I find a flier on my mailbox for La Poo Perfect. In quotation marks, their tagline: "Don't stoop. We'll scoop." They got daily, weekly, monthly plans. The woman who answers the phone is named Sam. "Kinda dog?" she says. Her voice is deep, cigarette husky. I tell her I don't have a dog, and no, I'm not calling for a friend or neighbor. Long pause, Sam breathing.
"I wanted to ask," I say, "do you deliver?"
Sam lets go a gooey laugh. She has a sense of humor--she answers the phone "La Poo." But I'm not joking. For weeks I've been flinging turds into the street. I find them when I mow. I put a couple sticks together and chopstick the poo onto the road. The other day I had to get a shovel. We're talking kielbasas. Then I find La Poo's flier. It got me thinking.
"Deliver?" Sam says, "Lemme get Eddie."
Eddie gets on the phone. "You want what?"
"Poo," I tell him. "I want poo. Delivered." I hear Sam's phlegmy laugh in the background.
"We don't usually deliver," Eddie says. "We take it off people's hands." And their feet. Of course, I say, you get rid of the stuff.
"Mind if I ask why you want it?"
I tell him, yes, I do mind. Why is it important?
"From a business perspective," he says, "I should know what you're doing with our product."
"When you toss it in the street like that," my wife says one night, "the wrong people might step in it. Have you thought about that? What about Madelen?"
She's right. I would hate for Madelen's adorable foot to be soiled, Madelen with such extraordinary grace and equipoise, she should be in paintings. No, that wouldn't do. But there’s neighbors, and then there’s neighbors. I ask my wife what I should do with it then.
"Deal with it."
I tell her that's glib and dismissive.
"When you were a kid," she says, "you had a dog. Where did it go?"
I'm not sure. What I think is: Mrs. Compton's yard. What I say is: Down by the river. "It was a small town," I say. "We had wilderness."
She says I'm making a big deal over nothing.
"Obviously," I tell her, "you have not danced the dog poo pas de deux."
"That's two dancers," she says, smartassy.
"Me and the lawnmower," I smartass back.
Eddie puts me on hold, presumably so he and Sam can discuss the niceties of their product. The term makes it sound like a commodity that's packaged and stored. I picture warehouses full of cooling devices to keep the product stable. Eddie clicks back on the line. "How much you need?"
What's the unit of measurement? "Five gallons?" I say.
"Gallons," he says.
"Yeah, you know, like ice cream?"
I wonder if they feel a twinge of regret when they drive past my house. Thinking: that's where Bruno dumped. I hope he didn't step in it. Meaning me. Or do they lie awake at night, examining their wrongdoing, their flouting of common courtesy. I don't think they do. Probably they think, Tonight we will visit the other street. So many streets, so many guilt-free deposits. No twinge of regret. This emboldens me.
I shop Amazon.com, Cheaperthandirt.com, and find something called Eyeclops, Infrared Stealth. I have all the evidence I need. I can't cut my grass without stepping it in. I need to see the perp in the action. I have suspicions. I need certainty. Night goggles are expensive.
How do you know it happens at night? my wife asks. We're lying in bed. I'm staring at the front window. Right now the nightwalkers are out there. She sets down her book. "Maybe they do it early in the morning," she says.
"Vandals," I say, "do not get up early."
"Night goggles?" she says. "You're turning into a nutcase vigilante."
I can't walk in my yard barefoot. It's time to draw a line in the grass.
A neighbor has a lawn sign, Ryan for probate judge, "Protecting our families." What does that mean? "Guarding our lawns" I might vote for. It's specific.
One night my wife and I come home late. The woman who put the sign out is standing by our mailbox. She's walking a black dog the size of pony. If I roll down the window and say, "You're bagging it, right?" I'm a bad neighbor. I don't. I'm pretty sure she doesn't.
Tonight I'm standing by the front door. It's almost dark. I look down toward the street. What's this but a golden retriever assuming the position. This is it. I elbow the door open, step off the porch. A girl holding the leash watches me come. The closer I get, the clearer it becomes, she doesn't get it. She's smiling. The dog finishes, does his little clean-up scratch, and assumes a regal sit next to the girl. "Well?" I say.
"Hello," she says, very breezy. "Watch out or the mosquitoes will bite." She sounds foreign.
"What are you doing?" I say.
"Tonight I walk the dog."
"I can see that," I say. "But this?" I point.
"Oh, that," she plugs her nose and laughs, then holds out her hand. "Justine," she says. "I'm from France." She says Fronce. I shake her hand.
"Don't people in Fronce clean up a mess like this?"
"In the city, yes," she says, then adds with a guilty laugh, "but only sometimes."
"Here we always do," I say. It's a lie, but I'd like to set a high standard. "Always," I say again, almost ready to give her toujours. She shakes her head no.
"Here is the country, no?"
No, I say. We have lots of trees and grass, but no, this is not the country. The dog nudges my leg, then sniffs my crotch. I know this dog. It's the Buckleys'. And this Justine must be an au pair.
"We pick up," I say again.
Justine tenses. She looks at me, eyes narrowing. Then: "I see."
She’s got the hauteur, and I’ve got the poo. It's sort of a stand off. I'm not enjoying it. It's not what I imagined. I'm thinking it will pass, and then Justine does something terrible. She squares her shoulders, draws in her lower lip, whispers, "Okay." She reaches behind her, I see a flash of white as she produces a tissue. When she whips it open, I see it's a handkerchief.
A little French handkerchief, clean and white, with a colored border.
"It's all right," I say.
But it's too late. Justine bends down, reaches out, and picks up the dropping with her hankie. She straightens, sniffs, and I realize she's crying. The thought of that dreadful thing in her hand, warm as a croissant, makes me so sick that I now want to cry, or throw up, or both. She clicks her tongue at the dog. They go.
I'm cutting the grass next morning when I see a vehicle crawl down the street. Twice it noses to a stop in front of a house, then starts up. The driver's looking for someone. I watch as it pulls in my driveway. It's an rusty old Mazda, half van, half car, kind of a dusty hippo gray. I shut my mower down as the driver's door screeches open. A little guy in army fatigues gets out. He's got a mess of blue tattoos up and down his arms.
"Help you?" I say.
He nods and smiles, smoothing his long black moustache with a forefinger. He could be thirty or fifty. He walks across the lawn in army boots, holds out his hand to shake. "Eddie," he says. "Eddie Swit from Poo Perfect?" I shake his hand. "Got your order," he says.
You know, I want to say, that idea I had, my heart is no longer in it. But he's already swung around, walking back to his car.
He opens the Mazda hatch, reaches in, and lifts out a white bucket. There's a lid on the bucket. A yellow invoice is taped to the side of it. I'd like him to put it right back, shut the hatch, and forget about the whole thing. Eddie crosses his tattooed arms and smiles.
"Look, Eddie," I say.
"Five gallons," he says, "is what you ordered." He nudges the pail with his boot. "Just like ice cream." It occurs to me we didn't talk price.
When I tell him I don't want it, he pulls on his mustache again and says, "You know what I had to do to get this? Do you have any idea?" I tell him yes, I know what he had to do. "No, you don't," he says. "You just bag it and toss it. This was collection and consolidation." He nudges the bucket with his boot. "Consolidation." A neighbor goes walking by. I'm glad Eddie has an unmarked truck.
"I expect to be paid," he says.
I have a pretty good idea what will happen if I don't pay. I'll come out one morning and find a pile on my lawn, a big pile, like five gallons. And maybe not just once. Maybe repeatedly. Until he feels like I've learned a lesson. He seems like that kind of guy who would teach someone a lesson.
I point at the bucket. "Is it sealed?"
"Tight," he says.
"How about I pay and you just take it back."
Eddie shakes his head no. I pay for the bucket of product. Eddie can't make change, so he ends up with a tip. I carry the bucket into the garage, put it in a corner, and watch Eddie drive away.
That night I lie awake, picturing unimpeded nightwalkers stopping by out front, remembering the terrible Justine episode. Mostly I think about the bucket down in the garage, the contents hermetically sealed, deliquescing. It's pure evil.
BIO: Rick Bailey lives and works in Detroit. He has had recent work published in Phantom Kangaroo, Red River Review, and Boston Literary Magazine.