The shadows were just beginning to grope the building across the alley. Leonard rummaged through the trashcan without thought to the setting sun behind him. A cat meowed nearby, a plangent cry. His dog, a young yellow lab-mutt mix named Brisket, started to whimper and move around in the shopping cart, antsy-like.
“Ah, settle down, you little shit,” Leonard grumbled through his scraggly, ash-flecked beard. His skin was hardened and layered with dirt, tanned brown by many days in the sun. The wrinkles around his eyes were deep and sorrowful. His jeans were ripped, revealing a rosy red scab on his right knee.
Leonard dug some promising finds out of the trashcan and tossed the bottles noisily into his cart. He had a good day today and that meant a very good night tonight. His cart glistened in the fading light, bulging with glass and plastic, our daily detritus recycled into valuable coin for Leonard. A forty bottle crowning the pile caught his eye. He stared at the empty bottle, picturing its golden insides, zombified in a hypnotic daydream.
A car horn blared, jolting Leonard back into reality. Some yuppie fuck was trying to pull into the parking lot. Brisket barked, acting tough. The damn cat meowed again. Leonard cursed under his breath as he shuffled away, pulling his cart around the building, onto the sidewalk, clearing the path. The Mercedes honked again for no reason. Brisket jumped out of the cart, yapping rabidly.
The dog was at the side of the car before Leonard could stop him. Leonard’s never seen Brisket so mad. Brisket jumped at the side of the car, uluating, moaning.
“Stop, come here. Brisket! Stop,” he screamed.
The car started to move.
“Come here, Brisket! Now!”
Brisket went underneath the car. Leonard couldn’t see him. The car was still moving. The engine was too loud for Leonard to hear. He bent down to look. Nothing.
The Mercedes turned into a spot. Everything got real quiet when the engine turned off.
He looked all around but didn’t see sign of that yellow fur anywhere. The sun was at a fatal angle. The glare was corrupting his sight. His vision was wobbly at best on a good day. Where the hell is that mutt?
Leonard did circles, searching the bushes, checking the curb, scanning down the street for his dog, but he still didn’t see Brisket. That mutt was his only companion. His heart felt like a salt bagel being pecked at by seagulls on the boardwalk. Whenever shit ends up upside down I go back home to fucking New Jersey, he reflected corrosively. He brooded and chastised himself for feeling bad, making himself feel even worse. Life is a hoary, lupine bloodbath.
He felt all too sober. His mind was telling him to push that cart out of there and just go. An irascible flood of memories was scrolling through his brain, a montage of defeat and humiliation. He needed a drink, badly.
Just when he was beginning to hate that ugly mutt for making him feel like his insides were gravel he heard a familiar bark. But it sounded muffled, tinny. Leonard stopped to listen, still as a 200-pound stone. He heard it again, again with reverb and distant. Leonard wondered if maybe it was only in his head.
He whispered, “Where are you, buddy?”
His hopes went off the cliff when he heard a door slam and a hollow, callous laugh. It was the driver of the Mercedes. Leonard brought himself to look up, fearing the repercussions of eye contact but owing it to Brisket not to back down, not now. There was a light around him that was dark, burning. He was a kid no older than 25, dark, curly Greek hair and cold, coal eyes. Leonard shivered after looking into them. They were the eyes of the devil.
“Your dog’s stuck in the trashcan,” he shouted to Leonard and disappeared into the building, but not after releasing one more cruel guffaw.
Leonard didn’t know what that meant. The words sounded evil. What’s Brisket doing in the trashcan? He pictured the worst one could picture.
Leonard left his cart on the sidewalk and hesitantly walked back to the trash cans. He rounded the corner and saw Brisket’s butt facing him and his two hind legs. His head was obscure from view, rammed into a small opening in the metal. It looked like he had gotten himself wedged-in.
“What are you doing, buddy?”
Leonard stood over his trapped dog, pondering what to do until he just reached down and grabbed Brisket’s hind quarters, nonchalant-like, and pulled. Brisket came out easily. He wasn’t stuck at all!?
Brisket growled at Leonard and pleaded to be put down. Leonard let go and Brisket’s bark reported off the apartment building with an urgent echo, before he scampered hurriedly back into the opening.
“What are you doing, you crazy dog?”
Brisket wiggled his body, struggling to get deeper in the opening, then, with a few aggressive pulls, he emerged, tugging a gray, confused cat in his jaws. Brisket set it on the ground and released it from his bite. The cat looked at the dog and at Leonard and then sprinted off down the street, happy, yet terrified to be free.
“Fucking dog!” Leonard snickered. A little relieved tear moistened his eye and then crawled out and down into a spiderweb crevice on Leonard’s face. He then scratched Brisket under his ears and ceremoniously quipped, “Now let’s go get this cart turned round and celebrate.”