Joey looked up. Riding in the backseat of the family car. Father up front, eyes hovering disembodied in the rearview. Only four years old, Joey felt like crying.

“They had a real son but he died, my real cousin, lots cooler than you.” Angelina was eight and a budding sadist.

Joey felt his small head spinning. Nothing felt real, a crack in the sky. “Liar,” he said.

“You’re the son of Maria—and Mr. Beauregard!” She started cackling. Maria was the family maid; Mr. Beauregard their large German Shepherd.

Joey tried to ignore it, tried to be tough, a big boy. He looked out at the river, shining bright like a silver thread through the weave of the country—he wished he could touch it, splash it, taste it.

“The most disgusting river on Earth,” father said from the front seat, angry eyes floating. “People throw in trash, pollution, chemicals, dead animals.” He made a noise in his throat. “Shame.”

Angelina’s eight years of luggage filled the trunk. She was spending the summer with the family—her own parents in a messy divorce involving midnight phone calls, guns.

She leaned close, whispered in Joey’s ear. “I’ll throw you in the river, dog boy.”

Back home, a mansion in the hills. Lizards crawling up the trees. Maria the maid greeted them, rubbed Joey’s head and handed him a sweet.

Angelina smirked. “Here boy,” she called. Joey, teary-eyed, ran to his room.

Hot days passed, sun beaming, heat radiating. Joey’s father, distant busy man, on the telephone firing someone.

His mother obsessed with television: sitcoms, nostalgia, nature documentaries, game shows of humiliation.

Angelina gleeful, her story growing— he was Joey 2, she said. The real Joey had drowned in the river. Maria was a homeless woman who'd given birth on the street to a dogfaced boy, a monster. When Joey 1 died, his parents adopted the horrible dog boy, raised him as human, took in Maria to live as their maid, disgusted by her affair with a filthy animal.

Joey 2 went to his father. "Is Mr. Beau—" He waved Joey away, shouted into the phone.

Joey 2 hugged Mr. Beauregard, warm, fuzzy, friendly. Learned the growls and whines, studied the tufts of fur between clawed toes, the wet of the nose, the rough pads of paws, the movements of the tail, how Mr. Beauregard's whole body shook when he took a shit. It might not be bad, he thought, to be a dog. Pawing softly over wet grass, tongue hanging.

Angela crying after sundown. Big house empty and dark, the sound echoing down the hall to where Joey 2 slept with the dog. Divorce winding down, custody nearly decided.

"I miss my mom," Angelina said. She dreamed of mountains and cold. "I want to go home." Joey's father glared, pointed at the phone against his ear.

She woke Joey instead. "Try dog food."

Bone shaped biscuits crumbled in his mouth, dry as sand. Disgusted, Joey 2 snuck Mr. Beauregard table scraps— turkey, grapes, rice, steak.

Maria the maid brushed Joey's hair, handed him sweets, which he put in Mr. Beauregard's dish— taffies, peppermint, marshmallows, caramels.

Hair sprouted on Joey's tanned little arm, he knew— dog hair. He couldn't wait till his teeth sharpened, his tail grew.

Ice cream, candy, endless appetite.

Summer seemed to stretch, shimmering heat, on and on. Valley spread out below, far off river shining.

Mr. Beauregard slowed. Whimpering, head on the ground. Father.

Joey 2 wept next to Mr. Beauregard, hysterical, shaking. Maria the maid felt his forehead, thought him ill.

"He's my dad," he wailed and told the whole story of Joey 2, horrible dog faced boy. Maria laughed breathless, gasping, wiping away her own tears. Mr. Beauregard, eyes glassy and rolling, whined softly.

"Your parents are real. You're Joey 1," Maria said, chuckling.

Joey heard his father yelling on the telephone, felt only disappointment.

But when the dog died, they threw him in the river, together.

September 25, 2019