by Daniel Uncapher
We left Darl in Mississippi when we moved to Indiana to work in the garbage mines, but after he was stolen, abandoned, and then rescued, we drove back to Mississippi to pick him up. He was skinnier than ever when we found him.
In keeping with our new lifestyle Eudo and I committed to cooking and eating at home more than usual. After each meal we’d put our dishes on the floor for Darl to lick, mostly oil, salt, and stray pieces of green or gristle. Even though we limited his dry food intake to compensate, he still gained weight.
We even let him lick the plates in front of guests. I liked to joke that we didn’t even use our dishwasher anymore, that dishes went straight from the floor to the cabinet, until Eudo would slap my arm and tell me to stop.
True, we didn’t use the dishwasher anymore. But not because of Darl. The dishwasher had begun leaving a residue on the dishes, like calcium deposits or soap scum. It was hard to tell, really, but enough for us to start washing the dishes by hand, using the dishwasher as an overbuilt drying rack.
But around the time that Darl arrived the dishes in the sink started to acquire a residue, too. A different kind of residue, a thick slime that seemed impervious to soap and scrubbing. The obvious culprit was the dog, but rather than isolate our variables and get to the bottom of the problem whenever we encountered a slippery dish, we just scrubbed until our hands burned and complained.
Eudo determined for herself early on that it was just dog spit, but I wasn’t so sure. I’d read about this kind of thing before, long ago as a little boy, and knew that Eudo lacked the same intellectual training. She was a scientist; she knew math. That was her thing, and it was immense, but it hadn’t prepared her for this kind of slippage.
I positioned the dish soap as the culprit, or possibly the water. I conjured up a term that I’d heard before: hard water. I suggested a water softener. I acquired new soap. I told Eudo that the slime was too inconsistent to attribute solely to Darl.
Eudo remained skeptical. She reminded me that I wasn’t the most reliable witness. I told her that if the mysterious residue persisted through the winter then we’d have to look into correcting our water supply. The water supply’s fine, she insisted, eyeing the dog.
As I laid myself on Eudo that night she shuddered and told me to wash my hands, but in the harsh light of the bathroom I saw that soap and water just slicked right off me. I panicked. By sunrise the condition had worsened. I coated everything I touched with the slimy substance. The pages of my book stuck together.
Even Eudo began to panic now. She went to the store for me and bought some solvents to try; acetone, gasoline, Simple Green, rubbing alcohol, WD-40, mineral spirits. Even a bit of bug spray, just in case. The bug spray didn’t work, but it burned, and I lost control of my body. Eudo carried me out of the house and past the garbage mines, throwing me with a cold splash into the St. Joseph river.
But the residue made contact, pulling Eudo into the water after me. Darl barked at us from the river’s edge. A great torrent of snowmelt came roaring through the garbage dump and swept us away, pulling us apart despite our goopy connection. We bobbed along as far as possible, Darl racing along the bank and the residue slowly engulfing us, and then we sank, and we found that, totally encased in slime, we could breathe.
So we breathed together underwater in our residual bodysuits away from the garbage springs of South Bend entirely, and Darl, making up his mind, jumped in after us. We drifted north until the water turned to ice above our heads, creaking, muffled, under broad blue bends of weakened light. The deeper we went the faster the substance spread, thickening and hardening under the atmospheric pressure, taking shape, making us go faster.
We scoured the riverbed for secrets. Worlds laid bare, stripped away by the lateral movement of water, the effects of our pasts climbing sideways with incredible strength and tenacity; sunken 4-door sedans in the mud, CDs and DVDs with their titles bleached out by the sun, Christmas trees bound up in cinderblock, the bodies of fat politicians that played games with little kids. Rodent corpses petrified in the ice, the shells of salmon opened up, Darl chased the catfish back into their logs.
The river ran colder, deeper and wider than scientists previously thought possible, but the thick, insulating blubber of residue kept Eudo and I warm, even comfortable. We passed over an old gymnasium, the university logo still legible under the scum. The ghost ship of Robert de La Salle heaved with the eels in the glowing reeds far below us. The outlines of canoes caught fire and capsized, bones of dead relatives tumbling past. Darl howled but no sound reaches us. By now he hardly resembled a dog at all but rather, like Eudo and I, some kind of gelatinous sea mammal, cutting through the current in long, graceful arcs together like a fully synchronized family. It was night now, and the sky cracked open in startling flashes of lightning.
The river abruptly rushed upwards, narrowed to a mouth, and then threw all three of us into Lake Michigan where, large as whales, we returned to the sea.
Daniel Uncapher is an MFA candidate at Notre Dame whose work has appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Wilderness House Literary Review, Posit, Chicago Literati, and others.