"I'm heading out for some pig's ears," he said.
"In a pig's ear, you are," she muttered.
Sure, he was going to the store for pig’s ears. He drove to the Farm and Fleet with the flimsiest of excuses, the flimsiest being that Rocko loved going there. “Leashed dogs are welcome to join their owners in both the store and the auto service area,” the signs proclaimed.
He was going there to flirt with that little blonde at Register Six.
A brain surgeon and his mutt, Bismark’s dynamic duo. The money he pumped into the local economy was what made him so popular, but he was too full of himself to see that.
Never trust a city boy who drives a big pickup--all country people knew that–but even as a college student, Layne Davis owned a 1981 Harley and an Omaha Orange 1969 Plymouth Road Runner and a sailboat he raced back where he’d come from, so he wasn’t a poser and he was no ordinary city boy. He loved the throaty roar and the adrenalin rush of a powerful engine as much as she did, the big difference being he could afford not just the wheels but the gas, while she scrimped and saved for every hour at the track or on the road in cars she restored herself.
She had been an 18-year-old LPN the first time he saw her, Sara Savage, kicking ass at a demolition derby. She had duly shunned him for being a city boy with a big Ford-150 on oversized wheels, but the more emphatically she told that city boy to get lost, the more he pursued her.
For ten years.
“I could have any girl I want,” he’d kept telling her, and it was true. All those college girls flocking around him were majoring in Pre-Wed.
“Go pick one of ’em, then, and leave me alone,” she’d say.
But he was boyishly cute, pesky as a stray dog, book-smart and common-sense stupid. He vowed he would never marry unless it was to Sara Savage, the “little piston,” the only gal who’d ever captured his heart.
“Unequally yoked.” Dad had waxed Biblical and ordered her to steer clear of Layne, and she did, until Dad died of a stroke, Mom rented out the farmhouse and moved to town, and Sarah finally said yes to Layne the brain surgeon.
She gave up stock-car racing and demolition derby and set a good example for the kids. With every new gray hair she grew wiser, while he just got younger at heart and stupider. His energy and enthusiasm, his sense of adventure, were undiminished. He couldn’t see the effect of gravity on his face or his male pattern baldness, a big shiny spot on the back of his head that made him easy to identify in a crowd. In the mirror and in his mind he was forever twenty. Call it Arrested Development, Peter Pan syndrome, or just plain immaturity; just don’t call it cute. His charm had worn thinner than his bank account. Layne would have had her sell the farm to pay his debts but her dad apparently saw that one coming and added an iron-clad clause in his will that the land was never to be sold.
When the kids grew up and left home, she wanted to move back to North Dakota. With or without him. Layne did her the favor of taking a big new job in Bismark, becoming the head honcho of St. Alexius, “serving residents of central and western North Dakota, northern South Dakota and eastern Montana since 1885.” Of course those gambling debts she found out about later had nothing to do with him taking the new job, nor his getting fired from that gambler’s anonymous committee Allen Hospital had put him in charge of.
In a pig’s ear, he took that job in Bismark just for her.
Like fighter pilots, doctors were a breed apart, guys who lived hard and dangerous and on the edge. By now he should have had a mid-life crisis and dumped her for a trophy bride, but Layne apparently liked fast engines better than fast women. He squandered a hundred-grand on a Mazda Miata and called it her Christmas present, but she called him an idiot and showed him the bank statements.
Brain surgeon. A million dollars a year, but taxes ate up half of it, and he managed to go into debt with all his toys and vacations and buying the kids whatever they wanted. Spoiled ’em all, and made her out to be the kill-joy who’d deny them unlimited credit-card access.
Sarah had the rescue dogs and the farmhouse and her father’s land, his father’s and grandfather’s before him. Some foolish young woman could have Layne–and all his debt too. Their debt. At least her dad had seen to it she wouldn’t lose everything to the man who stole her heart.
She watched him peel off in a cloud of dust
with Rocko riding shot-gun, head hanging out the window, nose quivering at all the awesome smells he was heading to. Instead of taking the Silverado, he drove off in her dad’s old black 1959 Dodge pickup. She shook her fist at him as he peeled out–he had plenty of his own toys to drive–but old engines did need some good road miles to keep them running well, so there was that.
Somewhere down the road,
with the kids safely raised to adulthood and sent from the nest, that awful sound of sirens within earshot of home had finally stopped putting the fear of God in her soul. She never broke the habit of offering up a prayer for whoever was in need of those sirens, but after so many years she’d forgotten that one of these days, it could be a loved one of her own.
Rocko. Oh Rocko.
The Dodge was fixable, but Rocko was not. A cattle-dog mix, the best little mutt she’d ever taken in, the one dog she’d loved most, and God knows she loved all the strays and rescues like children.
Layne didn’t suffer. Not more than a few seconds, they said.
A bag of pig’s ears had flown out the window along with Rocko. Some idiot news reporter photographed that “telling detail,” with lame-ass quotes from the blonde at Register Six. “Layne was a regular,” brimming with life; who could have imagined that it would all end a few minutes after she rang up the bag of pig’s ears for that man and his cute little dog. Some 30-year-old guy had been texting when he rear-ended the Dodge. There went a brilliant brain surgeon and a good dog. “Gone! In the wink of an eye!” she said, feeding the media with the nauseating cliches they sought.
The texter got ten years for unintentional manslaughter but it didn’t matter. “Serving time” behind bars would never bring back that sixty-year-old boy and his dog. She still caught a glimpse of at times, a smiling sixty-year-old boy, and Rocko would flash around a corner in his wake, and she’d blink, only to find nothing but tears in her eyes.
“You wouldn’t miss him so bad if you’d get out more and try meeting people,” everyone said.