Daddy: Mid-July, 1986

You can’t really call it a pet if the dog never comes inside, not even on the hottest day of a Florida summer, not even when it thunders before the sky unloads raindrops the size of pennies, hail the size of nickels, not even when you give the dog a name, Lightning, as if hoping the weather will be the thing that kills it, before your daddy has a chance to pump three shells into its chest. Shotgun in hand, my daddy walked the backyard looking for carpenter bees, for squirrels, for anything he could shoot and not feel bad about it, which wasn’t much in those days. I said a little girl prayer that the afternoons wouldn’t leave the dog lonely and hungry like those kittens my daddy refused to give milk when their mother abandoned them, when, as he said, he already had enough mouths to feed, that nature would run its course.

I followed my daddy past a makeshift row of lattices, all of them leaning, choked by scuppernongs, toward the fence between my house and Mr. Stanley’s and his backyard fire pit where he burned tires, heated the diesel he used to bathe his dog that had the mange. Armed with my very own BB gun, eyes peeled for possums and armadillos, I stepped where Daddy stepped, ankle deep in catbrier and fallen honeysuckle, until the weight of the humid air pushed my lungs into the pit of my stomach, until we found Lightning beneath an azalea bush, wild eyes the size of logrollers.

Before Daddy lifted Lightning into the bed of his F150, the dog had already chewed blood deep into his hind leg. The washed-out bridge at the end of the dirt road was where they were headed. From the kitchen window, my mama called me to dinner and I ran inside to wash my hands, to tell my brother, who seemed interested only in his baseball cards. When Daddy came home, we sat down to eat. Fried okra, meatloaf, and cream-style corn. No one said the blessing. It was a Saturday.

Jami Kimbrell lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with her husband, poet James Kimbrell, and their four children.  She is a trial attorney who also holds a B.A. degree from Florida State University in Literature. Her short fiction has appeared in Word RiotMonkeybicycle, and is forthcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine.