Years of the Dog

William R. Hincy

The dog had been passed down through three generations. Although there was no way of confirming, the best guess was that the dog was 83 human years old, which meant that he was 581 dog years old, a right biblical old age indeed. Sometime during the second generation the dog had come into the possession of Yi, now deceased, who had taken to calling him Gáu-Gung, a mashup of the word for dog, “gáu,” and paternal grandfather, “Gung-Gung.” The name loosely translated to Puppy-pa, as by this time the dog had begun to be treated like puppy and elder all at once. Puppy-pa was such a treasure that when Yi and his family fled Hong Kong as refugees during the civil war they found a way to bring him over on The Boat, at great personal risk and considerable effort to feed and clean up after the hound. No one could tell if it was apocryphal or not, but the family story was that in order to ease the family’s burden Puppy-pa had only peed the entire trip to America.

None of that is to say that Gáu-Gung hadn’t aged. The dog, a mashup of a golden retriever, Shiba Inu and some type of bulldog, is said to have once been a tan color with reddish-brown patches, including one patch in the shape of a 9 and another that looked like an arrow. But his face was now albino white, and the rest of his coat dusted as if he’d been dipped in sugar. Then there were the growths—thick bulbs of black flesh growing like ticks around his ears, lips, belly, and neck. They were the typical growths of an old dog, only exponentially increased in size and extent due to his remarkable longevity.

Over the years, Gáu-Gung had lived through a flood, a house fire, a home invasion robbery (that he slept through), and another flood. In fact, it seemed like floods followed the dog around, as every new place they lived seemed to flood within six months. For much of his life, Puppy-pa had a special affinity for water and swimming, but over the years that affinity had begun to wane as age, somehow, despite the incredible circumstances, began to affect the dog.

After Yi’s death, his daughter, Jian, who had been in her twenties and had meet her husband during The Boat trip, took care of the dog for the next 37 years. During this time, she raised one daughter—no boys—put the daughter through school, and watched as her husband passed away, but Gáu-Gung persisted. The dog’s health had begun to fade recently, however, a state of affairs that most distressed Jian. She took to treating the dog with ancient remedies, which thus far had only proven to stink up the house and leave strange residues wherever the dog laid.

We need ginger, dragon fruit and salt, Jian told her daughter, who now went only by Jessica. I need you to take me to the market.

After forty-five minutes at the market, having only traversed three aisles and spent a considerable amount of time arguing loudly with a quartet of vendors, a process Jessica’s mom described haughtily as “bartering,” there was only one ginger root in the cart. The prices here are too high here, Jessica’s mom complained, hunched over a suspiciously overpriced ten pound bag of salt.

Puppy-pa needs to be put down, Jessica said.

Jessica’s mom cut her with a scathing glance in retort. With great effort, she hoisted the bag of salt and dropped it in the shopping cart. Gáu-Gung is family. You don’t put down family.

Aye-yah, Jessica said in her broken Cantonese dialect. Every time she said anything in Cantonese, it reminded her mother of how American the family had become and the fact that her daughter had married a Yup-Boon-Jie and had a Halfling son. She scowled as she remembered that the Japanese used to make sport of shooting dogs with arrows. At least he was a banker; she could respect him for that much at least.

The dog can’t even lift himself up anymore, Jessica said, eyeing the bag of salt. There’s no medicinal value to these so-called remedies you’re trying. You’re just prolonging Puppy-pa’s agony.

So-called remedies? Jessica’s mom questioned. These remedies have worked for a thousand years. You went to nursing school for two years and think you know so much. You do the math.

Jessica rolled her eyes—she was always rolling her eyes. The dog is miserable.

Would you put your Poh-Poh down, Jessica’s mom asked, digging a fist into the salt.

It’s like assisted suicide.

But not really, Jessica’s mom thought, since a person has to be lucid enough to communicate their intentions to kill themselves, and Gáu-Gung, clearly having no ability to verbally announce his intentions or sign a release, could not be considered lucid enough to provide consent, so, no, Jessica—It isn’t like assisted suicide. It is like grandma murder, which there’s an English word for, believe it or not, senicide.

You and your google-searching is making me senicidal.

Reaching the house, Jessica’s mom waved off all offers of help bring the salt, ginger root, and dragon fruit—which had taken three stores to find an acceptable prize for—into the kitchen. She turned on the wok, coated it with oil, and started to finely slice the ginger and dragon fruit. She added a cube of butter, then sautéed the ingredients until they turned into a thick paste, at which point she carefully poured the contents of the wok, which appeared to be half her size, into one of the many spaghetti sauce jars she had cleaned and continued to use throughout the years.

What was all that salt for? Jessica asked.

Dinner, her mom retorted curtly, dipping a finger into the concoction to see if it had adequately cooled.

After a few moments of silence, Puppy-pa, who had been laying in his customary spot next to the doggy door he no longer used, tried to get up but could only manage to straighten out his front legs; his back legs bowed and slid out behind him along the linoleum floor Jessica had insisted on running throughout the entire house. As means of complaint, Puppy-pa let out a low, hoarse whine and laid his head chin-down on the floor. Jessica’s mom hurried over to him with the spaghetti jar, and strained audibly as she helped lift Gáu-Gung to his feet. Jessica stood at the kitchen island, gritting her teeth.

Immediately upon reaching a feeble standing position, greenish-black bile loosened from Puppy-pa and plopped onto the floor like mud, splattering onto Jessica’s mom’s legs and slippers. Kissing the dog’s head, she dipped a small, calloused hand into the concoction and told Puppy-pa—This will help you pee and digest your food. Now hold yourself up and eat. Don’t pretend you can’t stand.

The dog took a few weary licks of the substance before stopping and looking out at the nothingness around him with his kind, foggy white eyes.

You’re Year of the Dog, you of all people should realize how special this dog is. Jessica’s mom took a deep breath and began massaging Gáu-Gung’s boney, frail back legs with the remedy. As her small, strong hands began to work, a drunken smile quivered across Gáu-Gung’s face and he began to pant feebly with his big gray tongue hanging out like the paper from a spent firecracker. I can’t do this forever.

Neither can he, Jessica said, stroking Puppy-pa’s white face. If you don’t take care of this now, you’re just leaving your problems to me.

Jessica’s mom continued to rub the concoction on Gáu-Gung’s back legs, tail and anus, her dark eyes as focused and piercing as arrowheads. Not problems, she grunted, still working. What I’m leaving you is life.

Author Portrait

“Some people run from their demons; others sit down and have cocktails with theirs.” William R. Hincy is a man who does and writes about the latter. Having become a writer after deciding it was the only sensible thing for a problem drinker to do, Hincy’s fiction has now appeared in numerous literary journals, including the Avalon Literary Review, Ellipsis, Oracle, Passages North and Short Story America. The Hoards of Torment, his debut novel by Black Mountain Press, explores characters who no longer create messes and have instead become the mess. He now lives in Glendora, California, with his wife and four kids, having found solace in the notion that the only things sacred are self and spiced rum.

View the website of William R. Hincy