As I’m going back over all my old short stories, I found this little tribute I’d written back in 2000. It is about an incident that happened to me while I’d been a boy in the 70s. It was about one of the family dogs we’d lost. I’d been there when it was killed. I’m glad I’d written it up when I did, because I’d apparently already begun to forget some of the details I’d written up. Well, we are talking some 40 years, here! I even had to ask my dad about one set of details as I’d written this up a couple weeks ago.
I’ve delayed posting because I’ve been looking for a picture of Mac…but I just can’t find one! Which is weird, cause I’d seen pictures of him—and his grave—in my possession. I must have lost them over the years, or someone else has them. In any event, if I do find one, I’ll add it into this post after the fact.
As with most of what I write, it doesn’t quite end as you might expect it to end…and which is why I’ve posted it to this site rather than my other one. I like that about my work. I like that about the weird things that happen to me in my life.
Embrace the weird.
A Tribute to Mac
© F. P. Dorchak, Sept 17, 2000
I remember Mac like it was yesterday. Mac was the best pal any kid could ask for. He never asked for much: food, shelter, and friendship. Okay, and a constant supply of attention. You see, Mac was a black Labrador Retriever, one of our family’s pets back in the 70s. I loved him so much that as an adult I’d also named the Black Lab we’d had “Mac” (his official name for those AKC papers was “Lord MacTavish du Lac”), as well.
My dad says we got Mac from one of his dad’s bosses who lived “out west.” My grandfather used to chauffeur for the president of the board of Phelps Dodge Wire and Cable. All I do know was that for a kid just barely a teenager, the dog was big! Paws as huge as your own feet!
Mac took a while getting used to coming to us when we called him, but I guess that was to be expected. We lived in The North Country, as it was called by those who live there (upstate NY, the extreme northern end of New York State; we lived in the Adirondack Mountains) and what with all that open space…well, it took a while. But Mac was fun-loving, as all labs are! I remember…
He had this one big tree branch that was actually longer than himself, and he always used to play with it and drag it around with him all over the place. There wasn’t a day you wouldn’t look out and see him dragging it somewhere, playfully growling and head shaking back in forth in the excited frenzy of play. Or find him under the shade of some tree on a lazy summer day, patiently (surgically!) chewing and whittling away at the limb with his teeth. He loved that danged stick. He must’ve actually bitten off several inches of it, because I swear, after a while, it looked shorter….
And Mac was always there for us kids. In fact it wasn’t all that unlikely to see one of us kids sleeping on Mac’s side as he slept. We called him our “Portable Pillow.”
But…the inevitable happened one day.
I was going to take a bike ride a couple miles down the road to check on the mail at the Post Office, when Mac came running up to me from somewhere wanting to come along (we didn’t always keep him leashed, which wasn’t a great thing, I know, but it’s how many operated up in The North Country). Well, by this time Mac was pretty regular about coming when called, so I decided, why not? Off we went.
Mac stayed by my side as I rode one of my brothers’ bikes (his had a basket, mine didn’t, and I needed that for any mail I might collect; it was a red “banana” bike; mine was purple) down the road. I was pretty impressed to say the least, though I was also wary about the traffic, of which there wasn’t much to begin with. If I called him, he came. I was feeling pretty good about my buddy, Mac.
We made it to the Post Office and Mac came inside with me, all happy and excited. I can still remember that day, some 40 years later. Everyone knew everyone in this hamlet of Lake Clear, including one’s pets, so we all said “Hi.” Then, much like that Miss Almira Gulch, from The Wizard of Oz, there was this one old lady in there collecting her mail. She was one of those ladies who made an issue out of everything: “Oh there ought to be a law about this” or “Oh there ought to be a law about that.” Wrinkly and bitchy (sorry, this was how I’d described her when I’d written this in 2000, so I’ve kept it as-is). The type that also revels in scolding kids for anything and everything. Miss Almira Gulch.
Well, as Mac roamed the floor as I collected my mail, the lady turned to me after seeing my dog, and told me that someday my dog would get hit by a car, the way it was running loose. “There ought to be a law…” I just knew she must have been thinking then. I said, naw, he comes when he’s called real good and we don’t let him out loose that much (really, I said that? Again, this was what I’d written in 2000, so…). Besides, Mac was a careful dog, I said. The lady left, and Mac and I said our goodbyes to Post Office personnel. We were back on the road, mail in basket, Mac at heels.
We were almost home, at that big downward-S-curving bend, maybe less than a quarter mile from home? Mac was trotting contently on the other side of the road, staying off the pavement. He had just crossed over there…when he’d decided to come back over to my side.
I swear til this day, that what I saw him do, he did. I actually saw him do this: as Mac went to cross the road, he looked first one way…then the other…then made his way across.
Now, whether or not he was actually looking for cars is arguable…but that was what he’d done.
It was at this time that a little compact sports car (I think it might have been an MG Midget, but something like it, top down, as I recall) came screaming out from around that bend towards us. Mac never saw it coming. His head was turned in the opposite direction—it happened immediately after he’d just looked down the way of the approaching bullet.
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I seemed to have blocked out the thump that must have occurred, the screaming of brakes, and the skidding of car. I dropped my bike where I was and ran into the center of the road. The road here was banked at a good angle to meet the S-curved bend…and it was where Mac now lay…my Little Buddy was now a black mass around which red was actively leaking out and pooling. His mouth…his mouth was open at a sick angle…his tongue hanging out at an even sicker, unnatural angle. I remember seeing him still looking like he was breathing for a little while…roughly so. It looked utterly grotesque…hideous…and I didn’t know what to do.
I felt entirely helpless.
I’d shot my hands into the air several times in futility and disbelief…my eyes searching for somebody, anybody…anybody who knew what to do…to tell me that what I was witnessing was not reality…not what I was really seeing. That it was actually another dog lying there in a pool of its own blood in the middle of warm asphalt….
Nothing came out of my mouth.
I ran to the edge of the road…then back to Mac…then repeated my steps. Other cars began to stop.
I then ran to the door of a well-kept gray house that was right there. I rapped on the door and someone answered. I remembered trying to keep my cool…keep calm and not cry…as I blurted out what’d happened. I asked to use the phone. I called my dad. He answered. In the same calm but wavering voice, I told my father what had happened. He rhetorically asked me if this was a joke. That’s what people do in times like this. It’s the same question everyone asks while they try to forestall the inevitable realization. I think it was then that I started to cry.
I ran back out as my dad was on his way to…us. I went back to my Mac’s side. He was still bleeding…the blood still making its way down the road’s canted angle. I looked at his black body, disgustingly twisted…his mouth and tongue still that sickeningly hideous way they were when I left. I thought back to when Mac had looked both ways before crossing the road. Of what that old lady (I’d used a different term in the first draft of this…) had scolded me about Mac back in the Post Office.
And I thought of that damned little sports car…barreling around that corner like it was a Grand Prix racer.
I looked for it. There were people talking to the driver and its passenger. A guy and a girl. To this day I can still see them all standing “over there” in a group, in my mind’s eye.
I reached out and touched Mac…he was still warm. Warm but unmoving. I bent over and cradled him…praying he wasn’t hurt too badly…was not dead…hoping beyond hope he was fixable—
Was this a joke?
It wasn’t…and Mac would no longer be our Portable Pillow. No longer be whittling away at his huge stick in the shade of some tree. My dad had arrived, looking all official in his NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Ranger uniform. His Everything-Will-Be-All-Right manner. He was used to scenes like this, I’m sure. Pulled dead bodies off of mountain tops and all. Now we were pulling our dead dog off the road.
We took Mac home in the back of my dad’s red ranger truck. The killers had apologized most remorsefully, saying they hadn’t seen our dog. Of course not. Most people don’t intentionally try to kill dogs while out for a drive during a beautiful, sunny day. They gave my dad all the money they had on them: about ten bucks, I seem to think it was.
We buried Mac up behind our house, before one of three gardens we had. I made a small wooden cross and carved Mac’s name into it with my pocket knife. I found Mac’s tree branch and brought it to the grave. I made two upright supports for it and suspended the stick across and over the grave. It stayed that way for most of my remaining years at home.
I don’t know how much longer after all this it was…days, months, a year?…but one day I’d seen Mac again. I’d been at the top of the long staircase of our 1800s house…I’d turned around to face the stairs while on the top landing…when I’d seen his happy black tail and butt. The tail was straight up into the air—and it and the butt were quickly heading down the stairs!
I was stunned. That was Mac! We hadn’t a black dog, in fact I’m not sure if we even had a replacement dog at this point, but it definitely was not a black dog.
As an adult I don’t hold any anger or animosity toward that “Miss Almira Gulch” or the couple that had hit Mac. Things happen. We all have to die sometime of something, I always say, and I believe there is more on The Other Side. As I also remember it, my dad told me that the couple was pretty shaken up from the accident. But, to this day, I still think about that scene. Of that couple…and how that accident might have affected them. Of Mac lying in the middle of that road. Of Mac looking both ways before crossing. Of that old lady’s ominous warning. I loved that dog. I’ll always miss Mac. He was more than just a Portable Pillow to all of us.