Sunday, February 05, 2006

He Must Wear Gloves

I chopped something like 12 thousand words from this. Lots of it gore. I'll do another draft next week. I made an effort to strip down the prose to its bare bones. The original ending was rather grim. Also, there are a few areas that need to be cleaned up so the story points more clearly toward the ending. I'm just not willing to do so right now and I wanted to post something since I've been MIA lately. Anyways, thanks for reading. Hope you have fun reading.


FREE DOG TO A GOOD HOME LOVES KIDS COMIN GET HIM 811 S HAWTHORNE BOAT IN THE DRIVEWAY


Ruthie Hathaway did not know why she did it and only later did she think to ask herself why?

Why, she took a walk on her lunch down to Hawthorne. Why, it wasn't far. Why, the air was heavy and wet with forecast rain and the street a dull monochrome but pedestrian traffic still persisted on the narrow bridge. Why why why.

Why not?

She found the house immediately. An old flat bottom boat, hung on cement blocks, looked like it had never seen water in its life, had spent all the time it had been removed from the manufacturer, from the show room, from the lot, on cement blocks in the driveway. She walked up the front steps to a green door.

An old woman opened the door. The old woman's face was grey and soggy, the mouth a slash of red like a wrong answer on a test. The poster image for how you might end up if you didn't listen to your doctor's snippy advice when he told you to cut back on the french fries and ice cream cake and get an exercise routine, Ruthie thought.

The woman's brown teeth hadn't heard of Crest Whitener and her breath had never shaken hands with Trident or nodded politely to Dentine.

"Come in. Watch your feet." The hag turned her back.

Ruthie gingerly stepped into the foyer and followed the woman's bulging backside up a set of dimly carpeted stairs.

The house smelled of stale, cheap wine. Ruthie heard a bird screech.

"I'm Lee," the hag offered. "You can see I'm moving." Ruth saw there were cardboard boxes stacked like children's puzzle blocks, the kind with the giant alphabet letters stamped on them. The boxes looked damp, the flaps open. A strong smell came from the hag's kitchen.

There was a black dog on a half-chewed couch. The dog was black and medium-sized. It was laying as dogs tend to do, forelegs crossed and head lazily cocked. The dog whimpered.

"Dog didn't chew the couch just so's you know."

The black dog jack-knifed its ears.

"My son's sending me to a retirement home in Florida. They don't allow dogs and that's why I'm gettin' rid of him."

The black dog had beautiful blue eyes like a painted James Dean on a tin plate. The dog whimpered.

"Dog's name is Samuel, call him Sammy if you like," the hag continued.

Samuel was shiny black, his coat sleek and glossy. He had a perfect dog face somewhere between human and ape. He looked at Ruthie with piercing blue lake eyes. Please take me away eyes. He laid his head on her knee and she felt his warm throat gulp through her work khakis. He must have some Siberian Husky in him.

"Hi Sammy," Ruthie said. She ruffled his ears. "You like that?"

Samuel barked.

Not knowing why she did it, not having any ability to see the future or forsee the consequences of taking the dog, Ruthie said one word, low and clear: "yes."

Ruthie made arrangements to pick up the dog at 6pm after she got off work. She hummed on her way back to the hospital. She worked in the Neonatal ward as a nurse. She didn't hum there. She cared for babies with Hydrocephalus - enlarged craniums, babies with congenital heart disease, babies with the AIDS virus. She fed a tiny baby abandoned by a crack addict and born prematurely, small as a tiny kitten, hairless and beautiful and strange. Neonatal was connected by a long white-washed hospital corridor to the Pediatric side which in turn connected through an impersonal steel and cement artery to the much happier Maternity ward.

She still found time to wonder what Jack's reaction would be when he saw Sammy. Jack was twelve and she hoped he'd get that look on his face, like he'd gotten before Roy had come into their lives, the look of excitement that worked his lashes like the pumps of some brilliant machine.

She called a cab. The temperature was getting somewhere in the vicinity of freezing. The cab, a white one, with a sign on top advertising a casino, emblazoned with tumbling casino chips, pulled up in front of the hospital. She gave directions to the driver.

In the dark the house on Hawthorne looked like it oozed paint down its sides. Cold light poured from the windows momentarily revealing a face that made Ruth shiver. The house didn't have a face you could ever say anything good about.

The green front door opened. Ruthie's heart was racing crazy, just like the time she'd almost been in a car accident a few months after Jack was born, unsure if she'd attempted to get into an accident on purpose, but after narrowly avoiding one realizing that wasn't what she wanted.

It was the hag, Lee, standing in the light of the open door, her sagging jowls like squish-squashed dough.

"Samuel's all ready to go," Lee said, reproachfully eyeing the cab which shone its headlights on the garage.

Ruthie expected the hag to give the dog some cursory kiss or farewell but as soon as Samuel's back paws were out the door, Lee closed it.

Things got complicated when the cabbie, dusty smudge of hair bristling on his cheek, refused to let Samuel in the cab. "It's the guidelines," he apologized. "Can't have animals in the cab unless they got a cage around em. Cab's just like an airplane, M'am."

She gave him an extra twenty dollars she could not afford.

She walked the dog up the apartment stairs. She tried to be discreet. You could have animals if you signed a sheet but she didn't feel like dealing with the apartment manager tonight, a fat man with a neck like an old chimney, firing up a plump head of flaming red hair.

Samuel was docile. A few times he sat back on his haunches and looked around as if memorizing the amount of floors they went up.

Now here was a dog, she thought a bit proudly, happy she had called the number, had put up with the horrid old woman long enough to claim this creature.

She got to her apartment, keeping the dog out of view as she entered. Jack was watching the tube, and his head only moved a fraction when she swung open the door.

"Hi mom," Jack said.

Jack shouted in surprise when he was bowled over. Samuel gave Jack's face a thorough tongue-bath. He makes a good impression, Ruthie thought, grinning.

"Where did you get him?" Jack asked. His face was tight with excitement.

"I got him for you," she answered - not precisely answering his question but how was she to explain she had gotten the dog from a very passable imitation of a witch who'd survived the Salem Witch trials.

Samuel wagged his tail. The dog's eyes shone with pleasure as Jack pet him. It was she she had hoped. Jack's eyes had the same old look, the one she thought of as 'pre-Roy'.

During the next week Ruthie saw a change in Jack that excited her. He was emerging from his 'post-Roy' shell. She emailed a request to work less so she could spend more time with Jack. She walked the brightly-li (queasy-lit) hospital corridors with her clipboard. Egelstein the head nurse would have to sign and route the request to adminstration and Ruthie was worried, having had run-ins with Egelstein in the past.

Before her shift was over, Egelstein found her.

"I got your email," Egelstein trumpeted. "I'm sorry Miss Hathaway. We've got staffing shortages. But I'll keep your request on file."

Ruthie murmured a polite thank-you. Thanks for nothing you old bony bones monster, she thought.

Egelstein walked off with a little piff-piff. Ruthie thought Egelstein might have been born here, among ill babies, where she could fulfill her appetite for a mother's pain.

When she got home Jack's face scared her. He looked too pale. He was dressed in his coat and he carried a part of the cold air with him that circulated in an endless rhythm through his coat. It was the yellow one she'd bought him last Christmas.

His first words were: "He's run away."

He looked like he'd been crying, red and slightly salty circles under his eyes like he'd been shined with grief polish. Jack shook his head. "I've been out looking for him everywhere." He wiped his face with his coat sleeve.

His words came quickly, they spun out like a car on a gravel road. "I took him potty and Sammy pulled the leash right out of my hand. The red leash went flying through the grass. He ran right out into the street and took off."

After she settled him, she decided to go looking.

This neighborhood was safe unlike their last apartment where just across the hall a woman had been raped. The dark was deep this winter. There was the old red Mustang the man with the lined-face drove. He gave her the creeps. He always looked at her. More distressingly, he always looked at Jack. If she saw him, she always hurried Jack inside because you never knew what a stranger had in his mind, what fantasies might stir and lap the edges of his soul.

She supposed nowhere was safe.

There was no Sammy. No dark dog lounging against the reflective metal of the far street light pole. No dark dog to greet her with a hanging red tongue or blue-eyed laughter. When she went upstairs, she found Jack already sleeping.

She went to bed. She dreamt of a long tunnel. She was walking through it, the tunnel-slides sloping down more like a cave - a very dark cave - heading to God knows where - but then she recognized she was in the hospital. She smelled fire. She heard babies crying, a lung-shattering weeping. She heard a bark. The sound of thick nails scraped the hallway with the same madness inducing property of a tape running on a reel and spitting out its guts. She closed her eyes. When she opened them she was face to face with Samuel. He pawed the ground, his ears hung low. He looked different. The eyes. That's what it was. The eyes were no longer blue. They were black and the pupils had evacuated.

She woke to a scratching at the door. The scratching echoed in her head, part of a dream, and not.

Ruthie looked in the peephole. There was no one there. No blonde and thin Roy with gleaming eyes like the surface of a shiny bowling ball. But the scratching continued. Suddenly hopeful she turned the lock and unlatched the dead bolt and pulled the door open.

The black dog wagged his tail.

"You're back," she chided. She held the door open. The dog came in, trailing his leash.

"Where did you go? Jack was so upset." Samuel jumped on the couch and curled up. His head dipped. He was exhausted, she thought. "What have you been up to Mr. Sammy? Where did you go?"

Jack was shocked when he woke to find Samuel sleeping on the couch, gently snoring.

"He came back," he let out, exultant.

Ruthie nodded. "And today is a no school no work day for us. We've got to take Sammy to the vet."

There was a vet a couple blocks up, right on the corner. The morning was cold and sunny. They walked on the sidewalk. Jack held Sammy's leash, Ruthie noticed, very tight.

They waited only ten minutes before the receptionist told them they could go back. She was a dirty-blonde with either too much makeup or not enough in the right places. "Cute dog," she offered.

The vet wasn't much older than Ruthie, maybe a few years. He was dressed somberly, like a vet should be - Ruthie hadn't wanted to bring Samuel to one of those pet stores slash veterinarians where she supposed it was okay to get your pet washed and groomed but the thought of them also doubling as needle-givers freaked Ruthie out a little.

Ruthie had wanted to be a vet herself at one time, before she had Jack and everything changed. Back then it had seemed like a good idea. Every girl likes animals, she thought. It's like how a boy might want to be a policeman or fireman - though the world had changed so now little girls wanted to be fireman and little boys wanted to be vets.

The vet's name was Miles.

"You've got a real healthy dog Mrs..."

"Miss," she said. She smiled at him.

"I'm Ruthie Hathaway," she said. She put out her hand. She noticed his was clammy.

Jack watched the proceedings with barely hidden anxiety. It's like he expects the vet is going to announce that Samuel has a few hours to live, she thought.

"So when did you get, -" Miles looked at a computer screen -, "Sammy?"

"Yesterday."

"Do you have a shot record?"

She shook her head.

Miles examined Samuel, reaching under his stomach. Sammy growled. "Yeah that happens a lot. I'm going to give him the basic ones. He looks healthy."

Miles opened Samuel's jaws. Look at the size of them, Ruthie thought. They were long and white. The dog seemed to stick its tongue out at her.

Miles looked shocked.

"What kind of dog is this?" He asked.

"I don't know."

"Well," it looks like he might have some wolf, judging by the teeth. Something like a wolf." Miles laughed. "What planet did you get him from, did you say?"

She rolled her eyes at him.

"I'll just give him Parvo. First rabies vaccine. Do you want a flea collar?"

She paused, unsure. "He got out last night."

"So that's a definite yes to a flea collar."

She nodded, still unsure. "How much will all this cost?"

Miles looked at her, briefly glanced at Jack.

"We have a special for new customers. The first visit is free. When you come back that's when we start charging you." He turned his back and got the Parvo vaccine ready, flicking the needle and squirting it.

Her lips thinned. She didn't want sympathy.

"I won't give him anything else, but do you think you might locate his papers if he has any?" Miles asked.

She shook her head. "No," she said.

"Okay," he said. "I'm going to take a blood sample. We're partnered with the Animal Health center, part of the university of Indiana. I'll send this to a guy I know, just to check for any toxicity in Sammy's blood. I also want to do a test for Leukemia."

"Do you know how old he is?"

Miles shrugged. "Hard to say. I'd guess he's about five years old give or a take a year in either direction. You say he ran away last night? Sometimes dogs try to return to their old homes. There've been cases of dogs finding their former masters hundreds of thousands of miles away. Some people say it is hearsay. But I assume he probably didn't have to go that far to return to his former master."

When they got home she figured out Jack's supper and took a shower. When she'd gotten in the shower Spot was chasing Jack around the couch in that age-old game of pursuit and pursued. She put shampoo in her hair. She had soap in her eyes. She heard Jack shout.

She got out of the shower, wrapping a towel around her and opened the door. Thoughts of Roy came back.

When she cautiously peered out through the open door, not sure what to expect, she saw Jack and Samuel sitting on the couch. They were watching television quiet and contented.

"What's going?" She asked, fastening the towel in the back.

"Nothing mom," James said. "We were just playing." He smiled. Was his face a little pale? Was that a little darkness under his eyes or were those just shadows caused by the line of furniture? No, he did look a little pale.

"What happened?" She asked. She put knowing in her voice. The Moms Know everything voice that she made sure to use rarely so he didn't get used to it - so it still discomfited him into answering her straight.

"Nothing really ma."

"Okay, I just heard you yell."

She went back into the bathroom, got back in the shower, shifting a little under the hot spray. She'd never figured out how the hell to work the shower head that the manager had told her had all kinds of features and settings when she moved in.

She stood under the water, steaming, and was suddenly struck by something.

Jack had been watching Trading Spaces. She hung her head under the spray. She knew from experience he wouldn't watch a show like that; when bord she'd tried to rope him into being her TV companion for the night. When that happened they watched something he chose because he adamantly refused to watch one of her "shows".

So, then, why had he been watching Trading Spaces? It certainly wasn't because, like herself, he found the carpenter attractive.

It was a bad day at the hospital. Ruthie worked beside a nurse named Joy cleaning up after a baby. The premie had passed just at mid-day - Joy regaled her with stories of her boyfriend, Nick.

Ruthie had heard stories like this one before and wondered if Joy was a secret nympho. It wasn't any of her business but she couldn't help but be a little disquieted by the other woman's black fingernail polish.

Joy of the Black Finger Club. Joy of the Secret Nympho Nurse Club.

Joy of the Nurses Get Nasty Porn Star Club.

It got harder toward the end of the day. Sometimes when Ruthie checked on the frail spirits in their glass berths she was reminded of fish in a can and she couldn't seem to drop the stupid thought. Every squealing baby was a Sardine in a can. Peel back the can and squeeze out the middle and wipe the fish sauce from your mouth. The thought horrified her. When her shift was over, her eyes were painted with tired, her limbs brushed by it so that she slumped while she walked.

As she was leaving she saw Egelstein watching her from the Nurses Desk.
Ruthie stood at the bus stop, not seeing adults. The man in the worn green flannel jacket with the long grey disheveled beard appeared to be an infant on its way to homelessness. A woman wearing a too-short black skirt and white domino checkered blouse and a sport coat that looked it came from somewhere expensive but probably came from the fifty percent off rack; Ruthie saw her as a florid baby, a giant head on a small, tacky body.

The bus turned the corner, its windows painted with advertisements for gambling, ads with phone numbers to call if you have a domestic problem and Feel Like You Can't Escape, the ad read.

She boarded the bus, and she felt trapped, surrounded by these adult babies, sitting or holding on to straps strategically positioned to allow for a person to keep his or her feet while the bus tumbled and twisted through the downtown streets. The only thought in her head was: I'm bringing my work home with me.

She thought she smelled cologne. Roy's cologne. But she had to be imagining things.

Jack didn't say anything when she unlocked the door. He looked rumpled and even paler than before.

"Where's Sammy?" She finally asked, realizing he wasn't going to initiate a conversation.

"He's under my bed. He likes to sleep there."

"Are you hungry?" She flipped the burner.

"No thanks."

"You sure?"

"I'm not hungry."

He didn't say anything else, and she didn't even hear him leave, as he slipped outside on silent feet.

Jack hadn't made his usual mess. She didn't know if she was relieved or not. Certainly boys should be messy. It was ingrained. But the apartment was immaculate. No potato chip crumbs between the couch cushions, no dishes in the sink awaiting their fate in the dish washer. She went into his room, curious.

His room was spotless. He'd even made his bed. The comforter, an old Spiderman one that he'd begged and pleaded for was pulled tight as something from a five star hotel. Had the mythical hotel bed-maker come and made his bed while she was at work, she wondered.

The comforter was a little too big for his bed and it touched the floor. She knelt down and raised it up. It was dark underneath the bed.

It was darker than she'd expected.

More omnious too.

So quiet.

Where was the dog?

The dog must be under there somewhere but she didn't see him. She didn't see Samuel's blue eyes or hear him wagging, ruffling the bed's under-skirt.

She put her hand underneath the bed. It disappeared into the blackness.

But all she felt was dust.

Dust and more dust. I'll have to vacuum this, she thought. Samuel must be pressed up against the far side of the bed that touched the wall.

"Sammy. Here pooch. Here Sammy. Mr Sammy."

She called a few more, nonsense names, the kind you called dogs you liked. They came to you and licked your hand or sniffed your shoe or laid on your foot or any number of things.

However, the black dog, if it was under the bed, didn't make a sound.

"You there, boy?" She stood.

The air in the room smelled stale.

She opened his window. Outside the sun was falling.

She made coffee, sat down on the couch to watch the news. She fell asleep this way, her hand between her knees like it was searching for safety. She woke when she heard Jack come in.

She wiped at her eyes. What was that stale smell? Was that her? Like bread gone to mold.

"My stomach hurts," Jack said.

He did look sick, too. His eyes were too round. His face seemed gigantic under his hair, big and pale, slightly flushed.

"I don't feel so good," he said.

Having said that, and after looking around ilke he didn't recognize the apartment, he went to his room.

She at until she recovered her wits. Her own head pounded.

God, she thought, what if we're all getting sick? The flu. I knew we should have gotten flu shots. It's an urban legend that the flu shot actually makes you sick. I know that.

She put her hands to her temples. she wanted nothing more than to duck her head under an icy faucet. She heard the toilet."You okay in there?" She finally roused herself to her feet and walked clumsily toward the bathroom, head in an uproar of tumbling pots and pans.

The bathroom door was open. James was by the toilet, slumped against the bathroom wall, his legs outstretched like the chalk outline of a body in a murder investigation.

"Are you okay?"

Jack looked at her, his eyes like dark bruises.

"I don't feel good."

She flushed the toilet and helped him to his feet.

She put James to bed. She put her hand on his forehead and then after a moment put her cheek to it. The heat she had expected was not there. His head was cool. The flesh was chilly.

She called the hospital and left a message at the Nurse's Station. She wished she could see the look on Egelstein's mug when the skinny woman got her message. You were supposed to find a replacement to work for you.

Still no sign of Samuel.

She went out and laid down on the couch. The last thing she heard before her consciousness faded was the phone ringing a shrill sound halfway between a scream and a chortle.

She woke. The machine had picked up no less than four messages. "Jesus," she said. Two of the messages were from Egelstein. The first one started with Egelstein's long wispy drawing of breath like breath held underwater and then gradually spilling forth. Egelstein wanted to know why Ruth hadn't found someone to fill in for her. The second call was Egelstein berating Ruthie about the need for staffing to be at a certain number; that any less than the appropriate and standard (favorite Egelstein words, for sure) sent the important work of taking care of sick babies topsy-turvy.

The third message was from Roy. Roy sounded drunk. There was loud noise in the background. He said he was just checking in with her. Checking in with me, she thought. Why would he call to check in with me? She wished she hadn't listened to the message after she heard it.

Roy. The man she'd trusted, who she'd left alone with Jack. She would never know what happened between the two of them when she had been gone. It was the stuff of nightmares for any mother, she thought.

She missed the last message. She played it again. It was Miles, the vet.

"Hi, I'm sorry to bother you Miss Hathaway, but could you call me here, at the office when you get a chance. It's not of any great importance so just...whenever you get the chance?"

He sounded nervous. As unlikely as it was, she found herself smiling. A smile after Roy's call. Who would have thought?

The phone rang. She didn't pick it up. What if it was Roy again.

She let the machine get it. It was Joy.

"You okay honey? Egelstein's about to blow a fuse. She said your son has the flu."

Ruthie picked up the phone. "Hi Joy. He does have the flu."

"Oh no, he alright?"

"I was just about to check on him."

Joy paused. "Well I didn't mean to bug you. You know how Egelstein is. That's why I'm calling. Ruthie you better watch your ass around Egelstein when you come back. She's on the war path. And you're public enemy number one."

"I will."

"You take care of that kid of yours."

Ruthie hung the phone up.

She went to check on Jack. His door was closed and when she opened it she got a whiff of stale air like swamp baking in the sunlight.

He was in bed. She saw that Samuel had crawled out from under the bd and was now curled up inside the sheet licking at Jack's neck.

What was he licking?

She stepped on a creaky section of her son's carpet and the floorboard rattled.

Jack was sleeping. His eyes were rolling under the lids, though. He had his hands splayed out like he was falling. Falling into dreams, falling into sleep, falling into nightmare: she wondered about all three.

And wasn't it all the same when you got right down to the bottom of it?

She meant to get to the bottom of the sheet. The dog was moving underneath it. The sheet puffing and pushing back and forth. Pulsating. The sheet wasn't Spiderman like the comforter kicked to the bottom of the bed.

The sheet rippled. It was Egyptian cotton, soft and thin, puffing up and then down again like a set of old antique bellows.

She pulled back the sheet, dragging it over the dog's head.

The dog's head.

The dog.

Looked up and there was that face that was so expression-filled, but the eyes had changed from crackling blue to icy black.

Ruthie Hathaway dropped the sheet and covered her mouth.

Jack's pale neck was stained by a smear of red blood.

Samuel snarled.

Jack woke at the sound of the snarl. He yawned and put his hand on his neck.

"I must have scratched myself," he told her.

Ruthie backed up to the door and stared at the dog.

The dog's tongue came out, cleaning its hairy muzzle.

"I feel better," James said. He put his arms up in a hefty yawn. "I feel a lot better." Some color had returned to his face. "I don't even remember going to bed."

She put her hand to her head.

"You alright ma?" His face was now reaching full color, like a red sunset traveling across his face.

"Yeah," she said. "I'm alright."

She called Miles the vet back.

The receptionist put her on hold. She wondered why he'd called her. Was it for a date? He'd been pleasant-faced with sensitive hands - had to have hands like that to be gentle with animals so they didn't buck or move when he gave them shots.

She'd ask him about Samuel. So, Jack said he scratched himself. No big deal. But was it normal for a dog to lick at a wound like that? The dog had been guzzling it, under the sheet. The dog crawling up her son's sleeping body, Jack shuffling underneath it.

No, she didn't care for that idea at all.

"Miss Hathaway?"

"Yes. I'm here."

"This is Miles, - obviously." He sounded nervous. It was a stifling sensation, like Miles was trapped in a hot elevator.

She thought, maybe excitedly, maybe not, - she wasn't sure - that he was going to ask - her, gasp, on a date. Can I date the vet? Would our first date be at the zoo?

"I was just calling to remind you that Sammy needs his second rabies vaccine."

"Oh," she said. She felt unfriendly, perhaps even angry. She thought perhaps she'd had enough dog. Enough vet, after this call. Women like her ended up with men like Roy. That was the way the world worked. The world was a place where no one really ever got what they wanted, thus the world was just another awesomely lonely place, in the abstract sense.

"I've got to go," she said.

Why did she draw all these crazy men to her? What was it about her? Did they smell it on her?

Roy hadn't been the first. He'd been the latest in a long string of Roys. Cloning was illegal - but cloning Roys wasn't, each one worse than the last.

Now on the other hand there's the Miles of the world. They're almost sane. The only problem was they did not want the Ruthies.

That night she watched Letterman's top ten list before switching to one of the cable channels. David Letterman used to be better, during more innocent days. Nowadays he acted halfway broken, dementedly earnest, the gap in his teeth seemed sad, not jovial or convivial.

When Jack came out of his room to take Samuel out she decided to come with. They got their coats.

The apartment parking lot was empty. Jack held Samuel on a leash while the dog traversed the grass beside the lot, his nose sniffing out the best place to do one or two - or both.

A can rattled. There was a figure across the lot. The shadows held it close, too close to make out at first.

Roy.

It was Roy. He stepped out, blonde hair hanging limp. He seemed to glow almost red under the parking lot's lamps. She looked at Jack. "Inside quick," she said.

Jack had seen Roy. His face went white as a sheet of printer paper.

"Hi guys," Roy yelled. He was drinking a can of something, but it must have been a final swig, because he tossed it to the side and bent down and picked up another can. He cracked it open. He took a drink.

Roy grinned. He didn't look much the worse for wear. He never looked worse for wear though. Roy had the ability to go without a shower but never stank when he did, never smelled like anything other than Roy. His smell had once occupied her daydreams. After she realized how crazy dangerous he was, the scent lingered in her nightmares.

Samuel barked.

Roy laughed.

Roy's hearty laugh was the laugh of a man who liked his beans green, his corn yellow, and his steak bloody, so raw the red dripped off it and made a little pond on the plate to soak the veggies in. "MMM," Roy'd say. "These are some tasty vittles, Miss Hathaway. You're a gourmet cook, like off the TV."

She remembered his intensity in love-making, in what she reminded herself was bad love-making. The sex was dark, struggle-some, as Roy made her kneel in front of him and smashed her face into his groin like she was there to honk the horn of a big yellow bus in a traffic jam.

Samuel barked again and growled at Roy.

Roy finally turned his attention to the black dog.

"That a lab?" He asked. "That's not the kind of dog I'd get." He laughed.

"I missed you. Missed you both." He eyed Jack. "Hey Jack, how're you doin'?"

Jack looked down at his shoes, his expression knit into a mixture of fear and anxiety.

"I'm not gonna' just leave my family, no matter what you think, Ruthie. I'm here because you two need me. You need me and you know it, just like I know you need me. Well I'm back and I'm not going anywhere. What happened before was just a little family trouble and it never shoulda' went as far as it did." Roy raised his hands, one holding a tall boy of cheap beer. "I can't help what happened. I can't take it back either. You can't expect me to change the past."

Roy emanated fear and chilly weather. The kind that robbed you of your backbone. His smile was full of big teeth. A graveyard smile.

"Go," she told Jack.

He ran to the door yanking Samuel who didn't seem to want to go anywhere. Samuel wasn't barking now, though. Just glaring. A mean glare.

"Give me Sammy," she called to her son.

Jack tossed the leash to her. When Roy saw Jack going in, he moved quick. His mouth spiraling in that graveyard smile, he was halfway across the parking lot by the time Jack got inside the apartment vestibule.

Roy put out a big hand to grab her.

Samuel sunk his too-big jaws into Roy's right leg right on the ankle bone. Roy wore his favorite classic fit blue jeans but they obviously weren't enough protection. Roy stopped reaching for her and tried to kick the dog off. He resembled a vaudeville marionette, kicking; turning a circle trying to shake the dog off. Roy screamed.

The dog growled and bit deeper. Roy tried to kick the dog off with his other foot but wasn't successful. It had a latch on him. "Get this fucking fuck offame," he screamed, pumping saliva from his lips. "You hear me you dung bitch, get the cocksuck fuck offame. I'll murder you where you stand." Roy went down. The dog exchanged Roy's ankle for his face. It moved in close to maul. The dog chewed Roy's cheek like a chew toy.

Ruthie ran toward the door. She got in. "Sammy," she called. She felt a sort of mean-spirited triumph. A flap of bloody was coming off Roy's skull. "Sammy COME!" Samuel turned a bloody muzzle to her. He turned back and tugged the rest of the now unresistant cheek from Roy's face. Then he gave her a bark and bounded off in the direction of the street. "Sammy!" She screamed.

The dog vanished up the road, passing parked cars and disappearing briefly before reappearing, dragging his red leash, running faster than before.

Roy lay on the parking lot cement groaning. Blood poured from his face. She rejected her first thought, which had been to approach him. His face was ruined. She felt a joy at that. Pain borrowed, had been returned with interest.

Upstairs in the apartment after she'd shut and locked the door, she hugged Jack for a long moment.

"Roy," was all he could imagine.

"Roy," she agreed.

She wondered if she should call the police but decided to let Roy or a neighbor do that. She didn't automatically believe Samuel would come back, like last time, not the way he had looked when he had run. Some animals, she thought, have an instinct that kicks in and tells them they've done something bad, or overstepped what people would deem acceptable. He probably headed toward his old house, his old master, the old woman Lee.

She sat and waited for a knock from the police.

The knock did not come.

Saturday. She took the garbage out first thing. There was no sign of Roy and she wondered briefly if the entire episode had been a dream. There were, however, his littered cans. Cans of what one of Ruthie's old boyfriends called Hangover beer. The kind that kept you in the bathroom the next day making rice paddys out of three ply toilet paper. The cans were scattered around a light post on the edge of the parking lot like drunken worshippers of electricity.

She opened the lid of the enormous garbage can. She half-expected to find a wounded Roy waiting in there, matted with melon rinds, with a mouthful of cigarette buttes. His injured cheek self-bandaged with the auto classifieds section of the local newspaper.

No Roy waited in the garbage.

She looked across the street while she dumped the garbage: cola cans, an oversized Corn Flakes cereal box, soiled meat wrappers, an empty double-wide carton of brown eggs.

No Ray waited across the street, crouching beside a car, his jack knife open. The one he carried in his back pocket like a pious woman might carry a Cliff Note guide to the psalms.

No Roy waiting anywhere was always a good thing.

Jack was still sleeping. She begin preparing breakfast and was getting ready to wake him when the phone rang. She answered it, thinking it must be the police. Someone had to have heard the racket Roy made and called the police last night. He certainly hadn't wandered off with half of his face missing.

Had he?

It was the vet, Miles. "I wondered if I might come by this morning. I'm making a house call to a friend of my mother. She has a sick pug. I remember your address, and I'm in the neighborhood.

"It's Saturday." She bit her lip.

"I know, maybe another time would be better..."

"Sammy ran away last night."

"He did? Do you think he might have went back to his old house?"

"I bet he did," she replied. She wondered briefly if she should tell him about the incident with Roy. I watched my old boyfriend, a sexual abuser, get a once-over by Mr. Puppy Wulligans, AKA the newly adopted pet Mr. Samuel Hathaway AKA Sammy. Ladies and germs but bu - who's paying for the missing cheek?

"Well I'm close by. I can drive. Do you want to go look for him?" He asked.

"We can take a look," she answered, looking around. "But I have to go right now. My breakfast is burning."

She gave him directions to the apartment.

Jack was dour, seeming withdrawn. She was pretty certain it was Roy's appearance the previous night. Neither talked about the grisly way Samuel had mauled Roy. It was on her lips but she didn't say anything, couldn't say anything, couldn't think of anything to say, without sounding like what had occured had been a miracle of a sort - without giving a bad impression: "Last night we both witnessed something extraordinary." That's how she felt - like both had witnessed a brutal kind of justice, an answer to a prayer they had not actually voiced.

Jack perked up when she told him the vet was coming and they were going hunting for Samuel. When she told him he was going to stay home and 'mind the fort' he was less happy. A lot less happy. This forced her to reconsider, and by looking at his eyes, which were proof of a recent excavation of painful memories - her decision was made for her.

"You're coming. I was wrong. It's your dog, isn't it?"

They waited outside for the vet. She didn't feel entirely comfortable having him inside. The apartment needed a good cleaning but she wondered if she just didn't have a problem with people in general these days - primarily men - though Egelstein was certainly on her radar as an enemy blip - that was for sure - but it was the appearance of Roy that convinced her. She bit her lip.

Miles drove a white van with a logo on it that read Healthy Pet. The image of a Happy dog underneath.

They got in and she gave him directions to the house where Lee lived. She didn't know whether or not she believed the dog had returned there. Do they remember their homes by smell and emotion, or some strange juxtaposition of memory and sound?

She and the vet made uncomfortable small talk. By the time they turned onto Hawthorne was she beginning to wish she had not agreed to go look for Samuel. She didn't like the house and had no wish to return, see the hag again, wasn't sure she even wanted the dog - committer of miracles though it was.

The boat was gone. The cement blocks remained, lumpy with small pyramids of rock dust.

They parked on the street behind a rusty red GM pickup with a license plate inside the back window that she thought read GUCKOR.

She could smell the smell of shit and lawn, sour and sweet rolled into one.

If Samuel had come back, maybe the old woman had already gone, and he'd been unable to find his way back to the apartment. She was not sure she minded. She was grateful she supposed, that he had protected them from Roy but she wondered now at her own behavior. The wave of ferocious glee she had felt watching Roy's mutilation.

She remembered the bloody muzzle looking up, the eyes flat and boring holes.

She stumbled often in the clumsy movements of her life. The inside voice that had encouraged her to get the dog was the same voice that encouraged her to enter into relationships with all the Roys in blue jeans, shirtless with the beginning slope of a beer gut. She could see them in her mind's eye, standing in line, one right behind the next but at an angle so she could see them all at once all saying the same thing which amounted to: "Get me a beer, bitch." Grinning, corn silky and smug and so Marlboro man tough. These men she accepted into her life, men of the open road, the road that went all the way to places like Houston and weathered locales in the Mississippi where men like that thrived, she thought, doing odd jobs and taking what they want from a woman. She licked her lips. Maybe the dog was a good idea after all.

She walked behind Miles. There was a note on the house's green door. It was from the city. It was a notice to turn off the water.

Miles knocked and then rang the doorbell.

Jack came forward and sharply rapped the door in a brutal pulse.

The door opened. It swung and butted the doorstopper. The smell that hit Ruthie was the smell of old socks and potato chips sprinkled with a little battery acid.

Miles looked at her. He went in.

Ruthie looked at Jack. "Wait in the van, Jack."

She looked around the neighborhood. The houses were locked into a step with Saturday's peace of mind. It was cold. The grass swayed in the cool breeze. A breeze that come from up north, growing off the man-made lake, Lake Lewiston, which marked another town just up the point a click, fifteen minutes by car.

She stepped into the foyer and hurried when she heard Miles say, "hello."

His voice came from the kitchen.

She moved through the dusty dark of the living room and to the kitchen. Luminous green garbage bags of a brand she had never seen at the grocery store were filled with trash. The 'moving boxes' she had seen, were filled with garbage. Milk cartons (2%) leafy lettuce gone brown, rusty cans mottled with age, wormy sausages, moldy bread loaves, shreds of moth-eaten clothing, spaghetti noodles crusted with tomato paste. There was damp oil on every available surface in the kitchen. The yellow oven's front panel was ripped off revealing the oven's rudimentary mechanical brain.

Patches of mold glistened on the ceiling. A bowl in which a sponge floated was surrounded by an estuary of red. There were maggots moving on the sponge.

"I can't believe this," she said.

Miles was talking to an air conditioning vent. He turned at the sound of her footsteps and blankly looked at her.

"Look, she's in there," he said.

Ruthie knelt.

A pupil looked out from the vent.

"Who's in there?" Ruthie asked. She knew of course.

"You come for Samuel?" The voice demanded. "Dog come here with blood on his muzzle."

How was the woman inside a vent? She must have another room in there, or was standing on a table to reach the vent in the the basement, Ruthie thought.

The owner of the eye giggled. The giggle was marshmallow mushy with a hint of pecan.

"Dog is staying with me. I am moving in with my son instead." The eye focused on them. "Don't you come back here. If my son smell you I tell you that he won't be pleased. He'll follow you when it is night. When it is his time."

Lee coughed, a sick wet old thing. A dying thing.

"You go home and pray to your Lord of hosts that my son don't come visit you."

"What-," Miles begin to ask.

"Out," Ruthie said. She grabbed Miles by the arm and drug him down the stairs.

She shoved the green door open. The sun lit the foyer and stairs. It was not her imagination. Ruthie heard the eye hiss at the light.

She and Miles by unspoken agreement ran to the van. Ruthie shivered. She turned and saw clouds paint over the sun briefly and the house seemed bright in the sudden gloom. The rough paint slimy with crusted over paint blobs shone white. Ruthie saw the old woman laughing in the window. The thing in the window left a gauze of wisp on the window pane. Pale winter would have been jealous. The hag's hands spidered on the glass.

They drove.
"What was that?" Miles's hands were shaking on the wheel.

Ruthie turned to look in the back seat. James had fallen asleep. He seemed pale and slight

"I don't know," she said, but she thought she knew. It was an immigrant of a sort. Even monsters grow lonely. Even monsters bear children.

When monsters grow lonely, why Ruthie thought, sometimes they do what many lonely people do.

The hag got a pet.

There was poetry in this, like many things - Ruthie thought. The hag had cared for its dog but when it thought it could not keep it, the hag-thing had come out, perhaps at midnight, and scrawled an advertisment.

FREE DOG TO A GOOD HOME LOVES KIDS COMIN GET HIM 811 S HAWTHORNE BOAT IN THE DRIVEWAY

That was where Ruthie and Jack came in. She'd brought home a dog that had been changed, perhaps, just by its proximity with the thing. A monster no longer lonely but certainly come unhinged. Do all things that creep in the dark and roam in the loam's dusty sepulchral glow become enfeebled like this, Ruthe wondered.

A cold rain started. Ruthie thought about the hag's son. And what was the son - of a thing like that? Another monster in disguise, of course. Had they all immigrated and joined the population, to suffer from the same excess and madness of humanity?

Oh, but there were wonders left, weren't there? And now, now we cohabitate with the monsters.

When Miles reachd her apartment complex, she put her hand on his upper arm.

"Thank you," she told him.

He shrugged his shoulders minutely against the fabric of his thin coat.

"I'm sorry you couldn't get Samuel back," Miles said.

"I'm actually glad," she said. She woke up Jack when she slid open the van's passenger side door.

"Wait - Ruthie, I'd like to see you."

"What?" She arched her eyebrow.

"I'd like to see you."

"A date?"

"Yes," he said. His eyes warmed.

"Okay," she said. "You have my number."

"Thank you," he said.

She and Jack walked across the parking lot. When she looked back, Miles was staring. He quickly dropped his gaze.

The sun had now become a ball of fire receding like someone had shot a medieval sling into the sky, filled with a ball of flaming pitch, that rode the sky paralyzed yet hurtling, immobile for seconds at a time before zip - another move toward sunset.

The night was chilly. The moon gave out jolts of wan light, like a malfunctioning paint sprayer. She and Jack watched the evening news. They sat on the couch in silence. Ruthie wanted to give Jack some breathing room.

There was a knock at the door.

"Who is it?" She asked.

She looked through the peephole."Jack go to your room."

It was Roy.

Roy's face had dried to a red jelly, one side like the surface of a frozen side of beef. He'd packed his cheek with grass. He smile fishtailed and took half his face with it. The glistening part of his face oozed a fluid like milk when his face muscles moved. The cheek twitched. The smile was a rictus.

"Where's that fucking dog?" Roy screamed. He pounded on the door, sending a jole through it.

He had his knife out. The blade rippled with steel glamour.

He backed up and hurtled himself at the door. The door and frame shuddered. She knew the door was going to give.

It gave way at his next charge.
Roy came in in a crouch, warily holding his knife, eyes searching for Samuel.

Maybe there had been a decent boy there once. Maybe in the days of his real youth when dreams could still be followed, before they got too far away, before they soared in the sky like pale kites, shadows of what they once were.

But that boy was long gone.

Roy went for her.

She struggled against him but he put his forearm across her neck. He unbuckled his belt. She could smell the rotting blood on his cheek. She was losing the struggle. Roy's eyes burned with appetite.

Roy bit her cheek. Ruthie screamed. He was going to rape her and lay her cheek open so that the smooth muscle twisted like a fish. "So Ruth," Roy said. "Can a fella' get another chance or are you one of those Three Strikes You're Out bitches?"

She tried to put her fingernails into his eyes but he laughed.

"No," she said.

She saw a shadow cross the light.

She saw the light and shadow were the same.

A large white figure loomed. It jerked.

A long hand with fingers as thin as syringes grabbed Roy's head. Another hand came around as Roy staggered backwards and ripped out his throat. Stuff the consistency of chilli fell out.

Ruthie blinked.

Samuel barked. The hag grinned. The hag's son was tall and spindly. He did not blink.

Roy lay on the floor, somehow still alive, wild-eyed.

The son crouched over Roy. It pounded its pointy fingers down on his chest.

Thud.

Thud.

Thud.

Thud.

SKRKAK.

Roy's chest cavity broke and the son's sharp hand reached down inside his chest. The dog barked. It whirled around chasing its tail.

"Son won't let me have my dog," the hag told her.

Ruthie tore her eyes away from the gruesome thing the son was doing to Roy and looked directly into the eyes of the hag.

"You keep Samuel," the hag told her.

The dog launched toward Jack's room. Ruthie heard it barking and scratching at Jack's door.

The son picked up Roy's body by a loop of blue jeans. He picked it up effortlessly and turned toward the door.

When Ruthie looked again, the apartment was covered in black crow feathers.

Years later she remembered the son's face in her dreams. It had no distinguishing marks. The face might as well have been the face of a neighbor quickly seen entering his apartment with bags of groceries. She'd wake up from those dreams and think: he must wear gloves.

He must wear gloves.

He must wear gloves.

Years later she'd stare into the sky at twilight. She'd think of a world that had once been beneath but was now around them.

He must wear gloves.

He must wear gloves.

Years later she'd sleep next to Miles in a big bed and she'd hear Jack talking to Samuel in a low-key voice from the hallway.

But for now: Jack had come out of his room and stared in amazement at the crow feathers. The dog trotted beside him. It shot her a Hey Let's See What You Owe Me Lady look.

She looked down at the crow feathers and back at Jack and Samuel.

"Get a broom," she told them. The dog grinned at her.

3 Comments:

Blogger wally said...

Nice story Milly, very nice. Some of it had more substance then you may have wanted, some seeds of ideas and bigger subjects then just story. I won't dwell on that and deal with the story and writing at hand.

Yet again a story in parts, that are distinguishable by quality. The first part, up to "Ruthie made arrangements to pick up the dog..." is kinda distant, and uninvolving and given that everything in it is covered later, then I'd cut it entirely out. Not that it's not well written, it's just not as interesting to read as the rest of the story and adds little. If you are too keep it, then in then you should cut "Ruthie thought" at the end of the "An old woman..." paragraph. It takes us out of the description makes us doubt it's validity, and I assume you want us to be on Ruthie's side, but telling me that's what she thought made me think it wasn't nessacarily true.

From Ruthie arranging to pick the dog up until the visit to the vet, is well drawn and layered, with some nice character touches, and I felt I was getting to know Ruthie relativlty well. There's a few bit I'd cut if you're still going for lean mean and fierce story.

the description of the appartment manager is a little tired and pointless, we can assume he's an unlikeable person because in fiction appartment managers always are, we're not going to get to know him, so why tell us anything, other then his function in the narrative.

"from a very passable imitation of a witch who'd survived the Salem Witch trials" is cliched and again gives us nothing new, get rid of it I beg of you.

"old bony bones monster" doesn't sit well with the character as we know her, it's too childlike and given the harshness of Ruthie's thoughts in the following paragraph doesn't make much sense for her to be thinking this.

"What fantasies might stir and lap the edges of his soul" again adds nothing, given the phrases before and after it, which work much better in tandem with one another.

the paragraph "Ruthie had wanted to be a vet herself......little boys wanted to be vets" there is no need at all for it, like the description of the appartment it's easy writing, a bunch of generalalites which give us no insight into Ruthie and don't further the narrative.

I'll stop there for now but if you want me to I'll continue. I've written a handful more down. Don't know how interested in hearing them you are.

Otherwise the "There was no Sammy. No dark dog...." paragraph was fantastic, set the scene, drove the story, added emotion, just a really great paragraph. I thought for a little bit that maybe another "dark dog...." sentence would add some rhythm and make it stronger, now I'm not so sure.

After the vet is where it really gets interesting and I'll be back in a bit too say some more.

1:52 AM  
Blogger wally said...

Okay, another read and some more thoughts. I won't say what else I'd cut unless you ask me to, but some more general comments.

-You've really managed to layer the fear with multiple strands of different intensity. With even "trading spaces" seeming ominous, which is an achievement, and something I assume you intended. Roy is a fantastic character given his ordinary awfulness. His appearence ratchets the whole shebang up.

-I'd either get rid of or shorten the Egelstien sub plot, doesn't give us anything really. No tension, no character insight. The work stuff in general is needed but could be cut drastically.

-Jack needs a little more fleshing out, he's little cut out movie of the week kid. Maybe kids are as non descript as that, but despite the occasional moment when the surrounding horror makes his remoteness a little creepy, he doesn't do much other then serve the function of thing Ruthie loves and would die/killfor to protect. I dunno maybe that's enough, I think a few lines here or there could make us worried for him, other then just being worried for cute kid with floppy hair.

In general it's a mighty fine story, and I like the skipping back and forth between the domestic and the horror, it makes it a fun read. I'd avoid the actual word monster because it's pretty much implied at every turn. You should be pleased with it and I'm sure you'll clear up the ending as you've said. Although I wouldn't make it too clear as the rush of action does make it exciting, and if you clarified all of it the excitment and the shocks would be dulled.

2:39 AM  
Blogger sb said...

Thanks Wally! I appreciate the criticism. I'll relook at that first part! The only thing I fear, is that by cutting it, I'd lose the part about the hag. Suddenly on page whatever there'd be a ghost in the machine, which is a hag. Suddenly, our girl Ruthie would go with her new pal the Vet to a hag's house? I don't think it would fit. I shall make a note for future revisions to make it more exciting, and to cut out extra stuff.

I'll take a look at the Ruthie Thought portion.

I am going for a leaner story but not one that goes too fast. Some extra bits are there, just to slow up the pacing.

The apartment manager! I don't know why he's in there.

I used the cliche on purpose because everyone knows what a salem witch looks like. Sometimes cliche is effective. Apparently not in this case!

The old bony bones monster was again, like the apartment manager, just there..ooops.

The story, or theme, is about women dealing with men, or what not, and that's why the paragraph about little girls and little boys...showing that y'know, the Roys of the world are dying out.

Egelstein had a bigger part in the story but I cut it down. I only left her in there to show how fucked up Ruthie's life was. At home there was Roy, at work there was Egelstein. I should have probably made that clearer!

Yeah I hate JACK! I was thinkin he is kinda just there as a sort of cardboard cutout, a sacrifical lamb. You got me!

Folks one thing I want to make absolutely clear. This story has no great depth or meaning beyond the entertainment portion. When reading if you find a portion that is not entertaining, I'm more concerned about that than language!

Thanks for the excellent criqique Wally!

6:51 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home