I was ten when my father killed the dog. We’d refer to it later as The Accident but, in the end, the dog was dead and my father was the one who’d killed it.
I sat in the front seat beside him that day, while he drove and sang along with the radio. The trees had just started their slow turn to fall, and the air was warm enough still to have the windows down. I stared at the white blonde hairs on my arm, golden against brown skin. Father squinted his eyes against the sun and the smoke from the Winston balanced on his lower lip. I watched it hang there with its impossible ash, bouncing as he sang, tilting upward and getting swallowed by his mouth as he inhaled. Just when it seemed doomed to drop into his lap and set the whole car on fire, he flicked it out the open window and lit another.
It was between the flicking and the lighting that I saw the dog run down the hill from the farmhouse toward the road. A giant yellow lab, big and beautiful and stupid, his legs moving faster than his brain, bounding across the gravel road in pursuit of nothing. I don’t know that the dog ever saw the car; I am certain my father never saw the dog. He hit the animal’s hind end, spinning him up and over the hood of the car and onto the side of the road, fast and heavy and without flair. He pulled the car off the shoulder and we sat in confusion and silence.
My father got out first, and slow-jogged to the animal’s side. I hung behind, trying to look without looking. The dog’s tongue pushed through his rattling teeth and he panted and whined as my father muttered, shit, shit, shit. The dog shifted his eyes to his back end, and I saw what he could not – a twisted mess of legs and tail, every bit of it going not at all the right way.
“Go back to the car,” Father spoke without turning.
He knelt for a long time with his back to the car, putting his hand gently here and there on the dog. I watched through the back window as he moved in so close that I thought he was hugging the animal. The muscles in his back bulged and tensed under his t-shirt and we both stopped breathing for a moment. Then he relaxed and raised himself from the pavement. He rubbed his face hard with both hands, and knelt again, this time rising with the dog cradled in his arms.
He walked up the long hill to the farmhouse. By the time he returned, I had fallen asleep in the sun, my face pressed into the seat back. He did not speak, but started the car and pulled back on to the road. Loretta Lynn was on the radio.