When he got her, Dad wanted to call her Frankie, but I wanted to call her Hot Dog. Dad thought Hot Dog was a stupid name, but he let me have my way, even though he mostly just called her “dog.”
Mom wouldn’t let me have a pet at home. She said that between taking care of me and her patients at the nursing home, she had enough creatures to care for.
Hot Dog had an inner ear problem or something, so she was constantly toppling over. Sometimes, as I ran around the empty lot next to Dad’s place, it’d take me a while to notice she wasn’t beside me, and I’d double back to scoop her up.
As he pedaled off ahead of me, I pumped my legs hard to keep up. Hot Dog ran along behind me yelping. When I turned to look back at her, I toppled and fell hard on my side.
Dad was furious. “Why can’t you just leave that goddamn dog for once?” he shouted. “I don’t know why I bother trying to do anything fun with you.” He raged for a while then made me walk my bike back to his place as he rode off.
The place was always quiet at that hour, but the quiet felt different somehow. I pulled back the curtain to Dad’s room and he wasn’t there. I poured myself some cereal, flipped on the TV, and fed Hot Dog, carefully picking up any kibble I spilled.
I don’t remember how many cartoons I watched before Dad came home. When he did, he went straight for the fridge. He tripped over Hot Dog’s water bowl then kicked it in frustration before stumbling to his room.
As I wiped up the water, Hot Dog watched me with wet brown eyes. “Stupid dog,” I said. I thought about kicking her but then immediately felt guilty and drew her trembling body close. Good girl.
Hot Dog was tied up in the yard, her food and water bowls just barely within her reach.
Mom cursed. Her hands trembled as she untied Hot Dog. I held her in my lap the whole way home, wrapped in an old t-shirt because Mom was worried she’d pee in the car.
A few weeks later, Hot Dog gave birth to three puppies. I wanted to call them Ketchup, Mustard, and Relish, but Mom said their new owners should be the ones to name them. I begged her to let me keep them, but she wouldn’t budge, eventually threatening to give Hot Dog away too if I said another word.
I’ve always wondered if Dad knew Hot Dog was pregnant and didn’t take her because he didn’t want the hassle, or if he left her because he knew how much I loved her. If I see him again, maybe I’ll ask.