As a Breed
by Brett Hamil
The man looks at the piece of paper in his hand. It is the size of a fortune cookie fortune, torn on one end, and there is a phone number xeroxed on it. The man picks up the phone and dials the number.
"Hello?" a woman answers.
"Hi there. I'm calling about the lost chihuahua."
The woman cups the receiver away from her mouth. "Stacia! It's about Jiggs!" she whisper/shouts.
"Have you found our Jiggs?"
"Well, actually, I just wanted to ask you a few questions."
"First off, is he good natured?"
"I would say so. He's never bitten anyone."
"Does he bark a lot?"
"No, he only barks at the vacuum cleaner."
"How about shedding? Does he shed a whole bunch of those prickly little chihuahua hairs?"
"Listen, what is this about? Did you find our dog or what?"
"Well no, ma'am, I didn't. But I saw your sign up at the corner store."
"Um, okay?…so what are you calling here for if you didn't find Jiggs?"
"Well, I was thinking about getting a dog. Believe it or not, I've never owned a dog before, see, and I was wondering how chihuahuas were, you know, as a breed."
"As a breed?"
"Yeah, you know, like, are they a good dog to own? Would you recommend owning a chihuahua?"
"This is unbelievable! You have got some nerve! My 7-year old daughter is heartbroken and you call here wanting to talk about chihuahuas as a breed? I'm hanging up the phone now."
The man returns the phone to its cradle and scratches the back of his head. He has the drooping mustache and callused hands of an aging master tradesman, in this case a marine welder. Before him sits the telephone, an ashtray, and the piece of paper with the phone number on it. He lights a cigarette and props it in the ashtray. He picks up the phone. He hits redial.
The woman stands over the garbage can thumbing through a junk mail booklet of coupons. She is very fat. She has small, inexpressive eyes and buttersoft skin. Her body is a jumble of curves packed into a straining red jumpsuit. Her daughter, watching TV in the next room, is also fat, with the same inexpressive eyes as her mother.
The phone rings.
"Hey. It's me again. Look-"
"You have no business calling here. Unless you have found our dog you have no business calling here."
"I understand ma'am, and I'm sorry, it's just, look, I don't want our conversation to end the way it did, with you mad like that."
"Please, is this necessary?"
"Hear me out-"
"What do you want?"
"I just wanted to talk for one minute. I don't plan to keep on calling you."
"This is weird."
She hangs up.
The man smokes his cigarette.
The woman has caller ID. She scrolls one arrow back to the last call. It says LEESBURG, FRANK and then his number. She bites her lower lip. Peering through the kitchen doorway into the living room where light from the TV modulates dimly on the back wall, she hits the TALK button.
"Hello?" The man answers.
"It's you. You called. That's good."
"I just wanted to make sure you were OK, that's all. Are you OK? Do you need some kind of help?"
"Nah, I don't need help. I just wanted to talk. It's nothing life-or-death, I promise. Just talk."
"OK, go ahead then. But I can't talk long."
"Well, OK, hm…" the man twirls the phone cord in his hand, "Let's say, for starters, how old was this dog of yours?"
"Jiggs? Let's see…He was probably about ten years old. We got him from the pound so we never knew for sure."
"You say ‘was.' Does that mean you've given up on finding him?"
"Well, we put those signs up all over town about 2 weeks ago and haven't got any response, so yeah, I imagine by now he's either living with another family or run over by a car."
"That's too bad. Did your daughter name him?"
"No, my ex-husband. Because he'd dance on his hind legs for a Milk-Bone."
"Your ex-husband or the dog?"
"Ha ha," the woman laughs.
"Seriously though. It sounds like he was a real good dog."
"He was. We loved him like a member of the family."
The man and woman talk for the next fifteen minutes. The woman confesses to leaving her daughter's abusive father when the daughter was an infant, raising her alone on a supermarket cashier's wages. The man admits to never settling down, to following work from town to town with no real plan. Before they hang up, the woman agrees to meet the man the next afternoon at an ice cream shop not far from the corner store where the man first saw the LOST DOG flier. It is within walking distance of both of their apartments.
The man sits in the sun on a bench outside the ice cream shop. He has taken the day off. His hair is parted neatly down the middle like a schoolboy. He is chewing several sticks of gum from a brand new pack of Trident and smoking a cigarette at the same time. His mind is blank as he watches the reflections of pedestrians on shop windows and passing cars.
The woman is embarrassed at herself for deliberating on what to wear for a full half hour. She hasn't been alone with a man in over six years. She settles on another jumpsuit, this one green. It brings out the color in her eyes.
The man sees the woman striding purposefully toward him. He stubs his cigarette out and rises to greet her, his hand outstretched.
About the author:
Brett Hamil lives and writes in a basement in Seattle. His writing has appeared in Opium Magazine .com. He also plays saxophone in rock band The Feral Kid and publishes the art/humor 'zine Whole New Drag.