© 2012 Wasted Space Publishing
It was hard to spot a dead animal by the side of the road after it snowed. They looked like a little white mound, like a corpse buried in white dirt, and Farley couldn’t tell if it was a road kill or just garbage or what. That was why he started early in the fall. It didn’t usually snow in Ft. Worth, but it had the last two years and Farley needed to be finished in case it snowed again this year. Every morning Farley woke up from his summer place around the back of a convenience store on Lancaster. He’d walk across the street to the mission and see what they were passing out for breakfast. Most times it was just a cup of black coffee and maybe a doughnut. Sometimes they had powdered eggs or biscuits with a thin gravy to go with the coffee, though. He knew most of the guys that showed up at the mission every morning. They tried to include him in their joking around, but Farley spent as little time at the mission as possible. He drank his coffee and left to look for road kills. He knew the other bums thought he was crazy, to go along with being homeless, but he didn’t care. It got cold in the winter and there wasn’t nothing in the world Farley hated worse than being cold. He walked up Lancaster to the first street that would take him to the freeway. There were always road kills on the freeway. If they were on the side of the road, he scooped them into the brown 30-gallon trash bag he carried with him. If they were in the middle of the road, he left them. No use getting hit by a car over a dead animal. When he got to Beach Street, he got off the freeway and headed north. There was a nice little road about two miles up Beach that was almost like a country road. It was two lanes with no center stripe, and a lot of trees and open fields on both sides. Somebody around there even kept a bunch of horses and they were out loose in the fields sometimes. To boot, cars travelled the road pretty heavy and there were always road kills there, too. Farley walked up his little country road just a short ways, to where a gully with a narrow creek ran through the trees to the north. He used to go all the way up to where the fork of the Trinity ran under the road, but the water rose too fast down there when it rained so he stayed away from there now so he wouldn’t get caught in a flood. Instead, he lugged his trash bag down into the gully off the road. He dumped the dead animals under a tree and sat down there with them on a stump that fit him perfectly. The creek ran by when there was water in in, and the sun shone through the trees, too, but he sat in the shade. He had a knife he couldn’t remember where he’d got, and he kept it sharp by rubbing it on the curb every night, like a whetstone, outside the convenience store where he slept. He skinned the animals with the knife – a small dog, two cats, and an opossum he found down by the Trinity River – and buried their entrails in the soft mud of the creek bed. Sometimes, when his trash bag started getting tattered and the little varmints’ paws and legs would poke out of the holes in the bag while he carried them to his place on the country road, he would put the entrails back in the bag and double it over before he carried it down to the landfill on the other side of the Trinity. He wouldn’t go up the main road to the landfill, but skirted around the edge of the site so no one would spot him while he looked for another bag in better condition to replace his old one filled with road kill innards. After he skinned the animals, he laid the pieces of pelts that were usable, fur side down, over branches of the tree he sat under. They would dry out enough to use in a day if it was sunny. He stored the dried pelts in a cache on the other side of the creek in the woods in a fallen tree with its insides rotted out. It only took Farley a couple of weeks, since sometime around the middle of September he estimated, to collect what he thought was enough skins. He made another trip to the landfill and searched around most of the afternoon for something to sew together the pieces. He found all kinds of pieces of string of different lengths. Finally he found a rusted fishhook with a good thirty feet or more of line attached. He straightened out the hook and used the fishing line for thread. It was at least eighteen or twenty pound line and wouldn’t wear out as fast as the string he had. The sewing used up more time than finding the road kills. First of all, there was a lot of unsewing and tearing apart as Farley leaned how to construct a coat. He took off his shirt to see how it was sewed together before he started. Then, without any further ado, he just started sewing the furs together. In a jumble of black cats and striped cats and furry dogs and squirrels and whatever else there was, he tried to match up straight edges to sew together as the side seams. That worked pretty well, but he had trouble with the arms and sewing the side under the arms. Three times he sewed the seam for one of the arms, but the hole was too small and he couldn’t get his arm through it so he had to tear the seam apart and add more pelts. Also, he discovered the string he had wouldn’t work at all to hold the pelts together and he had to go back to the landfill to scrounge around for more nylon fishing line. He would have finished in time, but he ran out of pelts sometime in October. He knew it was late October because the bums at the mission had quit talking about trying to get out to the State Fair in Dallas, and because it was getting cold at night and he was already thinking about moving closer into the city where he could find better places to get out of the wind and where it seemed to stay a little warmer somehow. But the coat was almost finished, really. The sleeves were finished. The front was finished and the shoulders and part of the back, even the short stand up collar. There was just a huge hole that left the back gaping open. Still, Farley wore the coat everywhere now, and the bums were quite sure he was crazy now when they saw him in it. He resigned himself to that and the fact he would have to spend a few more days skinning road kills if he didn’t want the wind whipping up his backside all winter. When the coat was finished he would move into the city. It was too far from downtown to where he sewed his road kills to walk every day. He could wait into November to move downtown. It didn’t really get cold until after that anyway. Most of the bums around the mission on Lancaster were beginning to move, at least the ones that didn’t stay around the mission year-round, but he could wait. He made his usual trek down the freeway to Beach Street, but he only found one dead he-couldn’t-tell-what-it-was. All the way down his country road, past the Trinity and the landfill, he didn’t find anything else. He walked farther down the road than he ever had before, to where it forked off. Down the left fork he stopped dead in his tracks as he turned into the first bend in the road. A big, black Doberman pinscher swung its head around and looked mournfully at Farley. The dog must have weighed close to one hundred pounds. He was sitting in the middle of the road, and at his feet was another Doberman almost as big, a red one. Farley could see the blood that spotted the pavement around the red one’s head. At first, Farley just stood there, still, and surveyed the scene. It took him a minute to decide what it meant. The red one must be a female, he finally figured. A car must have got hit it while the two dogs were loose. Now the black male was standing over its mate, waiting for her to get up so they could go home. Farley moved toward the pair then and squatted about an arm’s length from the black male. The dog growled softly, but not menacingly, somehow. Farley slowly reached out his hand and stroked the red female to try to see if it was only injured or really dead. The growl grew in the black dog’s chest, but it didn’t make any move to stop Farley. Farley scooted on his haunches closer to the female and stroked her sleek, still warm body. She didn’t move, and Farley couldn’t feel any breath moving her chest. He bent down closer over her and looked at her head. The side of her head that rested on the street was matted in blood and the bulky muscles of her neck were lax. Farley felt the warm breath of the black male across his shoulder as he was hunched over the red Doberman. He felt its cold nose in the crook of his neck and a tender lick along the point of his jaw line. Farley stood up slowly and the black Doberman stood up, too. A car whizzed around the corner and by them. The driver looked at them but didn’t slow down. Farley went to the side of the road and dumped the dead animal out of his trash bag. He came back and wrapped the red female’s head carefully in the bag. The black male watched expectantly, looking like a husband in the waiting room of a hospital; he must have thought Farley was going to do something to help his mate. The red dog was heavy, at least seventy or eighty pounds Farley guessed as he picked it up over his shoulder, and dead weight, too, like a sack of dirt. He walked with the dog slung over his shoulder like that, back toward his place by the creek. He had to stop every so often to rest, and pretty soon his shoulders started to ache as he switched the load from side to side. The black male followed along with him faithfully, standing protectively by when Farley rested. Back at the creek, Farley laid the dead dog down and got out his knife. He started skinning it with the expertise he had gained skinning all the other road kills during the last weeks. The black male lay down with his belly in the cool mud by the creek. He whimpered off and on in lament, but resigned, it seemed, to the fate of his companion. The red pelt Farley got from the female Doberman was easily large enough to cover the hole in the back of the coat. He set the skin out in the sun to dry. It was still warm during the middle of the day and the skin would dry out faster if it was directly in the sun rather than in the indirect light, slung over one of the branches of the tree he sat under. The black male got up and sniffed at the skin of its mate. He plopped down on his haunches and sat by in the sun as it dried. Farley took up the front paws of the dead female while the last piece of his road kill coat dried out. He used his knife to dig out the two longest claws on each paw. They were all more or less two inches long and almost as big around as a pencil. He took off his coat and made four slits about an inch long, spaced evenly down one side of the front of the coat. He sat there quietly sewing the claws on the other side of the front of the coat as buttons. The day passed at a steady pace and Farley’s black friend eventually moved back to his more comfortable place in the mud of the creek bed. When the sun started falling behind the trees Farley got the red pelt and started sewing it into place. The black male moved closer and sat at Farley’s feet so he could see exactly what was happening to his mate. It took Farley late into the night, sewing the coat. He finished with the light of the moon aiding his eyes through the branches of the trees. He got up from the stump when he was finished, a little stiff and his shoulders sore from carrying the dead Doberman earlier in the day. He put on the coat and buttoned the claw buttons and smiled to himself. The black Doberman followed him at first as he began walking back toward the mission on Lancaster, but when Farley got to Beach Street, the black dog put his head down and moved partways back down the country road. He watched Farley walking up Beach towards the freeway awhile before he disappeared into the night, probably to go home, too. There were no bums outside the mission when Farley got there. That meant it was at least midnight. He went to his place behind the convenience store, and it wasn’t long before the morning sun woke him up. He went to the mission for his coffee, warm in his coat. He didn’t hang around with the bums at all that morning. He headed downtown instead, to find his home for the winter. He staked himself out a place behind a tire store not far from the stockyards. During the days he would walk out to the stockyards, or into the city where the hotels were, and see if any of the people around were feeling the Christmas spirit yet. He got enough money to eat at Burger King at least once every day, usually. He was attracting more attention than he normally did because of his new coat. The other bums wanted to know how long it took him to make it. The other folks gave him a long look even when they didn’t give him any money. It was on one of his hotel days; he was standing around outside the Worthington Hotel and none of the bell boys had told him to get out of there yet. A woman came out of the front of the hotel and walked straight across the street, straight at him. She smiled a big smile at him and he smiled back, sort of. She reached in her purse and handed him a ten-dollar bill. “Did you make that coat?” she asked him. Farley nodded. “Did you make it from dead animals you found or something?” she said as she put her hand on his shoulder and made him turn around. “Is that a Doberman pinscher?” she asked, her voice incredulous. Farley nodded again. “I have never seen anything like this in all my life, not even in New York,” the woman rattled on. “I’m here for market this week, you see. Would you mind if I tell some of my friends about this extraordinary coat?” she asked as she stroked the different textures of the furs and fingered the claw buttons. Farley shook his head and smiled to himself. “Just extraordinary,” the woman smiled, too, and walked off up the street. Farley found a bit of shade and sat down. The smile grew on his face as he thought about it. He could just image, some high roller making fur coats out of road kill for high class ladies. What are the animal lovers going to say about something like that? After all, it’s just finding a use for the little critters in their misfortune. Yep, it sure could be big business. “But I won’t see no more out of it than this ten dollar bill,” Farley said out loud, and the warmth of the road kill coat when the winters come.