Timothy Raymond grew up in southeastern Wyoming. Currently he studies contemporary American literature at the
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he also teaches writing. His stories have appeared in The Owen Wister
Review, 50 to 1, and Signatures. You can read his other work here: traymond-birds.blogspot.com.
The First and Last Time
I watched Nick sling the big white dog onto his back. We were in the woods about fifteen miles outside of town. Paul was with
us, but we called him Pants for reasons I can't remember now.
Nick had a juicy red car. Earlier that morning he and I were outside of our apartment smoking cigarettes, when he asked me
to get the cooler out of the trunk of his car. Inside was a dead dog.
"Nick," I said. "Come here."
He walked over.
"There's a dead dog in your trunk, Nick," I said.
"Huh," he said.
"I'll get Pants," I said.
Inside Pants was sniffing at markers. He gladly followed me back to the car.
"That's Luna," he said.
"This is your dog?" Said Nick.
"No," he said.
"Luna means moon," I said.
"That's beautiful," said Pants.
"Whose dog is it?" Said Nick.
"It's the landlord's dog," said Pants. "Luna."
He got in there and moved the dog around a little. It was creamy and round, really just like the moon. I imagined the dog
floating up in the sky, cold and hard and dead in the big of the universe.
"How did a dog get into your car?" I said.
Pants said, "Luna."
"How did Luna get into your car?" I said.
"I don't know," said Nick. "Frank, how would I know that?"
"It seemed like a fair question," I said.
"We have to get rid of it," said Pants.
So we got in the car and started driving. I sat up front and Pants was in the backseat, looking at the seat itself, like he was
trying to feel the dog with his mind. Nick looked over at me and gestured a bit with his head in the direction of Pants. I
nodded back. In a few months Pants would get blamed for the dog, and Nick and I would sell him out to keep the apartment. I
don't know where Pants is now.
It didn't matter. None of it really did. Pants just stayed at our apartment because he had nothing. He liked the shape of our
place. We did too. It was shaped like a horseshoe, and for that, Pants always thought that it was lucky. For all I know it was
lucky like the stars.
When we got to the woods outside of town, Nick got the dog and carried it on his back. We didn't really know where we were
going. Pants was jumping around through the brush and trees like a soldier. I just felt dizzy and tired with it. We made our
way out until we found a thin creek.
"Here," said Pants.
"What?" I said. "Here what, Pants?"
"We've got to bury the dog here," he said.
"In the creek," Nick said.
"Oh," I said. "Should we say something first?"
"Like what," said Nick. "Frank, what in the world would we say?"
"Here, Earth," said Pants, "is Luna."
Nick looked at him and then looked up at the sky.
He added, "Yes, Earth, the dead dog that we found in my car."
Pants was nodding his head and whispering, "Yeah, yeah."
"This doesn't seem right," I said, without really meaning it.
"This is what water is for," said Pants.
"Not bad," said Nick.
Nick walked up to the edge of the creek and held the dog high up above him. I was surprised that he could hold a dog that big
as far above his head as he did. Sometimes friends surprise you that way. He took a step back and then lunged forward,
heaving the dog into the creek. But the water was shallow, so the dog was still visible. It just sat atop the water like some
kind of ridiculous moon-dog savior.
"The water looked deeper than that," I said. "It really did."
They chose me to go in and get the dog, because I hadn't contributed enough to the saving of our lives from the law. So I
did. I took off my shoes and waded into the creek. The water was cold on my skin. I looked down the creek, first one side and
then the other, and daydreamed about swimming all the way back to the apartment.
"Come on," said Nick. "Frank."
I looked down at the dog and felt bad. It wasn't bad like I was wrong, but just bad because I thought a dead animal was
supposed to be beautiful. The way Luna looked, the whole scene was just crude and mechanical. I looked back at Pants and
Nick, their expectant faces kind of dim. They appeared to live lives that were based on forgetting. The two of them looked like
they had forgotten a lot of things without realizing it.
About six months before any of this, Nick and I had walked into our apartment to find Pants lying on the couch, pretending he
was sick. He made gestures with his hands like his stomach and heart were exploding inside of him. This was the first we had
seen of him. We knew he was faking, but the what the hell did we care.
Nick looked at me and had said, "well."
"Sure," I said.
After that Pants mostly spent his time wandering around the building talking to people and looking in windows.
So I looked at Nick and Pants. Then I took off running up the opposite side of the creek, away from my friends. It seemed like
the right decision at the time. But I didn't have my shoes, so when they came after me, they caught up pretty easily. Nick
tackled me to the ground, pushing my face into some plants. Then he got up and I lay on my back.
"Where the hell?" Said Nick, panting.
"I don't know," I said. "It's enough already. Let's get out of here."
Back in the car my face started to itch and redden. Pants checked it out while we were driving.
"I think there's poison ivy in those woods," said Nick.
"Yeah," said Pants, looking at my face. "Yeah."
"How about that," I said. "A rash."
"We should take you to the doctor," said Pants.
"I'll be fine," I said.
"No," said Pants. "We should."
So we stopped by a clinic that we eventually just saw on the side of the road. I went in and signed some forms and waited.
Nick and Pants sat in the waiting room with me. I scratched my face until my fingers started to itch too.
"Do you have a cigarette?" I asked Nick.
Outside I smoked and tried not to touch my tongue or lips with my hand. It was difficult but I got the hang of it. The smoke
in a way helped sooth my skin.
Back inside I saw that just Nick was in the waiting room.
"Where is he?" I said.
"He went in for you," said Nick.
"How should I know?" He said. "Nobody knows anybody here. What difference does it make?"
Most likely he was right. I was pretty sure that the doctor wouldn't tell me anything about the rash or give me anything but
aloe. The whole trip was Pants's idea, why not let him do what he needed to do.
When he came back out he was quick and secretive. He told us to meet him in the car. He talked to the receptionist for a
second and then met us outside.
"I got the desk girl's phone number," Pants said.
"Let me see," I said.
He showed me. It was written on the back of the doctor's business card.
"I also stole his prescription pad," he said.
"Let me see that," said Nick.
Nick looked at me and then handed me the pad.
"It's real, I think," I said.
"Of course it's real," said Nick. "You think Pants just put that together in the examination room?"
"I'm just saying," I said.
"I didn't," said Pants. "That thing is real."
None of us had any money, so we went back home. It was Nick's idea to call Evans and find out where he was working. I
guess I never told you about Evans. He was technically in on the lease with Nick and me. We just never really saw him. He
painted houses for a living, and sometimes he would come back to the apartment and sleep on the couch or on the floor
somewhere. Not even Pants could talk to him easily.
Evans was painting at a house not that far away, so the three of us went to meet him. He let us help him out, and when we
were done painting, he gave us some of the money that house's owner gave him. We went to a bar to get a little drunk.
Pants told Evans about the prescription pad, but Evans didn't really say much. Nick sat at the corner of the table and
practiced writing out prescriptions. His handwriting was too good at first, but in time the scribble was down.
Finally Evans said, "Let's take what's left and get some valium."
"Good idea," said Pants.
Nick drove himself and Pants to a supermarket to get the prescription filled. Evans and I just waited at the horseshoe
apartment, soaking up luck. It must have worked, because shortly after they left, Pants and Nick came home with some
bottles of pills.
On the coffee table, Nick split the pills into piles, handing each of us a small handful.
"How many should I take?" I asked.
I had five pills in my hand.
"God," said Nick. "Frank."
So I took them all, drank them down with some water. The others followed suit. And for the next few hours we sat around
like spheres of light.
That was the first time that I did valium. I did it one other time a few years later, after Pants was gone and after Evans had
fallen from a ladder. Nick was still living in the horseshoe apartment, doing I don't know what. Eventually I had decided to get
out of town for a little while, so I took a sleeping bag and a backpack to the interstate and started hitchhiking. A trucker had
picked me up when it was getting real dark outside.
"Thanks," I said.
"What are you doing on the road?" He asked.
"Just thought I would get out of town," I said.
"What do you do?" He said.
I didn't know exactly what to say. I looked in my bag and pulled out a bottle of water that had some alcohol in it too. I offered
him some, and he accepted.
I said, "I take lives."
He laughed out loud. He laughed the laugh of a bear, and I joined in. It was funny, though I wouldn't be sure why until awhile
"I like that," he said. "Hey, I've got plans for someone like you."
"I wish I could just sleep for now," I said.
"Sure," he said.
He gave me some pills. I tried to remember how many I had taken the first time, but couldn't, so I guessed and drank a few
down with the water and alcohol.
"I'll wake you when we get to Adair," he said.
"Okay," I said. "No, wait, wake me when the sun comes up."
"When the sun comes up," the man repeated.
"Yeah," I said. "Wake me when the sun comes up. I want to see the sun rise while I'm on the road."
"Whatever you say there, chief," he said.
That's what I was looking for all along. The way he said it. I nestled into the door and laid my head on the window. I thought
about the sun coming up and pushing the moon back down into the sea. And then I drifted off high and deep like a balloon.