“Spirit of Peoria” by Zachary Kocanda

Michael Bishop

The dog’s full name was the Spirit of Peoria, but we called him Spirit. The dog was also just called P. I don’t think he knew his name. The dog belonged to my father’s girlfriend Charlotte, and she named him after the Spirit of Peoria riverboat because that was the town where she lived when she was a little girl. Charlotte and my father both taught at the local college, but he had been her professor when she started as a graduate student the year before. Charlotte was in her late twenties, and my father was in his forties, long divorced from my mother by then. My mother had moved back with her parents out of state, and my father and I stayed in town, about an hour north of Peoria along the Illinois River. I once asked him about the Spirit of Peoria, the riverboat, and he said that it was out of service, that it was beached—his word, not mine, because I never used the word “beach” to describe the area next to the river, even if it was covered in sand. I asked my father if they were going to use explosives to blow up the riverboat like a beached whale, as I had seen in a video on YouTube, but my father lowered his head, said that no, the riverboat would stay there until it had been completely taken apart, one piece at a time. I asked him if we could go there and see it one day, maybe even bring his girlfriend and her dog, and he said maybe we could. They started dating in the summer, between Charlotte’s first and second years, then she moved into the house in late August, after the fall semester started. The next year, in January, my father started a new teaching job at a university in Chicago. Charlotte asked me if I knew what a pied-à-terre was, and I said that I didn’t know. She said that was where my father stayed in Chicago during the week because it was a three-hour drive from our town. On weekdays, it was just me, Charlotte, and the Spirit of Peoria, the dog. Charlotte’s friends called her C.C., and she invited them, mostly other graduate students, to the house to have soirées when my father wasn’t there, and they would smoke pot and pet her dog and eat all our snacks. Charlotte said I could call her C.C., but I politely declined. I said it felt unprofessional for me to call her that. Charlotte said I was better than her lazy TAs. I asked her if one day she could call me out sick at school and the two of us could take her dog to see the Spirit of Peoria, the riverboat, maybe take a piece of history, but she said the boat was still in service; in fact, her father worked on the Spirit of Peoria as a musician in the riverboat band. The riverboat’s demise was only one of many lies my father told me. Most of the lies were about my mother, but I only learned about the lies years later at my mother’s deathbed, a year after my father himself died of a heart attack. I asked Charlotte if one day we could go see her father play on the Spirit of Peoria, then I asked her what her father played, and she said he played the trumpet; at the time, I played the euphonium, a small tuba, that I rolled from the house to the school and back five days a week, although I never practiced at the house. The euphonium was not a sexy instrument, but my mouth had been too large to play the trumpet, and the girls joked I must be a good kisser, but this wasn’t true because I had never kissed anyone, nor would I kiss anyone until I was twenty-one years old. Years later, I learned my father’s pied-à-terre was the apartment of another professor at the university in Chicago, a woman who, to his credit, was closer to his age than Charlotte, but I don’t know when Charlotte learned this; all I know is after she graduated in the summer, Charlotte moved back to Peoria, but the three of us (and here, I include Charlotte and the dog, not my father) had never taken a trip to the Spirit of Peoria, the riverboat, to hear her father play the trumpet. I stopped playing the euphonium the next year, and my father called me a quitter, said he drove all the way to Chicago and back for his job every week to pay for my lessons, but I said if I quit playing the instrument, he wouldn’t have to pay for lessons; in fact, me being a quitter saved him money. Once, over a three-day weekend in the spring when my father was back from Chicago and before Charlotte moved out, the two of them booked a room at a bed and breakfast out of town, and I stayed at the house with the Spirit of Peoria, the dog, but I called him P, like Charlotte’s friends did, and I petted his head while he sat with me on the couch, which he was only allowed to do when it was just Charlotte and me. The dog was a mutt who had been rescued from a shelter, and one of his legs was injured, so he wore a cast; when I asked if he wanted a treat, he hit me in the face with the cast in his excitement. There were a few dog treats at the bottom of the jar, but Charlotte’s friends had fed the dog most of them at a party a few nights ago, and one of Charlotte’s friends had eaten a handful as a dare. I told the Spirit of Peoria, the dog, that I would buy him more treats, and I added dog treats to the grocery list on the fridge. The dog’s dead now. I’m the age Charlotte was when she lived with the three of us in the house (and here, I include my father and the dog). I never knew Charlotte’s middle name, what that second C stood for, like a note in the middle of the music staff. The second C. I can hum the note to myself to this day. I remember all the scales. The euphonium has only three buttons, and as a tic, I find myself moving my fingers like I played the instrument years ago, the B-flat major scale, the only scale I remember, the first I learned. They dated for only a few months, no more than half a year, or at least that’s how long Charlotte stayed in the house. I think she moved out of the house in March over spring break and moved in with a friend until the end of the semester. The year after that, my father quit his teaching job in Chicago, but by then, Charlotte was gone, and I had been spending all my weekdays alone. I never asked him why he lied about the riverboat. The day Charlotte moved out, I petted the Spirit of Peoria, the dog, on his head, said he was a good boy one last time, then Charlotte closed the trunk of her car, and they were gone. The riverboat goes up and down the Illinois River to this day, but I don’t live there anymore. I can’t buy a ticket to the show, can’t listen to Charlotte’s father on the Spirit of Peoria, the riverboat, if he even still works there, playing trumpet solos with his eyes closed to sold-out crowds on hot summer days.


Zachary Kocanda holds an MA and a BFA in creative writing from Ball State University and Bowling Green State University, respectively. His fiction has appeared in the Oyez Review. He lives in Oak Park, Illinois.