…..The dog barks all night. The dog still barks at dawn, noise echoing off blue mountains. They step into the gray light, stare across the valley from the stone porch.
…..“Those people must be jerkoffs,” the girl says. Dan looks down at his sister, wonders where she picked that up.
…..“Don’t say that.”
…..“Why?” Allie says.
…..“Doesn’t mean what you think it means.”
…..“Means they should let their dog in because it’s cold.”
…..And look at her go, walking down the gravel driveway. She has on her purple ballerina shoes, glitter’d. He sits down on the swing, crosses his arms not to shiver. He doesn’t want to chop the firewood yet. After breakfast.
…..They are supposed to decide, which of them is going to go and live with Dad, in the desert, in binocular view of palm trees in the distance, where there is no snow and where there is no Mom.
…..And which of them is going to stay here, where there is no Dad, and the piano is untuned but the three of them sometimes sing songs from The Muppets, out of tune also.
…..The dog has begun to lose its voice. And the snow out the window is not white; it is blue.
…..“I’m gonna set her free!” Allie sings, charging out the door.
…..She gets smaller and smaller. Now just a figurine in the distance, running the rest of the way down the gravel road. He takes out a rolled cigarette from Dad’s abandoned army coat and is discouraged by life when he realizes it’s just a cigarette and not a joint.
…..Allie opens the front gate and walks up the steps. Last year’s Christmas wreath, brown needles. The dog barks even more viscously, tearing at the backyard chainlink. No one answers the door.
…..Dan watches his sister leap off the steps like a skier doing a long jump. Watches her trot towards the driveway again. But at the last second, she pivots; she opens the gate.
…..The dog sprints out, runs circles around her as she laughs.
…..His name is Don Corleone. He still has his nuts. His breed is indecipherable. He eats the pillows on the couch. He knocks the aquarium over, but the fish have all died long ago, water drained. Allie screams at Don Corleone running through the broken glass but no one gets hurt. Don Corleone can even run over broken glass it seems. They know to call him Don Corleone because he has Don Corleone tattooed on his belly. A real rough job too.
…..Dan says, “You shouldn’t have stolen this dog.”
…..“No one cares about him.”
…..“They cared enough to tattoo him.”
…..“That means they don’t care.”
…..“Lots of ways of looking at it.”
…..Dan tosses logs into the fireplace and Don Corleone tries to catch the sparks as they float, eyes manic, jaws snapping.
…..Allie yells from Mom’s room, “Found out why they call him that. It’s a gangster!”
…..“How do you know?”
…..“Get off the computer.”
…..“And, hahaha, you were right about ‘jerk off’!”
…..“GET OFF THE COMPUTER!”
…..Dan plays his guitar in his room all day. Allie dances on the couch, bounds throughout the living room, sprints up and down the hallway. The dog chases.
…..It’s how she used to play with Sarah when Dad lived there with Sarah too.
…..For a minute, while Allie is in the bathroom, Don Corleone claws at Dan’s door while he strums the guitar. He can’t decide if he wants to let the dog in. When the dog starts to howl along with the guitar, Dan opens the door by stretching his foot and rotating the door knob with an outstretched socked toe.
…..Mom comes home at 3 o’clock in the morning. Don Corleone runs out of the shadows and gives her a heart attack. She slams on the floor. He jumps on her. He licks her glasses off. He smells her hair. She screams. The children leap out of bed.
…..“Dad gave us the dog!”
…..“Yes! Dad gave us the dog!”
…..“USPS special delivery! We swear!”
…..“My birthday present!”
…..“Put down the hot poker!”
…..Mom plops in a chair in the dining room, pops the wine bottle. Smiles in defeat.
…..The red pickup truck is in the driveway down the valley. A man in a white baseball cap is on his front porch, whistling.
…..Allie pets Don Corleone’s head.
…..She says, “I don’t like your name; I’ll call you something different.”
…..She doesn’t say what.
…..The man whistles again. The dog puts his head down on her purple shoe.
…..The next day Dan sees a flyer for the lost dog at the music store. There’s another one at his elementary school. Allie cries when she sees the flyer stapled to the telephone pole at her bus stop.
…..“Why are you crying?” Lisa asks.
…..“I’m not,” she says, ripping the flyer down, stuffing it into her lunch box.
…..It snows like the end of the world. Mom calls and the factory is loud behind her. “I’m sleeping here,” she says. “You’ll be okay till morning?”
…..“Got the firewood in before it started.”
…..“And you have the soup in the fridge. Make your sister eat a handful of broccoli. I don’t care if you have to threaten to cut her hair off while she sleeps. Just make her eat it.”
…..Allie is on the floor, drawing in a notebook.
…..“What are you making?”
…..“Blueprints for Don Corleone.”
…..“What’s that mean?”
…..“One of those obstacle courses. Fire rings for him to jump through. A sled to slide down. A pool that he can jump into, soaring, catch a Frisbee.”
…..“That won’t work, Allie,” Dan says.
…..“Of course it will.”
…..“The neighbor will see his dog and come back for him. The guy in the white hat. The whistler.”
…..“I’m not stupid,” she says. “I’ll have to build this at Daddy’s. I’ll have to go there and live. Only way.”
…..She keeps drawing.
…..“You’ll have to share a room with Sarah again.”
…..“I don’t care.”
…..“Maybe I do.”
…..Dan pours equal amounts of soup into the bowls, bumps the microwave open with his sharp elbow.
…..They are laying on the couch, trying to stay warm by the fire. The TV won’t work now. A board game is on the floor. Sorry. Pieces missing. They might play; they might not. First they’d have to search the house for alternative things to use as pieces: Mom’s lipstick, Dad’s forgotten cufflinks kept on Mom’s dresser, dryer link rolled into a ball, kept together with a rubber band, the spire from the castle out of the smashed aquarium.
…..“I don’t think you’d be happy living with Dad,” Dan says.
…..“I’m going to make a saddle for Don Corleone and ride through the base, chasing unlucky little desert animals.”
…..That was the other thing: Dad lived on a military base.
…..“Do you think they’ll make me join the war?” she says.
…..“You’re already in it.”
…..The boy looks across the room at the piano and wonders how many fire crackers it would take to make the entire thing burst apart in one final flash.
…..There’s a knock on the door.
…..The dog starts to bark. They both jump. He hasn’t barked in days.
…..The door is not locked.
…..The door opens.
…..It’s the man in the white baseball cap. His face is red.
…..He is coming into the house.
…..There’s his shoes and there’s his body.
…..The dog’s teeth are flashing in a whirlwind.
…..An arm comes down to strike.
…..They spill out onto the porch, propelled out of the house, into the ice storm.
…..His head strikes the bottom step.
…..His body is suddenly limp.
…..The dog drags his body across the gravel.
…..The children watch at the window for ten or twenty heartbeats, finalizing their decision.
Bud Smith is the author of the novels, F 250, Tollbooth, and I’m From Electric Peak. His writing has been at The Rumpus, Word Riot, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Spork, Big Lucks. He works heavy construction in NJ, and lives in NYC. Find him at www.budsmithwrites.com.