By the end of September only a few leaves on the mountain trees had changed. Deep orange, red and yellow hues excited Buck each year the seasons turned. You could count on the plentiful harvest colors appearing as sure as shooting.
But the long walks in the woods with Petey were over.
Crows still cried but fewer birds seemed to whistle. Crickets sang each night marking the end of summer that allowed you to measure the temperature if you counted the number of chirps in 15 seconds and added 40. Country wisdom cautioned against stepping on a cricket without asking for inevitable bad luck. Who would want to hurt a cricket, anyway?
Buck loved those daily morning walks with the little black, tan and white dog he picked off the side of the road 18 years ago after somebody threw the pup out of a moving vehicle.
Today Buck returned home alone.
“Where did Petey go, Grandpa?”
“Petey went to heaven,” Buck said.
Grandson Wesley brightened.
“Can we go, too?”
Buck closed his eyes and tried to put the question out of his mind. The four-year-old twins stood waiting for an answer. Grandpa opened his eyes and threw the kids a curve.
“Who wants popcorn?”
Wesley and Darlene squealed, running into the kitchen as all thoughts of Petey and heaven disappeared.
Lucille stared hard at her father.
“I heard the shot,” she said.
Lucille never really thought about doggie death before. All her childhood dogs just went to sleep and then to heaven, disappearing beneath a neat pile of dirt at the back of the farmhouse where she piled small rocks and wrote their names in finger paint on a cross she made from Popsicle sticks. The dogs got sick and old and disappeared. Now she knew her father had lied all along about what happened to the dogs she loved and loved her back as a child.
“Max and Zeus and Charlie all died,” she said. “You buried them out back. We had a funeral for each one.”
“We did,” her father said.
“You said natural causes. You said they went to sleep. You said.”
“I heard the shot.”
Buck stood alone not knowing what to do with his eyes, hands or heart.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Petey didn’t die in his sleep.”
“You shot Petey,” Lucille said.
Yes,” Buck said.
“You can’t do that,” she said.
“I couldn’t let them suffer,” he said.
Tears rolled down Lucille’s cheeks.
“You couldn’t take them to the vet?”
“And let a stranger kill them?”
“Those dogs trusted you. I trusted you,” she said.
“That’s the whole point, I guess,” he said.
In the kitchen Darlene stuck Cheerios up her nose. Wesley did the same. The twins began to chant.
“Petey was just plain old,” Buck said.
Raising her voice enough to scare the kids in the other room, Lucille hissed her words.
“You’re just plain old,” Lucille said.
Buck noticed how his daughter’s thick black hair curled around her ears just like her mother’s, her cheeks flushing wild cherry red the way her mother’s did when she got mad. Stepping so close to Buck’s face he felt her spit on his nose, she yelled louder.
“You want me to do that to you?”
Buck just stood there, not knowing for the first time in his life what to tell his daughter when she came to him for advice.
“Never hurt a cricket,” he said.