My father had a pet bird. He kept it locked in a cage in the garage, and the bird was a real bastard. My father and I had turned it into a bastard as part of a project in “behavioral studies.” We raised it from the time it was a very small bird and we fed it sometimes and kept it in dark places and yelled at it a lot. Sometimes we put live electrical wires into its water dish. It was some kind of parrot, and once when it got out it hopped across the street – hopped because its wings were clipped – and pecked the eyes out of our neighbors’ new puppy. It was a cute puppy, a little black Lab, that was much less cute when it grew up to also be a real bastard. Blind dogs are like that, just mean.
Billy, the fat Ukrainian kid who lived next door and was given the puppy as a gift for his fourth birthday, finally killed the dog because it couldn’t catch. All it could do really was bite him on the leg, and then Billy would have to get shots. Coming home from the hospital after one such incident I think he’d had enough.
I watched him then, from my room in the attic across the street. He didn’t know I was watching and it was dusk, our street slightly out of focus in blue light, and I had my BB gun with me just in case. After his parents went inside Billy stood in the driveway and rubbed his left butt cheek, which was probably sore from getting shots. He looked over at our house, focusing on the garage where the bird lived, and he scowled. He did not look at the attic window. He kicked a few stones and I guess the dog heard this because it came out from behind the house and bit him on the leg. He didn’t yell or scream or even jump really, just slowly turned his eyes from our house to the dog. The dog let go of Billy’s leg and stood there, tongue wagging for a few seconds before Billy kicked it in the head and stunned it long enough for him to go over to his own garage and get a shovel. The dog had sunken drums of flesh where its eyes used to be and it didn’t flinch in the moments before Billy cracked its skull with the shovel. It did whimper though, crumpling on the gravel driveway, and Billy put his foot on its neck and drove the sharp end of the shovel into its sunken eye cavity.
Years later while stationed in Okinawa, Billy stopped on the street to assess his appearance in the brightly polished mirror of a Hello Kitty store. He had long ago lost the baby fat that inspired him to join the military in the first place, but beneath the legs of his GI trousers he carried the scars of numerous dog bites.
“I am feeling good about you.” He said to himself in the mirror. He put a heavy emphasis on “you,” said it just the way it was on the tapes he received every month from his friends at the Conclave of Light. They were nice people, his friends, and he felt good about sending them ten percent of his meager serviceman’s pay. They were after all helping him to become a more meaningful person.
He said it again, “I am feeling good about you,” and this time the woman who stood by the door in a pink plastic jumpsuit patterned with smiling-head blue kittens, nodded and smiled at him. Billy scowled at her, instinctively looking at his legs and taking a step back. She probably didn’t understand a word he said, probably deaf or stupid, the inside of her brain a perpetual filmstrip loop of Triumph of the Will with every swastika a pastel flower and every goose-stepping soldier a squat kitten grinning with oversized heads.
“Hello Kitty.” She said. She smiled. She curtsied.
He told her that he was feeling good about others and that his thoughtfulness and genuine interest in others was what made him truly attractive. When he was done talking he smiled and for the first time in his months on this island he felt happy, truly happy about his appearance, he felt the whiteness of his teeth beaming out a Ukrainian purity and goodness.
She cleared her throat, bowed her head slowly, then looking him in the eye she said, “I invent creative solutions to the challenges in my life.” And then she smiled and her beauty helped him grow wise and strong.
“You are a goddess and I love you.” Billy said, emphasizing “you” out of habit, and drawing her to him, crinkling her kitty vinyl against his body and she sighed the most delighted sigh and he thought she practically purred when he ran his tongue along the molten plastic seam that drew a line across her shoulder. For a moment he forgot about the scars that dotted his calves and dreamed of taking her away with him. She giggled, and he knew, and she knew also that this go could on for years.
Nathaniel Minton‘s stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, ZYZZYVA, Five Chapters and elsewhere. He lives in rural Maine.