by Jamie Paradise
While cleaning my mother’s yard, preparing for the sale, we discovered a dog carcass. It had been pounded into the road by cars for weeks, then washed up to lie in the thick untended grass. It was so old, so dry and stiff, and flat, that for a while, my five brothers and I wondered if it was even a dog.
Mike, the painter, always looking for a subject, took a photo. His previous work consisted of twisted bodies, rotten fruit, and windowsill flies. Soon, this petrified canine would appear on a canvas, purchase price $500. Like other art openings, the family would attend in support. We’d bring an appetizer from the grocery store, drink the free wine, roam the gallery, and whisper, “Who would put a painting of a dead dog in their house? But I do like the flower painting.”
Eventually, leaves were raked, sidewalks swept, and the tall grass cut. We rewarded ourselves with barbecued pork from the stone pit and drank plenty of beer.
After eating, the night got dark, fireflies flashed, and the fire more mesmerizing.
Somewhere in our inspired, inebriated brains, was a remembrance of unburied bodies and the problems that befall an improper farewell. Elpenor, soldier of the Trojan War and companion to Odysseus, who fell off a roof, broke his neck, was unmourned, and tottered restlessly in the underworld. Polynices, lying unburied in a dusty field, nibbled on by dogs, eventually bringing Antigone and Creon to dramatic ruin.
The meat was off the grill but the fire remained. With enough beer in us, it seemed fitting and proper that this neglected dog receive a respectful funeral.
Using a plastic bag and pinching what was once a leg of the dog, we threw the corpse on the fire. The fire crackled along the fur like leaves, but even a sun dried dog is difficult to burn. We gathered sticks and logs and expanded our funeral pyre. Because of the strong wind, we all sampled the downwind pungency only once, then huddled in a semi-circle, upwind.
Most of the time we stared at the flames. It was peaceful, noble, and fitting. With time, and fuel, the dog rose in smoke to the night stars, its spirit contented we believed. From the silent contemplation of our drinking, someone crushed his beer can and said of the stiff stray, “Yeah, she was a good dog.”
Jamie Paradise teaches writing at the Forsyth School and is currently working on a collection of short essays that share the experience and lessons of growing up the youngest of fourteen siblings.