Nick Ripatrazone

Gulps

He shook the vial in front of the counter, urine slosh­ing along the plas­tic sides. Beige hairs lit­tered his flan­nel shirt, so I knew he owned a dog, but we didn’t have any named Moon on file. No vari­a­tions of the word, either, like Twilight or Nighttime.

I closed the log and called in the back for Janice. She was most like­ly on the phone with her hus­band, who had been mow­ing behind the house and near­ly fell off the rid­er from the pain of a spi­der bite. His ankle had swollen to the size and col­or of an egg­plant. Janice said no such dog exist­ed. The man over­heard and turned back to me.

I was in here last night.” He dropped the vial on my papers and I lift­ed my hands. He claimed his dog jumped on the bed in the mid­dle of the night and start­ed wheez­ing. Gulping was the exact word he used. He said the dog near­ly dry heaved all over his sheets, so he took her out­side, and she pro­ceed­ed to chomp down cedar mulch at the base of a hydrangea. The doc­tor last night had checked her, induced vom­it, and told the man to bring back a urine sam­ple.

I didn’t like how the man looked. His beard was patchy, as if the hairs had quit after a few days of growth, and he wore a hat with “Toke the Trout” print­ed across the brim. That was the type of thing I would turn over in my head again and again while I lay in bed unable to sleep next to my snor­ing hus­band. Dr. Pierson, the vet on duty last night, would nev­er induce vom­it­ing unless a dog had downed a shot of Clorox. I knew the guy was full of shit.

I said we would get to him in a moment. I asked him to sit down—“we have mag­a­zines on the table”—and picked up the vial with a nap­kin and brought it to Janice. I stood in the door­way and lis­tened to her talk to her hus­band. Ian was his name, and he was bitch­ing about the bite. I had sug­gest­ed soak­ing his leg in water and salt but Janice waved me away. I knew what she was cook­ing up, talk­ing as loud as she could about the injury so Dr. Warren would hear in the next room over.

Dr. Warren was on call every Saturday night. Rather than dri­ve the thir­ty min­utes here for an emer­gency, he stayed and slept in the clin­ic until mid­day Sunday, when he went back to Willsboro for his Sunday Lutheran ser­vice. He was eat­ing a peanut but­ter sand­wich on wax paper when I knocked.

Doc, do we treat any dogs named Moon?”

Like Moon Mulligan?”

I think so.”

He put down the sand­wich. He didn’t have any­thing to drink, nev­er did, so I was always offered him a glass of orange or grape juice for the fridge. I couldn’t imag­ine hav­ing a mouth so dry. “Not off the top of my head.” He went back to the sand­wich, chew­ing with his head to the left, star­ing at the poster of a gold­en retriev­er and a boy in a field of high grass. The retriev­er looked ten times the size of the boy, who had a strange smile on his face, as if some­body was doing some­thing off cam­era to make him con­cen­trate. I stared at the poster for anoth­er few sec­onds until I heard the man scream.

~

I like to read mur­der mys­ter­ies set in the south­west. I like when there’s red dust, ante­lope skulls, low Jeeps dri­ven off road. I buy most of my books at the Beehive, a con­sign­ment shop on Poplar Drive; five paper­backs for a dol­lar. The last time I went was on Wednesday: I was spend­ing the upcom­ing week­end at my sister’s in Burlington, across Lake Champlain, and while the rest of them went kayak­ing I would vol­un­teer to watch the cab­in and could get some read­ing done.

I’d found a few good titles and was about to leave when Paul, the guy who han­dles the dona­tions, basi­cal­ly cor­nered me by the hard­cov­ers. He stretched his arms along the shelf and asked about my work. I had to remem­ber my usu­al line: I was a stew­ardess for Southwest and worked at Macy’s every oth­er week­end. My moth­er lived in Chicago and had shin­gles. I was always wait­ing at the ter­mi­nals for changeovers and need­ed some­thing to keep me busy.

We exhaust­ed the usu­al top­ics and I turned to go but he wouldn’t stop talk­ing. He said I looked nice but the com­pli­ment was lost beneath oth­er sen­tences, and I shift­ed a Tony Hillerman nov­el into my right hand and that exposed my key string: “Tri-County Animal Hospital” in white type. I said that I took my dog there but he crossed his arms and I remem­bered anoth­er pre­vi­ous lie; as a stew­ardess who rarely came back to the apart­ment, I could nev­er own a pet. In fact, I hat­ed ani­mals. Every last one of them.

~

One night Dr. Warren smoked a cig­a­rette behind the hos­pi­tal, arms crossed, lean­ing against the brick wall. He prac­ti­cal­ly sucked it down, stomped it on the con­crete step, and then threw rocks into the woods. Janice and I watched him, rub­ber brooms in our hands, and laughed about his wife and her big glass­es and even big­ger ass. When he turned around he went back to hos­ing the nugget-shaped shit and curled hairs into the drain. The back room was sloped, and every­thing slid along the blue-paint­ed cement and went down the pipes. Janice and I would fight over who would spray the sludge down; trust me, there I was, fight­ing over clean­ing shit when it pained me to scrub the toi­let at home. Dr. Warren came back into the room and asked why we were laugh­ing. I looked at Janice and she wasn’t laugh­ing, she had this look of death to her, her long nose almost stretch­ing over her top lip. I guess he was talk­ing about me.

~

After Dr. Warren calmed the man down, I gave him the newest issue of Field and Stream. I was sav­ing it for my hus­band because there was a cov­er arti­cle on hunt­ing pheas­ants after thun­der­storms. The man thanked me and that was a nice ges­ture, a wel­come change in mood. I slipped into the back and saw Dr. Warren and Janice, both of their hands on the rotary phone on the table. Janice want­ed to call the police; she said the vial was full of apple juice. Dr. Warren had told her to drink it if she was so sure.

He’s dan­ger­ous.”

I know. Did you see his beard?”

Both of them looked at me before con­tin­u­ing.

We should let him calm down.” Dr. Warren dragged the phone to the end of the table and sat down. “Maybe he did see Dr. Pierson last night but Kathy for­got to reg­is­ter him.” Both of them were on duty the night before, and nei­ther of them was answer­ing the phone.

I don’t feel safe here,” Janice said. “Not with the fuck­ing moun­tain man and his cider piss.”

Dr. Warren told us to just wait it out. He claimed to have seen this type of behav­ior before: it was a way of cop­ing with the recent death of a pet. “We’ll go talk to him, and it’ll be fine.” He turned to Janice. “And if he acts up again, I’ll call the police per­son­al­ly.” He stressed that final word but it did lit­tle to calm her. We walked to the front togeth­er, and the guy was still sit­ting down, the mag­a­zine open on his lap, but he was star­ing at the door. Ian was stand­ing on the wel­come mat, crutch­es tucked in his armpits.

~

I had only called Janice a bitch once. Two work­ers were lay­ing down pavers across the street and one of them wore low jeans, and his ass crack was open to the world. She grabbed the binoc­u­lars from me and I said it, and I meant it even though I was smil­ing. I was almost wait­ing for a rea­son to say it.

She was being a bitch again. She hugged Ian at the door and put her palms on his cheeks, as if he’d just come back from war, and helped him along. She asked if Dr. Warren could check his ankle for a minute, and the sec­ond the words left her lips the crazy guy stood and the mag­a­zine fell onto the floor.

He can fuck­ing wait.”

Dr. Warren held out his hands. Ian start­ed talk­ing but I could nev­er under­stand his mum­bling. The guy got clos­er to him and Janice tried to stand between them, a sud­den rush of spousal pro­tec­tion giv­ing her strength, but Dr. Warren was the one who real­ly blocked the guy’s move­ment. They stood toe to toe in the cen­ter of the room, their feet spread on the giant paw rugs scat­tered over the linoleum.

Then the guy pushed Dr. Warren, knocked him back against Ian, who screamed. He must have twist­ed the bad ankle. Dr. Warren was in shock, his white coat open like a cape, and I did the first thing that came to my mind. I threw the vial of piss at the guy and it opened on con­tact, drench­ing his shirt. I laughed. I looked at every­body with quick glances and laughed, hop­ing my laugh would start a chain that would end with apolo­gies. I laughed, and I wait­ed, and I was fine with that. I had nowhere to be, and the longer my hus­band slept the clos­er his snores would get to whis­pers.