Emotional things are always easier for dogboy. Dogs don’t obsess about the past or worry about the future, and sometimes life is just impossible any other way.
Evonne is finally sleeping, curled in a corner of her marriage bed. Her husband P-boy is away right now, working on one of those off-shore oil rigs that are so dangerous and pay so well. Their house needs a roof, and their credit isn’t worth shit at Lowe’s. There’s a rocking chair sitting in the corner of the bedroom, with P-boy’s battered old rub board propped up on it, leaning against the old flannel shirt that he always wears when he’s working on the house.
Evonne’s arm is slung around the big shaggy black dog next to her, and it takes a minute for Hal to wiggle out from underneath without waking her. Her damp pillow smells salty, but her groin doesn’t. That’s good. He’d be able to tell if she had started bleeding again. He’d cleaned her up as thoroughly as he could earlier, in human form. She’d been way too weak to do it herself, so someone had to.
Evonne didn’t have any mother or sisters or aunts to do for her. Hal had been the only one on hand when she suffered the first miscarriage, alone in the swamp gathering herbs. After that, he was the only one besides her husband that she let near her when she was in distress like this. She was ashamed to let anyone else know that she had lost four babies now. Of course, P-boy knew, but he kept his peace. The two of them had supported Hal for years, encouraged his leadership, offered sound advice. Since P-boy was away so often, trying to find work as a oil rig roughneck, she relied on Hal more than was comfortable. But Evonne would go through this alone if he didn’t help her; she was stubborn as a goat.
He slipped out of the bed and padded into the kitchen, to the water bowl he had left on the floor. Evonne’s well was going brackish again — the water tasted awful. After a long and necessary drink, he pushed the screen door open with his nose and trotted out to the back porch. A sad little bundle lay on the grill prep table out there, wrapped in an embroidered pillowcase that had been a wedding present from Evonne’s grandmother. Hal urine-marks the legs of the table again, and the perimeter of the porch for good measure. The warning is effective; there is no predator scent anywhere near the back of the house. Dogboy smells big and scary to almost anything in the swamp that’s looking for scraps. And the bundle on the table is little more than a scrap.
This one is deformed, so the stillbirth is a blessing, even though Evonne can’t seem to wrap her mind around that. The swamp they lived in was tainted somehow — people grew old and gnarled before their time, or got cancers, or gave birth to defective babies. Some people got born all wrong, somehow mixed up with bits of animals.
Someday Hal was going to find the reasons behind all of this, find out who was doing this and make it stop. It was his birthright to lead his people, to protect them. He would find a way.
When it was light enough to see, he would find the place that the other babies were buried and dig a grave for this one. Since Evonne wouldn’t let Father Ollie know about her troubles, Hal would have to say a makeshift prayer over the small one before covering her with earth. That would have to be enough.
He lays himself down on Evonne’s back porch, props his head on his front paws, and waits for dawn.