I told my Gran that we named our dog Little Arden after her cousin who’d gone to the penitentiary for car theft because he sounded feral and our dog had been dumped out in the country near where they’d grown up. She’d told us before how when he died his people knew he wanted to be buried in Benton so they put him in a coffin, strapped it to the top of their rusty station wagon, and drove him home to Mississippi from Texas. In the middle of summer. “‘Course they couldn’t get the undertaker to even look at him because they’d brought him across state lines, which is a federal offense apparently. And the body was in such a state after being in a box on the interstate in hundred degree weather, no one wanted to go near it, so they buried him themselves up in the old family cemetery. Didn’t ask Mammy. Just dug a hole and put him in it.”
“Where’s the family cemetery?” I was thinking of old sepia pictures and crumbling verdigris gravestones. Ivy.
“Well, Sam sold the old place when Mammy died and now there’s one of those storage places there now. Where you can rent by the month? It’s air-conditioned.”
I’m still not sure what she was looking for with these additional details that sounded like questions, but then most women raised in the south tended to phrase everything as a question. Forgiveness for her brother who she often described as that ‘cheap rat bastard’? Forgiveness for herself for letting it happen?
But she wasn’t happy about us naming our dog Little Arden. There was a long pause and then that strange lilt to her voice that usually meant she was trying to tell me something truly terrible without really telling me. Something I probably didn’t want to know, but still.
“He was terrible, just like his haint of a father, Uncle Bud.” She spit his name out like she spit out the name of the man who’d beat her husband to death eleven years ago while she was out getting bread for breakfast toast.
‘Haint,’ in my gran’s lexicon, wasn’t something supernatural, but a despicable word for a despicable person. The lowest of the low. Spitting was part of its pronunciation.
I didn’t know anything about Uncle Bud except that my mother admired him as a kid because he could roll a perfect cigarette even though he only had one arm. No one explained what happened to that missing arm. I’d imagined all kinds of gruesome things, but like Mammy’s thumb in a jar, it was probably a boring story about an infection from a rosebush thorn or a car accident or maybe he was born that way.
“Well, we had a kind of an alarm for when his old truck pulled onto the street. The boys’d start whistling and me and Sis would start running for the woods.” She was quiet for almost a minute and I wondered if I should say that I understood about Uncle Bud, about running into the woods full of poison ivy and snakes for safety. That I understood what she’d been running from all those years ago and maybe still was. But we never talked about things like that in my family.
“Mom wanted us to name him Bodhi,” I said finally and heard a little huff.
“Well Bodie’s a wonderful name!”
So his name is Bodhi, but we call him Noodle and we never whistle for him.
Melissa Moorer was struck by lightning when she was eight. Her work has been short-listed for a few awards (Gigantic Sequins, storySouth Million Writers, Tin House Very Short Fiction) and published in luminous journals (Electric Lit, Hobart, The Offing, The Butter/The Toast, FLAPPERHOUSE, Vestal Review). She was Assistant-Editor at The Butter/The Toast where she wrote “This Writer’s On Fire” for Roxane Gay. She still does research for Dr. Gay.