The Dog Sniffer-er By Anne Sweazy Kulju

(500 Words–The Source Flash Fiction Contest 2012)
Winner: Honorable Mention
Mandatory First Sentence: “She stumbled out the front door and down the wet steps.

She stumbled out the front door and down the wet steps. Boots quickly abandoned pathway for tilled ground and stalks of corn. Berthine “Bert” Blakely vomited immoderately. Wiping her face, she started giggling, and then collapsed as giggles turned to laughter. The employer of The Dog Sniffer-er, looking unwell, tottered to the doorway after her. He looked to say something, but thought better. “Ruff,” Bert said.

Bert lost her job months earlier when the factory closed. She wasn’t trained for any job openings in her town, and she couldn’t afford to commute to another. She had the cabin, inherited from an uncle, but the taxes were overdue. She fed herself and Jake by parking her pickup and ears of corn at the intersection on weekends. A scrawled sign offered four ears/$1.00. Bert had no idea what they’d eat once summer ran out. Anyway, she was sick of baloney on white bread that stuck to the roof of her mouth. Jake didn’t like his food either, but never complained. The dog had wandered onto Bert’s property the previous year looking as if he’d been through it. Bert adopted him, and now she loved Jake more than air.

When a storm washed out the bridge a mile north of her, Bert’s luck changed: her property had a single-lane bridge that crossed the river at its most narrow point. The next bridge was another 20 miles. Bert considered wear to her bridge and the cost to take the detour around; she charged a dollar for foot-traffic and five for autos. Duly sensitive to out-of-work men with no money to cross, Bert also arranged for payments in meat. Most were hunters, farmers or fishers with freezers full of elk, salmon and fowl. However, a malcontent at the local pub, who wondered about Bert’s solitary life with her dog, bemoaned her gouging folks with a toll of meat. He sneered above his fourth beer to a half-pint pal, that he’d teach Bert Blakely a lesson.

The bully was at Bert’s door the next day, asserting she’d stolen his dog. He introduced his pal as a “specialist,” able to sniff a dog and tell from whence it came. Burt laughed, “you’re a…a… Dog Sniffer-er?”

Naturally, the specialist asserted Jake was his employer’s dog, but Bert called her own specialist. Jesse came right over. Jesse lifted Jake’s tail and proceeded to wave scent toward him, inhaling discriminately. “The dog is Bert’s,” he announced. Then to avoid a fight, he suggested a tiebreaker: the taste-test. Before anyone knew, Jesse touched his middle finger to Jake’s south end, pulled his hand free, and popped his index finger into his mouth.

“Not it!” yelled the Sniffer-er, hotfooting it from the cabin.

Enraged senseless, the bully touched fingertip to dog and licked. “Blaaah!” he spit several times. “How could…? Christ! Where were you raised?”

“First, I didn’t.” Jesse replied, holding up his middle finger and then licking his index. “And second, you’re the experts…” he turned and bent, “you tell me.”

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