By Steve Prakope

Robert held the trembling puppy in the palm of his hand. The puppy, no longer than his width of his hand, twitched with uncontrollable spasms, its head stuck to the side of its body as if looking behind for danger. Robert saw the second puppy in the litter also shaking and unable to stand. He didn’t want these dogs; Jody left them behind. When he got home from work, he found the closets empty and the dogs barking. Robert stormed through the house, ripping open cabinets. A lone sock without the matched pair sat in the bottom of her half of the dresser. Now he was caring for her dogs, while one of the puppies was having a seizure in his hands.

He set the pup back in the cardboard box lined with quilts Jody created for the nest. The mother dog, Charo, stood looking at the puppies with grave concern. Robert wondered if she could tell him, with a sequence of Lassie-like barking, the trouble. Even if she could bark, he thought, I wouldn’t understand her any more than I could any other woman.

He dialed the number of the vet and waited as the phone rang. Outside the low, gray sky appeared to have one more wintery blast left for the town before spring. In the backyard sat the rusty swing set he put together one summer morning, as Jody and their son watched. He could see William in his green jumper swing high in the air, high enough that the chain began to slacken, high enough to escape gravity, hanging in the air for a moment as if he would never come down, before gravity kicked in and he swung around to the other side. His laughter rose and fell as he moved near and far. Robert watched the wind blow through the unused swing which stirred, as if by his memories, to motion.

That summer William caught a fever. One morning he bounded through the house pretending he was Bobby Clemente. Then it seemed that he never scampered through the house at all, and the void that he left hung like a curtain between Robert and Jody. William had been healthy until the fever struck, but it ripped through him like a wildfire. Once they arrived at the hospital, there was little anyone could do.

Robert heard the receptionist answer the phone at the vet’s office. He asked to speak to the vet.

“This is Doctor Delong,” a voice said.

Robert described the condition of the puppies, their lethargy, their spasms, their tremors. He answered the questions the vet asked and listened carefully as the vet suggested remedies.

“Do you have any Karo syrup? Honey?”

Robert opened the refrigerator. Inside he found a six pack of Stroh’s, half a package of baloney, and a few condiments. No syrup.

“Hell, I don’t have anything sweet in the freezer neither.”

“Drive to the market. Pick up some syrup or honey and rub it onto the roof of their mouths.”

Robert hung up the phone and pulled on his Pitt Panthers sweatshirt. Outside the snow began to fall in large, wet flakes. Robert walked to his car and turned the key over. The engine in his 1970 Chevy Nova sputtered once and ground to a halt. Robert got out of the Nova and walked to the end of the long driveway. He couldn’t believe the car would give out now, of all possible times. The snow began to pick up as he walked from the house to the road. Down the hill was a shorter walk to the supermarket in town. An easy walk but the walk home would be up the steep incline. If the snow continued, it would be a treacherous climb. Up the hill would be a longer walk, but the hill leveled out after a few hundred yards. He could get to the convenience store at the top of the hill without too much trouble. Then the walk home would be downhill. The falling snow turned the volume down on the world around him. Nothing could be heard, not even a car coming up or down the hill. All of the people disappeared into their houses and hunkered down for the storm. He turned and started trudging uphill to Falkner’s convenience store.

The cold air felt good in his lungs as he walked along. The snow came faster and heavier as he crested the steepest part of the hill and walked along the gentler slope. The whole world seemed out to get him – his wife, the Nova, even losing William. He knew the puppies needed help and, as he lowered his head against the wind and snow, he knew that he was their only help.

By the time that he walked the two miles, the snow covered everything like a pristine blanket. Falkner labored with the shovel in front of his store. Robert remembered the first time he kissed Jody, at a Halloween party at Falkner’s house. He sat beside her as she sorted candy on the front porch. Her ghost costume lay in a pile at her feet. The rhododendron bushes wrapped around the porch and screened them from the street, making them feel like the only people around. He asked if she would go to the harvest dance with him and kissed her when she agreed.

Robert stopped in front of the store and shook hands with Falkner.

“Got any Karo Syrup?”

The crowded shelves were stacked without any consideration for order. Boxes of macaroni and cheese sat beside cans of dog food. The eggs were in the cooler with the beer while the milk sat in its own cooler. Robert remembered how he and Jody would come here after school let out to buy cigarettes. When? Must have been their senior year, 1963? The twelve years since they got married flew by without even noticing.

When Robert arrived home, he poured the syrup into a cereal bowl and walked into the bedroom. The puppies lay in the same position as before. Robert watched them breathing, relieved that they were still alive. He picked up the nearest pup and held the tiny body. He could feel its heart beating on his palm while he dipped his thumb in the bowl of syrup. He gently prised open the jaw with his fingers and rubbed his sticky thumb against the roof of the puppy’s mouth trying to transfer as much syrup as possible. When he no longer felt the syrup on his thumb, he dipped into the bowl. He was unsure how many helpings it took but he preferred puppies on sugar highs over dead ones. Robert picked up the second puppy and dipped his thumb into the syrup. The other dogs came into the bedroom as he set the first puppy on the floor. Charo laid beside the puppy and it nestled into her.

Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student