The Mayor of Glory River

by David Huddle

Was a dog that made them laugh--named Copacetic,
Muhammad, Sam, Federal Government,
Nicodemus, Doctor Pepper, Blackie,
Mayor Dog, Mississippi, Winston
Churchill, whatever name came to mind
when the dog was around: It came to me
to use this joke in my dissertation--
the legendary many-named cur
embodying a contemptuous attitude
toward authority tacitly
shared by residents of Glory River,
a convergence of Appalachian humor,
dialect, and the shared values peculiar
to their micro-region. The impulse to name
and to improvise laconically
seemed to me so purely Anglo-American
that when the idea struck, I imagined--
as clearly as if I’d already written them--
fifty brilliant pages published
as the lead essay in the Journal
of Appalachian Studies.
                       I want to
show you something about this dog, Joe Lee
Liggins told me during my interview
with him outside Collins’s Shell Station
one afternoon. Joe Lee stood, put his hands
in his pockets and as he whistled a soft
ditty while smiling slyly at me, aimed
a quick, hard kick at the Mayor’s head. The dog
had been lying at our feet, as if to listen
to our conversation, but he seemed not
at all surprised--as I most certainly was--
by the sudden assault of Joe Lee’s foot. At
the exact moment necessary not
to be where the boot would have struck, he stood.
Rising to his four feet, the Mayor seemed calm
and not at all insulted. He stretched in that
canine way, a bow that appears to mock
whoever witnesses it--
                    which bow led
Joe Lee to pivot and direct another kick
at the Mayor’s tail-becrested butt, but
the dog sat, again casually but at just
the moment to evade the kick by the width
of one of his whiskers. Then the Mayor
scratched and licked himself, as if his safety
were not an issue.
                   Do you see what I mean?
Joe Lee asked me.
                I knew what I’d seen, yet
I doubted it. I’m not superstitious,
and so to me the dog’s evasions were
remarkable coincidences that appeared
miraculous but weren’t. The dog’s yawning
and curling up again at our feet as Joe Lee
took his seat on a Pepsi crate made him seem
all the more ordinary. The Mayor was wiry
and coal black except for white on his chest,
a sort of greyhound-great-Dane-labrador,
a large enough animal that his back
was about the height of my hip bone
when I stood but delicate as a deer
or panther--and evidently sweet-natured.
True, he had amber eyes in his block-like
head and these gave him a hound-from-hell look,
but his general demeanor was cheerful,
friendly, solicitous, which is to say
that even with what I’d witnessed, I’d have sworn
he was your normal dog, basic as weather,
weeds, or oatmeal.
                  Should I fetch the shotgun
and show you the same thing again? Joe Lee asked,
but I waved my hand and said no, no, I
understood the lesson he’d taught me. This must
have been what Joe Lee wanted me to say--
he smiled, nodded, sat down, took a dip of snuff,
leaned back on his crate, crossed his arms, and waited
for me to continue interviewing him.
And I must say that the people I met
in Glory River spoke freely and at some
length, as if they wanted to explain how
in that place they had become the people
they were. Murders, unusually random violence,
incest, thefts, car wrecks, hatred, rage,
strange loyalties, anarchy, paranoia,
irrational fears, prejudice--it all had a kind
of meaning to them, a logic that became
more and more evident to me the longer
I stayed among them, the more I listened
to the stories they told. I sometimes thought
I’d begun to see the world as they saw
it, and so I’d be doomed to live in that
valley, where a dog was the resident
magician, witch doctor, and messiah,
where the fiery death of Sarah Jean Kinney
and her mother was mostly what everybody
wanted to talk about, and where if you lived
there long enough you grew to be unfit
to live anywhere else.
                       Joe Lee Liggins
was a classic citizen--Pepsi crate pundit,
a veritable campaign manager,
happy to glorify the Mayor all day,
if I wanted to listen and take notes while
the Mayor himself licked his genitalia.
Joe Lee claimed that Deetum Dunford was the first
to meet the Mayor, and for some months people
thought the dog belonged to Deetum, who called
him Catfish. Deetum said he’d been fishing
with no luck throughout a long afternoon,
was about to give it up and go home
and fix himself a mayonnaise sandwich,
when of a sudden Catfish just kind of
appeared beside him, lying down right there
in the grass and observing Deetum’s line
and bobber out in the water. Before Deetum
had time to wonder where the dog had come from,
he started catching smallmouth bass, one
after another, as fast as he could reel them in,
bait his hook, and throw the line out again.
There on the riverbank, it was that last
swatch of daylight just before it’s too dark
for a fisherman to see what he’s doing,
but Deetum says he caught his whole stringer
full of bass in maybe fifteen minutes.
Then the dog followed him home--or what Deetum
called home, which is what you and I would call
camp. Worried about having too many fish
to eat, Deetum couldn’t stand to let good
food go to waste, but he needn’t have worried
because the dog was happy to gnash down
those lard fried filets, too. They finished off
all the fish that evening.
                        Deetum thought he had
himself a dog, a real fine fishing dog,
but the Mayor was gone the next morning,
and Deetum didn’t see him again until
two days later, by himself as usual,
fishing at the same spot and catching
nothing whatsoever until there
the dog was again, lying in the grass beside
him, studying the line and bobber out
in the water. Then just like that, the fish
started biting so fast and hard it was
like they wanted to jump out of the water
and into Deetum’s lap.
                     Leena Grimes was
the next one to get a visit from the dog,
and she called him Midnight because that’s
about when he appeared on her front porch.
It was July, a hot spell when everybody
had trouble sleeping, but Leena never much
minded weather like that, she enjoyed
sitting on her porch glider deep into
the early hours of the morning, just gently
touching a toe down every once in a while
to make the thing sway back and forth, half
asleep and feeling like she had one foot
in a dream, the other right there in Glory
River. Then she noticed what she first thought
a shadow but was in fact a black dog lying
on the porch close enough to bite her ankle
if he’d wanted to. Though she’d never seen
him before, she said he had the feel and manner
of a dog that might have belonged to her
for a long time--so she just spoke to him
that way. Hello, Midnight, she said she said.
The animal lifted its head and stared
at her as if to say, What do you want?
During my interview with Leena, she
admitted that she’d always loved magic,
and so she didn’t trust herself in thinking
that finally she’d gotten her deepest
wish, a dog that could change her bad luck.
Because Leena’s story was one of the saddest
I heard in all my time in Glory River,
a husband who’d been killed by a drunk driver,
a son who was in jail for bootlegging--
a bootlegger stupid enough to get caught--
and a daughter who walked the streets--those were
Leena’s words, walked the streets--of Baltimore.

That was the morning the dog got his title.
In his high-stepping, royal dog manner,
he walked beside Leena to the Post Office,
where Robert Alley, sitting on the steps
out there, touched the brim of his Blue Seal cap
and said, Good morning, Leena, I see you’re
walking with the Mayor this morning. Leena
said she both knew and didn’t know what Robert
was talking about, but it amused her, so that
she was giggling when she went in to ask
for her mail. That was when Elwood told her there
was a letter she’d have to sign for before
he could give it to her.
                        Leena never told what
came to her in that envelope--like most
Glory River people, she was perfectly
open about not revealing the crucial
details of some stories. All she would say was
They found land on my property, and the phrase
pleased her mightily when she said it.
                                     You’d have
thought Leena would have moved out of the valley--
evidently she came into a lot of money,
because she fixed up her house higgeldy-
piggeldy, as is the way among those people,
had indoor plumbing installed, added a room here,
a room there, and painted it the gaudiest
shade of lavender she could find. She said
she wouldn’t dream of leaving Glory River,
it was a rough place to live, and she knew
it wasn’t going to change, but it was home
for her. She commissioned Dude Dunford
to construct a palatial dog house
in the side yard, and when it was finished,
she went to considerable trouble to persuade
the Mayor to live in it. The dog sometimes
dropped by for one of Leena’s snacks, and she said
that in the course of time he’d peed on all four
corners of his mansion but that he’d made it
clear to her that the place didn’t suit him.
She confessed that the Mayor never sat
with her on the porch again.
                            Baron Gomes was
who he took up with next, a white boy thought
to have been fathered by Eddie Crockett, one
of the few black men who could stand to live
in Glory River. Baron Gomes’s skin
was notably darker than anybody
else’s in his family, the Crocketts
and the Gomeses lived next door to each other,
and so the story of his conception,
a narrative of how it could have happened
between Baron’s mother and Eddie Crockett--
maybe their paths crossed on a summer afternoon
when they were both out picking berries--
sprang to the mind of anybody from Glory
River who looked Baron in the face. The boy had
grown up hearing sly comments from grown-ups
and crude taunts from his schoolmates. So it was
an ongoing explosive situation
in the valley, because race isn’t
an easy topic where feuds and killings
are common as Sunday dinner and insults
spark quarrels that last generations.
But these particular flames never caught
because Baron was a sweet child, and his mother
had died when he was in first grade. So he’d learned
to navigate in a world where he met
hostility and contempt along with
pity, sentiment, and plain old low down,
gossipy curiosity.
                   Baron’s problems
were school--which bored him--and his body--
which had grown faster than he could keep up with.
At twelve years old, Baron was six feet two
but comic-book skinny, so that he couldn’t
walk to the store without tripping over his
size twelve shoes.
                One morning the Mayor blocked
his way, and when Baron tried to step around
him, the Mayor was instantly back
in his way again. Gotta get to school,
damn dog, Baron said aloud, though he didn’t
really care--but then he found himself--on a cool
frosty Autumn morning--in this strange dance
with a demon dog. The boy must have thought
he was in a dream, because the animal bumped
him lightly or nudged him, then dodged or just
disappeared only to appear again behind Baron
or to the side, as if it meant to teach him
a certain way to move his body. Then somehow
Baron understood that he’d been challenged
to a race--he and the Mayor took off
toward the schoolhouse, and Baron later said
it felt like he was somewhere between flying
and floating. The Mayor barely beat him
to the door, into which Baron Ducked, after
which he looked back out the window, but the dog
was nowhere to be seen. Baron’s senses
were still elevated when classes began,
which made him pay attention in spite
of his old habits. And the Mayor was there
to meet him again when school was out--the two
of them raced again, out to field beyond
Baron’s house, where again the Mayor
took up the game of block and dodge that required
Baron to move his feet so quickly that he’d
have been mocked and humiliated if there’d
been anybody there to see the dance the dog
was teaching him.
                Within two weeks Baron Gomes
was Glory River Elementary’s finest
athlete and best student, though a meanness
came up in him that he explained to me
in our interview. Do you know what that dog
did to me the last time I saw him? Bit me!
I don’t mean he nipped me. He sank his teeth
in right here. Baron showed me the scars
on the thick muscle just below his thumb.
God damn thing bit me! And then just walked
on off and wouldn’t have anything else
to do with me.
              There were too many tales
of the Mayor’s deeds for me to tell you
all of them. Shep Ogden never liked the dog,
claimed it hexed his cat so that it peed
on the furniture. Robbie Pickens said
the dog got him lost up on Dalton Mountain
and then disappeared. Jack Mabe confessed
that the dog sat beside him all one night
at the poker game down by the river, Jack won
more money that anybody ever had
in the long history of Glory River card
games, but then the next night the dog wasn’t
there, and Jack lost all he’d won and then some.
Lila Schnell said the dog helped her get pregnant.
Deetum Dunford told about Elmer Clemons
offering a two hundred dollar reward
to anybody who’d shoot the Mayor,
but they had to bring Elmer the carcass
to prove they’d done it. All over the Valley
men took out their shotguns, and a fair
number of them claimed to have shot the dog
point blank, only to find no carcass where
they’d seen him fall or else to see him get up,
and scratch the dirt behind him like he’d
taken a leak and trot on off.
                             This was
years ago that I did my field work, wrote
my dissertation, the publication
of which led so many universities
to offer me jobs. More than once I’ve thought
that I owe my own good fortune to the Mayor
of Glory River. At first I thought this to be
the proper way of things--after all, I did
the work, I saw the symbolic possibility
in the dog, I shaped my writing shrewdly,
I followed the highest professional
          It is only now that I
approach retirement that I am besieged
with doubt--and why say doubt when it is
near certainty? Even if I saw it
with my own eyes, there was no such dog.
My interviewees lied to me. I was
grandly hornswoggled. Glory River had
its fun with me. And my university
doesn’t want to hear that its Distinguished
Professor of Cultural Studies is
a consummate fool. Personally,
however, I’m old enough to understand
what a gift it was those years ago when
the people of Glory River took me in. 
Which is to say that I welcome the black
dog that sometimes races through my dreams.

Last updated December 19, 2022