Little Guy

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Fourteen

 

Mom is the little guy. The youngest. Then Jonathan is born and he becomes the little guy. Seven kids. Jonathan, Robin, Lee, Elaine, Billy, Jefferey, Sandy, all of them have their time as the little guy.

Dad is the little guy, too. And stays that way. He has two older brothers, Joe and Jimmy.

Everyone goes to school. Grows up. Watches black and white TV. And then watches color TV. Dad is not my dad yet, he’s skinny. Mom is not my mom yet, she’s skinny in bell-bottoms, and feathered hair.

Dad wears wire framed glasses, has a red beard, builds a muscle car, and meets my mother.

She’s a little bit country. He’s a little bit rock ’n’ roll. They split the difference, move to Brick Town.

They get fried seafood somewhere.

Get a little guy, a German Shepherd, name it Cybill.

Cybill Shepherd.

I’m born. I’m their little guy.

Cybill Shepherd dies.

Mom’s parents die. I never get to meet them.

They get fried seafood somewhere. I get baby food.

My brother is born. Now he becomes the little guy. He’s named after dead grandpa.

We all live in a yellow house.

They get fried seafood somewhere. I get cut up apples and a cheese sandwich. My brother, the little guy, gets baby food.

And then we all live in a red house.

One night mom puts my brother and me in the back of the station wagon and drives us to New Hampshire. She’s leaving dad. Her oldest sister is not happy. Sandy. They fight in the kitchen. We are sent next door to Uncle Lee’s apartment. Where he puts on The Wizard of Oz.

It’s going to be all right, Uncle Lee says.

But my brother and I can hear the sounds through the wall. Flying chairs in that kitchen. Dishes smashing. Mom and Sandy wrestling. Breaking the kitchen table in half.

We meet dad at the airport.

We all go back in the station wagon, back to the red house.

Nobody goes out for fried seafood for years.

And then we all live in a campground.

A wooden house.

With a wood stove.

Wood paneling.

In the woods.

Mom works in a factory making aerosol spray cans, and deodorant, and perfume. Dad works construction. When there’s no construction, he works in the junkyard. But in this sentence, two years pass, and now he works on garbage trucks at the municipal garage. He is suddenly thirty years old. Wakes up fat.

She works night shift. One night she stops at the 24-hour supermarket. Someone has a box of little guys. Kittens. She looks down inside. Says, “My husband will not be happy with me if I bring one of these little guys home.” She goes inside, buys food.

On the way out, she takes a moonlit kitten.

She gets all the way home, thinks she’s made a mistake, lets the little guy go. In the woods. Where it can live with the feral cats.

The next morning, I put out milk in a saucer. I’m always trying to catch the feral cats. One of them walks up. A little guy, licking the milk. I jump out, catch him. Run into the wooden house, “I caught one! I caught one!”

She sits up in bed and thinks, Oh no.

But look at the little guy.

Dad comes home at lunch smelling like garbage.

We love him.

I say, “Can I keep it?”

He says I can. But we’ll name it Lucky because I’m lucky I get to keep it. A gray tabby. Grows up thinking he’s a dog, follows me everywhere. Follows me all around the campground when I’m playing army, or just exploring.

Years later the story finally comes out about the box of kittens. Letting it go in the woods. Me catching him in the morning. Lucky.

They go out for seafood once a year, twice a year. At Friendly’s or Red Lobster.

It’s Valentine’s Day, they go out for fried seafood.

It’s her birthday, they go out for fried seafood.

It’s Valentine’s Day again, they go out for fried seafood.

Another muscle car. The previous muscle car sold to pay off some bills and this new muscle car, driven around for a week in glory, and then sold off.

Wake up one morning and we all live in a house on a dead end street.

Wake up another morning and the dead end street no longer is a dead end. They’ve bulldozed the trees away, and now the road goes new places.

Lucky purring. Where did everybody go?

More room in the house.

She is gone and so is my brother. Left us for the lagoons.

Dad crying, I can hear him through the wall. Mom crying when I call her on the phone. Dad gets skinny.

Uncle Jeff’s legs are cut off. I start running long distance at school to not be at home. I muscle car around with my father. Driving from store to store, looking at shiny things, buying nothing.

When she lived in the house, he made fun of her country music. Maybe it was funny listening to country music here, pressed right up against the Atlantic Ocean, not a horse, or tractor, or cowboy for an hour’s drive.

He starts playing her cassettes. I’m in the passenger seat, head back, blank expression on my face.

Shania Twain belting out. “Any Man of Mine.”

Then, “Who’s Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?”

He sings along, slapping the wheel.

“How can you listen to this?” I said.

“She’s hot.”

He looks over, away from the road, grins at me.

“How you can listen to this shit…For real.” We usually listened to the classic rock radio station.

“Listen. You listening?”

“I’m listening.”

“She’s hot,” he says, turning it up.

 

During a blizzard they get back together. The roads are shut down by the governor. State of emergency. He drives to the hospital and gets her. The nurses say, No. He says, Yes. The nurses say, NO. He says, YES. Gets her anyway. They return home in the blizzard.

We all live in a blue house. Sometimes, she is heard weeping, over where we keep the garbage cans, where we pile the tires. He makes a sound like a bull, stomps around.

Uncle Jeff dies.

She manages a fabric store. Gets a little fat. Dad gets a little fat. My brother buys a trench coat, wears it everywhere. The other grandpa dies. I’ve run completely out of grandpas.

 

Mom reaches down into the cage, picks up a little guy, puts it into her oversized Knicks coat.

My brother is at the other end of the store, looking at a little guy. I’m over on my side, looking at some other little guy. A commercial puppy mill in a strip mall, other side of the busy highway. Windows fogged up. Air stinks like animal piss and shit.

Employees lean against the wall. Bullshitting.

“Where’s mom?”

I don’t know,” my brother says.

My friend Rick walks over. He’s starting to play in heavy metal bands, growing his hair longer, Megadeth length, wearing all black. Rick says, “I saw your mom go to the car.”

We leave. She’s in the minivan, smoking a Marlboro, engine running, heat blasting but only through the floor vents. We buckle up, she guns out of the parking lot. “You guys took forever.” I reach over and push the heater so it’ll blow out the upper vents. She slaps my hand away, says leave it how it is.

“What would you say if I told you there was a dog under your seat?”

“I don’t know.”

I look over at her, she’s just staring at me.

“Is there?”

We’re at a red light.

“Down there in the cubby. Open it up.”

I lean over.

“Look,” she says.

I pull the cubby open and there is a little guy in there. White furball, covered in piss, stinking like shit. “You stole a dog?”

“It looked like it was gonna die there.”

“I can’t believe you stole a dog…” I open the door and step out onto the side of the road.

She yells my name, but I keep walking. I don’t get far. The minivan pulls up next to me, rolling slow to keep pace. “Come on, get back in.”

“No.”

“Bud, get back in.”

I open the door and take my seat again.

“I can’t believe you did that.”

“I couldn’t leave this dog there. Look how neglected it is.”

 

We get to the vet. I wait for the police. The vet says she saved the dog’s life. They put it on antibiotics and steroids. More. More. I wait for the police. But the police never come.

Now she worries Dad won’t let us keep it.

But we get lucky again.

We get to keep the little guy.

It isn’t the first time my dad is tricked into keeping a pet. This time he’s told his old aunt Elaine bought it for my mom as a birthday present. It makes sense, Aunt Elaine had just won the actual lottery. The Pick 5. She was able to move out of the shitty trailer park with the winnings. To a much nicer trailer park. The dog weighs less than one pound. A Maltese. White. Fluffy. Bred for hunting rats, and other rodents. It’s home was the isle of Malta. But now her home is in a bi-level in a residential development of cookie cutter houses all built in 1962.

They name her Misty. A show dog, but there is no show. She takes over the house instead. Running around. Barking at whatever there is to bark at. Dad teaches her to jump on the top of the couch, bark out the picture window that is level with an oak tree. “Get the squirrel! Kill the squirrel!”

He works Misty up into a murderous frenzy, but she can’t get through the window to fight the squirrels. And even if she can, maybe the squirrel is tougher than her. Maybe the squirrel can kill her.

Mom knits at the kitchen table. Sometimes Misty sits in her lap while she knits. Or Dad holds her in his arms. When he does this, he looks like Mr. Clean, tall and strong and bald. He looks like a softy holding the tiny white dog. Mom cleans Misty’s eyes every night because they get dirty. Full of goop.

There are photos of Misty all over the house. More photos of her than of my brother and me. More photos of anyone.

The bathroom upstairs has a picture of Misty perched on a rock in the backyard, some Lion King looking business. Fuchsia flowers exploding behind her. Mom loves to work on her garden, and now she has a new hobby, photographing her dog in her garden.

When my girlfriend comes over, she says, “That picture in the bathroom is crazy.”

“Which one?”

“You know the one. You know who your dog looks like? You know who her celebrity look-alike is?”

“Who?”

“Goldie Hawn.”

And then every time after that, when I look at Misty, I see Goldie Hawn. I see Goldie Hawn if Goldie Hawn was a dog.

The reign of Misty is good for my mother and father, brings them closer, like it was before.

They go out and get fried seafood.

But Misty is bad for the weird cat. The weird cat mostly used to hang out in the bathroom downstairs, meowing inside the sink, meowing for you to turn on the faucet.

With Misty in the house, the weird cat starts pissing in the laundry room. So the weird cat becomes an outside cat. Gets exiled. The weird cat crouches in the bird bath full of water, meowing. Misty barks. And barks. And barks.

I can hear her upstairs over the amplified power chords I play in my bedroom. My grandma who was alive, dies. I’ve gone completely bankrupt on grandmas.

 

Mom gets skinny.

Dad gets skinny.

Dad gets fat.

I get fat.

My brother gets fat.

Mom gets fat.

Mom and Dad stay fat.

My brother gets skinny.

Mom and Dad get independently skinny.

Mom and Dad get fat together.

Mom and Dad go on a date.

They get fried seafood somewhere.

 

I have friends over. Downstairs in my parents house. Late at night. We are taking MDMA and watching color TV. Lucky comes into the room. Starts shaking. Convulsing. Lucky dies. So sad. Nobody can take it. We leave. Middle of the night. Walk to the abandoned park on the far side of the development. The sun comes up. I go home, sober, ready to tell my parents Lucky has died.

But there he is. Lucky is alive.

Sitting there on the steps.

Eyes open. Alive.

But he needs medicine now. Needles.

Many needles. Mom gives him medicine.

Then Lucky loses all his teeth and dies for real.

They bury him in the garden.

When Misty is four, my parents get a new little guy.

A mutt, half pug, half Boston terrier. Black. Runt of the litter. It’s out of its mind. Bulldozes into Misty and bites her and snarls and falls over and gets back up and does it again. Misty looks upset. And barks. And barks.

My dad yells at the puppy, calls it psycho. Mom says it has a broken brain. They all laugh. They name the little guy Bubby.

Mom’s hair turns gray. She dyes it blonde.

Dad’s beard turns white. He leaves it white. I graduate high school. My brother gets a GED, becomes a garbageman. I move away, begin to work in an oil refinery. Mom dyes her hair brown. Misty is slower. Bubby is full grown, a tiny tank. Bubby doesn’t bark, she says, a-wooo-wooo-wooo.

Knee replacement for dad. Central air-conditioning is installed in the house. Misty can’t get up or down the stairs now. They carry her down the steps to use the bathroom. The weird cat is in the yard. Bubby chases her. Uncle Lee dies. Bubby flips rocks, and eats the bugs underneath. Misty dies. They bury her under the rock she stood on in the famous photo.

The weird cat dies. Oh, her name was Jasmine.

They bury Jasmine in the garden.

A deck is built on the house. My brother becomes a dungeon master. I finally sell a novel. Bubby turns gray. They get a new little guy. It’s out of its mind. Bulldozes Bubby and bites her and snarls and falls over and gets back up and does it again. Bubby looks worried, pants and tries to get away. The little guy latches on again.

Dad yells at the puppy, calls it psycho. My mom says it has a broken brain. They all laugh. They name the little guy Valentine.

Valentine is a Maltese. Comes from the isle of Malta. Bred to kill rats, and other rodents. Runt of his litter. Dad holds him in his arms and looks like a big softie. Mom cleans the goop from Valentine’s eyes.

Bubby can’t walk up the stairs anymore. Valentine barks now. He stands on top of the couch and looks out the picture window and Dad says, “Kill the squirrels! Kill ‘em!”

Uncle Billy dies. Sandy’s legs are cut off. She moves downstairs into my old room.

My brother looks like a photograph of my father when my father held me in his arms, but my brother is holding Valentine, the fluffy white dog.

Bubby dies. They bury Bubby in the garden. Aunt Sandy goes back to New Hampshire. Dad needs his other knee replaced. Mom works at food stores all over the state, resetting the aisles, putting the Quaker Oats on the shelf in a particular way. Dial soap over there now.

They get a new little guy. A Boston terrier. Runt of the litter. Out of its mind. Bulldozes Valentine and bites her and snarls and falls over and gets back up and does it again. Valentine looks worried. Barks and barks. The little guy latches on again.

Dad yells at the puppy, calls it psycho. Mom says it has a broken brain. They all laugh. They name the little guy Willow.

Mom sends me a text. They are selling the house. But first they are buying a new house. There’s been so many houses, I’m surprised I even get a text. They’ll move somewhere without a lot of stairs. They are getting old. Too old to be climbing up and down the stairs.

We pack into some muscle car. Drive to Red Lobster. Celebrate some birthdays. On the stereo is country music. I like the way it sounds now. Hey turn this up. I’m as old as my dad was when my mom and him split up. I’m wearing one of his polo shirts from back then, too. Mom turns and looks at me in the backseat and says, “You know, Willow’s tongue can’t even fit in her mouth.” She’s cracking up. I crack up with her. Put my hand on her shoulder. “You know, each of these dogs gets stranger than the last…” And by that I mean, each of these days gets stranger than the last, than the last, than the last.

Mom and Dad get the fried seafood.

Mom and Dad get the fried seafood.

Mom and Dad get the fried seafood.

Mom and Dad get the fried seafood.

Mom and Dad get the fried seafood.

Mom and Dad get the fried seafood.

Mom and Dad get the fried seafood.

Mom and Dad get the fried seafood.

Mom and Dad get the fried seafood.

Mom and Dad get the fried seafood.

Mom and Dad get the fried seafood.

Mom and Dad get the fried seafood.

Mom and Dad get the fried seafood.

 

 

BUD SMITH lives in Jersey City and works construction. He is the author of the novel Teenager (Tyrant Books '19), among others.

3 responses to “Little Guy”

  1. Corey says:

    This is a good story. Mostly it makes me hungry for fried clams.

  2. […] was just there the other day reading Bud Smith’s latest essay “Little Guy,” and laughing at some sketches drawn by author Adam Soldofsky titled, “I Have a […]

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