My family likes to write, as may be evidenced by my literary obsession. My little brother, Matt, is most notably a talented lyricist and musician (he’s the lead singer and mad dancer in this video). But he has been known to hit a few short stories out of the park, as well. Here’s one of my personal favorites, written in 2008 when “Little Dobes” was the innocent (maybe not innocent) age of twenty-two. We’ll call it “Dog Track.”
By Matt Dobie, my little bro
The sun peaked through the clouds, illuminating the brilliant green grass that thrived in the center of the track. It had been trimmed to perfection. The brown dirt on the raceway, recently raked, looked like powder. The bleachers, half-full, were ripe with characters. From the refined to the rusticated, all were accounted for. Another Saturday afternoon at the track for Ed Hummel, only this time he brought another guest with him. He fidgeted in his seat, constantly shifting positions. He let out a deep, wavering sigh as he scraped the metal seat with his fingernails.
“Thanks for letting me come along, dear.”
“Oh, sure honey. Anything to make you happy,” said Ed, forcing a smile onto his face.
“I just feel like if going to the dog track every Saturday is that important to you, I should experience it too. We should experience it together. Right?”
Ed slowly nodded and began compulsively chewing on his lower lip. He glanced over the bleachers, searching for a savior. “Hey look, honey. That’s my buddy, Thatcher. We always watch the races together.”
“That’s your buddy?” A large, burly man was sifting through the crowd, approaching their row. His t-shirt, completely sweat-stained, barely stretched over his flabby upper body. In his hands, he carried three giant plastic cups of beer. They demanded his absolute attention if they were to remain unspilled. He stepped delicately, trying to save every last drop, but he inevitably dribbled some on his pants and shoes.
“Honey, this is Thatcher. Thatcher this is my wife, Margaret.”
The sweaty brute gingerly set the beers down on the seat next to Margaret. “Hey there. How the hell are you?” he said, throwing his fat hand out to be shaken. Margaret froze, watching the beer slowly drip form Thatcher’s hand, then gently approached and shook the tip of his index finger.
“Hey, I got us all some brews to keep us hydrated while we watch the races,” said Thatcher. He grabbed a beer in each hand and held them in front of his fellow race watchers.
“Umm, it’s one o’clock in the afternoon,” said Margaret. “I think that’s too early for me, thank you very much.”
“Oh, that’s cool. Here ya go, Ed—”
“Edward won’t be having one either. We are not alcoholics.” Margaret pushed Ed’s outstretched hand down to his side. His blank face drooped into a grimace.
“Oh … well, I guess I’ll drink it all myself then.” Thatcher began gulping the beer in his right hand and plopped next to Margaret. “I tell ya what, you should uh been here last week, Miss Hummel. There was this one bastard, in the fifth race, I tell ya, I tell ya, he was the fastest son of a bitch you ever seen, I picked him. I picked that son of a bitch to win.”
Margaret loudly cleared her throat and raised her eyebrows to Ed. He reacted promptly and said, “Thatcher, could you please not use such colorful language in front of my wife? Thank you.”
“I’m going to use the lady’s room. Excuse me gentlemen.”
“Oh, I’ll show you where it is, dear.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I can find it on my own. You stay here and chat with your… buddy.”
The moment Margaret was out of sight, Thatcher jumped in Ed’s face. “What the hell is your problem, man?”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It’s just, it’s Margaret. I mean, you know what I mean.”
“No, I guess I don’t. Apparently, when she’s around you’re not aloud to be yourself?”
“That’s not it. It’s just, she likes things a certain way and who am I—”
“Look, I don’t like to upset her. It’s made our relationship a lot easier now that I don’t upset her anymore.”
“Whatever, man. How could you let her come out to the tracks with us? You know as well as I do that she don’t belong here.” Thatcher placed an empty plastic cup on the bleacher floor.
“I know. I know. Believe me. It’s been hard enough keeping her away this long.”
“But couldn’t you use some excuse like, ‘It’s the only time I get to be alone with the guys,’ or something?”
“Yeah, sure. I’ve been using variations of that excuse for months now. But every week she asks again. She keeps asking. Eventually I knew I would have to bring her along. But, it’s fine, trust me. She’s here today. She’ll hate it, and never want to come back again. Nothing has to change. We just have to stick it out for one afternoon.”
“I hope you’re right. This is my sanctuary, I can’t have it be infiltrated.” Thatcher took another chug of his beer. “Hey, Clark and Frankie are here.”
A scrawny man in oversized clothing fumbled down the row. He boasted an uneven smile as he approached, carrying a small box turtle in his hand. Ed and Thatcher greeted in unison; to the man, “Hey, Clark,” to the turtle, “Hey, Frankie.”
“How’s it going, you guys?”
“It would be going a lot better if Ed’s ball and chain weren’t here with us.”
“Ed’s woman, huh? How rough’s it been?”
“Like sandpaper,” said Thatcher.
“Jeez, I’m better get a few drinks in me.” Clark set Frankie down on the bleacher seat. He knelt, looking Frankie right in the face. “I’m gonna go get something to drink,” he said to the turtle. “I’ll be back in a couple minutes, okay?” Clark left the turtle on the metal seat and strolled down the aisle towards the concession stand.
“Why didn’t you give Clark one your beers?” asked Ed.
“Because I want both of them.” Thatcher sipped his drink covetously and pulled out a few racing forms. “So, who are you picking in which races?”
Ed reached in his pocket and pulled his tickets out. “Let’s see. Wait, you can’t say anything to Margaret about this. She would freak out if she knew I was betting.”
“Of course, of course. I won’t say anything. But she’s not stupid. Why else would you go to a dog track if you’re not going to bet?”
“Whatever. Just keep your mouth shut.” Ed examined his tickets. “Okay, I got Beach Comber in the third, Sunny Concern in the fifth, and Miss Whirly Whirl in the seventh ‘cause I thought she had a cute name.”
“No, no. In the seventh you want to pick Cactus Noel. I’m telling ya. It’s a sure thing. I’m positive. Cactus Noel. Believe me. You better make that change before the seventh race.”
“Oh yeah? Cactus Noel, eh? Sounds good. Sounds very good.” An authentic smile grew on Ed’s face for the first time that day, until he noticed the imminent arrival of Margaret. She scowled as she marched down the aisle towards him. “Was the restroom satisfactory, my lovely?”
Margaret rolled her eyes as she slumped down next to Ed. “It was a pit. A retched, stinky little pit. It’s a wonder I didn’t suffocate in there. Would it be that difficult to—” Margaret gasped as her eyes bulged out of her head. “Why is there a turtle on the bench in front of me?”
“Oh, that’s just Frankie,” Ed said. “He belongs to our friend Clark. Don’t worry, he’s harmless.”
“Edward,” her voice screeched, “why is there a turtle in front of me?”
“No, seriously. That’s Frankie. He loves to watch the races.”
“A turtle? A turtle likes to watch dog racing?”
“Yep, believe it or not, he does. Isn’t that right, Thatch?”
“Yeah, it’s true. Just wait until the next race starts. His little head follows the dogs all along the track, it’s cute as hell.”
“But don’t you think it’s unsafe? I mean, a bird could swoop down and snatch him away, or he could wander off or fall through the stands. It just seems reckless.”
“Honey, Frankie’s one of the guys. He can take care of himself.”
“So are you saying that my fears are unwarranted? That I’m overreacting? That I’m being stupid and emotional? It’s that what you’re calling me? Stupid?”
“No, no dear. Of course not … look, dearest, he’ll be fine; now are you hungry?”
Margaret crossed her arms and huffed, “A bit.”
“Well, I’ll go get you a little something to snack on. I want to make a quick trip downstairs.”
The rest of the story will be posted on Monday! Hope you enjoyed part one of “Dog Track.” Thanks to my bro, Matt Dobie, for sharing it with us!