happened the last time we were there?”
“No. I haven’t. But maybe it’s time.”
“Nope. Not gonna happen. Dad gets drunk, he yells at me, makes me feel worthless, calls me a pansy and you and Mom just sit there. You want to go and bury your god-damn guinea pig, you go right ahead.”
“Well, hell, if you’re not going, I’m not either.”
We stood quietly looking at GP, yes, my guinea pig named GP. Bob wasn’t wrong about my lack of creativity. But then, you don’t need creativity to be able to hit a curve ball or to make a three-point shot. You just need to block everything out of your head and focus on a single spot. That’s what I’d been doing for years.
“Hey, I know,” Bob said. “Don’t they consider guinea pig a delicacy in Bolivia?”
“I think that’s Peru.”
“Nope. It’s Bolivia. I’m sure of it.”
“It’s Peru. Or Argentina. But it’s not Bolivia.” I thought for a second. “I remember this … uh … Bolivia … they’re all about llama jerky.”
“Llama jerky? You mean like beef jerky, but with llama?”
“Yep. Llamas, not guinea pigs.”
“Huh. Llama jerky. I’ll be damned.”
We stood quietly some more, pondering the mystery of what to do with a dead guinea pig. “What were you going to do?” I finally asked. “Send it to some poor family in Bolivia for their Sunday meal?”
A dark look passed over Bob’s face. “Nah. What do you think I am? An idiot?”
“No. I wasn’t thinking we could send it to Bolivia.” He paused for a second, tried to smile, but failed, choosing to shrug instead. “I was thinking we could look up a recipe for guinea pig and see if it’s any good.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” I picked up GP and took a step back. “Let me repeat myself – what the hell?!”
“It was a joke, Sparky, just a joke.” Bob sat down at the kitchen table we had been standing around. “Relax a bit. That’s one of your problems. You’re too serious.”
“You just suggested eating my guinea pig, and I’m the one with the problem?”
“Fine. I’m sorry. I am really sorry that I made a tasteless joke.” He held his hands out and dipped his head to me. “Now, sit down.”
I did. “What are we going to do?” I asked.
“There’s the dumpster out back.”
“True.” He had a point. The dumpster was probably the only option, but it hardly seemed dignified at all. Goldie got a burial at sea. Sort of. When our dog died, Dad in between drinking jags, dug a hole and we buried Speckles under the peach tree. We always said things when we buried our pets. “But I can’t see just throwing GP into the dumpster. We need to say something, don’t we?”
“What, some kind of ‘dearly departed’ prayer or something?” Now he did laugh. “You’re not exactly the religious type, you know.”
“Hold on a sec,” Bob said, interrupting me. “It’s a god-damn guinea pig, Sparky. A … guinea … pig. Come on, just find a shoe box, tape it shut, and let’s go throw it in the dumpster.”
He had a point. Maybe I was just tired. “Okay. Let’s do it,” I said as tears started to well up. I sniffed.
“You’re not crying, are you?”
“Just a bit.”
“My God, crying over …”
“Stop it, would you. Can you just let me this one time feel what I’m feeling and not knock me for it? Just this once? Can you do that?”
“Fine.” Bob remained quiet while I wiped my eyes and took a couple of deep breaths. “You ready?”
Bob went into his bedroom and came back with the required shoe box. Nike, of course. I gently placed GP into the box and put the lid on. Bob wrapped tape around it a few times to make sure it stayed closed and off we went.
It was when we turned the corner of our apartment building and I saw the dumpster when I realized I couldn’t do it. “Bob?” I stopped walking. He took a couple more steps before turning back to me.
“I can’t … I can’t throw him into a dumpster.” I pointed at the rusting piece of metal with piles of garbage spilling out. “I mean … look at it. I’m not going to just toss GP in there and walk away.” I turned around and started walking back to our apartment. “No, I’m not.”
“Sparky. Come on.” Bob got ahead of me and turned around, holding his hands out to stop my forward movement. “It’s just a guinea pig.”
“To you.” I brushed past him and kept going.
“What are you going to do then?”
“Mom and Dad’s.”
“You don’t need to come with me.” I looked back at Bob as I started to climb the stairs to our apartment. “Dad might call you a pansy again.”
“Whatever. Do what you want.”
In the apartment, I grabbed my car keys. Bob joined me as I walked to my car. Once inside, I handed him the shoe box. We sat quietly on the drive to our parents’ home. The place we grew up. Where things happened. Where sometimes the sun shone and other times it was a dark, dark place. We could only wonder what we would find when we got there.
When I pulled up in front of their house, Bob broke the silence. “How long has it been?”
I thought about it. I remembered being there for Mom’s 60th birthday. It was a hot June day. But I couldn’t think of any time since then that we had seen our parents. “I don’t know. A couple of years maybe?”
“Yeah. I think you’re right.” We sat in the car for a moment. “You ever call them? Either one?”
“I talk to Mom every now and then. You?”
Bob heaved a sigh and opened his door. “Let’s go. Let’s get this done. Bury your damn guinea pig and get a beer.”
“Sure. If that’s what it takes to get this over with.”
We walked to their front door. Bob knocked. Mom opened the door. Her eyes lit up. “Boys!!”
“Hey Mom,” we said simultaneously.
“Come in, come in.”
It was hard not to feel the infectious quality of our mother’s happiness that we were there. Maybe this was going to be okay. “Dad around?” I asked as we entered our childhood home.
“Oh. I’m sure he’s around somewhere. Don’t know where.” She giggled quietly, averted her eyes from us, and ushered us into the family room. “It’s been so long. I’m so happy to see both of you. My boys.”
Inside, nothing had changed. Mom had the family room furniture in the summer layout, with nothing blocking the sliding glass door to the backyard. The kitchen was spotless. There was a puzzle at one end of the dining room table.
“What’s in the box?” Mom asked.
“His guinea pig, Mom,” Bob said. “It’s dead. We came here to bury it.”
“Oh my.” Mom put her hand to her mouth. “Are you okay?”
Before I could reply, Bob did. “Of course he is. It’s a damn guinea pig.”
“Shut up,” I said through gritted teeth. “Just shut up.”
Bob sighed. “Whatever,” he mumbled before starting to walk towards the sliding glass door. “We thought he could bury it in the back where Speckles is.”
“Well, sure.” Mom started walking towards the door to the garage. “I’ll get you boys a shovel.” She stopped and turned back to us. “Will you stay for dinner?”
“Of course,” I replied, looking at Bob who had turned to me, quietly shaking his head back and forth. “Right, Bob?” He shook his head one last time and resumed his walk towards the backyard and the shady corner under the tree where our childhood dog was resting in peace.
I followed behind Bob, with the box held in front of me. When Bob opened the sliding glass door and walked through, I heard him grunt, saw him slow to a stop. “Hey, Pops,” he said through what sounded to me like a clenched jaw.
“Hey, Dad,” I said.
“Well, isn’t this a nice surprise?” Dad got up from his lounger, stumbled for a moment before righting himself. Behind him, I could see the small accumulation of beer cans on the table he kept next to the chair, along with a cheap paperback and a pack of cigarettes. Before he continued, he belched for good measure. “To what do I owe this pleasure? My boys paying a visit after, what, how long has it been?” He yawned, scratched his growing belly, and picked up a beer. “Cheers,” he said as he brought it to his mouth and guzzled from it.
He was like a pig at a trough. Slurping and burping, and generally not caring about anything other than what was in his trough. Beer. Glorious, wonderful beer. It was pretty much how he’d gone through his entire life, or at least the part I was aware of. His wife was his slop-tender, pushed out of the way as soon as food was on his plate, or beer was put in front of him. From what I heard, it was the same way where he worked. Just a ravenous glutton unaware of others.
“Cheers,” I said. “Ummm … my guinea pig died. We were going to bury him back in the corner. Under the tree.”
“Well, isn’t that just too damn cute?” He turned to Bob then, looked him up and down. “And you, you’re along for the ride on this one? Of course, you are. You’re still soft, aintcha.”
“I knew we shouldn’t have come here,” Bob said.
“Dad, knock it off,” I said to him. “Bob didn’t want to do this. It was my idea. I couldn’t throw GP into the dumpster. You wanna call somebody soft, talk to me. I’m the soft one.”
He looked back and forth between us, took another gulp out of his beer. “Hell, what did I ever do to deserve two weak-ass sons? You played sports. I took you to games. I taught you how to be men. And look at you now. Burying your stupid little guinea pig and your big brother is here, too. What are you, Bob, his support system? Hell.”
Bob started walking towards our father. The look on his face told me that he intended on showing our dear old dad. I stepped between the two of them, placing the box that held GP on the table we used to eat at for summer barbecues. “Stop.” I placed my hands on Bob’s chest and gently pushed him. “Stop,” I repeated.
He didn’t. He pushed into me. His eyes unfocused. His mouth clenched.
“Stop,” I said again. Louder. And I pushed him back harder. “Bob. Go inside with Mom.” I realized then that Mom had never come out with the shovel. I had a feeling I knew why. She knew that nothing good would come of this and decided to hide herself away. If she didn’t see it. If she didn’t hear it. Maybe it never happened.
“Screw it,” Bob spat at me. “I’m gone. This was a stupid idea. We should have never come here.”
Bob walked back through the sliding glass door with me in close pursuit. “Bob, come on. Let’s just get this done. Ignore him. Can’t you do that?”
“Nope. Not gonna happen. I’m outta here.”
What could I do? He was my ride home. I followed him out to the car. It was only when we were out of the neighborhood and halfway to our apartment that I realized something. “Dammit. I left GP there.”
“Too bad. So Sad.”