Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Dead Dog Lying

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Dead Dog Lying

Article excerpt

Carlee thinks she smells something dead in her oven, but she knows this is impossible because she keeps her kitchen as clean as her life.

A former Ponchatoula High School Strawberry Queen, Carlee Tantillo is married to an electrical engineer and has 2.7 children. She is choir director at the First United Episcopal Methodist Church and has just become president of the Junior League. She can solve any domestic problem.

Right now she is cooking breakfast in her newly-remodeled, sunlit kitchen with Corian countertops. As she smiles over a pan of scrambling eggs, Randall, eight, pulls at her apron, Nathan, five, is singing "I'm a Little Teapot," and Donna, seven-tenths, is hanging from a sling on Carlee's shoulder, taking her breakfast from an exposed but modest-sized breast that would offend no one who might catch a glimpse of it.

The last course Carlee slides onto the boys' plates is pan-fried tomato slices. As she sips her Earl Grey tea and watches her children eat, she thinks of their futures, thinks of everything she has, which is everything she has ever wanted and planned for. Her mind whisks her back to high school, then takes a reflective turn.

In high school, every student has the same chance to succeed. They take the same classes and do well or not based on their own determination, and when they graduate they are prepared to pursue any goal they set before them: college and then graduate work in the various professions, or they can launch out right after high school and start a business: open a photography studio like Victor, get a franchise like Carl, or sell Mary Kay like Alice Ann.

"What is that smell?" Carlee thinks. "Odor," her mind corrects.

This truly is the land of opportunity. There is simply no excuse for not going out and getting what you want. I dated Blain in tenth, eleventh, and part of twelfth grade, and he just wasn't going anywhere. He was a star athlete and popular and very good looking, but not really the caliber I wanted for a mate. So I set my sights on Raymond. Ray was well-liked and smart as a whip and knew even then he was meant for higher things than chasing a football down the field and getting injuries he'd pay for for the rest of his life.

The commotion of the boys putting up their dishes and silverware rouses Carlee from her reverie.

"What would y'all like for lunch, boys?"

Wild-eyed, Nathan screams, "Fried tuna fish!"

Randall, with a sore throat, croaks out, "No, hamburgers!"

Nathan, as if it's a contest to guess what Mom wants to fix, "No, Roman Numerals!"

Randall pushes Nathan so hard his neck whiplashes. "You're such a dork." "Randall, I've told you before not to push your brother. And use kind words to each other. Right? Look at me. Now what does he mean by Roman Numerals?"

"You know," Randall pouts, "those noodles you boil. Roman noodles."

Carlee laughs. "Those are Ramen noodles, Randall. So you didn't get it right, either, and you're in third grade. And it sounds like you've got a frog in your throat this morning."

Wide-eyed with wonder, Nathan stares at his brother. "A fro-og?"

His mother laughs. "It's just an expression. It means he has a sore throat and sounds croaky, like a frog. Probably because of the cold nights and hot days of this false spring."

Carlee turns to the stove. "That reminds me. What is that odor?"

Randall suddenly remembers and rushes to the oven door. He and his mother open it together. It's an expensive oven. The rack slides out when the door opens and presents the family dog as if it were a Thanksgiving turkey, feathers unplucked and rain-soaked and matted to its body.

"Oh, my God," Carlee says. In a flash her mind remembers what she has taught her boys. "Oh, my goodness, oh, my goodness," she repeats as she swings around looking for something to pick up the dog with. She is not used to confusion. …

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