“Dog People” By Emma Jane Van Dinter

I’m rubbing the dimples of the backside of a paragraph, feeling the remains of your tone. Summer sweat is now replaced with damp skin under quilts. Growling within the baseboard heater is an echo resembling the sound of kids sloshing about pool water. I watch the Shih Tzu figurine sitting on my typewriter and listen to the paper crinkling against my thumb and index. Folding the letters to put them back into a padded envelope, cozying them into the corner of a filing cabinet, brings a false sense closure.

Perhaps you have done the same: hiding response letters in a shoebox, burying it in the laundry piled on the closet floor like a dog with a bone or a child with a dead pet. They’ll be retrieved when forgetfulness and longing combine, like the dank of a lover’s morning breath nudging away what was said the night before. When disgust crawls along your eardrums and enters your mind, you will dig up the letters again to search for reasons to forgive.

I found forgiveness as a dog hair slivered between fibers of a sweater. A strand from the back of a fuzzy friend digging itself into the garment and rubbing against my tummy, igniting memories of leaving, playing, scorning, and loving without expectations of reciprocity. While up in the air, traveling forward in time, is when the dog hair pushed my mind back to the week of hearing people walking into the store across the parking lot from the veterinarian’s clinic.

Black-spotted boy horizontal in the grass under a ponderosa pine, his teeth greasy from a microwaved cheeseburger, his breath relaxing. The heat of his body shrinking against my legs, between my fingers, causing me to wet my cheeks. I wipe under my eyes and his shedding stuck to my skin. Sticking with me like he always has, like he tried to do.

Trying to stick to feeling fine by swishing hair-of-the-dog from a tin can about my gums, washing away dry breath and 7-11 coffee residue. We make a hobby of poking holes in livers, pawing at each other, and panting together in the newness of it all. We laze in the front-porch sun like bloodhounds that only scramble to their feet for a long lick against the bottom of water bowls.

We curl into ourselves by December. Nose to tail, bellies safe from hand strokes. Our conversations smelling like slush on the edge of a sidewalk, picking up dirt flicked off of mud flaps. Flat lips shifting from silence to holding wagging tongues saying, “Where are you going? Stay here with me.” Legs shivering, dressing, leaving the room in early morning. Tiptoes sounding like the nails of a dog darting across a kitchen floor to escape the disappointment on the owner’s face once they discover holes in the trash bag. Squeezing into a canine-sized puncture, between patterns of back itching and snarling, was the training I needed to become a bitch without bark.

A friend has given you a dog with mirror eyes. A puppy exposed to doggie-eat-doggie living. He leaps toward angel-boy snuggled into the left cushion of the sofa. Sleek fur dotted with vampire marks, gnashing stopped by the placing of your fist between jowls. Screeching during a crucifixion is as primal as kicking a badly behaved boy. The blood drips on and between the fallen dog hairs dusting the living room floor.

In the kennel, smelling the huffs of desperation for belonging, ignoring whimpers from behind the fences, is when you wish for the dog days to be over. You leave the parking lot with humidity sliding from your forehead. At home, you’re blinking at the good boy on the sofa, hiking to your room, sinking into bed, facing the wall. Figurines on the shelves watching your back as I once had.

Do you remember that weekend at the end of spring? Grinning, going outside to smoke because the crowded bar chat itched our ears in an uncomfortable manner. (Once, my ears perked up when you used my name outside the bar’s window while I was sharing slurs with a drunken girl.) You’re fluffing my hair; you said that you like it, that you are happy for me, and that I should take the opportunity to run away. I thought of dogs in neighborhoods, trotting into backyards, and returning home when they hear a familiar voice worrying for Princess or Dougie or Cookie or Lacey. I realized the love I have, the hurt of holding onto it, and understood your language. I began digging, putting the past under fingernails, climbing to someplace new.

In my new home, on my hands and knees, rubbing a wet cloth along the floor, “I Say A Little Prayer” bumps in my ears, and a dog hair jumps out from the linoleum. I recall how the people driving to the store could have seen me and spotted-boy under the ponderosa pine. Between sobs was the sound of shoppers banging doors to enclose bags of breakfast, dinner, lunch, happy hour in the boots of their vehicles. I thought of the thrum against soil while running from the trampoline to the fence, and how my boy chased me breathless, our tongues flopped out while we gasped to catch up with ourselves. His wide ribcage seemed to be expanding but the vet says otherwise. “I’m sorry… I could’ve treated you better.”

The ashes of spotted-boy hang around my neck, wrapped in a locket, and bump against my chest when I adjust my posture. Gripping a Shih Tzu figurine and looking into the plastic eyes, I wonder if writing this letter would make a difference.

Emma Jane Van Dinter is from Spokane, Washington, and now lives in Greenock, Scotland. While in Spokane, she hosted creative-writing sessions at Spark Central. Her fiction appears in Scablands Books’ Lilac City Fairy Tales Vol. IV and her nonfiction is online in the Yellow Chair Review: Issue 2. Jeopardy Magazine chose Monkey, a nonfiction piece, for actors to interpret for a “Bring Your Stories to Life” event at Western Washington University, where she obtained a BA in Creative Writing. 

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