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Seventy-eight-year-old Tate Gilbert was pleasantly surprised to find dog food and rat poison in the same aisle of his local supermarket. Tate bought the items, as well as twelve cans of spam, to not look suspicious in the checkout line.


Plus, Tate loved spam.


Tate returned home and mixed the rat poison into the dog food one scoop at a time, giving it a beige color that resembled the skin of a damp, leftover meatloaf. He laughed, knowing how ridiculous it was to take such preparation for an animal accustomed to eating its own feces, though Tate needed it to look perfect—a habit from his thirty-year run as a Navy cook.


Tate carried the poisoned dog food on a metal plate and placed it next to an abandoned lawnmower in the middle of his front yard. The grass was knee high, the only house on the suburban street without a freshly mowed lawn, which Tate’s neighbors often, and passively, reminded him of.


Then he saw Penny.


Penny, a sheepdog, appropriately looked like a sheep. Bushy white hair and curly locks covered her eyes, which she often had to shake away like a teenager wandering without a clue.


Penny had no specific owner and instead belonged to the entire suburban street just outside of Savannah, Georgia, peddling from house to house and doing what she did best, spreading joy and true love to everyone she touched. Except for Tate. His true love was dead. And soon Penny would be, too.


Penny stopped at the edge of Tate’s lawn and scratched behind her left ear, blissful as a puppy on her first day in a warm home.


Little shit, Tate thought. He hobbled to his rickety porch and sat on a wooden rocking chair, whistling and encouraging Penny to trail the poison with her pink rose of a nose.


Penny walked past the tall grass and the occasional rusty lawnmower, closer and closer to the poisoned dog food.


This is it.


Tate leaned forward. He swallowed.


Penny found the metal plate sticky and dripping with toxins from the scorching Savannah sun. She opened her mouth.


Beautiful, beautiful peace.


Penny spread her legs and defecated in the center of the plate.


"Shithead dog!” Tate stood from his rocking chair as fast as his seventy-eight-year-old legs would permit, yelling and flailing his arms. The loser.


As if on cue, neighbors stood on their freshly mowed lawns, staring at Tate like he was a rabid monkey behind a thick pane of glass.


"Everything okay, sir?" Franklin asked. Franklin, Tate’s immediate neighbor, stood with his three boys, all of them dressed in identical overalls and blue trucker hats.


“I’m peachy.”


Penny continued her shit.


Franklin, middle aged and effortlessly fit, was a rich man, which Tate easily assumed by the fact that he never worked yet managed to take vacations for weeks at a time. He was humble—too humble, in Tate’s opinion—and always dressed like a cartoon farmer, explaining to anyone who’d listen that he came from ordinary means. As if to reiterate this, Franklin had a gentleman’s farm in his backyard: six chickens, a half-acre of vegetables, and two goats. All of it was cared for by outside help, none of whom dressed like the stereotype of a farmer.


That was Franklin’s job.


Penny finished defecating on the plate and walked to the family’s side, letting each boy pet her fluffy body. One of the boys held a chickadee, a new addition to Franklin’s gentleman’s farm, which Penny sniffed like a mother would to their newborn.


What kind of dog won’t kill a chicken?


Tate picked up the metal plate, dripping with feces and poison.


“Boys Hungry?"




That night, Tate plotted other ways to kill Penny. The most obvious was his gun, which he quickly decided against. Tate considered knives, archery, and electrocution, all of which would be too messy and inevitably toss him in jail or worse. Not the retirement he had planned.


At midnight, after hours of pacing in his cramped kitchen, Tate walked to the middle of his overgrown yard. The street was empty, as it always was after sunset.


Tate spread his arms and closed his eyes. He climbed to his tippy toes, as if on the verge of a lonely trust fall, knowing and fearing that when he returned inside, his mind would drift to the same darkness it did every night when he was forced to remain still.


That was the moment he knew how to kill Penny.


He dug. In an hour, Tate had a hole two feet deep and six feet wide in the middle of his front yard. In three hours, he had something large enough that required a stepladder to climb out of. In four hours, Tate dragged two lawnmower engines into the hole, which he easily found on his dumpster of a yard. He adjusted the piping of each engine so small bits of metal and blades were facing straight up.


Tate tested the sharpness of a blade with his index finger. Blood dripped.




The next morning, there was no hole. It was covered with a bed sheet, and the bed sheet was covered with dirt, leaves, and ripped-up grass so carefully placed that anyone passing by would never suspect a makeshift torture device just waiting to be landed on six feet under. Dogs, too.


Tate stared out from his porch and gently rocked in his wooden rocking chair. Waiting.


Penny was late. Strange.


After an hour of rocking, Tate closed his eyes.


Penny would fall; neighbors would search. The cheerful souls would pine for their beloved lost friend, heartbroken, and they’d feel just like him.


Beautiful, beautiful peace.


Tate woke up an hour later to the sound of screaming.


Two of Franklin’s boys, dressed in overalls with red trucker hats, stood at the edge of Tate’s lawn, their legs shaking, crying, and pointing to the hole.


Franklin ran from his house and grabbed the oldest boy’s shoulders.


“What happened?!” Franklin yelled.


“Mr. Gilbert killed Albert!” the boy cried.


Tate, out of breath and sweating, wobbled toward the family and stopped at the edge of the hole.


The sheet was gone.


At the bottom, a bloody chicken was sliced in two from a lawnmower blade, its guts sprawled to its sides. Franklin’s animals often escaped his gentleman’s farm, something Tate had not taken into consideration the previous night while constructing his ill-conceived booby trap.


“My heavens!” Franklin yelled. “Albert, no!”


“You name your chickens?” Tate asked.


Franklin gasped, clearly wanting to shout that it was completely appropriate to name one’s chickens.


He hugged his two boys and covered their eyes. “Thank goodness Penny got me. Another one could have fallen in!”


“Penny got you?"


More neighbors poured from their houses, forming a half circle around the hole and staring from the dead chicken up to Tate.


“I was just burying some engines.”


“What if one of my kids fell in there?!"


The loser, again.


It was then, between moving limbs and disapproving glares, that Tate saw Penny at the edge of his overgrown lawn. Today she was torturing from afar. Penny walked through the crowd, accepting lovable pats and adoring coos, until she began tugging on the dirty sheet to the side of the hole, which up until now had gone unnoticed due to the chicken guts and blood.


“What’s this?” Franklin asked.


The neighbors stared at the sheet, still stained with evidence of camouflage.


Penny, the winner.


“I’m…” Tate returned to the porch and carried his wooden rocking chair inside.




Tate spent that night in his car. Besides occasionally checking its engine, he hadn’t driven it in over eight years, preferring to walk or take buses to the limited places he went. Tonight, Tate wanted to reacquaint himself with how the leather felt against his skin and how the steering wheel seemed to wrap around his calloused, worn hands. He remained awake the entire night, turning the engine on and off and staring at his closed garage door.


At 9 a.m., Tate pulled out onto the road, the time Penny began peddling from house to house. He drove with ease, watching children play on freshly mowed lawns and parents reading paperback novels on their pristine front porches—the American dream wherever he looked.


Tate saw Penny, hair in the wind, a treat in her mouth, running along the road like a child on the Fourth of July, naive to all the troubles in the world. Tate drove closer. His front bumper was dented and detached, leaving half of it to spark against the pavement. Tate was more than capable of fixing the bumper, though he never attempted, wanting to remember every detail of the accident that caused it.


He drove closer.




Tate met Cheryl a decade earlier. He was sixty-eight, an age when many wouldn’t think to look for new friends, let alone love. It was two weeks after starting his own landscaping company that Cheryl began requesting Tate’s service to mow her lawn, not wanting any of his much younger employees. Cheryl had Tate over twice a week, regardless if her property required to be mowed half as much.


Cheryl, a widow of similar age, spent much of her time in carpentry as the owner of a small business that made homemade toys and furniture. She could carve anything, always working on her projects outside as Tate mowed.


“Lemonade?” Cheryl asked.


“It’s delicious,” Tate said, taking a large sip to the side of his parked lawnmower. “But try frozen fruit, not ice. Doesn’t dilute the water."


“Handy and a cook. What can’t you do?"


“I can’t carve things like you. Everything you make is beautiful.”


“How about you try my new rocking chair?”


Tate sat in Cheryl’s chair, his muscular, sweaty body fitting right into place, and he began to gently rock.


"It feels like the ocean. Beautiful."


Cheryl refilled his glass until it overflowed. “Then stay.”


They were married two months later.


Tate cooked her elaborate, beautiful, and messy dinners; Cheryl carved him submarines and trucks. They stayed out late, they danced, and they often made love in Tate’s car. And for the first time, Tate wondered if his life was a fairy tale; if someone was watching him from above, his own guardian angel, finally giving him a beautiful soul to protect, to love, and to touch with his calloused, worn fingers.


When Tate was seventy-three, he and Cheryl decided to move to Savannah, Georgia, to live out their lives in beautiful, beautiful peace, as Cheryl often said. They picked a house, had everything packed, and began a road trip across half the country, a lifelong dream of theirs that neither had ever attempted.


It was fifteen miles into the trip that Tate hit a gap in the road, causing Cheryl’s neck to snap against the dashboard. Tate didn’t have a scratch. He stayed in the car for 45 minutes, holding Cheryl, until an ambulance came.


Tate never trusted land after that. He never trusted being still; always rocking in Cheryl’s wooden rocking chair. He retired to Savannah. He shut down his landscaping company, though he took many lawnmowers with him, and he prepared to live out his life like he always imagined—alone. Fairy tale dead.


That was when he met Penny, a sheepdog who surfaced childhood nostalgia in everyone she touched. Penny even tried with Tate, snuggling against his wrinkly legs, though Tate only shooed her away, yelled at her; sprayed her with a hose. Until one day they were enemies. Until one day the entire suburban street hated Tate. And until one day he was driving with Penny in his sights.




Tate sped up, tears streaming down his face. Penny, as if feeling Tate’s breath, turned off the road, away from the suburban houses, and moved towards a tree in the center of a field. Tate would have followed her anywhere. And just seconds before Tate’s car connected with her body, Penny swerved, ducking into a partially hidden hole at the base of the thick tree, finding refuge.


Tate crashed into the tree. His face hit the steering wheel, splitting his nose. His right ankle crushed under the pedal.


The loser.


Tate opened his eyes to blood and smoke. He fell from the car, spitting out two front teeth. Penny was right there, panting and scratching her fluffy left ear, ready for Tate to scream and flail his arms, as he always did. Tate simply stared at her.


She really was beautiful.


Tate reached behind his back and revealed a handgun with a shaking arm. Penny looked out with her large brown eyes, as if knowing what was coming and accepting it with honor. Tate cocked the gun. He limped closer. He pointed it directly at Penny’s pink rose of a nose and closed his eyes.


Beautiful, beautiful peace.


Sirens. Tate turned to find a police car a dozen yards away. A young officer stood outside of it, her hand on her gun. Behind the officer were dozens of Tate’s neighbors, watching with eyes reserved for a villain.


Tate whimpered. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought Penny whimpered, too.




There was a knock on the door. Tate stood from his rocking chair as fast as his eighty-three-year-old legs would permit.


It was Franklin, wearing a black trucker hat and tight overalls. “How are you, sir?” Haven’t seen you in a while.”


They were silent, shifting their weight, as if realizing how much time had passed simply by their aging faces.


“I’m here because of Penny,” Franklin continued. “She’s been… Well, I just wanted to know if you’ve seen her.”


They both knew Tate hadn’t seen anyone in a very long time.


“I was petting her the other day, and she bit my hand,” Franklin said. “And she also killed one of my..." Franklin removed his trucker hat, as if showing respect for the dead. “She killed one of my chickens, sir."


“Why don’t you use it for meat?”


“We’re a vegetarian family."


Tate burped.


“I just wanted to know if you’ve seen her,” Franklin said. “We don’t want her to bite anyone else. Especially a child.”


“Oh,” Tate said with a smile and a nod, as if finally understanding a missing piece of a puzzle. “But I only know the wrong ways to kill a dog."


“Oh, no, no, no, sir, we’re not trying to get rid of her. We loved that dog. Fed her and cleaned her, but... she's getting old. Things change.”


Tate glanced down at his dirty shirt, stained with week-old spam. “Yes, I suppose they do.”


“So, you’ll let us know if you see her then?” Franklin put his trucker hat back on, the cartoon farmer. “I know the community would really appreciate it, sir." He extended his hand, which Tate imagined to be as soft as melting butter on a baby’s ass.


"So, she finally killed a chicken.” Tate pushed his tongue against the gap of his front teeth and slammed the door in Franklin’s face. “Finally killed a chicken."


Tate returned to the living room and his wooden rocking chair. He sat for an hour with his eyes wide open.


He didn’t rock. Not once.


Things change. We all get old.


Tate cracked his nose, still bent from the car accident into Penny’s tree five years earlier. He stood and began looking for his gun.




Franklin woke up the next morning and found all of his chickens dead. Eight feathery heads sprawled out with their bodies missing.


“What happened to our chickens, Daddy?” one of Franklin’s boys asked.


Franklin turned in circles, beginning to hyperventilate and flailing his arms. He vomited all over his son and collapsed to his gentleman’s farm.


Neighbors watched from their freshly mowed lawns.




Tate sat on his couch and ate chicken cordon bleu with a side of vegetables and steamed rice. It was not a day for spam.


At his side was Penny, eating the same meal with three extra chicken bones served on a glass plate. Six other chickens were in the freezer, soon to be turned into another gourmet meal.


Tate rubbed Penny’s neck and felt dirt and ticks between his calloused, worn fingers.


She crawled onto his lap. They fell asleep, holding each other.




And the two stray souls lived happily ever after.


Sean Kenealy co-wrote & co-directed the award-winning independent feature film, In Action, distributed by Gravitas Ventures, and he has published fiction with Clockhouse, AURORE, and The Satirist. Sean has an MFA in Creative Writing from The City College of New York, and he lives in Lawrence, KS with his partner and their two kids.

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