Benson found a car-hit hound on the road as he walked away from the prison. He picked up the dog and it whined and yelped and he told it to calm down, it was only pain. He walked past the old high school where he once was valedictorian and past his mom's house, though he couldn't go to see her. She would have a new man in a string of new men and she wasn't having his godlessness no more in her house, his wicked ways. He walked over a mile carrying the wounded dog. Lily was at the other end. He thought of epic poems and heroes. His love at home, waiting. After three years, a homecoming.
“Thought maybe you could nurse him back to health,” Benson said when Lily opened the door.
“First, the dog is a she. Second, you been away for three years and you think bringing a wounded dog to my doorstep is going to bring up the grace of God?” Lily asked.
“I come all this goddamn way, and I just hoped there'd be a sugar pot at the other end of my mangled rainbow.”
Lily put her hands under the hound as if taking a newborn baby from its mother. She cradled the dog as it bled and cried. Benson folded his arms, bit his lip. A train whistle howled from the tracks at the end of the street. The sky had a violent hue. Benson hadn't seen in a Nebraskan earth-rattling storm in years. He wondered if Bo still sold Molly down the street while playing video games with clients.
“Now, I'm going to take this dog because I see there ain't nothing in you to save it,” Lily said. “Should've just left the goddamn thing out there for some better soul to find.”
“Well, ain't you the patron saint of second chances.”
“Get going. You're not staying here. This house is now devil-free.”
Benson rocked on his heels. He had twelve dollars in his pocket and nowhere to go. He could get a six pack and watch trains, like the old days, when things were easier, though things were always easier in some other time. Thunder, then a raindrop and another. Benson turned and looked at the tornadic sky. Lily started to close the door. The dog howled. Benson said, “All that ugly can be brought back,” but Lily had already turned inside, away from the storm.
Benson woke up on Bo's downstairs couch. Unlike Benson, Bo had never in his life showcased any promise, so when he'd been arrested for fighting in bars or for selling drugs, people chalked it up to the ways things are. When Benson had gone away for selling Bo's drugs on the university campus in Lincoln, people in town talked to each other about what a shame it was, what a shame.
Benson wandered the house until noon, when Bo finally emerged from his bedroom, a woman from high school whose name Benson couldn't remember in the bed still sleeping.
“Don't suppose you got a dime to lift a man up?” Benson asked. Outside, in this town, there was nothing for him. No jobs, nothing he remembered being good. He needed to get out, but there was nowhere to go.
“Man, you know this economy ain't been real great to many of us in town. The factory shut down,” Bo said. The woman called for him to come back to bed. Her breasts were exposed and Bo looked to her and back at Benson, smiling, giving a thumbs up. “Anyhow, I'm like a desert right now and there ain't no oasis.”
“You're a drug dealer,” Benson said. “Surely you can help a man out.”
“The hands of the market are far-reaching, my friend.” Bo went into the kitchen and opened the fridge and came back with two cheap beers. He handed Benson both bottles and a lottery ticket he hadn't scratched off, yet. “For the road,” he said.
“Man, all the roads have been washed out.”
“What about mom? Your ex?”
“Nobody wants to know you when you've fallen,” Benson said.
Benson sat on a hill overlooking the tracks. He'd spent the twelve dollars in his pocket on a six-pack of good beer and still had the two Bo had given him, though they were hot. He heard rustling in the grass and turned to see Lily and the hound walking up the hill. The dog limped bad, but was mobile. All the blood had been washed away and the gashes were cleaned.
“You haven't made it real far,” Lily said, sitting down next to Benson.
“Just waiting on a train,” Benson said.
“Where you going to go?”
“Any old place. The world's my oyster.”
“All them places are the same as here.”
They drank on the hill. The dog slept in the grass. Benson thought of before, when everything seemed possible. After a long silence, Benson leaned, running his hand up Lily's left knee and under her dress, moving in to kiss her. She pushed him away.
“That train don't lead here no more,” she said.
He drank the rest of his beer. “Maybe I'll see the country. There's so much out there I haven't gotten to take in. All that space, open and calling.” Lily said he needed to find himself first, needed to offer up what good he had left and see what dropped in his hands.
“I seen and seen myself,” he said. “What I found I don't need to show anyone.” Lily got up to leave and gave him the leash and said the dog was maybe something good. As she turned, he reached for her ankle. She stopped for a moment. The touch seemed false to him, like this had never happened before, or never should have. He let go without asking her to stay.
Benson waited outside his mother's house long after the moon rose, until all the lights in the home went out. He went around back and tied the dog to a tree. He crawled in through a kitchen window. He ate a sandwich and drank milk from the carton. In the basement, he found an old tent he'd slept in as a child on camping trips.
He considered what his mother always told him, no matter how bad things were: that everything happened for a reason, that all the bad and all the good had purpose, was part of a plan. He wanted to believe it, but knew it wasn't true. Everything was just bodies in space, traveling, moving all around until they came to a place to call home.
He called Lily.
“Decided where you're headed?” she asked.
“I figure I'll go and go until I find a good spot.”
The train whistle sounded again. “Your train's leaving,” Lily said.
“It's already left me behind,” he said and hung up.
He started a letter to his mom, but couldn't get past, “Mom, Tomorrow I'm” and left the note unfinished on the kitchen table. He tossed the tent through the window and crawled outside. He untied the hound and it licked his hand. He decided to wait to give it a name until he thought of something beautiful. He walked away from the home with the tent under his arm and with the dog walking beside him. The tracks were just beyond the neighborhood. He turned then and noticed the bedroom light on in his mother's window. She stood looking out. He thought she might look and look, but see nothing out there in the night. She'd thought she'd heard something and went to look, but saw nothing outside, didn't see him. She would look out and see nothing beyond the reach of the light.
About the Author: Justin Lawrence Daugherty lives in Atlanta, where he enjoys patio drinks and stopping to pet every big dog. He runs Sundog Lit and edits Cartridge Lit, a mag dedicated to video game-inspired literature.
Story Song: "Skinny Love" by Bon Iver