it was a wiener dog turned my drunk daddy sober; all them cats all them years couldn’t do it; mama couldn’t do it no matter how hard she begged; I couldn’t do it, and I was hands-down his favorite daughter, the one who’d get up in front of his bleary eyeballs those mornings after a big blustery blow when he cursed every last one of mama’s relatives, praised Richard Nixon like he was the golden calf and threatened to drown my cat’s kittens. if his baby girl couldn’t do it, I’d ask myself when I was 12 and sitting alone as his silent audience while my two older sisters ran off to college and mama stayed safe in her beauty shop next to the house where the sound of hairdryers and women gabbing drowned out daddy’s voice, which I know blasted through the window screens, then who on god’s green earth could do it? he was a red wiener dog I saw at the mall in Hickory, jumping up and down in shredded newspapers, his Dumbo ears flapping like wings as he yipped; I pleaded and pleaded and convinced mama to buy that wiener dog for me even though we both knew it wasn’t a good idea, even though we both remembered what happened with the German shepherd dog named Duchess, but I was 13 and sad and mama thought that little wiener dog could comfort and cheer me, could take the place of friends and family who would do no more than keep silent about daddy, hoping he would one day like magic quit drinking and they could stop looking the other way. we took the little red wiener dog back home, paid more money for him than I could save up in a year from my allowance, and I held him close; daddy still got mad, clenched his teeth, turned as red as the wiener dog and said take it back! but we couldn’t because it was a clearance sale on wiener dogs that day at the mall, we told him, we couldn’t return him, so daddy believed us because he’d been drinking all day and knew nothing about shopping of any kind whether at the mall or the Fairway supermarket up the street, which is where mama had to run real quick to get puppy food while I stayed home with daddy and clutched the little dog to my chest even though he squirmed and whined and drew a bed on daddy, who was sitting in his butt-worn leatherette recliner and making a lap the right size for a wiener puppy. what with my sisters both run off to colleges and leaving me to keep daddy calm all by myself, I figured I would have to take the wiener dog to school and band practice and church with me so daddy wouldn’t do harm to him even though he wasn’t a kitten and we gave him the name daddy picked, which was Theodore Rustivon, and we called him Teddy and registered him proper with the AKC even though it didn’t really mean much but sounded good along with his fancy name: this is our dog Theodore Rustivon, who is called Teddy and who is registered proper with the AKC so there. but it turned out that daddy fell in love with the dog, teaching him to play a game called putt putt, which involved Teddy laying sideways under a chair with his paws sticking out from under the dust flap and daddy rolling a tiny rubber ball to him, which Teddy would either (a) catch in his mouth then flick back out with a paw or (b) bat back out if it came in under his chin and he couldn’t catch it; either way he never missed and that tickled daddy who loved to watch golf and play real putt putt at the miniature golf course up in Lenoir where he often took me and mama and laughed when my pink ball got stuck in the windmill blades. mama didn’t feature leaving Teddy with daddy so she kept him in the beauty shop with her and set up a Ritz-Carlton for wiener dogs there to keep him happy and to allow all the customers to make cootchy-coo noises at him as if he was a baby instead of a dog who knew he could get away with peeing and pooping all over the shag carpets in my bedroom, which was in our house next door, and chewing up Kleenex and Tampax from the trash (daddy never quite got over finding chewed up remains one Sunday after church and I learned a new trick for making daddy go hide in the bedroom with his bottle rather than sitting in his recliner and going to get a nip from the bedroom closet in between bouts of telling me why he wished I had been a boy named Wesley Kent instead of a girl so he could beat the crap out of me). one day it got to be that daddy couldn’t bear to be parted from Teddy and he got twitchy when mama kept the dog in the shop all day so that daddy couldn’t play putt putt with him or hold him on his lap when he thought nobody was looking, which of course I always was doing because I was a true blue teenager and it was my job to be snoopy and see things I wasn’t supposed to see like the church ladies out in the shop reading True Story magazine while they sat under the big hulking hairdryers with their legs crossed real tight and their mouths making an “o” shape and eyes big as eggs. daddy would go out to the shop pretending to check on mama but really wanting to pet Teddy, who was usually curled up on a customer’s lap, which was a place daddy couldn’t pet without consequences which involved mama chasing him out with a rattail comb held like a knife, and daddy would grab Teddy and run into the house where he settled into his recliner, petted the dog, watched golf on TV and before he knew it he hadn’t taken a drink of Scotch whiskey all day. those big round brown puppy dog eyeballs and floppy little ears were miracle workers. so anyway, you asked about that picture portrait of me in a fancy church dress, sitting on the floor, legs tucked sideways under the big loose skirt, which mama draped all around me in a circle like icing on a doll cake as I cradled the wiener dog very gracefully, if I might say so myself, in my arms with my nails freshly painted the color Lauren Hutton wore in Vogue magazine the month before — you asked me why I was holding a little dog in my picture portrait the year I turned 17 when both my sisters were with their new husbands and mama was with daddy in their portraits and we’re all smiling and daddy hadn’t had a drink of whiskey in two years and Theodore Rustivon got to be in his own picture portrait all by himself lit just so to make his eyes look bigger and I didn’t get a solo picture, but it doesn’t matter because, as I said out loud to you just a minute ago, daddy hadn’t had a drink of whiskey in two years.
3 Questions for Daun
What was your process for creating this work?
For this piece, I “channeled” my younger self and let my mind (and fingers) run wild. That process was a break from my usual poem writing, which is to start with a concept, a working title, and some notes. I construct the poem from there, shaping content and tone as I develop the piece. For the wiener dog poem/story, I completely let the story take over. The voice came from back home in the North Carolina mountains, and the memories flooded in. At times, I couldn’t type fast enough to keep up with the persona! She made me laugh so many times that I honestly felt as if the poem was about someone else. This was truly a gift from the creative writing gods.
What is the significance of the form/genre you chose for this work?
As I wrote the piece, I struggled with deciding whether it should be a short story or a poem. I’m working on a memoir in poems, and the story I tell in this piece is, for the most part, an accurate depiction of life with my parents. It fits the memoir. That said, I’ve long been working on a collection of fictional stories based on my experiences growing up in Mama’s beauty shop. I could have shaped the narrative into a short story featuring Teddy. Because the words came to me in such a rush at times, I decided to stop questioning its form as I wrote. I knew it wouldn’t be a formal poem, and I knew it wasn’t going to evolve into a fully fleshed-out piece of fiction. So, the piece’s final shape was a surprise and something that the words themselves dictated to me. Letting the narrator (a young me) have her say in the way she wanted to say it was fun — and liberating.
What is the significance of this work to you?
As is likely obvious from the answers above, this poem/story is very personal. My father was a mean alcoholic, and my mother worked long days in her beauty shop to keep food on the table when Daddy was between jobs and drinking heavily. I was stuck between the two of them, often negotiating with Daddy and trying to comfort Mama; I loved both of them very much, but I was a very unhappy girl. The day Mama let me buy that little dog was truly a turning point for all of us. At first, Daddy resisted, but Teddy was persistent. That little wiener dog did something the rest of us couldn’t do, and — though he’s been gone since 1986 — I wanted to honor and thank him with this piece.
Daun Daemon’s fiction has appeared in Flock, Dead Mule School, Literally Stories, and Delmarva Review among others, and she has published poems in Third Wednesday, Typehouse Literary Review, Remington Review, Deep South Magazine, Into the Void, Peeking Cat Literary, and other journals. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry, Daemon is currently at work on a short story collection inspired by her mother's beauty shop as well as a memoir in poetry. She teaches scientific communication at North Carolina State University and lives in Raleigh with her husband and three cats.