Glen Spangler and Manny Beltran

Manny Beltran
Inspiration piece

By Glenn Spangler


Bobby should have worn gloves; his hands already stung from the cold. It would be okay though. They wouldn’t be out for long.
It was beautiful out here, with the fresh snow piled thick over the trail, and weighing down the branches. It had arrived out of turn, settling by the cupful on red and gold leaves. White predominated. It was a bright evening.

Randy enjoyed it too. The golden lab bounded from one side of trail to the other, wagging. He buried his nose in the snow, inhaled, snuffed a little blast of powder. Bobby enjoyed seeing him so excited, acting like a puppy, even though Randy was the same age as Bobby, so really he was (seven times ten) seventy years old. Mom would have loved to see this. If only he could always be this way. Then maybe he would live a long, long time, running, jumping, having fun.

They had been here several times, but this was a new world, for both of them. By going around the next bend, over the next hill, they could go anywhere, do anything.

Inside, Bobby’s father watched a game show with Bobby’s grandparents, whom Tom thought of as Margie’s parents. Margie died over a year ago in a hospice. “Where’s Bobby?,” Herman asked.

“Walking Randy.”


“On the trail…that should be alright, shouldn’t it?”

Herman hesitated. “Well. I suppose so. As long as they keep to the path.”

Randy leapt forward, yanking Bobby hard, and Bobby yanked back. A few paces further, another yank. Bobby pictured his dog running, free, joyous. “What the heck,” he said, and unhooked the leash, sending Randy forward like a projectile, barking.

Fifty yards ahead, Randy lowered his head and shoulders, rump in the air, tail flipping right and left. Let’s play. He barked, and bounded. It had been a long time since he had run like that, but for Bobby, the exhilaration was changing to alarm.

“Randy! Not so far! Randy! Come ‘ere boy!”

The lab stopped and turned around to look at Bobby, his eyes blank and uncertain. His tail wagged slowly, tentatively.

Bobby saw that at the next turn of the trail, there was a sparse area in the woods, and hoped that it would not lure Randy, or fool him. Randy turned, took off, and sure enough, ignored the bend and went right into the clearing.


Through the clearing.

“No, Randy! Randy!”

And into the place where the woods resumed. Over a hill, out of sight.

No! Bobby followed, across the clearing and into the woods. He followed the tracks to the top of the little hill, and the dog was nowhere to be seen, but the tracks continued.


He had stopped here, by an oak. The pile, dark against the thick snow into which it was sinking, sent up steam and a sour smell. His hand went to the plastic bag in his jacket pocket, but he decided it wasn’t the priority just now.

“Randy! Randy!” Dad was going to be so mad. No, not mad, disappointed. That was worse. But that wasn’t the worst of it; Bobby loved Randy. This was Bobby’s watch; he was supposed to be taking care of him. Most of all, Randy was somehow Mom’s dog.

Mommy, I’m sorry.


The tracks headed into a thick grove of pines, where much of the snow had not reached the forest floor. There, the tracks seemed to disappear.

“Randy! Come ‘ere, boy! Randy!”

Bobby didn’t know what to do, so he continued straight ahead. The evening was no longer very bright.

“Tom, shouldn’t they be back by now?” That was Jean. Margie’s mom.

Bobby didn’t know how long it had been, but it was getting dark, and he was scared. “Randy! Randy, please!” His fingers hurt in the cold, and so did his feet. There were tracks again, but they were different, and off to the left, those might be tracks too. Bobby found the other set, and followed them, unsure.

They ended at a narrow road, where the snow was packed by tractor tires. Bobby crossed, searched for them, and found a set.

“The sun is almost down, Herman,” Tom said. “I have to look for him. Could you help?”

This was mostly moonlight now. Bobby was grateful for the moon. But still, under another grove of pines he had lost his own trail, and he couldn’t see to find it again.
He had gone so far, but nowhere. No direction made any more sense than any other. However Bobby’s hands and feet didn’t hurt anymore; they were numb. That was better. He sat down, and leaned back against an oak to rest.

It sounded like “Eye,” at first. Then “Oddie,” but Bobby started to recognize his name. He answered three times before he realized he had been whispering. He tried to be louder. “daddy.”

Oh my God. Oh my God oh my God. His feet are ice. His hands, everything, so cold. Like a corpse.

It was just for observation; Bobby should be able to come home tomorrow. He would be alright. Until, Tom thought, his stupid, thoughtless father lets him down again.
Bobby was only interested in Randy. Please find Randy. Please find him.

Tom finally spotted some beige fur peeking out a snowdrift next to an oak. He had come prepared with a shovel. Look, Tom. You’ve done it again. Margie’s dog now. No, stop, it doesn’t make sense. After all, Tom hadn’t given Margie cancer. But Tom was supposed to take care of them, and Margie was gone. Bobby could have been. And now look. Did Margie’s parents blame him too?

Tom promised himself and anyone who might be listening to always have his eye on Bobby, always be there, always pay attention. When he started to say to himself, “Oh, he’ll be fine,” that was the red flag. That was what he had said that day. They had been given the one free pass; he had been given another chance to take care of Bobby. He couldn’t always be there of course. Not at school. Not at every soccer practice. Not on dates, when that started. He told no one, least of all Bobby, how much that terrified him.

It was stupid, really, that they had no rain contingency for the commencement. Tom and Margie’s parents could only catch glimpses over the field of umbrella’s and in spite of their own umbrellas, they were soaked. Tom shivered and felt his hands and feet going numb. It was okay. He was here for Bobby, like he couldn’t be so often during each of the last four school years. But after this? After he gets a job? Where will he move? Who will look out for him? Bobby’s name was called and they saw him walk the stage and take the roll of paper.

Bob, Anne, and little Alice had settled in for their week at the beach house before dinner yesterday. The wooden walkway stretched across the field of tall grasses on its way to the beach steps, and this morning they all felt the narrow planks and heard them sound their footfalls—for all but Tom and his second wife, Maya, it was the first time this year. Alice ’s little hand went up to her daddy’s, requiring only three of his fingers. Tom looked at Bob and felt a jolt go through him.

Was it new? How could he not see it until now? Bob was here for dinner and breakfast, so how could Tom not see it?

Not Bob; Bobby. He would always be Bobby. He wasn’t even forty. It wasn’t right. Tom didn’t want to see this. The horrible, slow-spreading infection of death. Like a tree fungus that was already dominating Tom, and was poised to work it’s curse upon Tom’s son, who by all rights should live indefinitely.
Tom would fail to protect him, fail to save him; he wouldn’t even live long enough to try. He had always known, of course, but he resented the sight of it for robbing him of his denial. Of his immortal Bobby.

It looked like a light dusting of snow, sparkling in the sunlight through the hair on each side of Bobby’s head.


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