A year before Jacob’s son, Tommy, was arrested for raping a fifteen-year-old girl, the police chief came to his shop about the dog. Tommy’s dog—a pit bull bitch. Tommy had brought her home the week he graduated from high school, a pup in an old Nike shoe box, eyes just opened. And Jacob had said, “You’re not bringing that dog here,” but he soon gave in, letting his son keep her on a blanket in the toolshed; weeks later he said, “You’re not bringing that dog in the house,” but he gave in on that, too, and the dog started sleeping on the living room couch, the same spot where his wife, Nora, had liked sitting when she was alive.
The one thing he’d held firm on, he thought at the time, was the treatment of the animal. Tommy wanted her mean, wanted to beat her and chain her to weights and mix gunpowder into her dog food. Now Jacob wasn’t one of those animal rights nutjobs, and he’d never really liked dogs, or any kind of pet, for that matter—always had to scrub his hands clean after petting one, and even then he’d go to bed sure that fleas and ticks were crawling all over him, setting up camp in the graying curly hairs of his underarms or groin. But he was softer in his middle age than he’d once been—less casual about life since Nora’s passing—and he wouldn’t stand back while the poor animal was tortured, made crazy by one of his son’s misguided whims. So he’d stood his ground. He started feeding her when he noticed Tommy was forgetting to, scratching her belly when Tommy was gone and she seemed slow and disconsolate, and at some point—maybe the day he got home from work and she met him at the front porch, bouncing on her hind legs, eyes buggy and worshipful—he realized he loved her, he was grateful to have her. Though he never said so to Tommy, he felt a bittersweet certainty that Nora would have loved her, too—good as she’d always been with rough beasts, himself at one time no exception. It was easy, on nights when Tommy slept away and the house felt as open and empty as a tobacco warehouse in January, to imagine the dog as his last connection to Nora, to anything good like Nora. It was a desperate way to feel. . . . Read More.