Peep at His Zenith
For Augie—Sorry, Boy
In my career – and you know me – I’ve plumbed the theme of boys in love so many times it must be pathological, as all my critics claim. To them, “Fuck you,” I recommend. Yet this will be the last time. Kayden is dying. Back home. Under mosquito netting, he is going to taste this cardamom air for the last time.
So he tells me. I thought I knew it all. We are men in our 70s, and now he tells me, un- composed, says, “I brought my misery to Maine with me – to you – and I know why.”
I have seldom seen him cry, and only over quadrupeds.
That dog, Peep: I always knew there was something. When once we killed a bear cub with the Rover, Kayden wept, and insisted on elaborate prayers by the roadside. He wouldn’t speak for days. In the night, on the ocean, he sucked in air. He said, “Peep …” But he couldn’t continue.
I had seen a photo once, battered and bleached, when we went down to close the ranch after his mother died—at 101. I understood that goofy-looking pup had occasioned his lifelong mania for rescuing and awaiting a rescue.
And I had heard of those brothers, too, the kids of the Mission Minister, Edgar Pounce. They were bullies all, who later lorded over the third most lucrative tire and lube concern in that hemisphere. Kayden’s mother told me once they had “pissed out the sparkles” in her son’s eyes.
You know me: I loved that boy the way you love a baby buzzard covered in oil.
Sixty-odd years. Four allusions only—occasional, vague claims against the Pounces. The Pince. They whipped Peep’s snout with a willow rod, and lashed right through the fur. He cried and continued to cry, all the forest alive with his cries. He cried so long Kayden’s father couldn’t brook the crying anymore, so Kayden punched the dog once, hard, in the throat, which shut him up, and saved him, and killed them both, a little.
What happens to you is your soul unspools from its spindle. The kernel that contains you hops like popcorn in the fire. You cannot take a life and never pay the price.
They knew. Subsequently, seven-eighths of the way up the ziggurat outside the village (where we met), the Pince advanced with pokers and fangs, and my love, when he was young, flung that puppy by his two starboard paws as far as he could. He dislocated his shoulder in the swing; it was never the same, always pained him. And out over the broccoli tops of the canopy flew Peep. A compulsion pulled Kayden’s gaze out, and he caught the dog’s eyes at a level with his own—eyes wild in the blank sky. Peep’s body wheeled with limbs outstretched like a flying squirrel, he tells me, or a skydiver. Then my Kay turned away and saw a blade of grass strain against the wind rushing over the ancient stone.
Ian Blake Newhem is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, and Associate Professor of Literature, Composition, and Journalism at the State University of New York, Rockland. He has published nearly 100 of pieces in local, regional, and national newspapers and magazines. Recent short stories and essays have appeared in Utne Reader; North Dakota Quarterly; Genre Magazine; and Brain, Child.