Livelihood, Liza Ashley
She sniffs his gun because she knows what gunpowder smells like. She likes the smell. Daddy and me used to take her down to the holler when we would shoot old beer cans. Daddy used to use his shotgun. He ain’t never let me shoot his shotgun. He makes me use a peashooter. Said old cowboys used to use them to pop prairie dogs in the head. We sometimes use it to hunt squirrel. She always used to lick them shotgun shells that fell out of Daddy’s gun. Daddy would always tell her to quit it. Don’t do that, he’d say, don’t be licking them shells now.
She sniffs his gun, the one in his belt, but he don’t tell her to quit. He don’t say nothing to her, just to Daddy. He is a sheriff and he is fat. He is talking to Daddy and Daddy is talking back to him, telling him to get off his property. Leave my land, he says. Daddy don’t like him, I reckon. She is still there sniffing his gun and Daddy ain’t told her to quit it. The sheriff ain’t neither. She keeps sniffing. She sometimes licks his holster, but neither one of them say nothing.
She keeps on sniffing his gun. I get her to stop. Come on, Rosie, I say. Rosie and me walk back behind the house and toward the barn. Back there behind the house, Rosie and me can hear Daddy hollering at the sheriff. Get off my property, dammit. Get off my land, he says. Rosie runs into the barn. She runs in but she don’t mess with the horses. She just noses the dirt, sniffing for bugs, I reckon. She likes to nip at the horses. She ain’t being mean when she does it, Daddy says, she just likes to play. I pet her hairy back. Good girl, I say. Good girl.
Daddy keeps on hollering outside. I keep on petting Rosie. Good girl, I say. Good girl. She keeps on sniffing the dirt and panting her slobbery tongue. Mama keeps on crying inside, I reckon. I heard Daddy and Mama playing before she started crying. Playing like Rosie does them horses. I reckon they was just playing like Rosie does. Daddy always says Rosie ain’t hurting them horses. Just playing, he says. When I came into the kitchen and seen Mama crying, she turned around and kept on shelling snap peas. Go outside and play, she told me. So I did.
Mama don’t really like to play with me when Daddy’s around. Her and me go cut squash and okrie from the garden. I laugh when she makes Rosie run. Run, Rosie, Run! she says. But when Daddy is outside, Mama don’t make Rosie run. We just go cut the squash and okrie and fill the basket. Rosie don’t run and Mama don’t talk and Daddy drinks from his big bottle and hollers at Mama and Rosie and the horses and me. I look at Mama in the kitchen window and I wave at her. She waves but she don’t come outside and play.
Me and Rosie run back around the house. We pass the apple tree. I take one from off the ground and take a big bite. I pick up another and throw it high up into the sky. Go fetch! I say. Rosie runs when it hits the ground and takes a big bite. We run around the house and see the sheriff’s truck still parked out in the driveway. Daddy keeps on hollering. It don’t concern you what I do on my own goddamn property, Daddy says. You best get on out of here, you fat son of a bitch. Brother Jeb always tells us in church to never take The Lord’s name in vain. That it’s a sin. And the only way to atone for sin, he says, is to be baptized in the name of Jesus. I guess Daddy is gone have to be baptized. The sheriff keeps on telling Daddy that he needs to speak to Mama. Daddy keeps on getting closer to his truck, telling him to leave our land. Get off my goddamn property, he says. You better get on out of here. The sheriff tells Daddy that he ain’t leaving until he speaks to Mama and Daddy tells him he’s gone be a dead son of a bitch if he don’t get in his truck and leave.
Rosie keeps on sniffing his gun. I walk over to Rosie and start petting her back. Good girl, I say. Daddy tells us to leave. Y’all go and get out of here, he says. Daddy shoos her with his hand. Get out of here, dog, he says. Get! Rosie keeps on sniffing his gun. I walk towards the hydrangea bushes. Rosie keeps on sniffing the sheriff’s gun. You mutt! Daddy says. Get! She keeps on sniffing his gun, licking at his holster. The sheriff pats her head.
I said get! Daddy yells. He kicks Rosie in her side. Rosie yelps. Go on now, Daddy says. Rosie walks and lays down over there by them old logs that Daddy cut. I walk over and pet her on the back. Good girl, I say. I see Mama standing in the window behind the curtains. Daddy walks closer to the sheriff. Now you need to get on out of here too, Daddy says. The sheriff keeps on telling Daddy that he needs to see Mama. That he ain’t leaving until he has a word with her. Daddy pushes the Sherriff into his truck and tells him that if he knows what’s good for him, he’d get his ass off our property right now. The sheriff pushes Daddy back and tells him he better not threaten an officer of the law like that, that he don’t want to do something that he might regret. Daddy tells the sheriff that he better not tell him what to do on his own goddamn property. Daddy hits the sheriff upside the head. The sheriff hits Daddy back and pushes Daddy hard, tells Daddy that he ain’t gone leave until he talks to Mama. He starts walking closer to the front porch, but Daddy don’t let him pass. The sheriff takes a few steps forward and Daddy pushes down on to the ground. Daddy keeps on hitting the sheriff. Get off my goddamn land, he says. Daddy spits. The sheriff tells him he’s gone regret that. He gets up and walks toward the porch again, but Daddy don’t let him pass. Daddy steps backward up the stairs. I told you plenty of times to get off my land, Daddy says. Daddy reaches for the shotgun propped against the arm of his rocking chair. The sheriff runs over to his truck. He grabs a shotgun like Daddy’s from the rack in the back window. Rosie keeps on nibbling her little stick. Mama ain’t beside the window no more. Daddy takes a red shell out of his shirt pocket and slides it into his big shotgun. The sheriff tells Daddy to calm down from behind his truck door. He tells him to put down the gun and let him talk to Mama. Mama comes outside and stands on the porch. Quit it! she says. Y’all don’t do none of that mess. Daddy tells her to get shut up and get her ass back inside. Take the boy with you, he says. She comes over to Rosie and me. She don’t look like she wants to play. She grabs my hand. Come on, she says. Come on inside right now. Rosie don’t move. She keeps on nibbling on that little stick. The sheriff asks Daddy to put his gun down, to let him share a word with Mama. Daddy aims the gun at the sheriff. You bastard, he says. Daddy shoots his shotgun at the sheriff. It is loud. Mama squeezes my hand. The sheriff falls down behind his truck door. Daddy walks over to the truck as he takes another shell out of his pocket. Daddy points the shotgun at the sheriff laying on the ground. You dog ass pig, he says. Daddy shoots his gun again and Mama screams. Mama lets go of my hand. I am scared. Mama runs up to him. O, God! she says. What did you do! Mama is crying.
Daddy says that he had no other choice. O, God! she says. Rosie comes out from behind them old logs. She stands beside me. The sheriff don’t look like the sheriff when he’s laying there on the ground. He is scary. His head looks like a monster. Like a big red monster. Rosie walks over and sniffs the sheriff. She sniffs his gun. She sniffs the warm barrell and the warm shell on the ground. She sniffs his face where it’s all torn up and red — where the monster is. She licks the monster. Mama is crying. O, God! she says. Daddy yells at her, tells her to shut up. Tells her to quit her crying and to help him. Rosie sniffs his gun. I pet Rosie. Good girl, I say. Good girl.
Daddy gets in the sheriff’s truck and tells me to run to the barn and get the saw. Come on, Rosie! I say. Daddy drives the truck behind the house. He parks it behind the barn. Me and Rosie run inside the barn to get Daddy’s saw. Daddy don’t let me play with his tools. Tells me that they’re for big boys and that I’m not a big boy because big boys put Daddy’s tools back. Today I guess I’m a big boy.
Mama is still crying. She keeps on asking Daddy what he’s done and Daddy tells her she better shut up if she knows what’s good for her. The sheriff is still on the ground. Daddy grabs the place where the monster is and tells Mama to grab his feet. 1,2,3, Daddy says. They pick up the sheriff and start walking back behind the house. Mama keeps on crying. O, God! she says, but Daddy don’t tell her to be quiet now. Me and Rosie walk behind Daddy and Mama and the sheriff.
Daddy and Mama throw the sheriff down on the grass underneath the apple tree. Daddy takes the saw and starts cutting at the sheriff’s leg like a log. Mama starts crying harder. He don’t tell her to quit it, just tells her to run and fetch the shovel. Mama walks over to the barn. She keeps on crying. Daddy keeps on sawing at the sheriff, sawing at him like an old oak log. Rosie keeps on licking where the monster is and Daddy keeps on telling her to quit. Get! he says, but Rosie don’t quit. She keeps on licking the monster. Mama comes walking back from the barn carrying the shovel. She don’t say nothing, just keeps crying. Daddy keeps on sawing at the sheriff. Daddy tells me to take the shovel from Mama. Dig, boy, Daddy says. I guess I really am a big boy today. I start digging. Rosie comes over and helps me dig. She moves her paws real fast and slings dirt back behind her. I laugh, but Daddy and Mama and the sheriff don’t. Daddy just keeps on sawing and Mama just keeps on crying. O, God! she says. O, God! Me and Rosie keep on digging. I pet Rosie. Good girl, I say. Good girl.
About the Author
Dalton Bright · Auburn University
Dalton McKenzie Bright is a senior at Auburn University studying journalism and creative writing originally from Cullman, Alabama. He previously was a prose editor at The Auburn Circle in 2019-20. He is also a barista and enjoys music, analog photography, skateboarding, backpacking, and 60s-80s horror films. “For Dogs Have Encompassed Me” previously appeared in The Auburn Circle.
About the Artist
Liza Ashley · Northeastern University
Liza Ashley is a 5th year senior at Northeastern University studying Human Services with a concentration in Applied Educational Psychology. She has a deep passion for working with children, especially young girls and children on the autism spectrum, and is hoping to pursue a career in inclusive education after graduation. “Livelihood” first appeared in Spectrum.