As he walked through the living room to the kitchen he passed the TV, which was set in a heavy wooden cabinet and had a set of rabbit ears perched on top, each ear topped with a flag of tinfoil. Clem pointed out a small cluster of photos, medals, and ribbons on a small stand next to the television. “That’s our boy, Clem Jr.,” Clem said. “He was gonna go to college like you, sonny, but he up and got killed over in Viet Nam.” Clem pronounced it the country way, rhyming with “spam.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Damn bad waste of a damn good kid.”
By the second plate of Mrs. Lou Anne’s flapjacks, Turner was cross-eyed. They were big buttermilk pancakes chock full of pecans that came from the tree that shaded the house. Turner slathered the pancakes in butter and syrup, and Mrs. Lou Anne had fried up a plate of bacon and plate of scrambled eggs as “sides,” each side large enough to make a complete meal.
She looked so happy every time Turner took a bite. Every few minutes he would reach beneath the table and hand off a piece of bacon or a syrup-drenched pancake piece to Pooter, whose views towards him had changed considerably. “You are a big eater for such a skinny little fellow,” she said. “I bet he eats as much as Clem used to, don’t he, Clem?”
“Boy’s got a damn hollow leg. Ridin’ that bicycle makes a man hungry, I guess.” Clem sipped on a cup of coffee and looked on like a contented father, helping himself to the occasional bacon strip.
When he finally pushed away his plate, Turner’s system was in shock. Mrs. Lou Anne wasn’t done with him yet, though, as she’d also baked a tray of chocolate chip cookies. Turner loved fresh cookies, and ate half the tray. Mrs. Lou Anne wrapped the rest in foil. “Take these with you, honey.”
On the way back to Austin, Clem told Turner all about his son, Pooter no longer stuck his ass up in Turner’s face, and instead sat with his butt on the young man’s leg, farting and sniffing the air with his muzzle out the window. Turner, whose nose was incredibly sensitive, listened to the story of the farmer’s son while his brain sifted and stored the swirling odors of tobacco, dog, bacon gas, overhauls soaked in old man smell, and hair tonic.
“He was with the marines when they was attacked at Hue and he got out of there alive and then he was over at Khe Sanh and they shot him dead there. They shot him up so bad he was an awful mess we couldn’t even see his body but at least he went quick. I told him not to go but he was gonna go fight for his country and I guess he did, but that was a damn bad waste of a damn good kid.”
Turner didn’t know what to say, so he scratched Pooter’s head and didn’t say anything.
“Now ol’ Pooter maybe he don’t look like much but you see that piece of ear he’s got tore out there?”
“He cornered a momma bobcat in the yard once, she was crossin’ the yard with her kitten and Pooter cornered her and boy howdy you don’t never want to corner no momma bobcat, but Pooter he didn’t give two shakes and lit into her like she was some housecat and he’d a’ killed her if I hadn’t heard the ruckus and come out with my shotgun.” Clem looked over at Turner. “Don’t ever go nowhere without your shotgun, sonny.”
“So’s I shot it up in the air and it made ’em stop just long enough for that bobcat to skedaddle. But ol’ Pooter he ain’t afraid of nothin’.”
Pooter looked over at Clem, slobbered a little on Turner’s leg, and dog smiled. It was one of Pooter’s favorite stories.
Clem had reached the apartment, and as he parallel parked the old Ford, the owner of a new white Mercedes watched contemptuously from the porch of “Doggie Style,” a dog grooming shop across the street while Clem’s bumper got closer and closer to her fender. She was holding onto her leashed poodle, a huge, perfectly manicured dog that was as contemptuous of the pickup as his owner. The dog barked.
Turner opened the door and in a flash Pooter had leaped out, making a beeline for the poodle. He hit it like a linebacker, knocking it over as the woman screamed and the groomer, a young man in tight pants and a bracelet began yelling “Mercy! Oh mercy! Mercy, mercy, mercy!”
The enormous poodle regained his feet and took a big snapping bite, but came up with nothing but air as Pooter lunged up beneath him. Unused to fighting, and chagrined at being made a fool of in front of his mistress, the poodle saw Pooter’s long tail and took the bait, clamping down on it. Now if there’s one thing any country dog knows, it’s that biting the tail isn’t ever going to win a dogfight. But the city dog was looking for a moral victory, and by now was hoping someone would break up the fight.
With his opponent’s mouth clamped shut, Pooter spun around and sunk his jaws on the poodle’s throat. He was going to kill him.
By now Turner and Clem had run across the street and Turner saw the fear and terror in the poodle’s face. It was the saddest look he’d ever seen. Pooter’s eyes had rolled back in his head like a shark and his massive jaw was working to find the windpipe. “Goddamn you, Pooter!” yelled Clem, striking his dog on the snout. “You let him go right now, god damn you!”
Pooter opened his mouth and the poodle jerked away. He ran over to his owner, who was hysterical. The dog groomer was shrieking. “Get off our porch! Get your nasty dog out of here, you nasty man!”
Clem had Pooter by the scruff of the neck and was dragging him back to the truck, but Pooter shot a glance over to Turner that said, “I did pretty good, huh? That fancy poodle can kiss my ass. And thanks for the bacon!”
From all the noise and screaming and barking, Clementine had come outside and stood in front of the apartment door. She looked different. “Where have you been?” she asked, as he got his bike out of the back of the pickup.
“I had an adventure.”
“I thought you’d have been back hours ago. You had me worried.”
Unbeknownst to Turner, this would be another of the patterns of his life — coming home late from a bike ride to an angry significant other. “Sorry,” he said. As he got up close to her he smelled a very delicate fragrance. Her hair was different. And she was wearing a pink apron with a crease down the middle, like it had just been bought.
Inside the apartment was the table was set for dinner.
Clem came to the door and introduced himself. “That’s a fine young man you got there, honey. Boy, that’s some good cookin’ you got going on in there.” He sniffed the air appreciatively. “Don’t know how big a appetite he’s gonna have, though. My wife stuffed him fuller’n a sausage skin. Boy ate more flapjacks and bacon and eggs and cookies than a prison gang.”
The door closed and she turned around. “You’re not hungry, I guess.” The words were sad and disappointed and angry and hurt, all rolled into one.
“I’m starving,” he lied.
She handed him the foil of cookies. “These are for you, apparently.”
“Clem, this smells delicious! I love spaghetti and meat sauce! Man, I’m so hungry!”
“Are you really, Turner?” Her voice was so cool it hurt.
“Yeah. Hungry as a horse.”
“Okay,” she said. “Then show me.”