You Get So Alone At Times It Just Makes Sense
Jéanpaul Ferro -- Fiction
The house sat in the middle of a tall grove of white pine in Western Coventry, Rhode Island. Looking beyond the porch you could see the surface of the pond down below the hill. In the summer months the water would turn this perpetual blue color. In wintertime it would turn a blackish-gray, and then white as the surface froze on very cold Rhode Island nights.
The dog had been missing for three days now. This particular dog had never left the eight acres of the property before. Phil Alden inherited this land from his father—Alston Alden. It had gone on being passed from Alden to Alden since the mid-1650’s when an Alden, whose father supposedly came over on the Mayflower, had bought the rights to the land from the Narragansett Indian tribe. Now it was three hundred and fifty-six years later and Phil Alden was still in Rhode Island, and he couldn’t find his son’s missing dog.
Phil walked the property looking for the little ginger-colored Pekingese. The eight acres was a giant tree-filled peninsula along the middle of Johnson’s Pond. Black mirror-like pools surrounded the peninsula on three sides, white pine filling in the center, and Phil’s little red cabin sat out back. He let his older brother use part of one acre to store their father’s old Bermuda sloop. On another acre Phil let his brother warehouse his ’69 Dodge Charger, working on it and covering it over once in a while with a makeshift garage of plastic and boards.
Phil walked quietly around the yard, gently clapping his hands and clicking his tongue to try and call out for the dog. It was still late winter and half the pond was still frozen. Here and there sat small white islands, either floating in the middle of the pond or jutting out along the edge of the shore. Phil didn’t want Brian, his four-year old, to hear him looking for his Pekingese. They had already lost one dog to the ice—a beautiful Belgian Shepard who had fallen through late last year.
He began to look everywhere for the dog now—up on the old sloop, in back of the summer fireplace, beneath the dock that he had dragged up on land back in November. He had to get down on his stomach atop frozen muddied footprints in order to look under the Dodge.
“Where are you?” Phil half-whispered to himself.
He got up and walked toward the back of his cabin.
He gently squeezed his head in between the oil tank and the back of the wall where his bedroom was on the other side. When he looked under the tank there was nothing there but frozen earth.
Three years earlier they had bought the Pekingese to keep the Belgian Shepard company. Phil’s wife, Brenda, had dubbed the little dog Gait, because he was always escaping from his pen.
“Where are you? Gait! Get over here!” Phil yelled now. “Where are you, boy? Come on! Get over here!”
Phil stood there and looked around. The pond and the surrounding woods went quiet in a winter stillness. Phil kicked his boots back and forth over the frozen ground just to hear a sound. He had a bad feeling inside. This is all my fault, he thought. Three days earlier the dog had dashed out the door as Phil went for his morning walk. The dog escaped outside, and Phil took his walk, and he thought the darn thing would come back on its own.
He had to search along the edge of the rocky beach now. He wanted to see if he could find any trace of Gait at all.
He walked for a good half hour around all the small coves, checking every neighbor’s yard, the old chicken coup someone kept in the woods, inside the old ‘54 Buick that had been abandoned along the shore for years. Phil mustered up some audacity and even walked over to the garage of that yuppie couple—the ones who always had the loud 4th of July parties.
He listened with his ear against the garage door.
…But there was no Gait to be found.
Finally, he decided to head on back home, going up to the main road just to have a look around up there to be sure.
He stood in the breakdown lane and looked up and down the road. There wasn’t a soul in either direction; only the oak trees and the leafy forest floor on either side of the road. He waited a moment, took a deep breath, and then headed back toward the cabin.
When he walked through the front door he saw his wife standing there.
Brenda Alden stood at the kitchen sink still cleaning the plates from breakfast. Her sleek long hair was pulled straight back and shifted in brown bursts behind her every time she moved with a dish in her hand. Phil noticed the creases in her forehead and the tips of her ears that were burning red coming out of her brown hair. She had the same look on her pretty face that his mother would get when she would be mad at him when he was a boy.
“No sign of him, huh?” Brenda asked.
Phil looked at his son who was at the kitchen table playing with a toy Hot Wheels car. He reached over to his wife and put his arm around her from behind, so that it rested around her stomach. He could smell the sweet redolence of bacon, sweat, and coconut oil on her.
“I’ll find him,” Phil whispered in her ear.
“Maybe we can get another dog,” Brenda said, and there was a kind of resignation in her voice.
The melodious sounds of their boy playing with his toy car made them look at one another.
And then came this hurried knocking on the cabin door.
Phil kissed his wife and went over to the door. He slid the little orange curtain back from its window and he looked outside.
“It’s your darn brother,” he said to his wife. “I guess Frankie is slumming on this side of the pond again.”
Phil opened the door and waited for his brother-in-law to say something.
But his brother-in-law kept trying to look past Phil into the kitchen. “Sis?” Frankie yelled. “Are you in there?”
“What is it?” Phil asked. “If you need money… Look, this isn’t a good time. I’m on vacation for two weeks.”
“No, I don’t need no money,” Frankie said. He looked more nervous than usual. “I saw that fire in the port of Providence last week. Were you working that night?”
“No. I was off,” he said. “But that was a big one.”
“Yeah,” Frankie said. He jerked his head like he wanted Phil to see something in back of him. “I gotta show you something outside.”
“What’s is it?”
Frankie jerked his head backward again like Phil should be looking at something behind him.
Phil had a bad feeling about this now. The two of them had gone to high school together, and they had once been in the same gym class. Phil realized that his brother-in-law had that same look when he would get the basketball passed to him and he would have to shoot and miss in front of everyone.
He put his arm around his brother-in-law.
“Are you alright?” Phil asked.
“No. Come outside!” Frankie said a little bit more annoyed now. “Come outside!” He gestured like he was about to hitch a ride. “Outside!” he said again.
Phil looked back at his wife who was still standing there in the kitchen. She shrugged, and so Phil stepped out onto the porch and closed the door to the cabin behind him.
“Look, Frankie, I told you: We don’t have anymore money to let you borrow. We’re not a bank.”
Frankie shook his head no, pointing out to the ice that went from the edge of the beach along the side of the yard out about a hundred feet into the water.
“I don’t want any money!” Frankie insisted, and his hand pointed out to a rose-colored object that was sitting there beneath the ice out in the middle of the pond.
“Out there! That!” Frankie said.
Phil moaned as soon as he saw it. “Oh, crap!”
He immediately looked back and saw Brenda who was watching him from the kitchen window. He nodded toward the ice that was just off shore. He could see the look on her face change. A second later she completely disappeared out of sight.
“Oh, no,” Phil said thinking out loud.
He looked at the frozen ground everywhere, and then off at his father’s old sloop in the yard, and then back at the tall white pines at the center of the property. “We’ll get him out!” Phil said.
He walked over to his pickup and got out the only chainsaw he owned.
“What are you doing?” Frankie asked. He nervously rubbed the back of his head and began to breathe through his mouth like he was sick.
Phil backed up from his pickup, shook the chainsaw to see if there were any gas, and then nodded that he was ready.
“Let’s go,” he said.
Phil walked over to the edge of the pond with his brother-in-law in tow.
He took a test step out onto the ice before he stood on it with all his weight.
He lurched up and down on the ice with one foot.
“We’re gonna walk out there?” Frankie chirped.
“Well, I am,” Phil insisted, kicking at the ice. “It seems pretty solid now.”
As the two of them began to walk out onto the pond, Phil saw the frozen waves going outward atop the ice where the dog lie beneath. He carefully started the chainsaw with one pull, laid the blade down on the ice where his dog was, and in about fifteen minutes he cut out a frozen, solid block with Gait completely frozen inside of that.
The two men slid the ice coffin across the frozen pond until they got it all the way to the beach, where Phil struggled and then picked it up all at once and carried it across the yard over to the back of his pickup. He laid it up onto the open hatch, slide it inside, and shut the back of the pickup so no one could see.
He walked around the side of the truck and looked back up at the cabin.
When everything seemed clear, he turned back around and went to shake his brother-in-law’s hand.
“Look, I’m sorry,” Phil said. “How ‘bout some coffee?”
Frankie nodded his head no. He began to blow into his hands with his mouth. He smiled.
“You don’t happen to have a twenty on you … do you?” he asked.
Phil let out a breath, rubbed his cheek with his hand, and he reluctantly reached down into his pants pocket and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill.
“This better not be for Foxwoods!” he told his brother-in-law.
“I haven’t gone to the casino in three weeks!”
“Sure you haven’t,” Phil said, and he quietly handed his brother-in-law the twenty and went back up to the cabin to check on his family.
Inside, he found his wife and son sitting together on the couch in front of the fireplace.
Phil was all hot in the face now. He went over and kneeled down in front of his four-year old.
“I need to tell you something,” he said to him. He gently took his son’s hands and looked him straight in the eyes. “There are times when God wants us to be strong.” He nodded his head and tried to keep his composure. “You see, Gait, ran off the other day, and, I think, God wanted our little dog to keep him company at night. And now Gait has to be up in heaven with God from now on.”
Phil watched as a troubled look came right up into the boy’s face.
“Why did God want my doggie?” the boy asked. “I don’t want God to have him.”
The little boy slipped out of his father’s grasp and ran down the hall. He cried all the way to his bedroom, and then they heard him crying even louder as he shut the bedroom door behind himself.
“Should I go after him?” Brenda asked.
Phil watched her lean back on the side of the couch and look down the hallway.
“No. I don’t know,” he said to her. He hesitated, and then said: “Maybe not. I guess he’s got to learn. He’s got to learn about life sometime … no?”
Three long days passed. Three long days with waves crashing to shore. The boy refused to eat or drink or sleep, and he kept going on like this. His parents never saw him act this way before. It was only a day after the other dog had died that he was back to normal. Phil tried to listen to his wife when she explained how it was their responsibility to protect the boy. They would always know better than he would. He should grow up innocent. This is what their parents had done for them, and their parents before that.
On the fourth day of the waves the very appearance of the boy began to change. Phil noticed his face becoming ashen, and he refused to get out of bed, and he felt hot on the forehead and neck like he was sick.
The family had been using the same local pediatrician since the day Brian was born. Everyone in town with a kid went to Doctor Gildon. Unfortunately for the doctor he was enlisted in the Ready Reserve and there was a war going on in Iraq now. At fifty-one years of age he was called up to active duty, and with a stiff upper lip he shipped out to serve his one-year in Baghdad.
Doctor Belliard was a close personal friend of Doctor Gildon. Being that they had been friends since med-school, the former took over the latter’s practice for him; and the Alden’s had to call Doctor Belliard to look after their son.
When Phil called the doctor, his receptionist explained that the doctor usually didn’t make house calls. Phil used his I’m with the fire department card for the first time and the receptionist told him that the doctor would come as soon as he could.
Doctor Belliard was an older looking man compared to his friend, Doctor Gildon. Doctor Belliard had white hair with patches of yellow that may have been blond at one time. He had a bulbous nose, a bushy, white mustache, and a face scarred with the pockmarks of severe childhood acne.
Doctor Belliard sat in the bedroom with the boy for over an hour. Phil paced back and forth in the living room while Brenda kept trying to reassure him.
“I buried him,” Phil said, motioning his arms like he was holding a shovel. “He melted in the back of the truck and I found some soft ground.”
“That’s good,” Brenda whispered.
The sound of the doctor’s gentle voice could be heard from the living room now.
When Doctor Belliard finally came out of the bedroom he was holding the boy who was sobbing with tears coming down his face. The doctor gently handed the boy over to his mother who took him and wrapped him up in her arms.
“He’s going to eat something now,” Doctor Belliard promised.
Phil watched his wife stroke their little son on the back while he cried violently against her breast. “It’s alright now,” she whispered; and the boy began to sob even harder.
“What is it?” Phil asked. “Is he alright? Is he going to be sick? Is everything going to be okay?”
Doctor Belliard walked over to the kitchen sink and carefully washed his hands with some soap and water. When he was done, he turned and addressed the parents, drying his hands with a paper towel as he spoke.
He looked at the young family standing there all together.
“There’s nothing physically wrong with him at all,” the doctor said without parsing words.
Phil stood there dumbfounded.
“There’s nothing wrong with him at all?” he asked.
“No,” the doctor said. His blue eyes looked down at the kitchen floor, and it looked as though the floor might swallow him whole if he did not speak. “He’s perfectly okay.”
“Then why won’t he eat? His temperature? Did we make him?— You know?” Brenda asked.
Doctor Belliard shook his head no.
“It’s like when you’re mother tells you: if you eat your vegetables you’ll live a long life!” the doctor said very sarcastic. He paused, and then said: “The boy told me he wanted to jump off his roof and kill himself.”
Phil shrugged his shoulders: “Why in the world would he do that?”
Doctor Belliard let out an exhausted breath. “So he could be with his dog up in heaven,” he told them. “So I had no choice but to tell him the truth.”
Phil looked over at his wife who was holding their son in her arms. He looked at the doctor standing in his kitchen and then out of the living room window at the ice that was starting to melt along the edges of the pond. He could still make out where the dog had fallen through. Now there was just a hole there, where it had been cut in a square to get him out; and the opal color of the sky was reflecting blue on that one small spot atop the pond, where it was shining down and holding itself there even if it were only for another second.
Jéanpaul Ferro is a novelist, short fiction author, and poet from Providence, Rhode Island. An 8-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Jéanpaul’s work has appeared on NPR, Contemporary American Voices, Columbia Review, Emerson Review, Connecticut Review, Portland Monthly, and others. He is the author of All The Good Promises (Plowman Press, 1994), Becoming X (BlazeVox Books, 2008), You Know Too Much About Flying Saucers (Thumbscrew Press, 2009), Hemispheres (Maverick Duck Press, 2009) (Goldfish Press, 2009), nominated for the 2010 Griffin Prize in Poetry; nominated for both the 2012 Griffin Prize in Poetry and the 2012 Kingsley Tufts Prize in Poetry. He is represented by the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency. He currently lives along the south coast of southern Rhode Island.