The blade struck the log with a limp swing of the old man’s ax. He didn’t split the log as was his intention. The log was rather like a road forked at an imposing tree; yeah, just like that. The ax stuck stubborn, handle staring back at him mockingly, reminding him of just how much fucking time had passed.
The ax, it wouldn’t move at his arms urging, no matter how he pulled at it — no matter how he banged ax and log against the splitting-stump. It stayed right where it was. The log seemed like it had an intent to stay put. Like its intention was defying the old man’s will and to mock his declining physicality.
He removed the thin, sweat-stained undershirt he was wearing, and he gave the ax handle another pull. The log remained.
Inside the cabin, there was a woman, silver-headed and weary, she sat patiently at a table in the kitchen by the old, rapidly cooling wood-burning cooking stove.
The old man shook the ax handle with violence, and it came free in his hand. He used his undershirt to wipe the sweat from his pits, and his chest, and he knows it will be no cooler inside the small cabin, with the woman. The log had fallen over, and he set it back on the splitting-stump. Years ago, he cleared the trees around the cabin himself, he pulled the stumps too, except for this one, the one he knew he’d need.
The log split at the second swing of the old man’s ax, bisected evenly, both sides falling simultaneously on either side of the splitting-stump. The old man feels the vibrations from the ax head striking the stump shocking through his arms, smarting at his shoulders, and causing a shudder in his vision.
The curtains on the kitchen window are always tied open. The woman turned her head as the old man split the log. She can see that her husband is struggling with his chores, she can’t help him with that, but she can make sure the cabin is filled with the scent of roasting venison, just as soon as he finishes. Venison and carrots and potatoes; yeah, that sounds good.
He placed a second log on the stump and with a limp swing the blade gets stuck again — just like the first. He pulled angrily at the handle, not letting go, shaking it, jerking it up, then down, wedging it deeper, and banging the log against the stump before jarring it loose with one last, strong jerk.
The old man throws the dirty undershirt over his shoulder, he chokes up on the sharp ax, gripping it near the head and he walks with intent into the woods, past the tree line, stopping only when he reaches the small river from which he sometimes fishes. This is as good a place as any, he supposes.
For one thing, and I am telling you this because I been there, it usually happens all at once, comes on strong like that in the beginning, when you’re first starting out, but it really doesn’t last. Afterward, in the morning, it’s all gone, used up and stupid-dumb, but those moments are real, and they’re all you get. That’s all you can expect to get, a few fleeting serene feelings in every bender — happiness, in those moments, it does exist.
Really, that man was just a slumgullion of negative personality traits all tied together in a knot of wrong decision, misdirected priorities, and not a shred of shame or remorse. I mean he was a knave, a rouge, a pirate on the high-seas of high-times. What I mean is he was sort of beautiful to witness — self-immolation so complete, so devastating, and so fun. Like for instance, take the whole taxi cab thing. It didn’t have to happen the way it happened, but it also kinda did… you know? They could’ve stopped drinking at the second bar, or stayed closer to home, but they didn’t, and that is a real shame. Or, it isn’t… depending on your view of things.
If they would’ve made it to Monday, if he would’ve made it to Monday, I would’ve talked to him. Reasoned with him. Monday is the best day to talk to a drunk about his drinking and Monday morning is the best time. Usually, if you catch the drunk early enough on a Monday, the shame and regret from a Friday to Saturday to Sunday weekend bender will be just about settling in, and the drunk will be hurting, struggling, and hung over. There is a possibility the drunk will be receptive. Not him though, and I, I know that for a fact. But still, I wish I could’ve tried.
It was the tail end of the arc, sometime before last-call Sunday night, and they had just been physically removed from Genna’s Cocktail Lounge in Madison, Wisconsin and it was just beginning to snow. The snow was what folks in the Midwest call flurries which usually only results in what folks in the Midwest call a dusting. Besides Mike (an innocent in all this), who was broke almost all of the time, there was Jack (The drunk of negative personality traits all tied together in a knot of wrong decision, misdirected priorities, and not a shred of shame or remorse), who was financing the epic bender (more on that later).
The time was almost exactly 1:45 in the AM and the February air was cold which simply would not do for Jack, whose tolerance for Wisconsin’s winters was known to be atypically low for a man raised in the state. Jack was an adopted mulatto skinhead of a truly unknown biological origin and raised by well-to-do Jews on the city’s far-west side. I mean the man was a skinhead in the classical sense, not like he just shaved his head, Jack wore the uniform — blue jeans cuffed at red-laced Doc Martens, and braces over plain white tee shirts. Jack’s long-standing love affair with the bottle, his decidedly unorthodox dress, and penchant for wrong decision and violence had never curbed the love his adopted parents had for him, and it had never stopped them from providing assistance of the financial sort. Assistance he used to further his lifestyle of general rambunctiousness.
This bender (in specific) began with a cashier’s cheque provided by Jack’s mother that was intended for the expressed purpose of paying a long-past-due electric bill. Jack cashed it at the restaurant in which he and Mike worked. They were both line-cooks. The real difference between the two men was that Jack was in his 40s and shoulda known better and Mike, well Mike, he was in his 20s, not yet 21 now that I’m thinking back on it, and couldn’t be expected to know his ass from his elbow.
By the time the staff at Genna’s was giving them the old heave-ho, the electric bill money had run dry — a fact Mike was unaware of in his blind-drunk state. A fact Jack had failed to mention in his equal state of inebriation. All Mike wanted was a ride home. At least, that’s what he’d later tell the police when he was left holding the bag on this whole coulda-been-avoided-ass-mess.
“We should, we should take a cab… fucking cold out here,” Mike had said at the time.
“A cab… where we gonna find a tazi cab? There’s never fuckin cabs in this town. It’s too small.” Now I wasn’t there, but I know drunks, and I’d bet my two front teeth that at that moment Jack’s eyes were dispossessed of any consciousness within. It’s a look some drunks get when they go out of their heads. Nothing to the eyes. It’s a dangerous omen indeed.
“Whaddaya talkin bout, there’s a tazi right there. The hotel, cross the street, we can take it.”
Mike had a stubborn habit, whether blind-drunk or not, to match the cadence, speech patterns, and accents of those to whom he spoke. It got him in a fair amount of trouble when Jack would invite street-kids and the intentionally-vagrant to the apartment. Jack invited them, and their off-putting smells, over on the condition they’d provide at least a little booze for Jack and Mike in exchange for space to sleep on the couches. Not all of them understood Mike’s subconscious appropriation of their linguistic traits and patterns. They’d sometime take offense, think Mike was making fun, and then Jack would have to explain to them that Mike was just young. But I digress.
Well, they did take that cab. Mike got himself all settled into the back seat, cozy like, leaned his head back, and closed his eyes. He never opened them, he would say later, he just felt the taxi take off like a bullet aiming to do harm — and friend, harm is what it did. You see that particular hotel, it had a multi-story underground parking garage that required many left-hand turns to navigate properly, and most people took those turns slow, but most people weren’t Jack the half-black skinhead riding out the last glory days of his boys-will-be-boys youth.
I’m convinced, absolutely sure as any sane and reasonable man can be, that Jack just wanted a bit of fun, a bit of good-old-days rapscallionism. That even in his drop-dead, three-day-power-binging, blacked-out-state-of-being, he didn’t want to die like he did.
But friend, and I am telling you this because it’s the kind of thing that needs to be said, and the kind of thing young men, such as yourself, ought heed — Jack’s head didn’t go through the windshield of a Madison Taxi Cab Company Taxi Cab every time he was drinking (which was often and with lust), but every time Jack’s head went through the windshield of a Madison Taxi Cab Company Taxi Cab, he was drinking. Now, you just think on that.
I think that I like the idea of dogs much better than the reality of dogs. If I could just adopt the concept of a dog, and not the pooping, whining, begging, and attention-needing thing itself, then I’d be fine with that. But, as we are all very much aware, a person cannot divorce the idea of a thing from the thing itself.
So, my wife, she wanted a dog and I said no. There was much whining. I explained, “They really are just a pain in the ass, you know? You have to get up and walk them; then, you have to carry around bags, literal bags, of their shit until you find a garbage can. And, and, and most of the time, it’s someone else’s garbage can, and you feel like you shouldn’t drop your dog’s shit in their can, but you do, because who wants to carry around shit? Who? Really? Answer that?! Who?! Afterward, you can only hope no one saw you. And, and, and this is just the shit related inconvenience, there is more.”
She responds, and her tone is calm, aggressively so, she’s escalating the whole dog situation into something it shouldn’t be — a fight. “You’re just being difficult, just seeing the negatives, think of the fun we will have. Sunset walks, trips to the park, companionship, and that’s just for starters. We can make friends with other dog people, take the dog with us to cafes and bars, it will facilitate a whole active lifestyle switch. You said you wanted to be more active.”
“I don’t need to lose weight, Brenda, and I don’t want an active lifestyle! I like the freedom to not have to go to the park, and for walks, and I would never inflict my dog on people enjoying cafes, bars, restaurants, or anywhere else people now feel entitled to bring their damn dogs. It’s just ridiculous! People, with their fucking dogs, taking them everywhere, inflicting them on the public. Really.”
“That’s just mean, who doesn’t like dogs?”
“Well, maybe, I don’t like you.”
“You don’t love me anymore? That seems like info I need, Brenda! First I’m hearing of this seemingly relationship-pertinent info!”
“Fuck you.” She whispered it, barely perceptible to my ear, but I heard.
“No, fuck you,” I said as a way of punctuating my action.
I did hit her, but only a little, nothing that would leave a bruise, not even a red mark, it was more like for the shock value, to bring the whole argument into some perspective. I mean really, she wasn’t gathering what I was putting down, and she was taking this simple argument to places that were completely unrelated to the whole dog thing. So, when she stopped with the crying and the carrying on, I felt we could continue with the subject at hand.
“Anyway, it’s like this, who’s going to vacuum the dog hair? You? I don’t think so… I can’t even get you to empty the dishwasher after it’s done. And you know I have been unhappy and upset with the distribution of labor around here for some time. You have chores and responsibilities you are already neglecting. So why should I allow a dog in this house? This filthy house? Huh? Tell me that!”
“Never mind about the dog, I’m sorry I brought it up, I thought it could be fun.”
“Never mind, really.”
“Fun! Is shit fun?! Is 0500 walks fun?! Is feeling like everyone is upset because we’ve dragged our stupid fucking dog with us fun?! Think about it, Brenda, and don’t be a child. You just want some me-replacement-dog-thing because you can’t bring yourself to admit that you’ve been checked out of this whole thing for more than a year! Carrying on in those clothes, at that bar, doing god knows what… tell me now Brenda, whose Steve?!”
I did hit her again, but more like a thump in the belly. Just a thump, to bring the wind and words out of her. I don’t know why she doubled over like that. It was for show. Women, they do things for show. They pretend like they’re so hurt, feelings-wise, physically too, because they want to trick us into thinking we are terrible, men that is, that we are the ones that can’t deal with our emotions, but it’s all B.S. Made up in their minds to manipulate us.
“I don’t know a Steve.” She like coughed the words. Such commitment to the charade. I laugh a little, just to let her know I am not buying this mockery of women who are actually abused — this show.
“Then what’s with all the secretive texting, Brenda?! Why do you smile and blush when texting and why can’t I ever see your phone?! That’s what I want to know. If you’re not fucking Steve, then you are fucking someone, of that I can tell you I am certain, of that I am sure.”
She turned her back to me, can you believe that? I am trying to be all civil, get it all out in the open, and she turned her back to me. So, I cracked her with the table lamp. I mean on the back of her head — where the hair would cover the lump. She fell down though, she hit the table all purposeful-like, she’s the one who cracked her skull, I’d swear that to Christ. She’s the one who struck the mortal blow.
She wanted it this way. Me, in here, doing this time for her purposeful suicide thing. It was planned the second I said no to the dog; she never could abide someone defying her; having their own opinion separate from her own. I was always walking eggshells and tippy-toes. Then the one time I foot-plant an issue, she manipulates me into this situation. Can you believe how far she was willing to go to prove her point? Well, I hope God has judged her wicked. Suicide’s a sin, you know? With my luck she’s watching me right now, from a happy-type place, laughing at the misfortune and humiliations I’ve been forced to endure in this place — of which, there are many. Yeah, I bet she’s happy now.
Scott Mitchel May
Scott Mitchel May dropped out of high school at the age of seventeen and moved to Madison, Wisconsin. He worked as a short-order cook for some years before getting his HSED and enrolling at Edgewood College, where he graduated with a degree in English Literature. Scott is a writer, reader, smoker of pipe tobacco, and enjoyer of fermented beverages. This is his first published work of fiction. Scott lives in New Glarus, Wisconsin with his wife Katherine and their five chickens.If you enjoyed ‘The Idea of Dogs’ leave a comment and let Scott know.
Photo by Alexander Stein
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