My brother gets to barking one day and won’t stop. June tries to reason with him. She appeals to his Turnbuckle sense of propriety: “You were born to the most distinguished family in Chinaberry,” she says. “You know Teddy Roosevelt once came to a soiree in this very house? Did you know that, Cal?”
Cal, who is only five, looks up at her beer-can curlers with his wild blue eyes.
“What if Teddy Roosevelt saw a Turnbuckle on the floor, barking like a dog? What would he say?”
Cal shows his teeth and growls low in his throat.
June drops the civility angle and moves on to threats. She says if he doesn’t stop this shit, she’ll get Sam Trashe to come over and clip him like a poodle. If he wants to be a dog, he can be a goddam poodle. Poodles are fruity dogs. He doesn’t want to be a fruity dog, does he?
This doesn’t work either. Cal is too young to appreciate the shame of fruitiness, or else he doesn’t care.
In the rocking room now, June pours Wild Turkey from a bottle. She spoons ice into the glass, which pops and crackles as she watches Cal through a window, scratching out a hole under the dead magnolia. “You know what, Paulie?” she says. “He might not be acting. He might actually be a dog.”
“He’s acting,” I say. “So you’ll be sorry and get him a puppy. Ace Hardware has blue ticks for five dollars.”
“Ticks,” she says. “That sounds horrible.”
“Blue ticks,” I say as Cal suddenly abandons the hole and takes off down the drive. “That’s a dog not a tick.”
June’s silver spoon clicks in her glass.
“Just five dollars and they’re already wormed.”
A fire truck roars by, siren wailing, with Cal running after it. June drops the spoon in the pocket of her housecoat, sits in a rocker and presses the sweating glass to her cheek. She says, “No reason to buy a dog if we already have a dog.”
So Cal’s plan—if he even had one—has backfired. June accepts that he is a dog, and eventually we all do. If anyone thinks he will give up on this they don’t know Cal, because there wasn’t a more stubborn boy ever born in Cameron Parish. Before he was a dog he was a robot, so this is a slight improvement. Except now he sneaks out at night and crunches across our oyster-shell drive on his dirty feet. And instead of his robot voice, I hear him howling to the coyotes that live at the point, and them yipping back. Even with all that howling and yipping, my friend Harry says no way is Cal a dog, even if he now smells like one.
“What is he then?” I say.
“He’s a wolf man, of course.” Harry is lighting cherry bombs and flicking them into the marsh. One plops into water pea-green with algae and disappears.