The puppy had bitten him twice and that was how Matthias knew it was the one. It was black with a knobby tail and tiny velvet ears. There were two brown dots on its head that wrinkled like eyebrows. It had little needle teeth and been deemed the runt of the litter; last to go. Eight weeks old and already wearing its survival like a badge or particularly heavy chip on its shoulder. Matthias paid thirty dollars and a case of bootlegged cigars for it, the equivalent of half a month’s pay. He’d been told this was traditional. The puppy–unconcerned with propriety and already missing its mother–only wailed. Matthias zipped it up in his hunting jacket and it cried louder. Then bit him again. He went to see Deon with a hand aching from the pinch of tiny needle teeth and the puppy screaming against his chest. Deon worked as a caretaker for a crumbling motel. In a New England fishing hamlet, it was the only job that would take a blind man without laughing.
“I read something,” Matthias announced. He unzipped his jacket. The puppy took a great deep breath and howled with renewed enthusiasm.
Deon took his Aviators off and rubbed his eyes. Put them back on again. He wasn’t using his cane and put his hands against the doorframe for balance. “Is that a muskrat?”
“It’s for you.”
“It’s a puppy!” Matthias tugged it out and thrust it at Deon. The puppy flailed and tried to bite him again. “I named it Conrad. After Heart of Darkness.”
Deon had his mouth in a tight line like he was thinking about getting his cane and hitting Matthias with it. “Why do you have a puppy?”
“Because it’s for you,” Matthias explained patiently. He waved the puppy in front of Deon’s face. That close, Deon could probably see the flash of its teeth and beady little eyes. He was purblind, stuck in shadows, but caught movement just fine and thus didn’t mind when Matthias waved his hands to emphasize things. “I read a thing about the Vikings. And then I got you a puppy.”
Deon took the puppy with a sigh. It curled against his neck with a whine. “I don’t like Conrad.”
“You can name it something else. It might be a girl. You should probably check.”
“What do you want, Matty?”
“I read a thing,” Matthias explained again, remembering to breathe and not rush through it. “Whenever a Viking girl got married, they’d give her a basket of kittens. Usually two. They would’ve been Norwegian Forest Cats. Norsk skogkatt. It was for good luck, see. But it was practical too, because she’d be in charge of the hearth. They might’ve had mousetraps. The book I read wasn’t sure. But they wouldn’t be like the kind your cousin uses. So they had kittens for new brides and they’d grow with the marriage−”
“Oh,” said Deon. The puppy pressed its nose against his chin.
Matthias put his hands behind his back and squeezed down on the bite until his eyes watered. He talked too much. It never helped.
“You don’t like rings,” he tried.
Deon opened his mouth, then closed it. His sunglasses dipped a little. “I’m not going to name it Conrad.”
“You can call it whatever you want,” Matthias said too quickly. He smiled. Tried again. “Poe is nice, too. You liked The Cask of Amotillado.”
The puppy whined loudly. Deon sighed, bouncing it absently. “I don’t remember that one. Come in and read it and I’ll decide.”
“Oh,” said Matthias. “So you−”
“Yeah,” said Deon, closing his hand over the little dog’s back. “Come in, will you? Read me some of that gothic shit you like.”
Later, they got married in the courthouse. Deon named the dog Merlin. There were no rings.
Emma Johnson-Rivard is a Masters student at Hamline University. She received her undergraduate degree in Film Studies at Smith College in Massachusetts and currently lives in Minnesota with her dogs and far too many books.