“Junk?” Roger touched Dog’s muzzle. “Sure. But how about Lister, Pasteur, Salk? Hated death. Jumped to stop it. That’s all science fiction was ever about. Hating the way things are, wanting to make things different. Junk?!”
“Ancient history, Pop.”
“Ancient?” Roger Bentley fixed his son with a terrible eye. “Christ. When I was born in 1920, if you wanted to visit your family on Sundays you-“
“Went to the graveyard?” said Rodney.
“Yes. My brother and sister died when I was seven. Half of my family gone! Tell me, dear children, how many of your friends died while you were growing up. In grammar school? High school?”
He included the family in his gaze, and waited.
“None,” said Rodney at last.
“None! You hear that? None! Christ. Six of my best friends died by the time I was ten! Wait! I just remembered!”
Roger Bentley hurried to rummage in a hall closet and brought out an old 78-rpm record into the sunlight, blowing off the dust. He squinted at the label:
“No News, Or What Killed The Dog?”
Everyone came to look at the ancient disc.
“Hey, how old is that?”
“Heard it a hundred times when I was a kid in the twenties,” said Roger.
“No News, Or What Killed The Dog?” Sal glanced at her father’s face.
“This gets played at Dog’s funeral,” he said.
“You’re not serious?” said Ruth Bentley.
Just then the doorbell rang.
“That can’t be the Pet Cemetery people come to take Dog-?”
“No!” cried Susan. “Not so soon!”
Instinctively, the family formed a wall between Dog and the doorbell sound, holding off eternity.
Then they cried, one more time.
The strange and wonderful thing about the funeral was how many people came.
“I didn’t know Dog had so many friends,” Susan blubbered.
“He freeloaded all around town,” said Rodney.
“Speak kindly of the dead.”
“Well, he did, dammit., Otherwise why is Bill Johnson here, or Gert Skall, or Jim across the street?”
“Dog,” said Roger Bentley, “I sure wish you could see this.”
“He does.” Susan’s eyes welled over. “Wherever he is.”
“Good old Sue,” whispered Rodney, “who cries at telephone books-“
“Shut up!” cried Susan.
“Hush, both of you.”
And Roger Bentley moved, eyes down, toward the front of the small funeral parlor where Dog was laid out, head on paws, in a box that was neither too rich nor too simple but just right.
Roger Bentley placed a steel needle down on the black record which turned on top of a flake-painted portable phonograph. The needle scratched and hissed. All the neighbors leaned forward.
“No funeral oration,” said Roger quickly. “Just this . . And a voice spoke on a day long ago and told a story about a man who returned from vacation to ask friends what had happened while he was gone.
It seemed that nothing whatsoever had happened. Oh, just one thing. Everyone wondered what had killed the dog.
The dog? asked the vacationer. My dog died? Yes, and maybe it was the burned horseflesh did it. Burned horseflesh!? cried the vacationer. Well, said his informant, when the barn burned, the horseflesh caught fire, so the dog ate the burned horseflesh, died.
The barn!? cried the vacationer. How did it catch fire? Well, sparks from the house blew over, torched the barn, burned the horseflesh, dog ate them, died.
Sparks from the house!? shouted the vacationer. How-?
It was the curtains in the house, caught fire.
From the candles around the coffin.
Your aunt’s funeral coffin, candles there caught the curtains, house burned, sparks from the house flew over, burned down the barn, dog ate the burned horseflesh-In sum: no news, or what killed the dog!
The record hissed and stopped.
In the silence, there was a little quiet laughter, even though the record had been about dogs and people dying.
“Now, do we get the lecture?” said Rodney.
“No, a sermon.”
Roger Bentley put his hands on the pulpit to stare for long moments at notes he hadn’t made.
“I don’t know if we’re here for Dog or ourselves. Both, I suppose. We’re the nothing-ever-happened-to-us people. Today is a first. Not that I want a rush of doom or disease. God forbid. Death, come slowly, please.”