Randy Shelley

It was cold, early morning, and my father and I’d been out hunting duck. There was a little wind, just enough to raise the fog off the water. The current ripped, tugging our skiff all over the creek. The rice fields had been flooded by the North Santee River, a dark winter blue carving through high golden grain—with deer upriver and schooling spottail in the shallows.  

The dog came out of nowhere, trotting on three legs down a rickety-looking dock, half-sunk and bleached by sunshine. A black pit mix with a sharp, narrow bark. He was all bones and balls, standing at the edge of the good part of the dock, as if stranded on some lost island. He held his back foot up, hesitating to touch it down.

“What’s wrong with his leg, Daddy?” I asked, paddling from the bow of the skiff.

“Can’t say. Let’s have a look,” he said. “Grab that line and loop it around the piling when we get close.”

The dog looked smaller when we got to him. He was skittish, clumsy as a puppy trying to limp off to where he’d come from.

“Stay put, son,” my father said.

The dock’s planks buckled beneath his waders as he followed the dog. My father’s hair had greyed early for a man of forty, tucked behind his ears under a brown toboggan. He wore a tan and green hunting jacket over his waders. The dog looked confused, curling on his side, as my father squatted down with his hand out.

I was nine years old and remember being excited, bouncing a shotgun on my knee, ho