The day I find the box, Sam jumps the fence and I go looking for him. Dad calls Sam“A Repeat Offender,” but here we are, six months since Sam’s last escape and Dad still hasn’t fixed the fence.
“I’ll get on it,” he grumbles each time Mom reminds him. “Later, on my day off.” Exhausted after work, he lounges in his La-Z Boy, watching reruns of Get Smart and The Andy Griffith Show.“I’m too tired,” he growls if any of us ask, mumbling “too many damn fools” – like he’s the only cop who can keep us safe.
Eight in the morning and already the sidewalk burns my feet. The soft pads of Sam’s paws must be scorched. Best to look for a cool hiding place, maybe in the park the city hasn’t mowed in months.
“Budget cuts,” Dad answers when I ask why the grass is up to my knees. More damn fools, of course. Lately, the world seems full of damn fools.
“People don’t do their jobs,” Dad says.
Mom says Dad’s angry because his time has come and gone.
“Your father should be a lieutenant by now,” she tells me. “Twenty years he’s given the force. It’s the fault of those new folks from out of state with their degrees and big city accents. No one respects a hardworking man anymore.”
When I was little, Dad would take me for rides in his cruiser, proud to show off his “little cadet.” Driving around the neighborhood, he’d flash his lights and set off the siren when we got to a red light.
“I’m not supposed to,” he’d say, “but let’s have some fun. Watch how people jump when the siren goes off.”
On one of our last rides, he gave me a police whistle before we pulled out of the driveway.
“Every girl needs a whistle,” he said, “to scare off the bad guys. Blow on it, and I’ll know you’re in trouble and save you.”
“But Dad,” I asked, “how will I know they’re bad?”
“Don’t worry,” he answered, adjusting the mirror. “You’ll know.”
When I lose the whistle at summer camp, I don’t tell Dad.
At the park, I call Sam. Nothing. Just groans from a tent by the big trees where some homeless people camp. Dad’s sure one of them is The Fire Bug, the arsonist who’s been setting fires all summer long in the strangest places. A pea patch smolders in the early morning. An old truck torched behind a rundown apartment building. A construction site destroyed before the fire trucks could get to it.
I call Sam again. A rustle in the bushes, and here he comes, tail between his legs. I leash him and we head down the street.
Back home, I put Sam in the garage to teach him a lesson. I leave a bowl of water in case he gets thirsty. He whines a little, so I root around in the garage for one of his old chew toys. Behind boxes of Christmas lights and wrapping paper, I find an unmarked box. Mom labels everything, so she must have been in a hurry. In the box, I find one of Dad’s old tee shirts, soaked in kerosene, piles of newspapers and a box of big wooden matches, the kind we use for camping.
I sink down in front of the box. Sam comes over, licks my ear. I can’t put the box back, but I can’t move it either. When I try to whistle, all I blow is air. Sam leans into me, and I tug him close, fingers burrowed into his warm fur.
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