Horror Sad

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Isolation becomes viscous once days roll into weeks. 

The dog and I had spent the first mornings poised toward the front door, as though at any moment the handle would tug down and there you’d be — smiling through a soaked hood, shaking off your umbrella before stamping your boots on the mat, “Well, that took a little longer than I expected.”

I wanted it to be homely for your return. The over-anxious welcome of the dog scratching at your shins. The comforting kiss from your wife after a long day.

But there were no late callers. 

You left no instruction on dealing with the chills that accompany each morning. No instruction on how to handle the dishes when life littered with all other excesses. Nothing on how to keep the dog out of the nursery, or to stop her from knocking the empty chardonnays from the coffee table. You had mentioned how the house’s silence would drape around your shoulders, but left no instruction on coping with its persistent muttering in your ear. 

Perhaps the dogs orchestrated tantrums were her way of keeping me sane.

Through my months of hibernation, I ignored the roll-in of nature through the back door. The lock is still rusted beyond any use, and I find various creatures have scuttered in on the days I manage to get downstairs. Some days, it’s birds being hounded back to open air, on others it’ll be the odd cat or squirrel. Perhaps your least favourite, the pregnant rat that the dog has yet to set her sights on.

The fridge sputters, the bulb flickering its last dregs of life. Another task abandoned to my to-do list.

Her Highness trots into the kitchen upon hearing porcelain bump the countertop. The meat beats purple, fresh from the butchers. He’d given it to me as a gesture of goodwill, I’d forgotten my purse and he knows I come in each week. 

I comfort myself in the image of your frown at his kindness.

She paws at me. I embrace her desperation, slicing slower into the meat as she whines and whines… Instinct overcomes her. She jumps at my leg, only to be met with the harsh jolt of my own casting her away.

I drop the meat onto the tiles, the knife into my pocket.

Did you know that pig hearts are compatible with people? They’d managed it on a cripple with heart disease, once the pig had been modified beyond anything divine would conduct. The man lasted a few months longer, a nasty shred of hope for those waiting on transplants.

If I’d needed your heart instead, would you have shared it? 

With her, I assume so. In between your moments of peace and rib-cracking ecstasy, would there still be no room left for me? 

Blood drips through my fingers and the dog lurches.

I haul back, but—

She bites. What else can I do?

I curse you every day I’m stuck with this creature.

I kiss my teeth upon finding the rat's nest in the cupboard and slam the door, swearing at the dog for being beneath my feet.

The rat's fat body springs from the shelf, smacking against the tiles before fleeting through the open door, the dog slipping out behind it. A choir of artless contest ensnares as the pair wrestle in the garden, I offer no help separating them as the dog, equalled in size, catapults the rat across the patio.

For your sake, I seize the match by the collar.

Leave it!” 

She whines against me, the rat now spine curled and dark hair pointing on end. With each tug my fingers protest her strength, trapped between fleece and collar — this tiny thing, how can she cause so much pain?

Fatigue throbs through my hand, clenched too long.

She breaks her chase to look up at me. Quivering lips peel back to reveal a gruesome smile, teeth pressing through her lips like thorns from a briar. She releases another mewl and my grasp loosens, just as her contender pounces toward her—

She escapes me.

Have you ever watched joy slip through your fingers? And no matter how much you tighten your grip to save it, it keeps going?

That’s kind of what it felt like to love you in the end. 

My hands are still aching.

I plan to spend the rest of the day peeling back the layers of dirt from the house. By chance I spot the rat sliver back inside, hind legs dragging. 

I empty bottles of booze into the recycling, wincing at the echo of glass breaking — as piercing as the twist of your mother's lip upon hearing that we wouldn’t be having children.

“Giving up so soon?” 

I doubt you’ve ever felt the weakness that accompanies having to look a self-appointed god in the eye and tell them you can no longer worship them without stuttering. 

“We’ve no luck for months.” Everything about me apologises.

I hadn’t realised I’d been crying until you pulled me in. You took my face between your palms and tried to suck the nonsense right from my lips. I had forgotten how you had me chained to the rhythm of my natural countdown.

“It’s not too late,” you’d said.

Beneath the sink, the nest births the purest of wars; life versus life, or death, I can’t really tell. The rat, too worn down from the labours of motherhood, seems unable to discern that her body is being torn apart by her children. They bite and claw into her flesh, blood gushing from the wound as though tipped from a jug. 

Her demise has me caught.

Life against life, life against death… 

A mother, against her daughter.

I find that I’m pressing myself into the floor, its coolness as comforting as that day you found me collapsed.

Do you remember?

The blood filled the gaps between the tiles like grout. You slapped my hand away as though I’d drowned them right there in the sink.

The following week, when your mother tapped on the door with the dog in hand, you were all smiles. I saw more from you that day than I’ve ever found in our wedding photos.

The pup quaked on the kitchen tiles, your mother beaming. Pried from her own mother just that morning, you thrust the pup onto me as though to mean something more than a marker of my own failings.

“She’s yours,” you’d said, cradling us as though by cribside, “she belongs to you.”

And at the moment I held her in my arms I knew that she did belong to me, as I belong to my shame.

I knew I would fail her, too.

Aches from the long winter pull me upstairs, naming me bedbound. I barricade myself beneath the sheets and drift off to lullabies from the gutter, creaking with the weight of last summer's foliage.

Inside of sleep, I battle reels from a shocked-white mind — images of an infant’s body breaking their father’s heart and the mother, if she could even call herself that, dragged into the wolf’s den…

Did she hear weeping at the bedside?

My eyes open and she’s watching me from the doorway.

Beady and blackened beyond anything earth-born, her gaze bites. You’d said there was nothing wrong with her look, that that’s how all dogs marvel at their owners. I still disagree.

Her tongue juts through the flaps of her mouth. Placing one paw ahead of the other, she steps into our room.

A rare occurrence, she doesn’t come upstairs without you there.

And then she hops onto our bed, her movements, as ever, soaked in silence. I resist an instinct to reach out to her.

She nestles into the duvet, her contemptuous side-eye doing little to mask how her feeble little body shivers in the cold. I tuck some of the sheets around her, and she jerks as though she’s heard you come in through the front door, as though our house has flooded with warmth...

The knife pokes into my thigh like it's butter. I take it out and press it into the scruff of her neck, wondering if the moment reminded her of her mother.

Eventually, she stops squirming.

I miss the southern breeze that left with you.

April 16, 2023 10:24

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