*inspired in part by the Boston song of the same name
Jimmy pushed the door of his house open and stood in the doorway, listening carefully, a large, but gaunt yellow dog standing quietly next to him. He smiled when he heard nothing but silence. None of the usual angry words spilling forth from his father’s mouth, as they so often did after dinner. It was after dinner his father drank. He would sit at the table, holding court and drinking from his flask, while Jimmy’s sisters, Lydia and Celinda cleared the dinner dishes. His mother always tried to send him outside while simultaneously trying to placate his father, agreeing with every foolish thing that came out of his mouth. But no one was here now.
Jimmy smiled to himself, “c’mon boy,” he said, opening the door wider, allowing the dog to come inside. He ran up the stairs to the loft he slept in, the dog nipping at his heels. His father would be gone early in the morning and it was then he would ask his mother if the dog could stay. Jimmy was sure his mother would say yes, she almost always said yes to anything he asked of her. She would think of some way to allow him to keep the dog as a pet and his father would never find out. His mother, Polly, was very good at that by now; keeping the numerous things that would set his father off carefully hidden, shielding her children from William Hickok’s wrath while absorbing the worst of his temper herself.
His foot had just hit the last step when he heard it, his voice. The front door blew open and just as quickly slammed shut. His father stumbled inside, cursing his son for leaving his boots lying about.
“Dammit Jimmy!” William bellowed. He glanced up the stairs and saw his son frozen there, an ugly, mangy mutt standing protectively next to him. “Get that dog out of here!” he shouted.
Polly hurried from the bedroom, tightening her shawl about her shoulders. She placed her arm around her husband’s waist, sighing softly as she smelled the liquor on his breath. “Hush William, you’ll wake the children.”
“Children,” William slurred the word. “Tell him to get that mutt out of here. What did I tell him about dogs?” That boy never minded him. Jimmy was nothing but a mama’s boy, no wonder the other boys picked on him. It was a rare occasion when his son didn’t come home with a black eye or swollen jaw.
“We’ll deal with it in the morning,” Polly said soothingly. They would deal with it after the worst effects of the alcohol had passed. “It’s freezing out there. Let it pass for now.”
“Morning?!” William roared. “I want that dog out of here. Now!” He shoved his smothering wife away from him. He wasn’t in the mood for her patronizing attitude right now. He felt a glimmer of guilt through the whiskey as he saw her stumble and fall to the floor.
“You get away from her!” Jimmy yelled, rushing down the stairs. He pushed his father away from his mother.
As William raised his hand, the yellow cur leapt off the stairs, placing himself directly between father and son, his teeth bared.
Polly jumped to her feet, catching her husband’s arm, “William,” she gasped. Her husband had never raised his hand against his children.
“Get that dog out of here,” William hissed. Disrespect, that’s what he was given at home.
“Do it, Jimmy,” his mother said wearily.
“But-” Jimmy protested.
“Please,” Polly said, a hint of fear in her voice.
“Alright,” Jimmy muttered, grasping the dog by the scruff and leading him towards the door. Both his parents stood, silently watching as he opened the door and pushed the dog outside, ignoring the brown eyes which looked at him, pleading. He shut the door in the dog’s face and stood, arms crossed, staring at his parents.
“He best learn to mind me,” William grumbled as his wife began to lead him to their bedroom.
Jimmy heard his mother murmur words of comfort as they walked out of earshot. It was then he flung the door open and let the dog, which was waiting patiently by the door, back in. “Sorry, boy,” he whispered, wrapping his arms around the dog’s neck. “Let’s go.” Then the two of them padded as quietly as they could up the stairs.
William Hickok stepped out of the church. He took a deep breath
and blew it out, enjoying as he had as a child, the white mist that hung
in the air before it rapidly disappeared. As he took another step
down, his feet hitting the crunchy white snow that blanketed the ground,
he decided that he really should be here tomorrow. Tomorrow was Christmas
eve. But it was seeing that old, yellow dog earlier that did it.
That mongrel had somehow taken up residence in his barn and he was powerless
to stop him. The beast followed his son everywhere, looking at him
as if he was the one who belonged outside instead of the dog.