ONE DAY IN THE SUMMER

BY TONY GENTRY

Huckleberry Hound was a lazy pup
but rounded the corner with raving eyes
lathered and frantic, like he was pursued.

Said, “Mama, he went up under the house.”

“Go get him,” she said. “Yes, ma’am,” I replied.

Dog-sized chink in the brick foundation
but if I reached one arm in tucked my head
could squirm up follow him into the dark.

She handed me a flashlight, said, “Go on.”

This was something I’d never considered
the guts of the house its underbelly

squared onto a powdery dirt that for
all the age of the structure had not seen
the light of day.  Dank dry dust and cobwebs
creepy and cool is why he’d gone in there.

It took a while but that had to be Huck
against the blank concrete wall of the porch.
Paired red dots way back there his trembling eyes
or was that just what my eyes were doing?

“Go on now,” she said.  “Dang, mama, alright.
On my belly toes dug in had to keep
from bumping my head on the kitchen pipes
then past them like diving under water.

Heard him whimper or again it was me
but closer now squeezing midway under
the dining room far up in there was a
private place like nowhere I’d ever been.

Hi ol’ Huck.

Eye to eye it was bad how he panted
neck strained teeth bared in a grin that scared me.
Far back in the day Mama said, “Get him.”
But this was my call.  I said, “Hush Mama.”
She didn’t like that. “Don’t you hush me boy.”

Who knows how long it took?  Flicked off the light
dropped my head on my arms. I knew one tune
and sang it.  Maybe you know the song, too?

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow black and white
They are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children
Of the world.

I did that a while like a lullaby.
Then this moan shut me up a whole ‘nother
song that right now scribbling can hear it plain.

A lot of time in there to contemplate
the dirt to consider the ticking dark
nose pressed in things I hadn’t thought about.

When I dared to switch on the light again
Huck was different, ribs still, legs stretched out
like he was running someplace, eyes bugged tongue
lolled long and dry.  So then what’s the hurry?
In that weird space I sang to him some more.

A slow drag then feet first for both of us
snot slimed to mud on my cheeks shirt rode up
and the rub of the dirt at my belly
press of the house like the flat of a hand
freaked out beneath the dangling kitchen pipes
desperate old drowning man flailing for air
little kid squirming to drag a dead dog.

At the hole, worked my legs out first but then
got stuck halfway and yelled.  Mama had gone
back inside.  She had work to do no time
for my triflin’. That was a lesson too.
Sharp brick drew a long red scratch up my back
but wiggled out one fist tight on a paw
to finally drag him into the light

Huck was heavy and stiff like all dead things
and dirt had kicked up in his startled eyes.
I said “I’m sorry” and tried to wipe them
my thumb on an eyeball hard as a marble.
Oh man how I hated that scary hole.

Mama came out laid a rag on his back
and spread it to almost cover his legs.
Said, “Huckleberry was a good old pup.”
Said, “Prob’ly old man Hollis and all his
durn chickens,” whatever she meant by that.

When Daddy got home my dog disappeared.
He mortared up the crawl space too but missed
the new one as fathers do opened up
in me where Huck and I to this day lie
flat in the dark far in and away right
up against the hard fact and singing
as best we can.

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