The Indians used to mash acorns into meal. You knew this because you went on a field trip to a model Indian village. You and your classmates took turns handling a stone bowl and pestle. The nuts inside were already ground to a fine dust, so you had to imagine the process of actually grinding them. You had to imagine the satisfaction of watching the nuts shatter between stone and stone, of seeing the particles become ever more miniscule, until they were unrecognizable as having ever been nuts at all. You imagined this and it was good.
You knew that nowadays the Indians owned places like Eagle Mountain. You knew this because every day after school your father picked you up in his old white Chevy and you drove up the winding mountain road so he could play out the unending battle of him against the house cards.
Before he played, there was dinner: a buffet. You ate baked beans and cornbread and drank lemon iced tea. Your father ate chicken and rice and drank coffee. You and your father ate and drank silently. Your father, you assumed, was thinking about strategies. He had books and books on winning at Blackjack and Poker, on beating the odds and making millions. Whenever he talked it was about beating the house. I think I'm getting the hang of it, he always said as news. You were the both of you thoughtful types.
After dinner your father went into the place children weren't allowed, and you wandered around thinking about other places and movies you had seen. This time you got a brilliant idea. You went into the trees. On the ground what looked like acorns lay scattered amongst the leaves. You didn't have anything to mash them, and anyway they were too tough, so you settled for chewing one. It was unbearably bitter.
You became an Indian then, a real Indian in the real woods. A bow in your hands and a quiver of arrows strapped to your back, you hunted bison the size of houses. When they fell the land quaked. You roasted the meat over a fire, and a face appeared in the flames. It told you of a magnificent place far in the future, where there were wagons that moved without horses, and boxes where miniscule people ran around shooting each other. You listened politely and nodded, thinking, I already know all this. I am from the future. But this face in the flames was so wrapped up in its own astonishing words that you couldn't bear to interrupt it.
Your favorite dog was named Chubby because he was skinny as hell. You loved him, maybe, because your father loved him too. It was a project, this loving, that you and your father shared.
At first your father didn't think much of him, the runt of the litter. But he was fierce. He fought off ten siblings for the teat and survived. As much as he ate he stayed skinny. What was it in him that made him a fighter? It was just a spark. He didn't need much training. It was an instinct in him, to attack.
He came back from the ring victorious again and again. Your father would grab him by the scruff in outbursts of affection and say, “This is what a moneymaker looks like.” And you would look at Chubby's scar-pinkened face, his torn ears, and try to remember. This was what a moneymaker looked like.
Your father would always look young, with a face like a boy's face, no matter how much he smoked, how much he drank, how many late nights he had. He lived like a bat or some other cave animal, curling up on the sofa during the day with the TV on, shutters drawn while in the back the dogs grew raucous with hunger or boredom.
You made breakfast for him every evening. He liked bacon and eggs, sunny-side up, and a bowl of Fruit Loops. He needed sugar. He would eat and you would ask about Chubby and he would tell you how he was in the ring, like the Tasmanian Devil. Unbeatable. The toughest little shit anyone had ever seen. He's getting to be a legend, your Chubby. He would slurp up the milk and ruffle your hair, Good boy.
He was a good father. He took you to movies and bought you a BB gun. He took you to Disneyland once, talked himself hoarse teaching you about the Rolling Stones the four-hour drive there. Oh, the good old days when music was music.
The day he brought Chubby back for the last time you started crying. It took days for your father to face him again, that ruined breathing carcass of a dog. It wasn't Chubby any longer; it was still Chubby somewhere inside, flickering in and out. By the end it was you who shook your father from his protracted sleep, chanting, “We need to do something. We need to do something.”
You watched through a gap in the shutters your father's back as he aimed at Chubby's sightless head. Chubby panted, shaking. Your father lowered the gun, raised it, lowered it. There was a crack, and then there was nothing but howls. You made his breakfast.
Carmen Lau’s stories have appeared in Hayden's Ferry Review, Fairy Tale Review, Wigleaf, The Collagist and other journals. Her short story collection,The Girl Wakes, won Alternating Current's Electric Book Award and will be published in 2016.