Vincent wasn’t bothered so much by the fact that he had killed the dog, but that he couldn’t remember how he killed it bothered him a great deal.
“It’s almost six, Vincent,” he said, wiping a splotch of mud off the face of the SCUBA diver’s watch his stepfather bought him for Christmas.
Vincent scuffed his black canvas high-tops across the ground to rake willow leaves and some dirt over the dog, then hopped on his mountain bike and headed home for dinner.
There were two ways Vincent could ride home: down the bike path that vined through the trees alongside the Olentangy River to King Avenue, or straight down High Street. In a way, Vincent wanted to take the long way, wanted to follow the river so he would have time to try and remember. But he rode up the hill to High Street and tried to keep pace with the traffic.
* * *
When Vincent opened the door into the kitchen, he immediately smelled meatloaf. Vincent had known before he opened the door he would smell meatloaf. It was Wednesday: meatloaf day.
“Hi honey,” Vincent’s mother said from the sink where she was rinsing some lettuce. “How’d it go?”
“Fine. Where’s Woody?”
“Your father’s not home yet. Was she excited?”
“Yeah. The lady kept saying ‘Thank you. Thank you. He looks great. How can we repay you?’ I told her it wasn’t a big deal.” Vincent opened the refrigerator and looked for nothing in particular. “What’s for dinner?”
“Meatloaf. Did she give you some money?”
“No. I told her I didn’t want any. She said she liked the poster I made. She said my drawing looked just like her dog,” Vincent said into the refrigerator.
“You should have taken something,” Vincent’s mother said, shaking the water off a handful of lettuce. “I mean just a little something. After all, you did feed it for three days.”
* * *
During lunch period the next day, Vincent left school and rode his mountain bike to the Park of Roses where he had killed the dog. He didn’t feel bad about cutting school because he only had Study Hall, Phys. Ed., and Computer Graphics in the afternoon. Besides, he needed some time to try and remember what he had done.
Next to the river, the park was crowded with business people taking advantage of the early spring weather. Vincent made his way to the rose garden, his favorite spot in the park when all the different varieties of roses were in bloom. This early in the season, though, the garden was still dormant and ugly. Vincent locked his bike to the gazebo at the center of the garden and, pulling a pencil and a small sketch pad out of his back pocket, sat on a park bench to try and remember by drawing what he had done yesterday.
At the beginning of the school year, Vincent’s art teacher tried to convince his parents to enroll him at the alternative school for students who are “creatively gifted.” Vincent’s mom said no. She thought Vincent needed the discipline of a Catholic school if he was going to go to college. It didn’t seem to matter to Vincent where he went to school; he would learn what he wanted to learn no matter where he was.
Vincent drew a picture of the woman whose dog he had killed the day before. Her long hair flowed over her shoulders and breasts like shallow water over stones. Vincent drew a crown of roses on her head.
“What are you doing here?”
Vincent slapped his hands over the sketch pad and looked up to see the woman he met yesterday, the woman whose dog was buried under a pile of leaves less than 200 yards away.
“I came back to look for your dog,” Vincent said.
“I left work early to look for him,” she said. “You say you tied him to the gazebo while you went to the restroom and when you got back he was gone?”
Vincent closed his sketchpad and looked straight into her red and swollen eyes. “Yeah. I tied him up right there.” Vincent pointed to the post where his bike was chained. “I was only gone for a few minutes. When I came back, he was gone.”
The woman stared at the gazebo a moment, then turned back to Vincent. “Was the rope gone too?”
Standing, Vincent pushed the sketchpad into his back pocket. He walked over to the gazebo and knelt down. “I tied him right here. When I came back. Both him and the rope were gone. I don’t see how he could have pulled it off the post. I tied it tight.”
“Why would someone take him? I don’t understand.” The woman threw up her hands and turned away. “Earl,” she yelled, “Earl Grey Scruggs, you come back here right now.”
“I can help you find him.” Vincent walked over to the woman and sat down beside her. “I found him once, I can find him again. Look. I still have the picture I drew of him.” Vincent pulled out his sketchpad and flipped it open to the first page. On it was a sketch of the dog’s face, his right ear drooped, his left ear straight up. “I can make up another sign like the one you saw when you called me.”
The woman wiped her face in her hands and looked at the picture. “You’re really good. That damn ear never could stand up,” she said, laughing a little, then crying again.
Vincent stood up and reached down to help the woman up. “C’mon. Let’s keep looking. Maybe he did get loose and he’s still around here.”
The woman wiped her face again and looked at the picture. “Why are you doing this?” she asked as she took Vincent’s hand.
Flipping shut the sketchpad and shoving it back into his pocket, Vincent pulled the woman to her feet. “I feel guilty,” Vincent said.
* * *
It was nearly time for dinner again when Vincent got home. Vincent’s stepfather pushed the beat-up Toro mower back into the garage. Vincent breathed deep. There was something about the smell of gasoline and a fresh-cut lawn that Vincent liked very much.
“I could’ve cut the grass,” Vincent said, rolling his bike into the garage.
Vincent’s stepfather was sweaty and breathing hard. He took a crumpled up paper towel out of his shirt pocket and wiped off his forehead. “I like cutting the grass. Besides,” he said, patting his belly, “your mom thinks I need the exercise. What time is it, anyway?”
Vincent looked at his watch. “Quarter to six.”
Vincent’s stepfather pulled his own digital watch out of his pocket and smiled. “I guess that watch works pretty well.”
Vincent rubbed the face of the watch with his thumb. “I guess.”
“Well you’ll have to come down to the office at lunch time one day when you don’t have school. We can take a dive in the company pool and put that watch through its paces.”
Vincent pulled the sleeve of his denim jacket over the watch and propped his bike against the back wall of the garage. “Sounds good.” When Vincent went to open the door into the kitchen, his stepfather stopped him.
“Vin, Your mom says you didn’t take any money from that woman for finding her dog.”
Vincent flipped his straight, black hair out of his eyes and looked at his stepfather. “Yeah. I told her I didn’t want anything.”
“Here.” Vincent’s stepfather pulled his wallet from his back pocket. “I want you to have this,” he said, plucking out a twenty-dollar bill. “You bought the dog food for three days. I think it was nice that you didn’t take any money from her.”
Vincent took the bill and shoved it in his pocket with the sketchbook. “Thanks.”
* * *
The next day, Vincent met the woman after school at the gazebo. She looked tired, but not as bad as the day before. Vincent pulled a piece of folded paper out of his coat pocket and handed it to the woman.
“I drew up a poster last night,” Vincent told her. “We can run up to the copy store and run off as many copies as you want.”
The woman unfolded the paper. On the page was a sketch of her standing in front of the gazebo holding the dog in her arms. Above her rose-crowned head Vincent had written in capital letters: PLEASE HELP ME FIND MY WAY BACK INTO THE ARMS OF MY OWNER. A border of thorny rose vines surrounded the whole picture.
“It looks just like him,” she said. “Why do I have roses on my head?”
“I thought they’d make you smile,” Vincent said, looking away quickly.
“It’s beautiful. Thank you.” The woman folded up the paper and put it in her shirt pocket, then wiped her eyes and nose on her sleeve. “Let’s go make some copies.”
Vincent unlocked his bike from the gazebo.
“You want to ride ahead and I’ll meet you there?” the woman asked Vincent.
“No. I can push it. I don’t mind.”
They didn’t speak to one another as they walked up the path through the white rose garden to High Street. When they walked through the door of the copy store, Vincent leaned his bike against the wall beneath a coat rack and headed to the counter.
“I’m going to use the restroom,” the woman said.
“I’ll go ahead and give them the order. How many should I get?” Vincent asked.
“Oh,” the woman said, pulling the creased drawing from her pocket one last time and handing it to Vincent. “I don’t know. I guess, I don’t know. A hundred, you think?”
Vincent nodded his head. “Yeah, I think a hundred.” Vincent smoothed the drawing on the counter. “I need a hundred on bright red paper.” He pulled out the crumpled twenty dollar bill his stepfather gave him, handed it to the cashier, then sat down on the bench beneath a shelf stacked with reams of paper.
Vincent opened the sketch book to the last page, looked at the women’s restroom, then started to draw quickly, instinctively. Before he knew it, Vincent had the dog, still alive, drawn. The pencil stopped when Vincent tried to remember what his hands looked like underwater holding the dog by the throat, what the fur looked liked between his fingers as he squeezed. Looking up from the pad, he checked the women’s restroom again. Vincent closed his eyes and imagined the bare rose vines that surrounded him, thousands of thorns pointing at him from every direction. Vincent pressed the pencil to the paper and started drawing a hand. When he finished drawing the wrist and knuckles, he stopped and imagined roses again. Without looking at the pad, Vincent began drawing again. The pencil seemed to drag Vincent’s hand across the page. Vincent looked down to see what his hand had drawn, to see if his hand remembered for him. Sprouting from the knuckles of the sketched hand were five rose-vine fingers, thorny and without flowers, wrapped around the dog’s throat.
“Hey, I said your order’s ready,” the cashier half-yelled at Vincent.
Vincent looked at the sketchpad. He traced the dog’s throat gently with his finger. He looked at the women’s restroom one last time, then wrote “Vincent” in the bottom left hand corner of the drawing, ripped it out, and set it on the bench. He walked up to the counter, picked up the stack of bright red copies, and turned to leave.
“Hey kid,” the cashier yelled at Vincent. “Don’t forget your change.” But Vincent was already out the door and down the street, wondering which way he’d take home.
When Kip Knott was 6-years old, his father – a very serious and guarded man – accidentally cut off part of his big toe with the lawn mower. Doctors grafted skin from his thigh over the wound, but the unfortunate side-effect was that hair began to grow from the tip of the toe. In an attempt to cheer up his father, Kip wrote his first story titled “The Hairy Toe,” which was about a hairy toe that ran away from his foot after being teased by all the other “normal” toes. Kip’s father’s laughter as he read the story taught him that words have the power to break through any barrier. Since writing “The Hairy Toe” all those years ago, Kip has published a number of other stories in BELOIT FICTION JOURNAL, DOGZPLOT, and EMRYS JOURNAL.
© 2012, Kip Knott