Song of the Rails - Excerpt

  

           Chapter 1

1985

I knew my marriage was over the night Samuel killed Skip. Strange how he loved that dog,with an affection that I never saw directed toward me or the children. It was abnormal, as if everything lacking in his life was embodied in the animal. Skip went everywhere with him, to the construction site where he checked on the progress of a structure his company was building, to the liquor store where the dog sat proudly guarding the car for his master, and at the side of the bed where Samuel slept. My husband’s hand would reach down during the night to stroke the dog, as he had once caressed me. Those days were a distant memory now, as if they had happened to someone else in a different time and place.

That fateful night Samuel began his nightly ritual of drinking himself into a stupor. Black clouds roiled on the horizon. A sharp wind had picked up, gradually growing stronger, bending young trees in its wake, howling an almost unearthly sound. Was it a portent of disaster? Deep inside I knew something was going to happen that night, something that would change my life forever. I sat on the sofa, wrapped in an afghan, shivering, trying to read, jumping at every crack of thunder, mesmerized by every streak of lightning—waiting.  For what?  I didn’t know, only that it would come.

"I'm gonna get more beer," Samuel said, whether to Skip, or to me, or to himself. I didn’t know. I looked up from my book wanting to hold him back, but something stopped me. Perhaps I secretly hoped he wouldn't return. That thought had crept into my mind more and more frequently of late. I watched him grab a leather jacket and cap and disappear out the door.

Skip raised his head from between his paws, saw his master leaving, and bounded after him slipping his body through the closing door. I heard the garage door open, the truck door slam¾like a warning in the approaching storm. I walked to the window my steps dragging, one after the other, as if I didn’t want to reach the glass. Skip stood in the driveway, whining, his ears flat against his shaggy head. I wanted to call out, to warn him, but it was too late.

The truck shot out of the garage. I felt the thud as if it were my own body under the wheels. Samuel stopped, got out, and stared down at the animal, its body twitching in the last moments of life. The wind almost knocked him off balance. I saw him lift the dog’s head in his arms, stroke the matted fur, lay his ear against the animal's chest. Then I heard an unearthly cry, like the primal scream of some prehistoric being. I would never forget that sound.

Samuel gently picked up the dog and carried him into the house. Without a word he laid him on the counter in the laundry room and began washing and grooming him, like an undertaker preparing a body for burial. I knew better than to intrude. I was an outsider in this ritual. I stood watching for a long time, then turned and walked away. Samuel never even saw me.

Later that night I lay in bed waiting, I didn't know for what. The storm still raged; rain and howling wind beat against the windows. I heard the truck start, the engine gain momentum, then a sickening thwack. The engine again, this time in reverse, then the forward momentum, and again the pounding. With each boom I felt our relationship sinking deeper and deeper into oblivion.

Return to Song of the Rails