Dog Nell on the Nickel By Gay Degani
’m drowsing on the sidewalk, my back against a cinderblock wall, four legs straight out just like I like ’em, my fur warmed by that big yellow ball in the sky. The residents of the Nickel—that’s Fifth Street on a map—shuffle on by, my tail giving a lazy wag at every familiar face because this isn’t the jungle, and sometimes one of them drops me a little taco meat, but after a while of getting nothin’, my stomach yaps like a Pekinese. Guess it’s time to head over to Grand Park. There’s good pickings once the lawyers and bankers finish their roach-coach lunches. Nothing those L.A. hotshot executive-types like better than a steak sandwich on a fresh French roll with all that garlic and cheese. My wet tongue smacks from side to side. I’m digging in a trashcan, the tangy smell of beef wafting into my snout when a cop comes along and boots me in the ribs. I whine a little and bark too, but there’s no point in making a stink since standing up to the law often means a one-way bus ride to doggie heaven. I hightail it back to the Nickel. The skinny cook at the Salvatorio Mission sometimes puts out a bowl of scraps at the back door. In the alley, Ole Brutus gnaws on a T-bone, and this irritates me right down to my very last flea. I bend back on my paws and yelp a couple of times. He doesn’t even look up. The skinny cook opens the screen door and tosses out a panful of pork fat. She spies me, nods her head, then goes back to her kitchen. I’m on that back-fat like a cat on a teat, but Brutus snaps out a nasty snarl, and I slink away, even if my stomach is as empty as a hobo’s pocket. Before I round the corner, I turn my head and throw him a “next time” growl, but he’s too busy swallowing grease to take any notice. I skulk down to Pershing Square, stopping to lick a popsicle stick, paw at a worm, then decide to try Union Station where I might be able to sneak in and prowl for dropped Fritos or those gummy things that glue my back teeth together. Cars whiz by, horns bark, and just when I get a paw on to the street, a bicyclist’s pedal knocks me in the head. I need a nap. My secret place is between an empty toy factory and the Salvatorio Mission, on soft dusty sand, hidden by weeds. Circling my spot, I run into a pair of old sneakers. Before I can skitter away, a face appears right next to my snout. It’s a pudgy face with—I sniff—chocolate around the grinning mouth. I knew a toy poodle who died from
eating chocolate, but, as we say down on the Nickel, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” When I go for a quick lick, he grabs at my front legs. I show my canines and scamper down the alley. A truck swings in from the street, charging toward me, then I’m lost in a sharp screeching darkness. My body feels like a chewed plastic bone. I wonder if this is it. The Big Dig. Three feet under in an unmarked grave or worse, the incinerator! The express train to Hound Heaven! Then I smell bacon. I whimper and lift my head to see I’m not in the alley. I sniff the pillow under me. Smells like strange dog. Don’t know where I am but sitting nearby at a table with a checkered cloth, swinging those same old sneakers, is the chubby boy, eating a donut. When he spots me, he slides from the chair and plops down hard next to me. I tremble with real down-to-my-dewclaws fear, but his sweat and chocolate mixes perfectly with the tang of bacon. Our eyes meet. A smile splits his face and he shouts, “Mama!!! She’s awake.” A gentle hand runs over my head. The skinny cook from the Mission crouches next to me, whispering, “Poor puppy, poor puppy.” The boy scratches behind my ear and says, “You’re a nice old lady dog. You’re gonna be all right.”
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This story came out of a prompt, though I can't remember what that prompt was. I've always liked the story--one of my favorite childhood books was "Beautiful Joe the Autobiography of A Dog." I just loved it. So that must have popped into my head. Also a concern of mine is the growing number of homeless. I'd written another story about Skid Row in L.A. and somehow that popped in too. However, I never could figure out where to send it. .until I saw Perspective Magazine's call for submissions. My daughter has had two wonderful shelter dogs, both crazy mixes, so I think sweet resilient Nell must be a mutt. Gay Degani lives in Southern California and has a full-length collection of short stories, Rattle of Want (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). Her work has been nominated, long listed, short-listed, placed in several contests including Best Small Fictions and Pushcart consideration. She won the 11th Glass Woman Prize and blogs occasionally at Words in Place.
Perspectives ~ June 2018 ~ 32