Papa went in once a week to the general store to get supplies for the farm. This mornin’ I got to go with him. Took better than a half hour to get there. Papa never said much and anyway he’d put the radio on real loud. Anytime I tried to ask him something he’d shush me up but it didn’t matter much. I was wantin’ more to be lookin' out the window at the fancy people and the fancy cars in town, all comin’ and goin’ around the general store. While Papa was inside I saw other kids riding bikes, real nice ones. One day I’m gonna ride a bike into town and walk right into that store and buy me somethin’.
When we got back I helped Papa unload at the barn then went to find Mickey. He was waitin’ for me right there beside the sandbox.
“Hold up, Mick, I’ll be right there.”
I got a big bucket full of toy cars and trucks just inside the back door. Mama come walking past on her way to the garden. Said it was a summer sole-siss or somethin', and if that meant ‘a perfect summer day’ then it sure was a sole-siss. None too hot and the sky was so blue and there was so much of it. Some big puffy clouds went along by and I wanted so bad to climb up there and sit on one but there weren’t no trees big enough around here for that. And all the birds were singin’ loud as ever. Some little barn swallows even came around to peck at the ground near the sandbox. Mickey didn’t even budge. He might have chased after ’em before but past few days he’s been real tired so he just stayed put.
Mama says Mickey and I were born on the same day and that Mickey’s my dog-angel. Figure I’m pretty lucky to have a dog-angel. Don’t know no one else who does. Jack and Danny keep buggin’ me about it. They’re always at me for somethin’. Mama said they never mean no harm, they’re just playin’ with me, doin’ what older brothers do, but me and Mickey know better. They liked bein’ mean. They’d even start in on me at supper, right in front of Mama 'n' Papa. Then Mickey’d growl at ’em and Mama’d shush ’em up and they’d settle for a while.
“Hey Mickey, wanna get some blueberries? Come on, boy.” Blueberries are really good right now. The bush is right full of ‘em. You can just sit there all day and eat blueberries, much as you want. Mickey loves 'em just like me. He thought about it but then just put his head back down, said I should go and he’d watch the sandbox. “OK, you just stay right there and I’ll fetch you some. Be right back.” He gave me a big smile. Mickey’s got the biggest smile I ever seen.
The blueberry bush is up the hill beyond them trees. Gotta go the same way every time or it’s bad luck. Step on each brick between the big oak and the barn and reach out to touch ’em both as you go. Then jump the fence into the chicken coup and tap a hen on the head before you leave out the other side. No cheatin’. Once you get to the hill you gotta go up on all fours in case there’s somethin’ wild up there before you. I never seen nothin’ wild cause I always got the luck with me. And besides, wherever I go, Mickey’s always watchin’ out.
Though, when I got back to the sandbox he wasn’t there. I found him lying down in the shade of the fort I built between the woodpiles a few days back. Wish Mama'd cut his hair some. Mick gets mighty hot in the summer. I put a big pile of blueberries down right in front of him but he didn't want none.
"What's wrong Mick? Come on, now, you can tell me." He says it wasn't nothin', just gave me one of them big smiles, flicked his tail ‘round a bit so I figured he was alright. I went and laid down beside him in the shade and started poppin’ blueberries into my mouth, kinda teasin’. Ended up eatin’ ‘em all.
“OK, I’ll let you be for a while. Gotta see what Jack is yellin’ for.”
Jack didn’t like it when he didn’t get his way and that was often enough. He’d start talking back to Mama and I don’t know why he didn’t just shut up an’ get along. Papa’d let him go on for a long while too. Said raisin’ him was a womans’ job. Payin’ for it was his. Jack was gettin’ caught out for lyin’ to Mama about where he’d been. Me and Mickey knew he was up over in Mr. Backins’ place trying to get at his stash of liquor in the back shed. I guess Mr. Backin saw him and called up Mama about it. Mama was some upset but Jack wasn’t confessin’ ‘til she come out with the plank. The plank was used for truth sayin’.
Wasn’t much time ‘til supper and Papa always lets me have it if I don’t get my toys back inside before supper. I took a look around for Mickey ‘cause he always wants to be with me when I’m at the sandbox, always, and I always call out for him and no matter where’s he’s at, he shows up real quick. I think he might have already gone inside for his supper cause I was done and gone before seein’ him.
Thought I was gonna catch it for bein’ the last one in to help set the table but Mama didn’t notice and Jack didn’t even say nothin’. Danny come up and said I didn’t even have to help, just go an’ sit down and wait for supper. So I did. And I saw that Mama was real quiet. She don’t like it after using the plank ‘cause she loves us too much. I ain’t never had the plank, no sir. I seen what trouble Jack and Danny do and I don’t do it, simple as that. Mickey thinks I’m Mama’s favorite.
Nobody hardly said nothin’ at supper except Papa. Papa told about the trip into town and how he’s real good in with Mr. Talley, the owner of the general store. Papa makes gin in the winter and says it’s as good as cash with Mr. Talley. Then Papa asked me to tell about the trip and what I saw but I didn’t know what to say ‘cause Papa never does that, never asks nothin’ of me, ever. I told that I’d seen Danny’s girlfriend and he got all mad ‘cause he don’t have a girlfriend. Danny don’t really get mad though. And lucky for me that Jack got the plank cause now he just had to shut up an’ eat or else he’d get it again.
Mama put me a plate piled high with meat and mashed potatoes and gravy and I ate it all, except for the grizzle that I snuck under the table for Mickey. He must not have seen it in my hand so I had to toss it under without no one seeinˋ. I was so full but still hoping to get some extra, though that was always up to Papa. He keeps on about how much it costs to feed this family. But Papa saw I was done and he told me to help myself if I cared. Thought he was pullinˋ my leg a bit but he shoved the bowl at me. I was wonderin’ if all this was somethinˋto do with Mamaˋs sole-siss but Mama was pickin’ over her food like it was no good so that couldnˋt be it.
None of us left the table before Papa, didn’t even ask or we’d get it bad. Most days, soon as he pushed his chair back, the three of us would dart back outside or wherever we wanted before it was time for bed. Papa’d been done his supper for a time now but he just sat there lookin’ at Mama and Mama just kept starin’ at her plate. Then he told me to go see how Mickey was doin’. Well, I looked down underneath the table and Mickey wasn’t there. First time in I dunno how long he wasn’t under the table while we ate so I asked Papa where he was at but he didn’t know so I went lookin’. Danny and Jack stayed put at the table.
Mickey’s food bowl was near full so I was thinkin’ he must of stayed outside but I checked around everywhere and he wasn’t at any of his favorite spots.
Aside the kitchen were the stairs that went down to our bedrooms and the tv room. Underneath was where Mickey had his very own bed. When I peaked in, his ears perked right up and his tail started just a-waggin’.
“Hey Mick, how you doin?”
I snuck in and sat down beside him on the big mattress. He put his paw on top of my foot while I stroked his head some.
“Sure was a big fat great day today, huh, Mick? Still real sunny out too! Looks like it may not ever end and I think we’d both be ok with that.”
Mama was real upset now. Her and Papa were talking loud in the kitchen. I guess Danny and Jack had up and gone by now cause Mama didn’t cry in front of us kids. I could hear some of what they were sayin’. Papa was talking about something costing too much as he always does and Mama was trying to say otherwise. I heard Papa checkin’ out his rifle. Aint no sound like it. Then one of ‘em went out the back door. There was still some cryin’ goin’ on so Mama must have still been up there.
“Hey Mick, let’s say one day you ‘n’ me, we go into town. Just you ‘n’ me. We’ll go meet some other dogs and chase some squirrels and stuff like that. I’ll getchya somethin’ from the store, maybe a bag of them chewies or somethin’. How’s that sound?”
Mickey put his head on my lap and was flickin’ that tail. He said he’d love to do that some day, maybe when he’s feelin’ better. I pet his head some more and he closed his eyes. I wanted to lay right down there with him but truth is I was afraid of goin’ to sleep. Thought if we was both sleeping he’d take me with him.
Mama came steppin’ down the stairs real slow as if she didn’t wanna get there.
“Petey? Hey honey?”
“I’m here with Mick, Mama.”
She come tip-toein’ around the stairs and looked in on us.
“Hey, there you are.”
“Come on in Mama. Mick’s not doin’ so well.”
“Ah, honey. Yeah, I know Mick’s not well. See, that’s what I come to talk to you about. Ya see, Mick, well, he needs some special help to get better and, well, Papa says we can’t afford to help him like that.”
She was wellin’ up again. Swear to God I’d never seen Mama cry but she was real down and I felt so bad for her.
“Come on in, Mama. Come sit with Mickey ‘n’ me.” And so she did and she gave Mickey some proper lovin’ and his tail was just a-waggin’ all over again. We sat there for a bit not sayin’ nothin’, just bein’ with Mickey. Then Mama sat back and wiped her face and cleared her throat.
“Petey, honey. You gotta say goodbye to Mickey now, OK? Papa’s gotta take him, OK? I'm so sorry, honey. I'm just so sorry.”
She was cryin’ real hard now. Mickey and I were both lookin’ up at her and feelin’ right sorry for her.
“It’s OK Mama.”
I guess she was kinda shocked at hearin’ me say that.
“Well, what do you mean, it’s OK? You know what I’m sayin’ don’t you?”
“I know what you’re sayin’ Mama. I know. Mickey told me he was leavin’ us.”
“He did? When, well, what, what did he say?”
“He told me that he has to go back to heaven to get better. Then he’ll come and visit again. Don’t cry Mama, Mickey’ll be back some day, don’t you worry, won’t ya, Mick?”
There was that great big smile again.