He was breathing. Dented, but not dead. Still I told the black girl to check and see, use a stick, a foot. The dog made a coughing sound, and we both stepped back. He alive, she whispered, and moved closer, like to pet him.
Behind us, on the dusty field, men pined and hooted, Uncle Charles among them. Playing shortstop in his first away game of six that softball season. His guest and only fan, I looked and what I found wasn't Chuck but high-socked women slumped in folding chairs, my view from center field skimmed a bit by patient tears, cut across by tangled bushes.
I know this dog, the girl said. Name's Lonny.
She stood over him, unafraid, ready with a forked stick she'd found in the grass. Sun creaked through the trees as she scraped the spot where the dog was missing part of itself, a hunk from its side. Whatever hit him had shoveled out a nice, pink piece, down near to the bone. I saw what I thought were his ribs, or something like ribs there pushing up, then sinking.
Why Lonny didn't startle when she rode that spot I don't know, but I half-expected him to try for the stick, feign a swip at her ankles. Testing fear, I made the motion with my own arm, an abbreviated swipe, pulling it back more slowly, agreed he wasn't stirring.
She nodded, the girl chewing flatly on the slick candy necklace, her face touched by the speckled shade of the burnt green canopy above us. Between the playground and the dusty field, we stayed a while with Lonny, her standing over him, me more than sure: limpid in corduroy in the middle of June. I was full of her cool, how she kicked the dirt and leaves from underneath his nose, chose the poking stick as if any one would do, as if doctoring the moment was this girl's specialty.
And then the ball came rustling in, rolling, shot from the bushes. The hometown boys had dirtied the seams, cracked them almost flat. I heard wives clapping, home run cheers, cleats against the dirt. I turned and caught the center fieldsman—Robby Shore, my uncle's friend—gaining on the woods, huffing through his beard, nearing us and Lonny.
They come here to die, she said, dropped the stick and bolted, ran off towards the playground, a group of kids now rushing Mr. Softee's ice cream truck, him driving that bell, push-up pop and snowcone trilling for everybody's ear.
I followed her, skirted around Lonny, and looked, memorized the poking spot, the position of his body, how Robby S. would see him—a hump left dead on the swollen ground, tree roots surfacing here and there, the gnarled toes of monsters.
Mr. Softee leaned into his bell again, sending me quick through a hole in the brush where the girl had slipped away. The rectangular truck drove right up next to the empty swingset, and already I was forgetting. I joined a tight nest of kids whose names I'd never heard, and waited my turn at the window. The freezer's box sliding glass puffed out an icy cloud, as summer's streth of everydays opened up before me.
Snowcone please, I calmly said, and gave the bald man my change.