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A Thief In the Family - Dan Lukiv

why is our dog a thief?

Yesterday morning, on my way to my Neon Sport, as I toted an armful of marked papers for my grade three students, I tripped over a welder's helmet. The papers flew up, and I crashed.

With my wind knocked out, I sat on dewy grass, beside Toby, our gargantuan brown mongrol. He licked my face.

I didn't yell at him. I certainly didn't want to attract any neighbour's attention, and so, once I'd felt my strength returning, I dumped the helmet in our shed, where many other items--stolen items--lay in a heap: a glove, an assortment of toy cars, a Cabbage Patch doll, a baseball, a pair of runners, a sweater, a shoe, and a pair of boxer shorts.

Who owned these things? How would I return them?

I phoned my wife during my lunch-duty time:

"Hi, hon," I said, using the students' phone in the hallway. "Guess what Toby left in our yard today?" I chuckled. "A--"

"Ralph," she said, "we have a serious problem."

"Mr. Friedenburger," a ten-year-old named Robbie said, tugging my free arm, "there's a fight in the playground, and there's blood."

"Ralph," my wife said, "there's a rabbit in our yard. It's mucky and grey--and dead! I think it's the Carlsons' pet."

"Mr. Friedenburger!" Robbie said. "Aren't you going to do something?"

"Well?" my wife said. "What are we going to do?"

"Are you sick, Mr. Friedenburger?"

That afternoon, I gave my students 30 minutes of Read-What-You-Want and one hour of Do-Your-Own-Art-Thing-And-Don't-Bug-Me. As they "worked," I thought about the gloom that had haunted me when, at nine, my car-smashed dog, Queenie, had died in my arms on our porch. The thought was too horrible to relive. But there I was, in front of 24 self-absorbed primary students, trying to forget my dead pet. I tried not to think that the Carlsons had three children who'd loved Buffy, their rabbit, and that it had often followed them around the yard, like a Siamese cat or family dog.

I thought about families we knew--families who lived on farms and would like a dog ("A dog that steals and kills neighbours' pets," I thought).

When I got home, I found the rabbit in our mud-room. But it definitely didn't look dirty. It sat on all fours, and its fur looked fluffy, clean, and silky. I bent over, peering closely, to make sure it was really dead.

I stood up, finding my wife with her hands on her hips. "I shampooed and blow-dried it," she said.

I swallowed, studying her face, trying to detect the early stages on insanity. But in spite of her strained expression, she appeared well put together: mascara, eye shadow, puffy hair, the blue dress I love.

"What's going on, Betty?"

"We're putting it back tonight. Nobody'll ever know."

"It's dead," I reminded her.

"I know," she said, with her teeth clenched.

She worried me. "Hon, I'll tell you what we're going to do. We're going to find Toby a new home."

"Ralph!" she said, aghast. "My father gave me that dog before he died."

"I know." Then I groaned.

"Tomorrow," she told me, "you're going to start building a fence."

Scratches at the door told us Toby was home again. I was afraid to look outside. Maybe I'd find somebody's purse. Or another dead pet.

Later, after two Spanish coffees each, we ventured into the October night air--I packed the corpse under one arm, Betty the flashlight in one hand.

Toby (locked up) scratched at the back door to get out. If we ever tied him up, he'd howl as if he'd been gut-shot, and if we ever locked him indoors, he'd scratch and scratch the front or back door and fill the house with an odor that only a vulture would enjoy.

We sneaked along our lane to the Carlsons' yard--two houses down. All was quiet except for the distant sound of a train passing through town.

We found the chicken-wire cage open--not surprising--and then carefully I placed the rabbit--dead Buffy--inside.

He resembled a little, lost, dark cloud in the starless night.

Had the Carlsons discovered that the rabbit was missing? Well, no plan was perfect...I heard a car-door slam in the driveway. A motor started. Headlights flooded the yard with light. Fortunately, we were hidden behind a thicket of rose bushes.

On the brink of humiliation, we ran back to our house. I felt guiltier than usual letting out Toby to wander the streets, but his disgusting odor gave me no other sensible choice.

"Tomorrow," my crazed-looking, puffing wife told me, "you're starting that fence."

We had another Spanish coffee each, and then we crashed in bed.

The next morning, as I headed to my car, I found Toby ripping apart a book--The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe. In the lane, I met Mrs. Carlson. She waved for me to stop my car. My heart beat accelerated. I felt sweaty. My hands and feet felt cold. I pushed down on the window-switch, and as the glass descended, I noticed how loud the electric motor sounded.

Mrs. Carlson stuffed her head into my car, almost knocking me over with tobacco-breath: "Mr. Friedenburger!"

"Call me Ralph."

"I've just got to tell someone!" She was about forty, and her face reminded me of Ghengis Khan. "Our pet rabbit died yesterday! I buried it! I buried it while the kids were at school! But this morning! There it was! In its cage! And he was, you know, dead, but all clean and fluffy!"


Dan Lukiv is a poet, novelist, short story writer, and article writer. He and his wife are raising three girls in Quesnel, BC, where he teaches creative writing at McNaughton Centre. He also edits a literary journal, CHALLENGER international, which focuses attention on young, up-and-coming Canadian poets.

read his book The Germans From Dortmund online.


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