This new story by Faith Arkorful looks at dogs who seizure and parents who don’t come home. Written by Broken Pencil’s brand new associate fiction editor, Faith is fresh off her undergrad and is already tallying up a thick list of publications. To get a whiff of her style, read Another Kind of Thing you Feel in your Back, and then submit your own fiction here.
All my life I have never felt safe. When your parents love one another only in unpredictable cycles, it’s hard to feel comfortable. Fear becomes a ritual. You are always tense – the feeling crawls its way into your lower back and it stays there. Moments of fighting, moments of violence collapse upon one another and become ritualized, become undisguisable from the next. But when the dog died, I remembered.
The theme of this year’s rituals is: sudden disappearance – both your parents have left the house for a prolonged, erratic periods of time after their fights this year. It is 2014. The year of sudden disappearances, your ninetieth year alive, and the year the dog dies – but the last two things are only of interest to you. For Mom and Dad, it is only the year of sudden disappearances. The year before was the year of grabbing, tearing shirts. A very long time ago, many years ago, it was whisper-yelling in public places.
On the seventh day of May, Dad calls, just a few hours before daybreak. Said he will be home tonight. When I put the phone down the dog walks into the room and plants herself underneath the computer. I rest my feet lightly on her chest, how she always liked it. The dog, a brindle coloured pit-bull with a wide head shaped like a heart, has a snout that is curved in a way that makes it look like she’s always smirking, right about to burst into laughter. She looks at Mom with a quiet contempt. Mom, filled with anger, paces around the house. Her body shivers, ready to strike, waiting for its target. Finally, when he doesn’t show up, she grabs her keys and drives to the nearest bar.
When the house is empty after a fight, a heaviness sits in the air. The house, the furniture, all of it is charged. My body felt heavy. I noticed in the silence that my feet are now solidly touching the floor, the dog suddenly gone. The basement door is wide open. When I go downstairs, I found the dog on her side, flapping her legs around, like she was trying to swim. I lifted the dog up, sixty pounds of solid muscle. I called Mom in a panic and asked if we could take the dog to the hospital. Mom asks me, is your father back yet? I told her he wasn’t and she said that she’d be coming soon and I hang up on her. I hold the dog, watching television and watching the sun go down. When Dad comes home, it is well past midnight. He said that we would have to wait until the morning. Mom came home a bit later and said that the dog looked like she was dying. The hair on the dog’s back rose and stayed that way.
In the morning, the first veterinarian we saw looked at her shaky legs, the hair on her back. Said yesterday would have been better. Something about not having an appointment. The second veterinarian, a few hours later, puts her hands in the dog’s mouth and pushes down on her gums. See how the blood isn’t rushing back quickly, the veterinarian said. That’s not a good sign. Your dog’s heart is the size of a papaya, she continued. It should look like this. At eleven years old, it doesn’t look good.
Eleven is young for a dog her size, Dad said.
It doesn’t look good, she repeated.
The vet showed us a picture in a large book of the heart of a healthy Doberman, the size of an unripe mango. The vet mentioned medicine, said that it might extend the dog’s life another year before quickly mentioning that if she died in the next forty-eight hours it wouldn’t be her fault. Dad would not let it be her fault. We left the dog at the vet and drove home. Dad sat Mom down. He pressed his fists together to make a papaya with his hands. Mom cried and said that she hadn’t known the dog was dying. Mom said that she had to come and see for herself. Dad said no. Later, you will realize how wrong this was of your father – how the parent you feel you trust just a bit more is equally capable of wickedness, mistakes.
We left Mom at home and drove back to the vet. When we came back they had wrapped one the dog’s arms in a thick bandage. We offered her treats that she would not accept. I laid down on the floor with my dog, wrapped an arm behind her two front legs, kissed her dry nose and howled in her place. Her body was still warm when it was declared over. Her eyes were droopy and half-open, like the way she held them when she was sleeping. I don’t mean to say that she looked like she was at peace. The vet said it was alright because she was in heaven now. Maybe. I don’t assume the journey is instant, or particularly close. The hair on the back of her neck was still rigid, stuck in place.
When I get home, Mom and Dad hold each other tightly. And they love each other, I know it. You can feel that in your back too. It’s true.
Faith Arkorful was the second place winner in the 2016 running for the HHLLC prose contest and the first runner-up in Echolocation‘s 2013 ‘The Chase’ chapbook contest. She has an upcoming story in Little Brother Magazine. She lives in Toronto.