Mona’s Trip

by Jason Tougaw

“Ma’am, I’m Agent Brown and this is Agent Blonde. Secret Service.” They flash their badges at my mom. “Your dog seems to be in some distress.” Mona, our black lab, has been acting weird for a couple of weeks. We’ve all gotten used to the yelping, but you have to admit the lunging toward the sky is pretty weird.

“I’m taking her to the vet,” my mom says. I wonder if it’s true.

“But that’s not why we’re here,” Blonde says. “We’re here to discuss a Stanley Messin. We believe you were married to him.”

“Yeah?” she says.

“Mr. Messin was heard making a threat on the life of President Ford.”

“What?” my mom says. They’re going to arrest Stanley. I’m really starting to like police.

“Goddamn Stanley Messin kill the fucking ex-President?” my  mom’s friend Cheech says. “Now that’s hilarious.”  Cheech waitresses with my mom at the Seafood Market. She’s Portuguese too. She’s got the same shag as all the Yourgales guys who own the restaurant, except even blacker and more wiry. Her Portuguese skin is darker than ours, and her nose is bigger. She could easily be a man. She talks like one. She and my mom hang out all the time now.

“We take these threats seriously,” Brown says.

“Not this one, Honey,” Cheech says. “It’s a fuckin’ joke.”

“Cheech,” my mom says, shooting her a shut up look.

“Is that your impression, ma’am,” Blonde says to my mom, “that the threat is not serious?”

“Stanley just likes to talk. He gets drunk and talks.”

“Thank you for your time, ma’am. We’ll be in touch if we have further questions.”

“Okay,” she says, shutting the door.

We all go to the window and watch Brown and Blonde pull out of the driveway, Mona’s yelps deepening to a growl as she tries to leap in the direction of their car. At the side of the shed, we can see JP and his friend Sonny looking down at the ground like two archeologists who just found buried treasure. JP’s been living in our shed since he got out of prison. Everybody but me knows he OD’d on PCP, which is why he’s been acting weird. Between him and Mona, our dusty yard is like a psych ward.

“JP is out of his mind,” Cheech says. “He buy you that sheep yet, Jas?” JP and I are going to start a business. He’s going to buy me a sheep, and I’m going to use it to make money mowing people’s lawns.

“No,” I say, starting to think he never will. “I could have been making money by now.”

“Don’t count on it,” she replies.

“Cheech,” my mom reprimands.

“Well, he’s out of his fucking mind. He shouldn’t get the kid’s hopes up. What the fuck are they doin’ anyway?”

When we get down there, we see that they’re kneeling over a pile of dog poop. Mona poop. “What’s up?” Cheech asks. What’s up is that the poop is dotted with shreds of what looks like construction paper with colored patterns on it. “Oh, shit,” Cheech says.

JP’s eyes are wide like a toddler’s. His mouth’s a little open. “We found it,” he says.

“What?” my mom asks.

“The acid Sonny buried.”

“That was two-hundred hits,” Sonny says.

“What?” my mom says.

“That’s it. In Mona’s shit,” JP says, pointing at the pile of dried up Mona poop from which Sonny is prying little bits of mangled orange and blue paper.

“Goddamn dog ODs,” Cheech says, “and the cat leaves another dead fuckin’ rabbit at the back door.” Everybody looks. Misty’s not around, but her gift is curled up on the back step, its tiny ear sticking up and its white ball of a tail. Mona’s on her side now, exhausted, whimpering.


Mona wags her body down Lake Drive, a frothy rage growing out of the discomfort she feels with the freedom. JP and his wife Sue Ellen were sitting on the porch, sunning their new baby, Jimmy Freddy. Mona had the same idea. When the sun is straight up at the top of the sky, it makes her black fur shine in this way she can feel beneath the skin. She likes to lay with her two front paws stretched straight out in front of her snout. The baby was right in her line of vision, on Sue Ellen’s lap, naked, a pink ball of fat with droopy blue eyes. It was something about the squishy velvet of his skin. Mona pounced in one straight glide, her teeth bared so that all she had to do was clamp and she could feel her teeth sink in before Sue Ellen, screaming and hitting her hard on the top of her head, pulled the baby into the shack.

She can still feel the sun under her skin, and she can taste the baby’s blood under her tongue, where some of it lodged itself. She passes Riley, whose lanky Irish Wolfhound gait and greasy matted fur intimidate her into snarling. When he just trots past, she releases a high-pitched bark, the kind that makes an animal sound like she’s lost control.

She’s just passed the mile point when she sees the cage—a wooden rectangle on stilts covered in chicken wire. She has to climb a bank of ice plant to reach it, but the fur poking through, a light grey dusted with cocoa at the ends, is worth the effort. Her paws get tangled in the vines more than once, but she just keeps her eye on the fur, which moves almost imperceptibly every few seconds, like good bait should.

The humiliation of the tangled ice plant still in her eyes, she reprises her pounce, diving straight at the cage and breaking one of the old wood posts that it holds together. The angora inside is trying to adjust to the new slope in its floor when it sees Mona’s snarl invade. Barking maniacally now, Mona goes straight for a mouthful of wide round eyes and droopy cocoa ears. The crush of bones and the stringy resistance of muscle become the sum of her reality while she chews at the carcass, until she hears a scream a lot like Sue Ellen’s, but deeper. Without bothering to see the gray hair or turquoise necklace attached to it, she dives straight down the ice plant and lands her pads hard on the concrete of Lake Drive. Her mouth is a matted mess of cotton-dry fur and salty blood.


From the manuscript of my memoir, The One You Get: Portrait of a Family Organism (represented by Carrie Howland at Donadio & Olson).

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