Of Dogs & Wives | A Short Story by Luke Foyle
Luke Foyle is the 1st Place Winner for Grade 9 in the 2015-16 Seton Short Story Contest
The night’s coon hunt had been more than a success. Jerry Shields and his hunting partners loaded both their dogs and the catch into their dusty pickup trucks.
The hunters drove up out of the woods to Simpson’s Crossroads, a tiny farming community, where the riotously joyous hunters piled out of their vehicles at the door of a small all-night diner. They tramped into the dim building happily bragging about their dogs and the fantastic things that their hounds did, only pausing to order their usual breakfasts.
“You can put them in a creek or in a sand flat and you can still bet that they will have every coon in the county treed in a minute.” A hunter in a brown jacket poured torrents of praise upon a certain American Walker hound that he owned. He summed up his oration with two or three examples of coon hunting prowess that his hound possessed.
“Let me tell you something,” Jerry said to his friend in the brown jacket. “My dogs are so smart that they probably could even tell you what a coon track looked like!” This statement was taken with a general laugh. His friends knew that Mr. Shields would boast anything about his beloved pack. Their plates of greasy and slightly overcooked food arrived.
Again the party of hunters returned to the subject of their hounds. A bearded man stated that he would rather live with his dogs than anyone else because he claimed that they could understand his ways. The other hunter nodded and asserted that his pack were all he needed to be happy in life. Jerry listened intently to the conversation as he dug through a bowl of somewhat elastic grits.
“Country music and my dogs are all I crave,” the bearded man stated. Not to be outdone, Jerry added his opinion that the best music he knew of was the sound of his dogs on a coon’s trail. The two other hunters agreed heartily and resumed eating.
After a period of silence the bearded man, while wiping his mouth with his shirt sleeve, said, “Say boys, I have a brother who lived in Charleston. He was a bird hunter and he had a pair of dogs that I’d give anything for. Anyway, when he moved up here, he left his wife down in Charleston, where he came from.”
Several curious grunts constituted the others’ replies. The speaker continued, “He did, however, bring his two bird dogs with him and he still has them. But the thing is that he left his wife. She wasn’t his first one either, I think that she was his third or so.”
Jerry nodded, deep in the story. The bearded man rambled on, smiling, “There seems to be a decisive question here. . .”
“That is?” the others questioned impatiently.
The bearded man continued, “If he left his wife but brought his dogs, then just what is man’s best friend. Is it his wife or his dog?”
The hunters laughed aloud at this question.
“I’ll say dog!” the man in the brown jacket answered. “Because I don’t have a wife.”
Jerry thought about the problem for only a split second. “I’ll be tempted to say dog, too,” he stated. “My Susan just doesn’t put up with me like she ought to.” The other hunters fixed their gaze upon the speaker with sympathy. He continued, “Oh, sure. I’m the one that brings home the bacon. I also fix the stuff that’s broken when it really needs it. You have to remember that repairing broken plumbing isn’t one of those things folks do as a hobby. But even with all that, she just isn’t satisfied.”
He was not done with his list of grievances. “But what’s a dead coon on the porch or a pair of boots on the carpet?” Jerry asked with an air of aggravation. “I wish that she’d just let me be myself. I can be out half the night hunting any time I want. The way she talks, I think she’d like to see me hovering around the house like a buzzard. She says that I need to not fret over my dogs as much and pay more attention to her.”
“It goes back to the question,” the bearded man stated with finality.
It was true. Jerry Shields gave the utmost care to his pack of hounds and everything else was trivial. To him, his wife was the one that cooked food, cleaned their small house, and mostly asked him to do things that he didn’t want to do. Susan was seemingly of second importance when she came between him and his dogs. He often complained that she really did nothing for him except mundane housework.
On the other hand, he thought, a man’s dogs were something that provided a necessary element in his life. They could be trusted, they were always at his disposal, and they did not ask for things to be done. Jerry’s father had been a dog breeder who gave much consideration to his pack and he handed this trait down to his son. Whenever he returned from hunting in the morning, it was his dogs that received his first attention, not Susan. After all, it was those faithful hounds who had done all of the running during the night and brought him the catch. Susan, on the other hand, was not the provider of mauled, muddy and foul smelling raccoons and therefore did not merit Jerry’s highest praise.
After he had poured forth his woes at the diner, Jerry returned home unchanged. In the next few days he arrived home from work in the evenings and immediately went to the dog pen to make certain of his hounds’ every need. Then he would wend his way to the porch to meet Susan and hear her ask what made the dogs’ importance rise over her own. After all, she was the one that he married, while the dogs were simply bought from a neighbor. Jerry always replied that the hounds were sort of special for whatever reason, but the reality was that they were the only ones that he “got something out of.”
A week after his conversation at the diner, Jerry found himself confronted with a situation that predicted sheer delight. His wife, Susan, had promised to stay with one of her sisters who was ill; consequently, she would be away for a week. Jerry was almost rejoicing. Now he would have the special privilege for a week to live “as a man ought” without the added vexation of his wife. “Just the dogs, myself, and coon hunting,” he thought to himself in delight.
When his wife left, Mr. Shields regarded her “goodbye” and “love you” with slight suspicion as he always did. Once she was gone, he settled down in the quiet house to fully comprehend his new liberty.
As was his custom, he went coon hunting that night with his friends. They were out in the river swamp from dusk to dawn, and when he arrived back home Jerry sank down on his couch for a much needed nap. However, it was not to be. He was immediately called by his neighbor’s wife who was asking about a recipe for a certain French dish whose name Jerry could neither pronounce nor spell. Jerry never ventured into the realm of cooking because that was Susan’s job. He hardly could remember where her recipe box was and, once he found it, he was still unable to find the recipe. In all, the endeavor kept him busy for at least half an hour. Eventually he discovered the small piece of paper, delivered it to the neighbor, and retired, thankful that things like that weren’t his usual duty.
Jerry Shields and his friends again went hunting that night. They parked their trucks up at the top of a sand hill and sat on the tailgates, drank coffee, and talked while they listened to their dogs working down in the surrounding woods. While they sat there, Jerry told of his present state of affairs at the house and how he had it all to himself. By their responses, the other men seemed envious.
The next morning, Mr. Shields awoke to find that he had come down with a cold. He thought that he could “tough through it” but then remembered that he had to go to the tax office in town. It passed his mind that when she was there, Susan would have gladly done it for him since he had a cold. However, now that she was not, Jerry was forced to drag himself into his old Dodge pickup to drive to town and face the righteous wrath of Uncle Sam.
After an hour or two, Jerry left the tax office with the sensation that his wallet was a trifle lighter. As he crawled back into the cab of his truck, it dawned on him that he had not fed his dogs. He was somewhat surprised at his forgetfulness because he thought too much of his dogs than to forget to feed them.
As the old truck rolled down the country road, Jerry remembered the many times that Susan had taken care of his dogs under the same circumstances. The thought of how rare it was for him to return the favor also flickered across his mind, but he brushed it aside by stating that, “I went through enough trouble to marry her; and if that is not enough, then I don’t know what is!” This response reassured him and he was happy.
Jerry Shields returned to his small house, extricated himself from the truck seat, fed the dogs, and then trudged to the door. Upon entering, he threw himself down on the couch and remained there for several minutes until he remembered that there was a bottle of medicine in the cabinet that would help his sore throat. He went to get it.
However, the stained label was typed in a small font that was almost impossible to read since Jerry had lost his glasses. He tried holding the bottle at different distances from his nearsighted eyes and was met with a varying degree of success. The thought of how his wife would have helped him returned to him as he tossed off an approximate dose.
As the next morning dawned, the sun beamed through the large plate-glass windows of the living room on Jerry Shields, plastered on the couch where he had fallen. He awoke slowly and thought of what he had to make for breakfast. Again, he remembered how Susan usually got it for him when he was sick. He defended his opinion that he could help himself by saying, “Alright, she does stuff for me but I can do stuff for myself!”
Jerry fixed himself something to eat and returned to the black leather couch to eat it. He sat there and pondered why he had even gotten married in the first place if his wife did nothing for him. He remembered when he was leaving the tax office and had thought of how Susan helped him whenever he needed it. Jerry reminded himself that, if he had to, he could do almost anything himself, just like he had said. Jerry didn’t need Susan to go and offer Uncle Sam most of their money when he didn’t feel like it.
Through the window, he could see a herd of deer feeding in and out of the low hanging mist in a cornfield, hazy and blue with the morning. Jerry watched them contentedly as he ate. Suddenly one of his dogs, bawling, dashed from under the house and tore after them. The deer ran for a stand of young pines and vanished from sight. Jerry had a notion to throw a flat iron at the dog, but he suddenly corrected himself. He could never strike, or in hardly any way reprimand his dogs. “After all,” he thought, “they’re just thinking like dogs. If there is a deer, then they’ll chase it.”
However, he wished that the deer were still out in the field. Jerry had enjoyed watching them because they were quiet and not disruptive to their surroundings. In the light of this, he reflected on the opposite views which he and his dogs had. That was a difference between dogs and men. His dogs did not have reason and could not appreciate what men saw as good. Therefore they could not share themselves with him in the way that men could because they could not think like men do. Thus even when he was out hunting, his dogs could not gratify him fully although some of his friends claimed that they could. Jerry finished his bowl of soup.
After this, he reflected on how his wife treated him. He remembered that he had repeatedly said that she helped him with material things but did nothing for him other than that. Mr. Shields grumbled that before they were married he had to listen to everyone saying that wives and husbands help each other and all what not. At the time, Jerry had just turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to the bothersome family members who had a suggestion for everything.
Mr. Shields continued to tell himself that his wife just cooked, cleaned, and kept house for him. He mused that perhaps that was the way it was supposed to be because it was laid out in the Bible that way. Being no scripture scholar, he could vaguely remember a passage which he believed proved his point. He was thinking of St. Paul’s admonition, “Wives be subordinate to your husbands.” As he again tried to decipher the words on the bottle of medicine, Jerry told himself that a wife is indeed supposed to support her husband. Susan did do that, but his original grievance was still unsolved. For all she did, she still seemed distant from him.
Jerry walked to the small gas stove in the kitchen for another cup of coffee. He had made a small pot that morning and as he poured his second cup, the pot ran dry. Then it hit him. There was a whole Bible on either end of that one fragment of a quote he kept thinking of. He realized then that he had forgotten to remember the other piece and certainly forgot to live it. It was that one catch, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the Church.” The sole reason that he had got nothing out of his marriage was just like the coffee; he didn’t put enough into it for it to actually do anything for him. He paid his wife little to no attention; consequently, she meant nothing to him. Virtually everything he did was directed to his dogs and not to Susan. Jerry confessed to himself that he had walked through thirty years of marriage with his head in a dog box and his mind plowing through sparkleberry thickets, scrub, and switch-cane on the river to where his dogs had treed a coon.
His pack had risen to supreme importance in his life because it was the focus of all his attention. As with the herd of deer that he had seen that morning, a dog does not think like a man does and therefore a dog is no fit companion for a man. There was no use arguing with good sense.
His wife would be the perfect companion for him if only he would realize it and act like she was such. Jerry wasn’t going to review all the Bible quotes that demonstrated that point. For his marriage to be truly appreciated, Jerry realized that he had to extract himself from whatever was distracting him and return the favors that his wife gave to him.
A wife isn’t the only one who has to live the marriage. Jerry now knew that the answer to the question that the bearded hunter had asked in the diner was that man’s best friend was his wife. She and her husband live together and help each other, not live with each other and one works for the master, like a coon dog does.
It is true that Jerry kept hunting. There was no reason to stop completely. He just had to realize that a dead coon and a tired dog is not life’s fulfillment. When she came back, Jerry Shields regarded Susan with a due respect and genuine consideration.
Instead of pushing through bays and river swamps all night and then returning in the early morning with his only care being for his pack of dogs, Jerry helped his wife with things around the house. He also now judged it wiser to go coon hunting only when he was free to do so.
Jerry Shields, after thirty years of marriage, had learned that a dog is man’s best tracker of coons, but it cannot be rated as anything more.
About Luke Foyle
Luke Foyle is a native South Carolinian and in ninth grade. He has been enrolled in Seton Home Study School since third grade and his favorite subjects are definitely Latin and Religion. He has served the altar since he was seven years old. In addition to his high school curriculum, he supplements his education by learning to make and do a variety of things. He works with metals, wood, fur and textiles and is an avid hunter, trapper, and fisherman, and a good cook. In the summer, he runs a lawn business with his brother.