THE HURT THAT FINDS YOU FIRST

Tim Tucker

Life seemed to meander in Blue Diamond, Nevada, a sprawling patchwork of trailer homes, run down stores, and public buildings about thirty minutes from Sin City. It was only during the past twelve months that things began to speed up for six year old Matt Caulfield. His mom had bought him his very own dog for his birthday, a friendly, energetic golden retriever he named Trixie. Then there was the first year of school, the hustle and bustle of getting ready for the first day. The first couple of months had been fun, with all the counting of numbers and naming of letters. When school began to feel like a chore Christmas rushed in on festive streamers and glistening lights; the shopping in Vegas, the decorated spruce trees along The Strip, the Santa's on the corners singing drunken carols became a whirlwind of excitement for young Matt which kept him enchanted well into the new year. When things began to slow down around March his mom had given birth to a little girl named Angel and Matt had marveled at just how small and delicate his baby sister was.

And now it was June again. Angel was three months old, school was out for the Summer and Christmas seemed like a lifetime away. Things were getting dull again in the 'Diamond, therefore, when he heard his step dad Kenny telling his mom that Trixie was going to have a litter of puppies he jumped at the news and busied himself in the kitchen, preparing rags and cottons for the birth and a makeshift box for the puppies home when they arrived. Matt promised himself that he would be a better dad to those puppies than his own dad, who left his mom before he was even born and he would definitely be a better dad than Kenny, who just seemed to spend his days getting drunk and beating up his mom.

As time ran its natural course, Trixie slunk away and had the puppies during the night in a corner of the garage. There were eight puppies in the litter, all cream colored bundles of joy. Matt loved them with all his heart and would spend hours in the garage playing with them, caressing their tiny bellies and kissing their tiny snouts. It seemed that he had all the time in the world to spend with the puppies since his mom and Kenny spent all their time cooing to his little sister, "God's little Angel" as they loved to call her. Matt remembered a time when he was his mom's little angel, but those times were over. He was a man now, and a man had man responsibilities, like providing for eight squirming hair balls!

Matt was sitting in the garage, petting one of the puppies and delaying an errand his mom had sent him on. The sharp scent of motor oil pierced the air and the naked overhead light cast strange shadows across the walls. In the center of the garage was Kenny's station wagon, a beat up old junker that had seen its fair share of tickets. The puppy mewled and pawed the air in front of Matt's face.

"Where's Matt?" Kenny's voice boomed from the front yard.

He was about to answer when he heard his mom call from the trailer, "I sent him to Awad's to pick up some smokes, he'll be back in about fifteen minutes."

"More than enough time." Kenny answered. The stomping of his boots came closer to the garage.

Matt knew something was wrong. Kenny sounded angry, and he never wanted to be around him when he was angry. Quickly, he put the puppy back in the makeshift box and sprawled beneath the station wagon to watch.

The garage door opened, spilling blazing sunlight into the tight confines. Kenny stood there, a shadow against the light, and entered the garage, closing the door behind him. Matt could hear Trixie barking hysterically from the backyard, as if she knew something was wrong too.

Kenny stood in front of the puppies. Carefully he lifted on of them out of the box by the scruff of its neck. The puppy thrashed its little paws helplessly as he wrapped a hand around its torso -

-and squeezed!

Kenny grimaced with all his might as the puppy squirmed in his grasp. There was a terrible wheezing sound and then the final, brutal snap. He held the limp body in front of his face. Something pink and glistening hung from the puppies mouth, no doubt his entrails that Kenny had squeezed out out of the precious thing. Matt dug his finger nails into his palms, drawing blood, hurting him.

Why? Oh God why?

Soon eight puppies were dead. Soon eight silent hair balls were dropped in a plastic bag. The bag was twisted shut and thrown in the back of the station wagon. Matt lay very still for a long time, trying desperately to make sense of the barbaric execution but failing miserably to grasp the senseless act and then the tears flowed freely. Suddenly Matt didn't feel like a man anymore.

After what seemed like an eternity Matt crawled from beneath the car and left the garage. He was almost at the front door when Kenny called him from the walkway.

"Hey son, I got some bad news." Kenny towered over Matt, close enough to reach out and grab him by the throat and -

"I'm sorry, but your puppies, they didn't make it. They was frail, sickly y'know? I found 'em earlier, they weren't breathing. Poor lil' things."

Matt remained silent.

"But you worry none, cuz your puppies are with Gawd now. Think of it like this: Gawd sent us one precious angel, he just asked for your eight in return."

"Why would He do that?" Matt asked, tears beginning to sting at his eyes again.

"Boy what's wrong with you? Don't you ever question the Lawd's work! Now I know it's tough but sometimes bad shit happens and you just gotta nut up. You're still young and gotta lotta living to do, and a lotta hurtin'. The hurt that finds you first will always be the hardest, but it'll also make you stronger, it'll make a man outta you yet son."

Kenny ruffled Matt's hair, regarded him with a crooked smile and eyes that carried all the warmth of twin glass shards, and stalked past him towards the garage.

Matt stood there, a whirlwind of confusion clouding his little heart. Was it God that told Kenny to kill my puppies? Why did he want to trade, and why did he have to send that stupid little brat in their place. I didn't ask for her. It's not fair!

"Did you get the smokes?" His mom asked as Matt slammed the front door.

"I'm sorry mom, I forgot."

His mom clicked her tongue. "Damnit Matty what good are you?"

"Did God take my puppies?" Matt blurted suddenly.

His mom blinked. "Yes," was all she said.

"I'll show God! I won't let him get away with this!" Matt stormed out of the living room and stomped up the stairs.

:"No stomping! And don't wake your sister!" His mom called but didn't try to stop him.

Matt entered the nursery and towered over the crib. Inside was a tiny little sleeping angel, all scrubbed pink and beautiful. His hands were shaking awfully bad but a man had to do what a man had to do.

Matt reached inside the crib, wrapped his fingers around the angels throat -

-and squeezed.

THE END

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