Every Friday night we feature a short story, essay, personal narrative,
poem, spoken word, or short film for your enjoyment.
Helen Presents: a poem from Tim Tomlinson
The boy could never forget how his German shepherd Wolf loved the woods, and he often went for walks in the woods alone, remembering those times that he’d let Wolf get ahead of him, way way ahead of him. And when he thought Wolf was far enough ahead, and completely engrossed in tracking down some scent, the boy would ditch into a thicket to hide, sometimes he’d climb a tree. And Wolf would come galloping back, frantic, whimpering, sniffing, barking, searching the terrain. And then, on finding the boy, he’d wriggle from neck to tail and cover the boy’s face with licks as if he hadn’t seen him in weeks. And the walks would resume, at first with caution, with Wolf only steps ahead, checking back frequently, more concerned with the boy behind him than he was with the smorgasbord of opportunities ahead. Until, little by little, the scents pulled him farther away, step by step, yard by yard, and once again the boy would spot the chance to trick the dog, which he did, and the separations and reunions would repeat, over and over, all day long, day after day, with licks and laughter and love.
But one day Wolf pulled away for good. He bit his third paperboy, on the property, in the driveway. Knocked him down, got his mouth around the paperboy’s waist, from belly button to spine. The boy’s father saw it all. “He could have bit that kid in two,” his father said. The neighbors lined the street, glowering, their arms folded at their chests. There was no other choice, the boy’s father explained. They’d have to get rid of the dog. “To a good place,” his father promised. But his decision was final. “Tell him goodbye tonight,” his father said. “Tomorrow he goes.”
Both the boy and his father cried when Wolf hopped up on the passenger seat. The boy’s father backed out the driveway, and the boy chased them down the block, past the glaring neighbors, and all the way out to the turn on to 25A. Wolf barked, but the boy couldn’t hear him. His wet black nose streaked the rear window.
In the early months of Wolf’s exile, the boy took some comfort in picturing the dog gallivanting across fields, leaping fences, chasing down rodents. He was placed, his father promised the boy, with a farmer who owned acres and acres of rolling hills and dense forest with winding trails you could get lost on. It was somewhere out near Yaphank, and he convinced the boy that the dog was happy, maybe even happier with all that land, all those woods. It helped the boy some, but he still felt lonely. He couldn’t get the dog out of his head. He felt the dog’s absence in his chest and stomach, like a great gaping hole, and he found it hard to do homework, to play ball, to do anything much but walk the old walks, climb a tree, maybe whistle, maybe call the dog’s name.
One day a Suffolk County Police patrol car pulled to a stop alongside the boy. He was on his bicycle near a pond in Yaphank.
The officer rolled down his window.
“Shouldn’t you be in school?” the officer asked.
The boy said he was looking for a farm.
“A farm?” the officer said.
The boy waited in the back of the patrol car—the officer parked in the lot outside the Yaphank General Post Office—until his mother came to pick him up. The officer set the bicycle carefully in the trunk of the mother’s car. He secured the trunk with a bungee cord.
Another time, the boy searched the opposite direction, away from the pond. Nothing he passed looked like the farm his father had described, with rolling hills and dense forests. Everything was flat, just sod and potato fields for miles and miles. The boy pedaled so far from the pond that it got dark and he couldn’t figure out which way was home. At a diner, a cashier name Rose allowed him to use the telephone. This time his father came.
“You gotta knock this off,” his father told him, “do you understand?”
The boy told him that he did.
And he did, kind of. He understood, or at least he believed, that his father had lied to him. He understood that Wolf wasn’t at some farm in Yaphank—he wasn’t at any farm, anywhere. There weren’t any rolling hills, there was no dense forest. He couldn’t bring himself to ask where the dog really was, or if he was even alive. On the drive home he closed his eyes and pictured those times Wolf would find him hiding in thickets or up trees, and how every cell of the dog, from snout to tail, would shiver with delight. He didn’t know how he’d be able to live long without that.
Trouble started to come easy to the boy. He became known for it, it was expected from him. He cut school and got picked up for truancy. He drank Schaefer beer and got picked up for drunk and disorderly. Once he was caught for vandalizing a model home—a fine with probation. Once he got picked up for resins in a pipe. He was charged with possession, and beat the charge on a technicality that embarrassed the police. They came after him all the more. He got picked up for hitchhiking, for violating probation, for loitering with intent. The court drew up a PINS petition—“Person In Need of Supervision”—he saw counselors and probation officers, men and women, in uniform and out.
“What is bugging you?” they kept asking him.
“I don’t know,” the boy shrugged. “Stupid questions?”
He heard about a pharmacy in a strip mall in Centereach. In back, the slanted doors of a basement entrance led like a ramp to an unbarred window. The pharmacy had been hit a half-dozen times—quaaludes, seconals, codeine, demorol, you name it. Kids in school spent hours with their heads on the desk, their shoulders slumped against hall lockers. The boy slipped out the backyard to 25A and stuck out his thumb.
Across the street from the pharmacy was a stand-alone 7-11. The boy went in and got a Yoo-Hoo and a package of Old Gold. He pretended to make a call at a pay phone outside and kept his eye on the strip mall.
The pharmacy was on the corner. The security lights on its walls were broken. There was no light in the back that the boy could see.
A lit cigarette is like a veil. The boy fired up and crossed the turnpike. He slid in the shadows along the pharmacy wall. He took three steps up the basement entrance doors and stood at the window. He stretched an X of masking tape corner to corner across the glass panel, and put his elbow through the glass. He felt around for the lock, released it, and the window popped up an inch. He opened it halfway, muscled up, and slid in.
He had a chisel in his back pocket. He used that to pop open the door that led to the drugs. As he riffled through packages, boxes, and bottles, he heard the growling.
Around the corner slid a monster of a dog, coarse-haired and rib skinny but tall as a greyhound with a snout full of bared teeth.
“No,” the boy shouted. He threw whatever he could get his hands on—vials, bags, boxes—but the dog kept coming. And just when the dog was about to leap, the boy said, “Wait—Wolf, is that you?”
And the dog skidded across the tiles.
“Wolfie?” the boy repeated.
The dog tilted his head, he stretched his snout forward cautiously and sniffed at the boy’s jeans, and then he let out a yowl. He rolled on his back, paws in the air, then sprang up. He shouldered into the boy’s knees, wriggled from snout to tail, then reached up for the boy’s face, licking and whimpering the whole time.
The boy dropped to the floor. He took Wolf’s neck in his hands.
“Oh my god, Wolfie, what have they done to you?” he said, running his hand over the dog’s ribs, and his coat, which was thinned and greasy. He felt where patches of fur had worn off the dog’s hips and elbows—the dog had been sleeping on concrete or gravel. The boy felt sores and calluses on the exposed skin. And the dog was starvation thin, the kind of thin that keeps a dog mean.
“I’m taking you out of here,” the boy said.
The dog wore a choke chain collar. The boy reached for a loop, when a light appeared in the hallway.
“Wolf,” the boy shouted, “stay.”
But Wolf had already spun, and now he was off, charging the intruder.
The intruder was an auxiliary cop from the Kraughto Guard Agency. His pistol was drawn. It flashed twice.
Tim Tomlinson is a co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. His chapbook Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse, appears October 2015 (Finishing Line Press). Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire, a full-length poetry collection, appears in 2016 (Winter Goose). Recent work appears in Barnstorm Literary Journal, Caribbean Vistas, Esquire (Philippines), Tomas (Philippines), United Verses (China) and the anthologies Long Island Noir (Akashic Books), Fast Food Fiction (Anvil Publishing, Philippines). He teaches in New York University’s Global Liberal Studies.