Will Woldenberg 


Operation Iraqi Freedom news photo by Defense.gov

Tuesday night, clicking refresh on the “Casual Encounters” section of Craigslist again when you really want to be searching okcupid. Your laptop speakers play that Sufjan Stevens song about kissing the girl with cancer. The Dude snores on a Turkish rug from Baghdad.

You could get a beer at Tangiers; but why walk two blocks in the cold on the off-chance that they’re still open so that you can purchase a mystery beer for $3 that’ll just be a Yuengling inside a brown paper bag? Some mystery. Instead, you slink by the dog who quickly opens a bloodshot eye and you brush your teeth in the attached bathroom sink with the rusting overflow hole.

You kill the fluorescent, climb under the second-hand duvet cover, and close your laptop. Then you close your eyes, listening to water dropping against the claw-foot bathtub. Drip drip drip drip click drip drip –

You recall the breathing exercises they taught you during the demobilization. Eyes closed, breathe deep. Hold 1, hold 2, hold 3, open eyes, let it all go. Breathe, close the eyes, hold 1, hold 2, hold 3, open, let go. Breathe, eyes, 1, 2, 3, let go. Breatheyesholdholdgo breathe breathe breathe click go go go bang.

Eyes open. The digital clock on the plywood covering the milkcrate reads 12:31. You turn it around and the red numbers illuminate the hairline crack on the plaster wall that you’ll try to ignore for the next six and half hours as you pray for a dreamless sleep.


You slipped into a restless unconsciousness and, this time, you didn’t dream about Martindale or Quinton but about children, in a park, with balloons, a sunny day. Long orange ones held by the boys in drab olive cap and jacket combos who chased girls past the goldenrod in navy and white jumpers jiggling red balloons. One boy held a mylar “Congrats!” adorned with fireworks. He walked toward you, pushing up the brim of his duffer, revealing sandy hair plastered to his forehead. He smiled, pulled a snub-nose revolver from the inside jacket pocket, released the balloon, and as Congrats! ascended into the cloud-starched sky, clicked the hammer into place. Aimed up. You looked at the balloon. Bang. It sailed higher.

You missed, you said passively, staring at the glimmering spot of light.

I did, he asked.

Thud, you felt the ground, jolting you awake screaming screaming screaming at the cardinal red divide.


Fuck it’s cold. You shiver as The Dude smells then licks the morning dew on the grass between the concrete slabs before squatting. You scoop and drop the tied bag on top of an overflowing solar-powered trash by the corner pizza place and notice a man with an oversized tan duster and Phillies beanie beginning to tend to the window boxes. Michael’s up early, you think as The Dude prances toward him, claws clicking along the pavement.

Michael turns at the sound of shaking dog tags, smiling as he wipes his hands on baggy faded jeans. Wonder how thick he’d been before the bone cancer you think, forcing a smile.

“Hi pretty thing!” he calls, kneeling gingerly. The Dude rests his front paws on Mike’s outstretched thigh, smelling his neck, his shoulders, tail fanning back and forth.

“Talkin’ to me or the dog?”

He squints, still grinning. “Morning Jackie. How you doing?”

“I’m all right. What’re you up to?”

“Just getting some mulch on the wintergreen.” He braces on the brick steps, pushing to a stand. “Figured they need it before the snow.”

“That tonight?”

“Think so, yeah.”

You clear your throat, pull your keys from your jacket. “Better get him fed before work. Take care, Mike.” The Dude resists, pulling on the leash.

“Uh Jackie.” You turn back at the top of the stairs.

He takes off his glasses, looks away. “I guess… you sure you’re ok?”

Here we go. “Yeah, why?”

He stares at the pleading dog. “Sorry. It’s just… I’m just concerned.”


“So… I’m right next door if you want to come by sometime and talk.”

You click your key into the outer door, banging it open. “I appreciate it.” You walk inside and as Michael calls goodbye to your whimpering dog, the door doesn’t slam shut; it thuds.


The Dude sits upright on the carpet of his PETCO bed as the outrageously expensive dry food you’re pouring clicks against his Tupperware bowl. He licks at his dick.

“That’s foul” you grunt rising to your feet and point at the bowl. He lowers a leg, tongue licking at his flews. “Here you go.”

He rises to a jog, burying his face deep in the plastic. You sit on the couch, untie your shoes.

He eats, walks to you. You scratch him behind the ears that they mutilated with a knife. “Good boy.”

He turns his head and nuzzles your thigh. So you stroke the hairless spot on his back where they burned him with acid to show that he wasn’t a fighting dog. You let him lick your face, his tongue pushing past the dental implants. “Good boy.”

He licks and licks and licks, his sandy tongue sharp against your smooth neck, one paw scratching at your shoulder as you cup his muzzle.

He licks your wet cheeks, your shaking face. He whines. “I know. Good boy.”

You call in sick. You click an open tab while The Dude naps in his carpeted bed. You slide open your iPhone. You call the number to the Philly VA. You blow past the familiar IVR. You get a person on the telephone. You ask if this is the right place to make an appointment because it’s time to for me to finally go. When do you want to come in. In the morning, you say. You look at the light seeping through the vinyl window shade, dust dancing in the sunlight framing the dog’s face, his face. The Dude snores.


About the writer:
An Army Veteran and small-business owner, Will Woldenberg lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife and daughter. Although he has been writing since his days as an undergraduate at Tulane University, he only recently became interested in attempting to publish his work.

Image: Operation Iraqi Freedom news photo by Defense.gov.The hot sun silhouettes Army Spc. Grant Richardson as he stands guard duty in a tower at Forward Operating Base Hieder in the Ninewa Province town of Rabi’ah, Iraq, on June 30, 2005. The U.S. Army’s 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Tiger Squadron, Bandit Troop, maintains the base to support operations involving the security of Iraq’s border with Syria. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert M. Schalk, U.S. Navy. (Released). 2005. Public domain.