I have a new series of short stories going our to the wide world soon. Most are longer that postable, but here’s one that fits pretty good:
He bought a one way ticket
On an airplane made of snow
Out Of Rehab. Again. He opened the trunk to get his duffel of a thousand patches out. He’d sold his house and most everything in it for Happy Harry. His and Lili’s house, with little Po. Now he’d live here at Pete’s or under a bridge. With the other cracked up Nam vets. He’d flown secret Air Force missions in Laos while she went to Saigon’s medical facilities. He’d got wasted every day. She worked her ass off to be a real doctor. Did it, too.
Pong realized he stared at Lili’s patch from Afghanistan, the official one from the Hagibi Hospital where she worked putting people’s faces back together. Where she adopted that kid. She used to work there. He yanked on the strap and dragged it to his brother’s front door.
“I got the tea straight from Singapore. Great isn’t it” Pete topped off Pong’s mug. The kitchen table was supposed to be a cozy, comforting family place to ease anxieties. Crap.
“Yeah, great.” Pete had set him up in the rec room, too much room. Pong had nearly collapsed to see a new drawing table, paints, markers and a stack of poster boards. Not anymore, not without Lili. He remembered being in a little boat in Singapore, with Lili.
Po burst into the front door singing out “I’m home!” The kid stopped cold when he saw Pong. “Hi Pong.”
“Hey kid. What did you learn in school today?” He felt Lili smile, he’d asked about school like she wanted him to. God forbid if the kid wanted a hug – that was Lili’s job.
In a much subdued tone, Po said, “I have to do a report on a pet. But I don’t have a pet.”
Pong blinked. The kid stood like at the choir in church. At least the one time Pong had attended church with Lili. He’d seen the kid trail up to stand on the stage with a dozen other kids and belt out some hymn. He remembered the grand days where he and his brother had belted out harmonies at some of the big shows. Jimi Hendrix got top billing but there were instant venues all throughout the milling crowds. He’d met Lili at the Pixly Farm show, where it rained the whole time. They let her sleep in their tent.
Pete was staring at him. “What?”
Pete patiently said, “I told Po that we could go to the Dog Pound and get a pet.”
Pong saw Po’s eyes dart from his nominal daddy to his own mug of tea. He’d had missed the kid sitting down. Annoyed, he blurted, “You could make up a pet.”
Po took a deep breath. “I read that the Dog Pound mostly kills the big dogs and the black cats.” His eyes lifted toward Pete. “If you don’t want a big dog maybe we could get a black kitten.”
The hope in the boy’s plea would have broken Pong’s heart if the still had one. Apparently, he’d lost his adopted son as well as his wife. He sipped his tea and remembered how he and Lili talked about getting a dog right before her Guard unit dragged her to Afghanistan. She laughed and told him to get a watchdog ’cause she wouldn’t be there to protect him.
A jacket thrust into his face made him jump. Automatically standing to put his jacket on, he asked, “Where to?”
“You stay in outer space most of the time, dude. The Dog Pound. That’s what we’ve been jawing about, right? They close at five so we’d best be movin’ along.”
In the back seat Pong vividly recalled his favorite poster, ‘Movin’ Along!’, the one he’d got prints made of and people came up to get their copies autographed. The cool air in his face via the opened door clued him they’d arrived.
At the counter Po explained that they needed to see the process from the end to the beginning. The woman in charge frowned, saying the public was not allowed in the euthanasia area. Struggling to pay attention, Pong asked, “Can we see Death Row?”
The woman screwed her mouth up for another access denial, but Pete saved the day by asking, “He’s troubled. Can we visit the pets that have been here the longest?”
Pete stopped at the Cat Room that was indeed populated with a preponderance of black kitties. Pong went on to the last chance Dog Room, Po at his heels. Huh.
The room felt so weird, almost electrically frizzy. A neon rainbow sprang from Po to a shaggy auburn double-wide Irish Setter-ish mutt. The mutt looked intently his way. Pong thought about how long he’d tried to draw somebody making the “Tck-Tck” sound you make with one side of your face pulled back when you want a dog to come. He’d messed up too many poster boards trying, no luck. Luck? Really?
He stretched one side of his lips back and “Tck-Tck” erupted. The mutt bounded up and over until giant paws on each shoulder nearly bowled him over. Once he caught his breath, he knew this was HIS dog. His watchdog. Or maybe his and Po’s? Lili had begged him to stop calling Po ‘kid’. “Hey son, what you want to name this colossal creature?”
His son’s face lit bright. “Angel.”
“Down, Angel”. The dog sat obediently, tail wagging like a windshield wiper. Leaving Pixly he had to get new wiper blades before they got to the interstate. Angel brought his attention back to the here and now with a reverberating bark. He saw Po lean forward to check out Daddy’s demeanor. Pong flung his arms out. That hug felt better than he ever thought one could. Could something go right this time?
The 60’s style flamboyance made his ‘Save a Pet’ posters a big hit, in the restaurants, in vet’s offices, grocery stores, lots of places. One of Pete’s black cats, couldn’t tell Stupid from Cupid, had knocked over a bottle of black ink, stepped in it and walked across the top left corner of Pong’ s first effort. Now they all had black cat paw prints stamped there, like the seal of approval. He shook his head and turned away from the framed posters on the wall. “Lemonade. I came in to get lemonade. He took a Minute Maid out of the freezer and stirred it with water. He heard Po shouting something and squealing. That Angel could wear a guy out! That Angel was a blessing.