There’s only one car in the lot when we come out of the Kum & Go, this black Chevy SUV with tinted windows, engine idling and two pit bulls in the back seat howling as loud as the baby in front. Trey says car seats aren’t supposed to be hitched up to the front seat. Jodine says you can’t leave a baby in a car, but when she goes to open the door the pits go psycho and that’s the end of us playing heroes. It’s like 2:30 on a Tuesday, muggy as hell. The sky’s too bright to be this buzzed.
We were swiping nickels across scratch-offs in the shop when Trey went out for a cig and the doors ding-dinged open and all that barking-crying swallowed up Whitney Houston. Mellie only looked up from behind the counter, shrugged, went back to her Sudoku. So me and Jodine follow Trey outside. The driver could be in the bathroom, we suppose, but Jodine says when she peed away her Colt the john was empty. Nobody came in the shop. So who knows who pulled up in that Chevy, got out and left a baby and two pit bulls screaming for rescue or whatever.
Jodine gets her phone out, starts dialing the cops. I don’t know anything about babies, so I’m trying to figure out if these dogs are all pit or have a little mixed in. Some boxer maybe or something with a thicker coat, shepherd, you know? They’re boy dogs, big balls knocking between those ripped hind legs. I’m tapping the window, trying to shush them, but it only riles them up more. Trey says stop it.
Jodine goes back in for some Combos and another Colt and some more scratch-offs and we have a little picnic there on the hood of the Chevy. Swipe swipe swipe. Trey slices his path through little fake slot machines, but Jodine says take your time because who knows how long the cops are going to be. I say maybe the Chevy owner is coming back. Then Trey says, searching his card for a win, that maybe there is no owner of the Chevy, maybe it just appeared here. Jodine nods, says none of this is really happening, none of it, but I’m leaning against the hood, feel the heat, the pulse of the engine, and I like this idea—that maybe the baby is a special baby, like Noah or something, dropped in the river.
Moses, Jodine says, shaking her head. She still goes to church sometimes. We pass the Colt back and forth and I can feel things slipping more, our thoughts and stuff. And so I go off, telling them how maybe the pit bulls are like angels guarding Moses-baby there. And how the baby came out of nowhere, out of a god named Chevy. This gets us feeling better about the pits, better about drinking, better that we’re just standing around having a picnic and not risking our lives to save this baby. Baby’s already got its angels, Trey says, nodding.
Then this other car pulls up, a clean white SUV with a hood too high to picnic on, shaking to some fat Latin beat. Nearly runs Trey over. He skitters out of the way and we all slide our stuff over to the front of the Chevy, making sure not to mix the couple winner cards with the stack of losers. This tall swarthy dude in a sky blue suit steps out with a set of keys in hand, flips through them, finds the right one, then opens that Chevy door. Like we’re not even there. Unhitches that baby from the car seat, pulls it up to his chest like a mother, a goddam mother I swear it, kisses it on the head and bounces it up and down until the clouds part, waters part, I dunno, this baby stops crying. Then he climbs back into his SUV, turns his beat down to nothing. Jodine hurries over and slaps that hood but the SUV backs away, just slips through her hands-like, and heads down the highway.
What about your dogs! Trey shouts, and the dogs, it’s crazy, go quiet now, like their barks were Lassie-barks calling for that rich white man like us morons called the cops. Only the cops were never coming, and that swarthy man was, so the pit bulls knew more about what was what than we ever could. I’m thinking we could use some pits like that, some angels, and say maybe we can take them home with us, but Trey says our landlord will kick us out. And Jodine says better not fuck with angels, that you can’t own one, you just got to be good and wait around like you’re at the DMV until your name gets called.
We head home after that. We still have a few more scratch-offs to blow through before the game starts at three, so at least we have some stuff to look forward to. I’m thinking about the pits though, how we left them curled on top of one another in the back seat of that Chevy, work done, dozing until they’d fly off to guard the next Moses-baby or whatever. I think I hear sirens, but I don’t know if they’re cop or ambulance or dogcatcher. If they’re coming for the baby or the pits. Then I look at Trey and Jodine ahead of me on the weedy shoulder, arms outstretched like kids on a make-believe balance beam, and I know the sirens are coming for us.
What the hell, I think. I turn around and head back to the Kum & Go. I don’t want the cops to take the dogs away. Maybe I’ll get arrested or caged with the pits. Or who knows—maybe we’ll all get saved.
Jim Kourlas earned an MFA in creative writing from Roosevelt University in Chicago and has stories in Hunger Mountain and The Blue Mountain Review. He lives in Omaha with his wife and son.