One Bird In-Hand is Worth Ten in the Bush

One Bird In-Hand is Worth Ten in the Bush

“Where did you get that pit bull?” Trixie said. Trixie, seated by the window, was fixated on Pearl. Pearl was chewing a piece of wood from a red cedar tree. Trixie had blonde hair that was moussed and curly, she had bangs above her eyes, and wore a white tee shirt with a black leather jacket and stone-washed jeans with white shoes. I’d never met her before. She seemed very ordinary and Croker had never told me much about her.

“A drug addict on Craigslist,” I said. I didn’t look up from my phone.

“And he wouldn’t even shake your hand,” my wife said.

“Oh, really?” Trixie said.

I was replaying the meeting at the CVS parking lot in my head. The guy was late because he had gone to the Walgreens. It was across the street and I watched him, his wife, and his daughter in the backseat as they backed out and came over and parked next to me.

“Yeah,” I said to Trixie coming back to the conversation. “It was a couple years ago. I got her in January—Pearl was a birthday present to myself. The man’s daughter was in the back seat crying. His old lady had her forehead on the steering wheel. Odd situation.”

“Humboldt set little Pearl down, just for a minute, to make sure she could hold up her own weight,” my wife said. “And when he picked her back up, he felt abscesses all on her under belly from ant bites.”

“Sounds like buying a pit bull,” Trixie said.

“We don’t call them that,” my wife said.

“What do you call them?” Trixie said. My grandmother came into the dining room then and set down a pitcher of ice water and lemon tea.

“Grandma, do you need some help?” I said. I’d paid her to cook dinner for this meeting. She wouldn’t work for free and because she was getting paid she worked serious. I’d told her what the meeting was about and I’d long bragged her cooking to Croker and thought a home-cooked meal would be a good opportunity to reassure him he’d chosen the best.

“No,” my grandma said. She was wearing my grandpa’s flannel shirts again. My grandma was a proud woman and didn’t want help unless she was dying—and if she was dying she’d probably want you to be quiet, sit with her, and, at the most, hold her hand.

“We call them bulldogs,” my wife said.

“Well, there’s not much of a difference,” Trixie said and she sipped more prosecco. She had brought two bottles and opened one early but no one was a fan so she drank it by herself. It was a mystery why she came without Croker. But being my boss’ wife I didn’t question it beyond where’s Croker? Trixie had said he told her he’d meet her at my house so she came on time.

“Yes there is. It’s the connotation.” My wife said becoming irritated.

“I’m sorry Troy is late for dinner,” Trixie said. She sipped more and was very mellow. Her eyes had a murkiness to them and her eyelids had a drab sheen like she slept in last night’s makeup. “You’d think the owner of the company wouldn’t be late to the new foreman’s dinner plans,” Trixie said.

“Star of the show can’t be early,” I said. I was back in my phone, planning a cruise to Alaska with my wife (another gift to myself), going through the many tabs I had opened, and hoping my wife could maintain a conversation with Trixie so I didn’t have to. We always wanted to go to Norway but an Alaska cruise is a third of the price.

“Troy loved you. He’s always said you’re the future of the company,” Trixie said. “He’s told the Tavares story for years.” Trixie’s eyes had been dry but looked a little damp now and she changed the subject. “Is it always like that buying pits?” Trixie said.

“When you’re familiar to hard work, it’s not even something you think about,” my wife said and looked away quickly. She had a glass of prosecco near her that she looked at from time to time. Trixie had poured it when she first got here and passed it to her. My wife had taken the tiniest, obliging sip from it and now the condensation on the glass was cloudy and on the brink of letting a tear or two go. My wife drew in the condensation with the corner of her thumb nail.

“If I had kids like y’all, I’d be worried about them biting them,” Trixie said. “Where are the kids?”

“No, Trixie,” I said. “It is not always like that.” I had begun a text to Croker, wondering where the hell he was, but I kept erasing everything I wrote before I decided to put my phone face-down on the table without sending a text. “The kids are with my mom,” I said.

“There’s nothing a bulldog needs more than direction especially rescues. But that is how we like to get our dogs,” my wife said. “We like to make a difference. Pearl was standing in her food bowl she was so hungry the night we brought her home. Just breathing into the food between bites.”

“Why wouldn’t the guy shake your hand?” Trixie asked and looked out the window, bringing her glass to her lips a few times.

“I think he was upset that his landlord was making him give the dog up,” I said.

“She is very pretty. Except that cut on her tongue. Did she get that fighting?” Trixie asked and a smile peeked on the corner of her mouth.

My grandma came back into the dining room and set down a platter of street corn on a wicker pad. I went to stand but she shot me a dirty look like don’t you dare.

“No. Her tongue is over sized for her mouth,” my wife said.

“Pearl’s tongue is too big for her mouth?” Trixie said. “I know that feeling all too well,” Trixie paused briefly and started up talking again. “That wood is pink in the middle,” Trixie said.

“Yes. It’s red cedar,” I said. “The same wood they use to shave into bedding for hamsters and stuff, even though it gives them a headache.” I was itching to send a text Croker. I didn’t want to embarrass Trixie by asking her to get a hold of him and this was the first time I’d met her. I expected Croker to walk through the front door any time. Croker had told me about her spending his money and her infidelity but I didn’t want that to affect the way I interacted with her.

“You have three bulldogs, right?” Trixie asked.

“Yep,” my wife said. She knew these things about Trixie as well because I’d told her.

My grandmother, carrying dishes of food on a serving board shaped like a fish, set the board down in the middle of the table: it was two smaller dishes and a steaming gravy boat.

“Have they ever killed anything?” Trixie asked. My wife repositioned in her chair and looked at me.

“Nothing I didn’t want them to,” I said quickly. I was joking but Trixie looked interested.

“What have they killed?” Trixie asked.

“Pearl once caught a bird out of the sky. Caught it like a Frisbee,” I said.

“Caught it with her lock jaws, huh?” Trixie asked with a smile. She had a far away look but came back to us when she topped her glass again. She was starring at Pearl still peeling the piece of wood she had between her two paws.

“Actually, bulldogs don’t have lock jaws. They are just strong and determined,” my wife said. “They also have one of the best temperaments—they have a pretty high IQ—they are not what people think they are.”

“I was thinking of getting a few. Maybe to take with me,” she said. “And with Troy. Y’all will put me on to someone who has a puppy they want to sell?”

“You have to be the right kind of person,” my wife said.

“Their main job here is to scare off rodents and rabbits digging up the garden,” I said. “And to get after the possums and raccoons.”

“Like I said, bulldogs need direction. And love. If people would take the responsibilities serious, we wouldn’t have 40,000 of these dogs being euthanized a month in the US,” my wife said.

“Where is Croker?” I asked, for the first time since Trixie had first arrived.

My grandma came through the door and set the chicken down. It was a whole chicken. Across its legs and wings were tight tied strings that held herbs to it; it looked like scored bread with a buttery glow.

Croker should have already been here. All he does is work. If he’s late, it’s usually work-related. I was supposed to be getting a raise; a new title. The dinner, the stogies, were just icing on the cake like the cruise to Alaska. Monday morning, when I agreed to head up the hospital job, we’d shook hands on the promotion and Croker said he’d be back in time, at the latest, for the dinner Wednesday. Yeah, Croker’s kept me waiting for paperwork plenty but as far as promises, he’s there for me more than my own father.

“I’ll call him,” Trixie said and went to get up. “You know Troy, meeting with all kinds of random people. There’s no telling who’s got a hold of him.”

“No you won’t,” my grandma said. “Sit down. I’ve been whipping this up for more than three hours. We are going to eat without Mr. Croker.”

Trixie sat back down and her phone call to Croker rang and rang. Croker did not answer before it went to voicemail and Trixie hung up.

My grandma, while looking at Trixie, sharpened her knife with two drags on the sharpener. She cut the string from the drumsticks. The chicken opened some and rested; steam rolled from it. It was stuffed full of apples, pineapples, and more leafy herbs. We all served ourselves sides and my grandma divvied out the meat.

I finally had sent Croker a text and he had not texted me back. He was known to do that. If it was urgent, though, he’d always get back to me quickly. I didn’t want to seem desperate to confirm my raise. I didn’t want Trixie getting the wrong idea of me and getting in Croker’s ear. My wife was famished and ate heartily. My grandma was cleaning the juice and oil from the carving knife. She set the utensils down and looked at everyone like they were basking in the sun on the pool deck she built. I had a fork in my right hand. My phone was in my lap in the other hand. Trixie was using the back side of her spoon to make a perfect caldera in her mound of mashed potatoes. She filled the depression with brown gravy careful to not let a drop escape and roll down the perfectly clean white sides. The little specks that did, she examined and cleaned up.

“So where are y’all going?” I said and checked my phone again. Still, nothing from Croker.

“Where are we going?” Trixie repeated.

“You said you want us to put you on to someone about some bulldogs to go with you and Croker. Where are y’all going?” I said.

“I wish we could go to the moon,” Trixie said. She was still fixing her potatoes and paused. “I think we are just going to go to Idaho. We want to see the Salmon River, the Middle Fork.” She looked up from her plate at me and smiled. “Wouldn’t it be nice, away from the world out there? Me and some dogs catching our dinner.”

“Croker is more of a Key-West guy. I can’t see you getting him to go to the middle of nowhere, let alone out west,” I said. “He’s always going on about Puerto Rico, though.”

“You’d have a hard time gallivanting the Salmon River with three dogs,” my grandma said. When my grandma wore my grandpa’s clothes, they always made her seem a bit loopy but today she was spot on. “Well. How’s the damn food everybody?”

We all said our piece about how good the food was except Trixie. Trixie had sculpted the food on her plate to perfection: she couldn’t stack her green beans any more uniformed, her street corn, on its side, was buttered and balanced, her potatoes and gravy immaculate, and her chicken slices, model striation, so she drank more prosecco.

My wife was on to seconds. I was getting there.

My grandma was glaring at Trixie’s fixings, willing her to lie in the neat bed she’d made. Pearl was lying on her back with that piece of wood in her mouth. She was dusty and had her straw bedding stuck to her in small patches, some on her underbelly. All of her paws were outstretched to the sky. She was letting the piece of wood fall from her mouth and re-catching it. Trixie’s phone was face-up flat on the dining table. The phone rang and we all looked to her, expecting it to be Croker. Trixie quickly silenced it. She did not look up to make eye contact, but she was blushing. My wife looked at me, and when I noticed her, she pointed her lips at Trixie, but kept working on her plate. My grandmother was not lost on us. I had seen the phone when it rang and the caller was an unsaved number. My mother, I’ll call her back later, Trixie said.



About the Author

Michael Hammerle is pursuing his MFA at the University of Arkansas at Monticello where he teaches composition. He holds a BA in English from the University of Florida. He is the founder of Middle House Review. His fiction has been published in The Best Small Fictions 2017 selected by Amy Hempel. His prose and poetry has been published in, or forthcoming from, Split Lip Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, New Flash Fiction Review, New World Writing, the Matador Review, After the Pause, Misfit Magazine, Door Is A Jar, and many more magazines. His lives and writes in Gainesville, FL. 

Photo, "Bulldogs," by on Flickr. No changes made to photo.