Jeff Steinbrink

Jeff Steinbrink teaches at Franklin & Marshall College; his work has appeared in The Believer and McSweeney's, among others.

Culture: Stories & Lit
The McBickly Accord

At just after noon today a spokesperson for the McBickly family indicated that, following months of negotiation and many setbacks, an agreement had been reached between the McBicklys and their dogs, three Beagles, that would curb the Beagles’ explosive response to drivers from FedEx, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service. The dogs, who represented themselves in the talks, signaled their contentment by sleeping in sunny spots on the McBicklys’ living room carpet all afternoon.

Critics of the deal were quick to express their skepticism.

“The dogs got the better of them,” said a neighbor whose back yard abuts the McBicklys’. “They were outsmarted.”

While details of the arrangement have yet to be set in stone, Tucker and Mindy McBickly acknowledged at a press conference later in the day that the dogs had, in fact, negotiated a number of concessions in return for their pledge of restraint. For one, the Beagles’ dinnertime, which had already inched back from 5:00 to 4:15, will be “readjusted” to 3:30 pm.

“We retain absolute control over their feeding schedule,” Tucker McBickly insisted, “and over all kibbled and canned products and treats. The readjustment simply means that we’ll be feeding a bit earlier.” After a pause he added, “And not that we’ll be feeding more, as some have alleged. We were firm about this, especially with Ajax, who’s a real chowhound.”

Onlookers confirmed that Ajax, a manly tricolor with a stunning horseshoe of white across his hindquarters, continued to paw at the kitchen floor next to his food bowl until just moments before he shook hands with Mindy McBickly by way of sealing the deal.

It had been widely reported that Comet, Ajax’s junior by about four years, had pushed hard for more frequent walks as a condition of his endorsing the agreement. Eyewitnesses confirmed that Comet would often pop up with a leash in his mouth at dinner parties and other social occasions hosted by the McBicklys, as if to imply that he considered his exercise regimen wanting.

“Then one morning my foot touched something between the sheets at the bottom of the bed,” Mindy recounted, wide-eyed. “It was the leash.”

“Our son Skyler has agreed to walk Comet three more times a week,” Tucker interjected, referring to the McBicklys’ 11-year-old, who spent the entirety of the news conference playing Call of Duty on his mother’s rose-colored iPhone 6s. A side-bargain stipulates that he will be getting a new device of his own in the fall.

“And the last thing,” Tucker said to the gaggle of reporters on his front lawn, “is that my daughter Abigail has agreed to limit the time her hamster, Taylor Swift, spends in the wheel. He observed that the grating of the hamster wheel particularly irritated Alice, the youngest and perhaps the most sensitive of the Beagles.

“What about sanctions?” said a very blonde newsperson, reading the question from a card.

“It’s true,” said Mindy McBickly, “that after the way they reacted to Amazon deliveries last holiday season, we took a big bucket of toys away from the dogs. If they behave themselves over the next six weeks, we’ve agreed to slowly reintroduce those toys and add a few more.”

The news conference drew to a quick close when Ajax McBickly urinated on a CNN cameraman’s Docksiders. “Just marking his territory!” Tucker shouted as the crowd dispersed. “Entirely within the agreement.”

Ajax made his way to the kitchen and pawed the floor next to his food bowl. It was precisely 3:30 pm.


Culture: Stories & Lit
Somebody’s Been to the Vet

Alice, a Beagle, enters the living room, where Comet, another Beagle, is napping on the loveseat. Comet lifts his head and sniffs.

Comet: Somebody’s been to the vet.
Alice: Right-o.
Comet: Treats?
Alice: That chicken-mush baby food and Pill Pockets.
Comet: Pills?
Alice: Probably, somewhere. Didn’t chew.
Comet: Smart. You sick?
Alice: Thanks for noticing. Colitis.
Comet: Metronidazole twice a day with food.
Alice: You could have saved me a ride in the car.
Comet: I thought you liked the car.
Alice: I don’t hate it the way you do, but that’s true of every mammal on the planet.
Comet: I’m all right in the car.
Alice: You whimper like you’re on death row.
Comet: I think of it as keening.
Alice: Then you’re giving keening a bad name. I think of it as being a basket case.
Comet: Colitis, huh? You under stress?
Alice: You’re kidding, right?
Comet: Um. Maybe I missed something.
Alice: They should print that on your collar. First there was the move …
Comet: We moved?
Alice: Amazing. What did you think that 10-hour car ride was about, with you … keening … all the way?
Comet: To me they all seem to last forever.
Alice: Next trip I’ll cry like a schoolgirl for a couple of hours and see if that doesn’t sharpen your sense of time passing. You didn’t notice we’re in a new house?
Comet: But the loveseat …
Alice: Same loveseat, different house.
Comet: It does smell different.
Alice: There you go.
Comet: Ten hours?
Alice: Every minute of it. And you whining start to finish.
Comet: Change upsets me.
Alice: I’m the one with colitis.
Comet: Moved! Ha! I thought I was just disoriented.
Alice: A safe bet. You can’t smell the ocean?
Comet: Duh.
Alice: Could you smell the ocean before?
Comet: Before?
Alice: Focus. Before the 10-hour car ride.
Comet: Who remembers? No wonder you’ve got colitis.
Alice: That’s what I was thinking.

Culture: Stories & Lit
Howl: The Cattle May be Lowing
But two hounds get it said

The tree is decorated, the stockings are hung, the Yule fire burns low and, according to an old tradition, at midnight on Christmas Eve … the animals speak.

COMET (Beagle, about age four): You think that’s Alex Trebek’s real hair?
AJAX (also a Beagle, somewhat Comet’s senior, waking): What?

C: Alex Trebek. You think that’s a hairpiece?
A: I’ll tell you who wears a piece is that Bob Barker.
C: No way!
A: Way!
C: I don’t watch much TV.
A: Me either. No smell. You’d think they’d make it smell.
C: You know who smelled the other night? (Names a frequent visitor.)
A: Tell me about it. Bacon and pancakes!
C: Bacon and waffles.
A: Really? I didn’t get waffles. Real maple syrup, though.
C: The best.
A: Hmm. What about this reindeer business?
C: Reindeer?
A: I mean, reindeer can’t fly. Why not use birds? Birds fly.
C: It’s the North Pole. You think there are birds at the North Pole?
A: You think there are reindeer at the North Pole?
C: Huh.
A: I’ll tell you what else: Those aren’t real squirrels.
C: What are you talking about?
A: Those little squirrels they throw around the house for you to chase. They’re not real.
C: But they fly!
A: They throw them.
C: They squeak!
A: They can make anything squeak.
C: The squirrels aren’t real? They seem so real.
A: Sorry.
C: I feel like such a fool.
A: I shouldn’t have said anything. You’re getting a couple new squirrels in your stocking. Try not to let on.
C: They seem so real.
A: That’s the spirit. And you’re probably right about the reindeer.
C: I don’t know …
A: Don’t beat yourself up. Took me three years to figure out the mailman is just a mailman.
C: Grrrr! The mailman!
A: Easy, buddy. It’s just you and me.
C: You mean the mailman’s not real either?
A: Real but harmless. Just doing his job.
C: But he shoves things at us through the door.
A: Trash. Except for Martha Stewart.
C: Love Martha Stewart!
A: Just doing his job.
C: You’re telling me the squirrels aren’t real? And the mailman is, but not to worry?
A: Merry Christmas.
C: And the FedEx guy?
A: Grrrr! The FedEx guy!
C: Just checking.