Laddy loves to run away. Mama and I drive miles to find him. Some folks say he’s lucky to be alive, that dog, known to dodge tractor trailers, wrestle ‘possums, and nip the heels of cattle – apparently for fun. He often returns with a wet coat or fur so matted with prickly cockleburs I have to cut them free. Drives Mama mad.
“He’s with Red again,” Red’s owner accuses. Laddy and Red love to run together. Only Red, the springer spaniel from across the way, allows herself to be caught by strangers with outstretched hands and good intentions. Not Laddy. By the time we arrive where Red waits, Laddy is long gone.
Laddy is wiry, tenacious and as loyal to me as the sun is to the sky. Once he followed me to see a picture show in town. He waited on the front steps all night because I had exited through the back door. Laddy made the front page of the Weston County Observer. Made Mama proud.
On Laddy’s birthday, Daddy fixes him country fried steak and serves it up on a plate at the head of the table. Laddy sits on the chair, sheepish, and stares from Daddy to Mama to me, dripping with drool. I immediately move the plate to the floor and watch Laddy devour it whole.
When he takes off on his usual rounds one winter night, we wait patiently for the phone to ring. But the phone is silent. No Laddy on the back porch with his head cocked as if to say, “I’m back, miss me?” Days pass and no sign of Laddy.
Deep down we fear this is the last time. “Please dear God bring back our Laddy,” I pray aloud for anyone to hear. Mama and I post signs throughout town. Miss Sidwell from the post office says she saw Laddy in a parked car at the Piggly Wiggly. Skeptical, we follow the lead anyway and find out it is someone else’s lost dog.
Mama and I walk past Red tethered to a stake in her yard on our way to my school. Hasn’t eaten for days they say. She hangs her head and whimpers as I stroke her back, feeling her skin slide over lumpy ribs. “Come on, girl,” I whisper and wish she was with him. Breaks Mama’s heart.
A neighbor boy finds his stiff, lifeless body floating in the creek behind our house where I catch crayfish and skip rocks; the creek that Mama tells me to stay away from because the water moves so fast and so strong.
Daddy brings Laddy home. He carries the black trash bag slung over his shoulder, into the backyard. The earth is still damp from last night’s rain. With every blow to the ground, the earth opens up. Little veiny roots from nearby trees and sickly worms intermix with soft, crumbling soil. I sit there numb in the wet grass while Mama shakes her weary head.
Daddy lowers the black trash bag into the little hole underground. I see the shape of his body. But the still, frozen carcass in the bag is not Laddy. He is far, far away. I realize Laddy was not running away from us. He was running toward something. And now he has arrived.