It is a house you dream to live in, four bedrooms. Three of them for no one. Every corner of the garden smells of powders to kill insects. Except for the garage - that smelling, sweetly, of root beer. There are dogs in the neighborhood. They howl. Force out dry and crinkled barks, bounce along the gulley banks and vanish into the black night yard. It is hands punching paper bags. The neighbors claim they are strays, the din the city’s responsibility. Unable to sleep through this and the sound of freight and passenger trains clattering mostly west, or inching through your town till dawn; the residents lay awake, picture crates carrying cane, dried fruits, unbutchered sides of beef, rolls of paper towels and unlined writing pads. Other neighbors part thin curtains to gape at plumb-lined trees night-shading either edge of the lighted street. Or they haunt their doorways. Even in summer wearing wooly coats, and olive scarves, as they lean flush against the slats and jambs and smoke and bite their pipes.
Most of the houses here are painted gray or black and white, and all develop identical black flakes as the seasons change. The neighbors are known for the number of children they produce, children which play rodent-like in the ruts which score the roadtop. These children wear tight white shirts and reflective fabrics. Their sneakers blink in constant alarm. Cars cut through these side streets, sometimes nearing cruising speed. One summer there was an accident. It took the life of a Campfire Girl. Den mothers ran out of their doorways. Chain smokers clutched their phones. They might have been engaging in a conversation about something as pragmatic as the fact that garbage had not been collected for two weeks. But there was somehow a connection made between the mother and the male voice on the other end, and the talk began to shift into unfamiliar cul-de-sacs. It must have been the address which, when mentioned, first drew the mother out and into mid-conversation, the dispatcher having recognized the name of the street on which the trash had been left stinking, or on which a power line was sagging scarily. Comments where exchanged about the removal of certain trees which had recently been cut in an under-mediated decision. Some of the trees were thought to have prevented motorists from viewing the stop signs which regularly appeared along the street. Because of them several mishaps had been narrowly avoided. Already a number of pets had needed to be speeded to a veterinary hospital as a result of unforeseen collisions. Drivers had been seen to stand beside their cars, wanting to show their concern for the animals they had mangled, until the owners appeared and these drivers began to grow less apologetic and more defensive. Many of the parents in the neighborhood had been witnesses to these collisions and had complained to the city, mentioned the number of schools and children in the vicinity, and demanded that something be done immediately. Within the week workmen were seen in the neighborhood, driving or lunching in their yellow city trucks. There was the sound of a buzz saw and the smell of light construction. Areas of shade began to disappear. Over the course of seven days fifteen of the oldest trees were leveled to stumps upon which the workers poured petroleum. Other stumps were sprayed with a fluorescent paint which slated them for machine extraction. A number of neighbors were outraged at the drastic measures which were so swiftly adopted by the city. They stood in the way of the city employees as they pulled the ropes of their chains saws. There was talk of calling in lawyers and police. There was discussion of the public good. Other neighbors, those taking the opposite side of the issue, were those who walked the dogs, some of these victims still waiting to have their bandages removed. These were large dogs, german shephards, Dobermans, rotweilers. All of them now animal amputees, missing fore or hind paws and limbs, or looking either pathetic or ridiculous because they were instances of breeds intended to keep the tails God gave them. Some neighbors had been moved to tears when seeing a poodle which once had been a show dog. It had been meticulously groomed in the fashion of old Bourbon gardens, the ears the only organ of the animal which could at first glance still be labeled untamed nature. Everything else about this creature — because it truly seemed created — demanded to be viewed as artifice. These haunches like some cauliflower hybrid, these forepaws molded in a muffin tin, this tail shaved back until a toilet brush. As for the hinder parts of the animal, these had been shaved in a manner which lacked the same precision — though these regions too seemed topiary — as the other sections of the animal’s anatomy. There was evidence of urgency in the way the coat had been shorn clear to the skin, and it was in the middle of this quarter of the fur, that there was missing now a mutilated limb. The animal hopped clumsily along and seemed indeed conscious of lost dignity. Many of the neighbors in the area had previously mocked the dog, while one concerned individual had gone so far as to stop the owners on their daily walk and comment on the absurdity of such a coiffure. The owners fought to retain their poise, but the effort was of little avail when they found them selves rudely confronted by an adult male in sandals. They looked down at their brogans and then slowly raised their egg-white faces. Not that the man slandering their show dog was of another race or denomination - though the owners scarcely practiced. But somehow some nerve in them had been pricked. The man made them aware of the way they had hidden their feet and hands and faces. They were scandalized by the sandaled man’s audacity. Practically barefoot. But rather than finding a reply for him, they simply walked on, though they took a path shorter than that which they were used to and they were home in a matter of minutes. But now their dog, beyond being a laughing stock, had also become an object of crass pity. They paid somewhat less attention to its grooming, and this for extra-veterinary reasons. Occasionally this same individual, still in his sandals with their open toes, would cross their path. Upon first seeing the poodle as an amputee, the sandaled man had walked up to the animal and got down on both knees. He took the muzzle into both his hands and let the animal run its tongue over his lips. The owners called the dog by name and fought to pull it back. But the newness of the injury and the probability of the animal’s pain prevented them from doing more than simply pulling the dog off balance. The other, the man in sandals, did not appear to wince at the suffering of the poodle in the same way as its owners did. Nor did he appear to share their shame. All of his attention was directed toward the animal. As for the owners, he never looked their way, as if it were always and everywhere understood that humans – and these were people were human - were incapable of speech. The husband and wife once again failed to bring their dog to heel. They stepped back when the sandaled man crept forward, on his hands and knees. He showed no care for his clothing, only the poodle. He reached slowly forward and touched its living wound. Finally, the sandaled man moved on. It seemed he had been able to communicate deep meanings to the poodle, that he had shared some gnomic wisdom with the animal and then resumed his daily stroll. Several neighbors in the area had witnessed this interaction, and though it was never discussed over the phone, somehow the information traveled along either side of the street. This couple had never been a prominent part of neighborhood society. But something had changed that day. You could feel it. Within an instant it was understood that these people would be moving out of the house. How correct this guess turned out to be was made visible quickly enough, for a florescent moving sign soon appeared in front of the Poodles’, and a mere two weeks after this first appearance there were heard the sounds of a moving van. The van arrived at the same time that the tree removal services appeared. There was little space then for the moving van to park along the right side of the street. Attempts were made by the driver of the van to park more conveniently while the workers from the city were taking their coffee break. And at other times the driver of the van was seen to be reasoning with the city employees. But no compromise was reached. The moving van was seen parked on the opposite side of the street from the Poodle house, which was to be vacated, or it was seen to be poking offensively out of the driveway so that it became an obstacle to traffic. Some of the faster cars did in fact slow down in order to avoid colliding with another circumnavigating vehicle. But other cars sped all the faster past the moving van, the drivers seemingly thinking that all rush-hour traffic would be speeding in their same direction. Or not thinking at all. The moving proved clumsy. But more than anything else it proved to be an exhibition of the Poodles, who until the time of their removal had tried — despite their show dog — to maintain an unexceptional appearance. Theirs was in fact a reality which their neighbors had as yet to see. But now the substance of their lives was paraded before their neighbors’ gaze. There to be viewed and talked about were several large works of art, which at first recalled to the curious observers the velvet paintings they had seen in Thift Town or at a tiki bar, at garage sales taking place in neighborhoods through which these neighbors had driven with the windows barely down. Several of the neighborhood men — because it had become late afternoon — paused momentarily as they left their automobiles. They set down their briefcases and went to fetch their wives. The paintings contained images of heavy-breasted women, most of them scantily clad, though others of them were fully naked. And these paintings – or the contents of them – seemed somehow familiar. But in addition to these pieces, there were also paintings showing women lying together with men, and there were paintings of men and men together. These men were also lightly clad, some of them wearing scarcely a wash cloth, though they had no native hair. Nor were their torsos golden. The number of these paintings could not be decided, except by the movers, who, in addition to seeming enthusiastic, seemed also to be experts in complete command of the operation. The owners of the paintings stood watching. The husband and the wife seemed lost in a state of deepest admiration of their paintings. At times they reminded the movers not to lay the paintings too abruptly one against the other. Mainly the paintings were lined face-out along the street side of the moving van. Though it remained generally well behaved, the poodle could be seen restlessly to hop back and forth along the base of the gold frames. Most of the paintings were larger than poster-size. Beyond observing their contents, many of the neighbors began to question how so many of these paintings could be stored within a single-family dwelling. If even only a third of them were hung up on display, they would have filled every wall to cracking. There would have been hardly room for wall. There were no children in the Poodle family as far as the neighbors were aware. But still, these paintings were so numerous they must have been hung even within the kitchen. And the paintings continued to appear. As the neighbors grew accustomed to their appearance, they become aware that these paintings were not on stretched velvet. There was no dustiness to their nap. Instead, a pooling sheen rose from a background in which all the bodies shone. In some places the oil seemed even to adhere to the bodies within the picture, as if they had been bathed in grease. Further, though they were painted in soft focus, there was still too much detail in these paintings, too much hair on the men, too much even on the women. Certain body parts were simply there to be seen by anyone who cared to see them. The paintings were photographs. The parade of pictures continued to disappear into the van, and the neighbors at the same time continued their calculations. And they kept an eye upon the hopping, anxious dog. There appeared, then, rounding the corner and heading up the block, the same sandaled man who had first confronted the Poodles and knelt down to encounter their dog. The man walked softly. His hair tied back. He was not slow to notice the van. Oddly, now, he seemed to harbor little interest in the poodle which so recently had won his full attention. Rather, the neighbors saw the sandaled man approach the Poodles themselves, the owners of the photographs. They stood in the door, and so it was difficult to see much of the sandaled man, but for his back. Also, it was difficult to make out much of the Poodles. The sandaled man shifted his weight from hip to hip. He could be seen tilting his head and gesturing in the direction of the photographs. The movements of his hands seemed almost modern dance. He would draw them away from his shoulders and then suddenly clutch them together, out of the line of sight. Then his hands would part from one another and hover as if they were two doves. It looked as if the sandaled man were nothing but a limp balloon in which thin air was shifting. It was an expanding and then a contracting oscillation of his body. The sandaled man shook hands with Poodle Man and Woman and continued on his walk. It could not be called a smile, but clearly there was a color to be seen in the face of Sandal Man which had not been seen previously. But then there was a sound of burning tires. This was followed by a watermelon thump. Moving around the front of the van, the neighbors came upon the body of a child. A car was stopped just shy of the tiny Campfire body. It was occupied by a man who did not come out from behind the steering wheel. He sat looking at his forehead in a mirror clamped under the white sun visor. At first the neighbors were not able to make out whether the child was still alive. They stood there, simply looking, as the sandal man came back, and knelt, and let down his hair his sandal hair, and whistled for the dog.
Brian Kubarycz writes and paints in Salt Lake City, where he teaches Intellectual Traditions for the Honors College at the University of Utah. His work has appeared in The Quarterly, Black Warrior Review, Unsaid, New York Tyrant, PANK, The Collagist, and NOÖ.