He lived in the little room with the window boarded shut, the one I was never allowed to go into. A dark, square room that smelled of horse hair plaster, off from the parlor in the big farmhouse where the potbelly woodstove squatted.
I knew for a fact there were eerie deer legs in that room. I'd wait until people were out of the house, then I'd open the door just six inches or so. A honey-hued beam of sunlight would light up those legs with their pointed hooves. They extended from a maple board carved with oak leaves and acorns, which leaned against the base of an old wine-colored velvet couch. The legs curled upward in supplication. A severely rusted double-barreled shotgun with a pockmarked stock rested on their wrists.
Beyond was a jumble of dusty objects that melted together in the room's dusk. If I opened the door slightly wider, a few things would take shape: Disjointed pieces of stovepipe scattered across the floor. The illustration of a white pup peering into the bell of a Victrola atop a stack of brittle records. The couch's ferny pattern, its middle sagging deep as a bathtub. Cabbage roses on a big curl of paper peeling off the wall. At the far end, a bearskin coat slumped against a milky blue door.
One evening I walked right into that room to visit the people living there. A slablike husband in a 1940s suit. A wasp-waisted wife in a flowery dress, perched on the precipice of the sofa's cushion. They had a brittle, clipped way of chatting, and the wife kept holding her pinky out when she lifted her teacup. I gave them a narrow-eyed stare.
To be honest, I was nervous about their dog. He was a friendly little terrier, but he had no hind legs. In fact, his body abruptly ended mid-waist. He frisked around the room, dragging his midriff. It made tinny clanking sounds. I stepped around behind. His body was hollow as a stovepipe. You could look right up through that dog and out his eyes.
Yet he was a contented little dog. There seemed to be a life lesson in there somewhere. I puzzled over that.
The next morning, I told my brother:
"There's a hollow dog in that room. But he's happy."