The dog hears the crash in the garage first. He scatters to the bottom of the stairs and begins to bark—his high-pitched yelp. The baby he is, the baby he’s always been. I’m sitting on the couch, watching a movie starring Diane Lane. She hasn’t been truthful to her husband. George never barks.
I rise from the leather sofa and start down the carpeted stairs. George stands attentive, waiting, shaking his tail. I stand at the bottom, looking down at him. I hear light taps—things falling. I grab the handle, push the door open. I knew I had smelled something irregular the last time I took George out for a piss. I don’t scream. I don’t gasp. I should have known this was coming. Flames mount from the garbage can in the corner. Me and my friends just had to have the bonfire last night. We sat drinking, laughing, adding more logs. Someone put those hot ashes where they shouldn’t have been.
I yell, “Mom!” She’s sleeping, snoring—reverberating through the house as usual. “Mom! Mother!” I push the button to the garage door. The fire hasn’t gotten to it. It still works, but I don’t have time to thank God or Jesus or any one of them. I run up the stairs, screaming, “Mom! Mom! Mom!”
I stand at her bedside, shaking her. Screaming at her. She wakes, “What.”
She jolts up from bed, tells me to call the fire department right now. I grab the cellphone from my pocket. In the late nineties maybe, I heard somewhere once that you can’t get ahold of them on a cellphone. I run into the den, her office. I remove the phone from the receiver. I dial. I’ve never used this phone before. It’s clear. I have to press something. The call button? Where the fuck is the fucking call button? Mom shuffles past me, down the stairs, to the garage. She opens the door, gasps, yells, “Damnit it all to hell! Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!” She sees the melted storage bins. She sees the plastic plates, oozing down onto the floor. She sees her work papers, the ashes, the flickers floating off of them.
I tell the fire department our address. The dispatch girl tells me to get the hell out. I don’t know where George is. “George!” I scream. “George!” I scream. I return to the burning garage. Right now, this is when I realize it could be huge—an entire condominium, burnt to the ground in one hell of a small town. Mom’s gotten the neighbor over to help—Maddie. She’s started the outdoor faucet. We never got a hose—never needed it. The faucet pours over the landscape, the little patch of grass we earned with the place. Maddie’s running at me. I yell, “I don’t know where the fuck George is!”
Mom runs upstairs, tells me she’s going to grab some buckets. She runs up. I tell her to get the dog, to scream for the dog. She says, “He probably just ran off. Settle down!” I sprint to the outdoor faucet. I have no bucket.
Mom reenters the burning garage, hands me a few plastic buckets. I sprint from the faucet to the burning garbage can. We’ve got time, I tell myself that. I’ve got time. It hasn’t hit the Chrysler. Just a bookshelf filled with Mom’s work papers—next to the burning garbage can. A few old storage bins. This isn’t our life. It’s not everything we’ve ever known. I pour the water. Maddie, she comes up to me with her bucket full. I pour. I run back with mine. I run back. I pour. All I see, right now—is the fire, the bucket, the water, the missing Shih Tzu. I take Maddie’s bucket. I pour. I run back. Water. Pour. More water. Pour. I scream, “Someone, go get the fucking dog!” Maddie runs upstairs. The fire’s settling, if only just a little bit. The sirens. The sirens. The sirens. The red, red, red lights, flickering. Neighbors peep out of their garages, staring at our scene. The trucks honk, moving slowly down our little road. I run upstairs. Maddie’s searching under my bed. I scream, “George! George! George, you motherfucker! Georgie Boy!”
I want to hear his collar, his little medals decorating his neck. I want to hear them ring.
I tell Maddie, “Get downstairs!” She leaves the room.
The condo has filled with smoke. No dog. I run down the stairs. The firemen are exiting their trucks, readying their long hose. I run out of the garage, barefoot on the paved driveway, into the grass, past the other condos, the people—my neighbors, watching. I scream, “George! George! George!” I approach the edge of the street. I look both ways. A few yards down our wet, private road, George is sitting on his ass eating his own shit.
I run over to his little baby body. “George! George!”
As he digs his little white head in for one more piece, I snatch him off the ground. I pick him up like a baby—cradle him, hug him so tight. I whisper into his floppy ear, “You shouldn’t be eating your own shit. Where did you go?”
I start back to the condo. The fire could have been a lot larger. Vintage photographs, old movies, my mother’s dead mother’s things. The fire department’s hose pounds hard against the old garbage can. It could have been gone. A lot could have been gone.
Alan Semrow lives in Wisconsin and is a graduate of English from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. His poetry and fiction have been featured in multiple publications, including The Bicycle Review, Earl of Plaid Lit Journal, Danse Macabre Literary Magazine, Potluck Mag, and Wordplay, and he won the Essayist Award from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point English Department for his nonfiction work. He spends the majority of his free time with his boyfriend, friends, family, and Shih Tzu, Remy. His blog can be found at http://alansemrowriter.wordpress.com. He is a frequent contributor to Potluck.