posted on Jul, 17 2005 @ 12:17 AM
It got to the point where Jack was spending all his time sitting or lying on Malarkey’s couch, out in the garage, and he didn’t give a damn.
Elaine had been after him to get rid of the couch for six months, but the most she could get out of Jack was a mumble, and it never got any further
than the corner of the garage by the door. It was funny, in a way: Jack usually did whatever Elaine wanted (after the nagging got shrill); but this
time, he just wouldn’t get rid of the thing. Elaine had vacuumed the couch twice and even called in the carpet man to shampoo it, and finally gave
up in disgust.
Maybe that was the straw that broke the camel’s back –- or a good-as-anything excuse for her. Elaine’d stopped nagging him about a week before
she took the girls and left, along with the savings and most of the furniture. Probably she figured Jack could get by with Malarkey’s couch, seeing
as how he was spending so much time there and all.
Damn it, Malarkey had died on that couch! How could she expect him to just stuff it in the pickup and make some midnight dumpster run?
Elaine never had any use for Malarkey, anyway. She didn’t care when he got sick the last time, and was pretty obviously unaffected when the vet
said it was cancer and Malarkey’d be better off “asleep”. It was one of the few times Jack had ever raised his voice when he told Elaine he was
damned if his dog was going off to die on some stainless steel table in a sick-smelling animal clinic. The old Lab had been spending more and more
time on the couch, even though he’d always managed to get out to do his business, and both he and Jack knew it was the only place the dog felt at
So it was there that Malarkey lay, half-blind but his nose still working, when the vet (“at forty-five bucks extra we can’t afford!”, Elaine had
complained) came with the tourniquet and the pentothal, with Malarkey gently licking Jack’s tears until a gasp and shudder took him away to the High
* * * * * * * * * *
Jack had never been one for organized religion, but he pretty much had the High Country figured out. Anyone who didn’t see a soul in an old dog’s
eyes was full of it, and if old Noah had all those animals on the Ark, then Jesus could have them up in Heaven, thank you very much. Heaven had to be
the best you could remember, only better; and Jack’s best memories were with Malarkey in the High Country.
Every year, Jack had managed to get away for a week at deer season. Out of the city and into the High Country; never a deer but always the dog.
Elaine had always hated the outdoors, hated hunting, hated guns; but in a way, it worked out for the best. She never realized that you don’t take a
dog deer hunting anymore than you’d take a cat to a cathouse. Most of the time, Jack wouldn’t even take the Winchester out of the case; instead,
he and Malarkey would pitch the tent away from most hunters and spend the week just kicking back and talking.
Those were good times, Jack thought. Colder than hell on a late October night, with the aspens yellowing and dropping their leaves on the tent, but
Malarkey always managed to get his piece of the sleeping bag after Jack poured the last of the coffee on the campfire.
Early morning, and Jack would start up the fire as Malarkey checked out his boundaries from the night before - lift his leg, run ten feet, mark
another spot - then with his territory secure, run back to the campfire. Then it’d be breakfast, with Malarkey looking solicitously at the bacon
and eggs, but never whining – just the longing eyes and knowing that he’d get his share sooner or later. Maybe in the afternoon they’d go for a
hike, with the dog chuffing at clouds and shadows, and occasionally chasing a squirrel for a half-dozen half-hearted steps.
The evenings were best. Jack would forget the factory and the bills, forget Elaine and the girls, even forget the lost dreams, and watch the stars
fill the sky like dust in the desert. He’d start up the fire again, open a can of dog food, and heat his meal while Malarkey nosed bits of Alpo
through the fallen aspen leaves. Then it was watching the stars and letting his mind coast, with the dog thumping his tail whenever Jack spoke.
Damn, those were good times! Even toward the end, when Malarkey was getting along and unable to jump in and out of the pickup’s cab, he’d whine
and wag whenever Jack’d say, “High Country, Malarkey! High Country!”
* * * * * * * * * *
Jack had been spending more and more time thinking about the High Country since Elaine left. At night, he’d take a pillow and a blanket out to the
garage and lie there on the couch, listening to the cars go by on the street, trying to stare right through the ceiling and the roof up to the High
Country stars. Sometimes he’d roll over on his stomach and press his nose to the worn-out tweed and try to smell Malarkey, but the vacuuming and
shampoo had taken it away. More often than not, Jack’d cry himself to sleep at around three AM, not for Elaine or the girls or the pickup (which
had been repo’d a month past) or even for his dreams gone sour, but just out of missing the dog.
Work got to be more and more of a pain, and it was almost with relief when Jack was called into his supervisor’s office and let go.
* * * * * * * * * *
Now Jack was almost always in the High Country with his shadow pickup and shadow dog. He ignored the phone which stopped ringing after a month of not
paying the bills. Once a week or so, he’d go out to the mailbox, looking uncomprehendingly at the weeds in the front yard, and bring in the mail.
He stopped reading it after a month’s worth of bills and threatening letters from the mortgage company and Elaine’s lawyer.
It was slowly getting better, though. Every evening, Jack would go into the garage, buckle himself into the couch, check the rear view mirror, call
the dog, and head north with a stop for a cup of coffee. By midnight they’d be in the High Country with the tent set up and the street traffic
fading away to the wind in the aspens.
Each night and each trip, Malarkey would come just a bit more into focus, with his eyes never leaving Jack’s face and his tail thumping silently in
the leaves. He never barked or made a sound, though, and Jack’s hand would go right through him on the times when he was stupid enough to try to
scratch behind the dog’s ears; but all in all, the trips were happy ones. Jack knew that sooner or later, Malarkey’d get over his silence, as
long as he didn’t push things.
Jack felt good that October, despite his cough. It was the beginning of deer season again, and he knew that this time he wouldn’t even have to
pretend he was hunting. He’d leave the Winchester home, and head out for some serious camping. Malarkey was excited, too, in his way. His eyes
never left Jack as he walked out to the garage, and his panting and tail-wagging were so real that Jack could almost hear it.
By midnight, the tent was set up and the stars were out. The traffic had died away, replaced with nothing but the crackling of the fire and the wind
rustling in the aspens. Jack looked down at the fire and back at Malarkey, happier than he’d been in a long time. An owl hooted; Malarkey jumped
up, actually barked out loud, took his usual half-dozen steps away from the fire, then came back to Jack and looked at him.
Jack took a deep breath and reached out. He scratched his dog’s ears, then hugged him, happy beyond belief. He was so glad that Malarkey had
finally barked –- had finally become touchable -- that he didn’t mind the dog drool and the jacket covered with hair.
“Come on, boy, let’s get in the tent. Tomorrow’s another day, and we got a big hike to take.” Jack poured the last of the coffee on the fire
and crawled in the tent. Malarkey was already there, grabbing his piece of the sleeping bag just like always, and Jack grinned so hard at his joy and
his dog that he couldn’t stop, even if he wanted to.
* * * * * * * * * *
And he was still grinning peaceably two days later, when the utility man came by to shut off the electricity. Cold from the High Country (but not
from lack of love, oh no! not from lack of love); lying on a worn couch covered with dog hairs and a single aspen leaf.