What Marla remembers the most is the way the middle of the suitcase lurched upward as the kid slammed it atop the hood of her truck, the way the middle bulged so big at that moment that she thought the fabric of the thing would tear and send the horror within soaring. There was the thud of course, and the sound of the kid’s Chuck Taylors slapping against the pavement during the escape, but nothing was as vivid in Marla’s mind as the lurch, as the dog’s body, bound within the suitcase, bouncing into the air one last time.
This is the story she thinks of at the Legion while nursing a Gansett and listening to an ex-cop’s yarn about discovering a dead dog in the bed of a missing Pittsburgh kid some years back. The kid - a wealthy writing student at the local college - it turned out that he done the deed before skipping town.
“Two in the chest,” says the cop, “while pulling a B&E. His accomplice? Get this: it was his professor.”
“Get outta here,” says Marla with mock-enthusiasm.
“I am not shitting you,” says the cop. “It was all hushed up by the college, o’course. Probably why you never heard of it.”
“That,” says Marla, “or the fact that I ain’t never been to Pittsburgh.”
“Nah,” says the cop. “If that’d made the news, it’d be all over. National story, I’m telling you.” And then, after a healthy pull from his Coors, the cop adds, “Fucking academics.”
“Fucking A,” says Marla.
More than anything, Marla wishes she could forget. She wishes she could forget shit that doesn’t matter, like the name of the guitar-playing punk who sang about the United States of Whatever - Liam Lynch, she remembers, with a wrinkle of her forehead, a twinge in her temples - and she wishes she could forget about the shit that does. That did.
Back in the day, before she left the wilds of Maine for college in the big city, she owned this Australian shepherd, and there’s this picture of him she has to shake every time she gets called out to deal with some supposedly rabid stray that’s harassing the country clubbers up the hill. The picture is of she and her mutt by the fence of the family farm, the sows he was charged with wrangling blurry in the background, her arms around his neck. There is mud matted in his fur and caked on her windbreaker. A day later, he will run into traffic to chase down a runaway piglet and he will be crushed beneath the wheels of a Jeep Wrangler plowing down their country road. But now, in the picture, in her memory, he is alive and well. His tongue is loose, his one blue eye focused on the camera as he poses, his chest puffed out and proud. In her head, he never dies.
And she wishes he would.
Still, she keeps one dog around at all times. Two, if she’s fostering some mongrel she can’t bear to see put down. And now, as she stands on the lawn behind the Legion, staring across the pond at an empty beach in the twilight, trying to shake the cop’s story out of her head before it finds a dusty corner to call its own - even now there is a dog beside her. She doesn’t know its name - there’s no tag - and doesn’t know where it came from, but Marla, sucker for punishment, doesn’t shoo him off and tell him to go home. She lets him stay there beside her, lets his drooping belly imprint itself on her brain, lets her brain imagine where the scar on his left ear came from, whether he was overfed before the incident or only in the days since.
But she does better this time, better with the part that always makes her want to forget. She doesn’t let her mind wander to the natural conclusion, to nature’s conclusion for this poor pooch. Instead, she sends herself backward and sees a puppy chasing butterflies in a field…
…or a little girl who won’t ever want to forget.