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  • TRAVIS STEPHENS

Cherry Cokes



Next door had dogs chained out in the yard. There were three dogs and each had a plywood house and where the chains ended, the yard was worn to dirt. Yolanda had pointed them out to me.

“Awhoooo,” she said. “Listen to them beagles.”

“They’re not beagles, they are hounds.”

“Beagles are hounds. Awhooo-wooo.”

“I guess,” I said. “But beagles are little.”

I like going to Yolanda’s house. Today Daddy was home with the truck parked in the yard. Mama was in the kitchen reading a magazine.

“Mama,” I said.

“Ssh. Daddy is sleeping.”

“Can I go see Yolanda?”

“May I go to Yolanda’s place. Use good English.”

“Yes, Mama.” She wears lipstick when Daddy is home and I saw that her coffee cup was stained red. I know that lipstick. Rose Passion. I tried it on once but wiped it off my mouth before anyone saw it. She looked at me. “May I?”

“Yes, you may. But be careful on the road and be home for supper. No, before supper. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Yolanda is from Texas. I like the way she says some words, like “thrown”. She put an extra sound in there, a syllable you can’t see. When I turned into her drive, she waved. She was with her brothers; I could see the legs of one of them jutting out from under a car. I left my bike and went over.

Her brother’s hand emerged from beneath the car. “Hey, Squirt,” he said. “Hand me a seventeen-millimeter socket.”

If I had brothers, I’d want them to be like Yolanda’s. They had dirt bikes and souped up cars and were building a dune buggy.

This was Steve, the oldest one. The funny one.

“Who is that with you, Squirt?”

“Megan.”

“Megan? Is Megan married yet?”

“No, silly. Megan is eleven, like me.” Yolanda kicked his foot and he laughed. We helped Steve until he left to get parts. Then we had a Coke and sat on the porch. I never knew where Yolanda’s mother was, and we were able to get whatever we wanted from the fridge. Today Yolanda put a red cherry in her glass. It was the exact color of my mother’s Rose Passion lipstick.

We sat on the porch and we could hear the hounds’ chains as they walked back and forth.

“Whoo-whoo,” Yolanda said.

“Awhoo,” a hound answered.

“Let’s go see them.”

The Sommer’s house with the dogs is like right next door. You can look into their windows. They got this low hedge and when we stepped around it into sight, the dogs began to bark. Yolanda held up her hands and they began to bark louder, frantically, as if competing.

“Awhoo,” Yolanda said. She petted one and it stopped barking. I went to another and it squirmed under my hand. It couldn’t stay still. The third dog looked sad and continued to howl until I went to pet it, too.

“They’re so loud,” I said.

“Yeah. Sometimes Mr. Sommers comes outside to yell at them. ‘Shut up. Shut the hell up, goddamnit.’”

“Don’t the noise bother you?” Doesn’t, I thought. Use good English.

“Nah. Steve sometimes revs up his car and that’s pretty loud. It’s about even.”

“What is Mrs. Sommers like?”

“Oh, she left him.”

“She did?” I looked at the house, its blinds down except for a narrow band of dark glass. It looked like any other house.

“Yep. Ruben says that she took everything she could fit in her Toyota. Even the TV.” Yolanda said “TV” with a breathless pause, made it sound like something more than a box. Something valuable. Ruben was the man her mother married.

The one hound we weren’t petting lay down and put its head on its paws. It looked sad. “How come they got three dogs?” I asked. Have.

“They are coon dogs. Ruben says they are used to hunt coons.”

“Coons? Raccoons?”

“Yeah.”

“That makes no sense.” I thought of the times, once or twice, I saw a raccoon. Once when Daddy was driving, we saw one cross the road. The other time at school the janitors had caught one outside the kitchen. Stealing food, they said. With a mask on, of course it stole food. Dressed like that it had no choice. “What do they want to catch a raccoon for?”

“I don’t know.”

I looked more closely at the hound. Coon hunter. Coon killer. It had floppy ears and sad eyes. The one Yolanda was petting had rolled onto its back for a belly rub.

“Do you think they eat raccoons?” I asked.

“No,” Yolanda said. “They got rabies.”

“Raccoons are cute.”

“Not like coyotes,” Yolanda said. “Coyotes are mean.” She continued to pet the hound, which closed its eyes. “We had coyotes back in Texas come right up to the yard. They hunt gophers and any old thing. Come for cats.

“My brothers see them. Out in the fields. They chase the coyotes with their dirt bikes. They pay bounty for coyotes.”

“They ever catch one?”

Yolanda shook her head.

“I hope not. That doesn’t seem fair.”

Yolanda climbed to her feet. “We should let these dogs go,” she said.

“Let them out?”

“Cut ‘em free.” She nodded toward Summer’s house. “Nobody should keep dogs chained up.”

Just like that. She unhooked one and I unhooked one. Both dogs went to the one still tied and so Yolanda let him go too. They stood and sniffed each other. Tail wags. “Awhoo,” she said.

“Awhoo,” I said.

One hound barked and they ran away. I never knew hounds ran that fast. Ears back, flying. They ran in a tight little pack and not a bark. I saw them heading toward my house.

“Wow,” Yolanda said. “Lookit them go.”

Down the road I heard a dog bark. Not the hounds. Maybe from one of the other houses. I hoped for the sake of Daddy asleep the dogs kept quiet. We lost sight of them.

“You want another Coke?” Yolanda asked.

“Yep,” I said. “Let’s get gone.” I put a hand to my mouth. Use good English.

Yolanda smiled at me. “Let’s.”

Originally from Wisconsin, TRAVIS STEPHENS is a tugboat captain who lives and works in California. His book of poetry, skeeter bit & still drunk was published by Finishing Line Press. Visit him at: zolothstephenswriters.com

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