Tina Marlene Goodman

The April Editor's Pick Writer is Tina Marlene Goodman

Please feel free to email Tina at: augustina29@gmail.com


by Tina Marlene Goodman

It took him a while to notice the dog.

The man squatted in the dirt road, careful not to rub against his dusty Lamborfari, and examined his back tire. It was flat and several jagged shards of glass were in the treads.

He stood and was about to run his fingers through his hair when he remembered something his therapist had said at their last session and stopped himself: “Perhaps you should consider cutting back on your habit of excessive grooming.” It was the word ‘habit’ that dug into the man. To his mind, it suggested a lack of self-control, which was incorrect since he had that in abundance. He walked to the rear of the car and tried to ignore the small mushroom clouds of dust that bloomed from each step he took in his cap-toe oxfords.

He opened the trunk and admired the personal hygiene station that was built into the top panel. It appeared that all the shaking caused by driving on unpaid roads for the last few hours, and then the wobbling of the flat tire, hadn’t disturbed a thing. And he had many things.

He fought the urge to take out his shoe-shining kit, his suit brush, and his hairbrush, even though any fool, including his therapist, Mr. Owen, would agree that he needed a thorough tidying up. He’d wait to clean up after he’d changed the tire, that was reasonable.

Then he noticed something, and it wasn’t the dog. It was a sort of swath stuck on the cuff of his khaki tan trousers which would’ve blended in better if it weren’t for the red specks of blood. And hair.

Now, being assaulted, in a way, by part of a stranger’s body should be enough to justify his need for the mobile grooming station. But he was sure that at their next session, Mr. Owen would listen while he recounted this latest incident and then remind him that actions create consequences. Then the man would nod and say that he is truly the master of his own destiny. After that, Mr. Owen would let out a long sigh and make another note in his file.

He grabbed his longest pair of tweezers from the trunk, and carefully plucked the skin off his pants. He flung it away, as far as he could, and it almost reached into the field of tall grass that was next to the road. Then he used a moist towelette to blot at his cuff, although it was of little use, he knew from experience, since blood leaves a stain. He tossed the towelette onto the road and watched as it was picked up by a breeze, flown over to the field, and lowered into the grass.

That’s when he noticed the dog sitting in the field.

“Looks like we have an audience,” he whispered and quickly took a tire iron out of the trunk. “A big, shaggy one. At least this one’s not a barker.”

His next-door neighbor used to have a barker. It takes a firm hand to train a dog to mind its master, but his neighbor hadn’t been fit for the task. And, she had been either too proud, or too stupid to ask for help. So, the man had been forced to take care of the problem himself. Then the ingrate had reported him to the authorities which led to mandated sessions with Mr. Owen.

“Stay,” he yelled to the dog and held up the tire iron. “Be good, or this is what you’ll get.”

The dog remained still, like a large golden statue, probably perched on something hidden by the grass. Now, looking at its eyes, the man wondered if the dog even knew he was there, it seemed to be looking past or through him.

“Dumb, lazy dog. It’s no wonder they dumped you out here.”

The man chuckled then propped the tire iron against the car’s bumper. He took another look at the dog before reaching into the bottom of the trunk and grabbing his spare tire with both hands. Right away he could tell it was flat. “Dammit! Those dirty squirrels.”

A few days earlier, the man hadn’t been able to get his Range Rover to start. A check under the hood had revealed chewed wires and a squirrel’s nest. So, he had driven off in the Lamborfari, and after only a few miles, had spotted a squirrel on the side of the road. Just as he had swerved to run it over, a tire blew out, which he had replaced with the spare. Then he had forgotten about it.

He took his phone from the inside pocket of his jacket and commanded it to call an automotive service.

“Hello, this is Car Care,” a robotic voice said. “How may I help you?”

“Bring me a tire and change my flat. It’s a Lamborfari XL.”

“Okay. I can do that. What is your location?”

“How should I know? The GPS was acting up.”

“What are the nearest crossroads?”

“Just track this phone.”

“What are the nearest crossroads?”

“Are you so incompetent that you need me to do your job for you?” The man’s hand started to shake so he gripped the phone tighter and yelled into it. “Put your manager on the line!”

“What are the nearest crossroads?”

The man forced himself to calm down before replying in a firm, confident tone. “I was driving down Darwin and turned onto Charon. Then, I heard a loud bang, followed by car alarms, so I drove toward the sound. I didn’t pay attention to any signs; I was in a hurry to get to the crash site.”

“Naturally, sir. Are the emergency vehicles with you now?”

“No. There was barely enough time to take a few pictures before I smelled gas and had to get out of there. I drove as fast and as far away as I could. Track my phone and you’ll find me.”

“Did you report the accident?”

“Well, no, but everyone was pretty much beyond help. One of them tried to tell me something but I couldn’t understand because of the noise. There were the car alarms, like I said…and a baby. Lots of screaming. Track this phone and tell the driver to—”

An eerie guttural sound came from his phone. “Hello? Are you there? Did you get that? Bring me a tire and change my flat.”

A spark shot out of his phone and he dropped it onto the road. “Jeez!” He kicked dirt over it. “Lousy service and now this! Are you kidding?”

His trembled and looked across the sky and down the road, as if searching for an answer. After he regained his composure, he turned back to the dog and yelled. “What! I suppose you think you’re better than me, huh? Well, let me tell you, you’re nothing but a bottom of the barrel, mangy mutt!”

He positioned himself before the open trunk, pressed the timer function on his Rolex, and reached into his grooming station. He grabbed an ashwood handled brush and stroked his hair. Its hornbeam pins massaged his scalp. Then he exchanged the hairbrush for a luxurious Italian neck duster that he twirled and flicked lightly against his skin. Next, he took off his jacket and draped it across a satin covered rod that hung from the trunk door. He cleaned the jacket with an antique suit brush, stroking gently with the grain of the wool, then he did the same to his pants while wearing them, careful of the bloody smudge on one cuff.

He swept a horsehair brush across his oxfords to remove the dust. Then he took two yack-bristle brushes out of the trunk, one in each hand, and polished both shoes simultaneously. When he was done, he tossed the brushes into the air, crossed his arms, and caught them. He placed the brushes back into their compartments, slipped on his jacket, stopped the timer on his watch, then smiled. He had set a new speed record.

A flash caught the corner of his eye. It had come from the field. He studied the dog for signs that it had moved, but, as far as he could tell, it hadn’t, and everything else looked the same. He was about to turn back to the trunk when he saw the flicker of light again. He looked back at the dog and this time he discovered the source of the sparkle.

Of course, he thought, a dog with a collar is a pet; a pet has a master, and the master has a home. With a working phone or an extra tire.

He closed the trunk and grabbed the tire iron. He kept it at his side as he walked into the field and stopped near the dog. Closer up, he was able to see that the dog wasn’t mangy or neglected. It was a pampered pooch. And its collar was paved with gemstones that looked real.

“Steady, now.” He held the tire iron up and stepped closer to the dog. “I just want to look at your collar. Your very, very expensive collar.” He peered at the collar but couldn’t find what he was looking for. The tags. “Hmm. Where do you live? Where’s your master’s house? Be a good dog and show me.”

The dog yawned.

He saw the dog’s teeth. They were immaculate and probably in as good of shape as his own, which was extremely, excessively good. “My, don’t you have nice teefers? Yes, you do. They’re all polished and flossed. Who’s the poor sucker that’s been paying for that service? He must be rich. Where is he? Huh? Where’s your master? Go.”

The dog lifted a shaggy leg and slowly scratched his chin with manicured claws.

The man had never seen that breed of dog before and thought it was probably exotic. He knew someone who would pay well to get his hands, and other things, on a dog like that. And he wanted that collar. He decided to come back later, with a rented van, and lure the dumb beast into it with some raw hamburger that was laced with a tranquilizer.

The dog stood up, then turned and raced across the length of the field and into a row of poplars. The man hurried after it, but when he entered the copse, he couldn’t see the dog and there weren’t any prints to follow. The trees were much taller than they had seemed just seconds before and the man suddenly felt insignificant among the massive columns. He decided to go back to his car to groom himself again.

Then he heard a dog barking.

“Is that you, boy?”

There was another bark. The man moved toward the sound and stepped out of the trees, onto freshly cut, lush grass that stretched as far as he could see. A magnificent, gilded pavilion gleamed in the sunshine and almost blinded the man. The dog was there, waiting, wagging its tail.

“Wow, these are some digs,” the man said as the dog ran up to him and dropped a ball at his feet. He picked up the ball and tossed it. The dog ran after it and brought it back. Then he tossed it again, and the dog brought it back. “That’s enough for now. I don’t like touching your ball; it’s dirty like you. Where’s your master’s house? Home. Go now, dog!”

The dog nudged the ball closer to the man’s shoes.

He held the tire iron up to show the dog he meant business. “I said that’s enough. You’ve got to learn to mind. Your master must be very weak. And rich. Now, where’s the big house? Home. Where’s home? Go!”

The dog turned away and walked up the marble steps of the pavilion, then sat on a cushion.

The man looked around and saw a shabby structure off to the side of the pavilion that was probably a small maintenance shed, or a doghouse. There were no other buildings in sight.

“Come on, you spoiled, lazy dog. Take me to your master, and his mansion.”

The dog ignored him and sat like a golden statue once again.

Then he saw something crawl out of the shed. When it stood up, the man saw that it was a filthy, emaciated, naked man with a large black sack hanging from his neck.

The man stared, frozen with disgust as the hunched creature limped toward him and stopped in front of him. The naked man took the heavy sack from his neck and dropped it. It fell to the ground and the contents spilled over the man’s oxfords.

“Pick that up quick,” the naked man whispered.

“You pick it up. You dropped it.”

Then the naked man grabbed the tie iron and hit himself in the head.

“What are you doing?” the man shouted. “What’s going on?”

“Pick up the stuff. Everything has to be neat,” the naked man said before he turned and limped toward the trees.

The man decided it was best to do as he was told. Without taking his eyes off the naked man, he bent down and felt for the things that had fallen on the grass. He could pretty much tell what the objects were by touch. After he was sure that he had returned everything to the bag, he stood up and yelled, “You forgot your bag!”

The naked man stopped in front of the trees and didn’t turn around. He began hitting the trees with the tire iron.

“Hey!” the man shouted as loudly as he could but still got no response. As he watched the naked man pound the trees with the tire iron, it occurred to him that perhaps the naked man couldn’t hear him. There was something strange about the acoustics in that place. He, himself, could hear the naked man grunt and pant as he beat the trees, but he couldn’t hear the sound that must have occurred when the tire iron made contact with the trees.“Hey, can you hear me? You left your grooming supplies!”

He finally looked away from the naked man and inside the bag.

Then he looked back at the naked man who had stopped hitting the trees and had started hitting his head with the tire iron until he fell onto the well-manicured lawn and was still.

A great wave of panic threatened to overtake the man and he felt extremely fortunate for already having just what he needed to control the tide: the new bag of grooming supplies. He reached into the bag with a trembling hand and pulled out one of the brushes. It wasn’t a style he was familiar with, so he examined it. He noticed a strand of yellow hair that was caught in the bristles.

That’s odd, he thought, that man wasn’t blonde. He had dark hair, what was left of it, anyway. If he were an animal, I’d swear he had mange. And, he couldn’t stop himself from thinking, and… not an inch of him was groomed…not in the slightest. Yet he had all these grooming supplies. But they were different…were they for animals?

Then the man slowly turned to look at the dog, with its golden fur, sitting regally in the pavilion. It had grown to the size of a woolly mammoth. He shook his head. “No, no!” Then his head continued to shake, uncontrollably, along with his entire body.

Blood of the Chitwood-Crawford clan throbs through Tina Marlene Goodman’s veins. Her ancestral land, Chitwood, Oregon, once a thriving community, is now a decaying ghost town. Sometimes, a misguided soul will venture into Chitwood to gawk at its red covered bridge which is at risk of disappearing into heavy, moist-laden air, or being sucked down into rain-saturated sludge.