One of my writing friends recently asked me to write something for his 'zine. I'm an ego whore, so I immediately agreed. He didn't specify what kind of piece he wanted--told me it could be whatever.
Probably not the best idea.
"What's the worst thing you've ever done?"
I really should just ignore her. I'm about half a second from falling asleep, she'd never know. It's not like she cares about the answer, anyway. It's not like she needs to know. I really should just ignore her.
Instead, I open my eyes and roll my head just enough so that I can see her naked body. She's not nestled against me like most girls do, but is instead lying across me. We form an X on my bed, neither one of us very comfortable, but both of us too fucked up to care. She's smoking a cigarette, and I know for a fact that she's nowhere close to an ashtray, so I have no idea where she's been flicking ash.
I take the cigarette out of her hand. It's almost spent, and judging by how easily she releases it, I'm guessing she had no intention of finding an ashtray.
I take a drag and feel the filter crush in just a bit, either because I'm holding it too hard or because it's been smoked down to the end. I drop the butt into an empty bottle and listen to the hiss as it's extinguished in the remains of beer.
I reach over to the bedside table without looking, hoping to find the pack, but instead, I find a bottle. I unscrew the top and dump liquor into my mouth. I'm on my back, so it feels like I'm drowning myself. Metaphor included.
I put the bottle back and my hand bumps into a pack of cigarettes. Another second of searching, and I've found the lighter, too.
"Well?" she asks, once I have my cigarette lit.
"What's the worst thing you've ever done?" I ask her.
"I asked you first. You tell me, then I'll tell you."
"Is this really the kind of thing you want to discuss? We barely even know each other."
"I find there's a certain honesty that comes from sharing things with strangers."
"Are we strangers?"
"Well, we're not not strangers."
I take a drag of my cigarette and shrug as much as I can with her on top of me. "When I was about ten years old, we had this dog..."
Nobody liked the dog. She barked all the time, she was stupid, and she chewed on everything. I don't just mean like your shoes or the remote control. I mean like she chewed on everything. She chewed up the siding on the house, she chewed up the lawn mower under the carport, she chewed up the wooden fence that kept her contained.
As fast as you could fix something, she'd fuck it up.
Muffin, that was her name. She wasn't really a bad dog, she was just a puppy, and had all kinds of energy. None of us wanted to play with her, though, because she was such a fuck-stupid mess. She'd get all excited and pee all over the place, or bite you when you tried to pet her. She didn't bite in a mean way, she just wanted to play. You'd scold her for biting, and she just thought it was another way to play.
My mom got the dog, and none of us knew why. We never had pets for long when I was a kid. Either they died or they ran away, or my mom would get tired of them and have them put to sleep. She really liked having pets, in theory.
In practicality, they never seemed to work out.
As for us kids, we generally didn't get too attached. You grow up watching all of your pets die or go missing, you learn not to get too sentimental about things.
So how it'd go is, my mom would bring these animals home, and the family would tolerate them until she got tired of upkeep, or until dog food became too much of a cost.
She was a single mother, and for most of my life, she worked two jobs. She didn't need the responsibility of another mouth to feed, but every six months or so, she'd forget that fact, and bring home something soft and cuddly.
A couple months later, the dog would go back to the pound, or the cat would go to a farm somewhere--people in the country always need more barn cats, on account of the coyotes getting them on a pretty regular basis.
But this dog, fuckin' Muffin, for some reason, my mom wouldn't get rid of her. It was like she had something to prove, I don't know. The more this dog fucked shit up, the harder my mom worked to make sure we kept it.
At one point, the dog ate through the fence, then ate through the neighbor's fence, and chewed up all of the toddler's yard toys--a plastic sandbox shaped like a turtle, a bunch of plastic buckets and shovels and stuff, and one of those little things that kids use before they figure out the logistics of tricycles. It was shaped like a train, and there were buttons all over the steering wheel, you could push them and they'd make noises. The seat lifted up, and you could store stuff in there.
Muffin tore the shit out of all that stuff, just annihilated it. Chewed up their screen door, too.
The neighbors were really nice about it, but they made it clear they were pretty nervous about the fact that this dog could pretty much break into their home any time it wanted. Also, they didn't have the money to replace all the stuff that had been damaged.
My mom had to get a weekend job at the gas station so she could afford to pay for the damages. She already had a full time job during the week, and a second job during the evenings and weekends, so the only time available was the graveyard shift.
I don't know how the hell she did it--five days a week, she'd work customer service at a lumber yard, and then go wait tables from six until eleven. On weekends, she'd wait tables for the first eight hours of the day, and then go work at the gas station.
In retrospect, I think about how hard that must have been for her. At the time, I just knew she was never around. Never around to pick me up from school, never around to help me with my homework, never around for anything.
The other kids, they had help with their science projects, with their book reports. I was lucky if my mom remembered to give me lunch money, or sign my report cards.
It was a Saturday. I had mixed feelings about my birthday being on a Saturday, because on one hand, I realized that I would get more of a celebration if my birthday had happened on a school day--at least then, there'd be singing, and maybe the teacher would get me a cupcake. On the other hand, I held onto the hope that since it was the weekend, and since my mom had paid off the neighbors, since she didn't have to work weekends anymore, maybe I'd get a party at home.
I waited around until about two in the afternoon. She hadn't mentioned anything about my birthday, and I didn't see a box of cake mix or anything in the cupboard, so I was starting to wonder if she had any plans at all.
She was out in the back yard, digging holes for corner posts. After paying back the neighbors, she had decided to construct a chain-link fence instead of the wooden slats that Muffin used as chew toys.
I was at the table, drawing, when she came in for a drink of water.
"Are we...am I getting a birthday party?"
"We'll talk about it later."
"Later when it's closer to your birthday."
"But today's my birthday."
She sighed an angry sigh. I like to think that maybe there was some hurt in there, too, maybe a little self-disgust. But who knows?
"I don't have any money for a party. I had to buy those four-by-fours and the chain-link. Your dog spent all the party money."
"Don't you call her that! Don't call her my dog! I hate that stupid dog, we all do! You're the only one who wants her. You spend all your time fixing the stuff she messes up and you spend all the money on her, too!"
I was crying. I didn't want to be, and I didn't know I was going to do it, but I could feel the tears pouring down my cheeks, dripping off my face as I screamed at her.
"I hate that dog, and I wish she was dead!"
My mom threw her glass against the wall, and I flinched; closed my eyes and waited--usually when she started throwing glasses, it meant you were about to get a slap in the face. Instead, I heard her leave the kitchen.
Her footsteps were angry as she stomped through the trailer, back to her bedroom. When she came back, she was holding a pistol. It was a .38 that my last step-dad had left behind. He used to get drunk and show it to me, explain to me about how if you loaded it with the right kind of bullets, it'd blow a man's head clean off his neck.
My mom slammed the gun onto the table. "You want her dead, fine! Go out there and kill her! I'm tired of this shit! I sacrifice everything for you kids, I try to give you a happy life, and all you do is complain. So if you don't want a dog, you go out there and you shoot her, and we'll never have another goddam pet in this house again!"
I reached down and picked up the gun. I snapped it open, just like I'd seen my step-dad do all those times, and I checked to make sure there were bullets--rounds, he always called them--in the cylinder.
I closed it and looked up at her.
"Quit wastin' time! You think it's so easy, you think everything's so damn easy, you try to do it, you try to have some responsibility."
"Okay, I will."
She scoffed and rolled her eyes and shook her head. She walked back to the sink and began filling a new glass with water.
I walked out the front door and to the end of the trailer, the end that was usually fenced in with wooden pickets.
We'd had to put Muffin on a chain until my mom could afford the chain-link, and since she couldn't get close enough to destroy anything else, she had turned her energy onto the ground. Every inch of the ground within her reach had been dug up.
The earth was bare of grass, and about a foot lower than the area outside her diameter. It smelled like dog pee and shit and polluted soil.
I heard the door slam open behind me, heard my mother yell my name. She sounded a little worried, but mostly she sounded annoyed--pissed off that I had added yet another hardship to her life. I continued walking.
"Ray! Get back in here! You're gonna hurt yourself!"
I ignored her. Muffin was going batshit, barking and running and jumping all around, most of the time choking herself because she was too stupid to figure out the distance of chain she had holding her to the ground. I walked right up to the edge, right where she couldn't jump up on me or bite me.
She peed all over her leg, looked down in surprise, and licked at it until she remembered I was there. When she looked back up, I pointed the gun into her face. She licked the barrel, and I hated her more than I've ever hated anything.
I heard my mom scream my name again, this time using first, middle, and last, which always meant I was in trouble.
I squeezed the trigger. Squeeze, don't pull, that's what my step-dad always told me when he showed me the gun.
The noise was so much more than I ever expected, but the recoil wasn't nearly as bad. It felt like my eardrums exploded along with Muffin's head.
Her body did this weird thing, it like jumped and flopped all over itself for a second, and then fell to the ground twitching. She wasn't dead yet--I'd only blown off half her head. She whimpered and her tongue was flapping all over the place, into the mud formed by her drool and blood.
My mom screamed something, I don't know what because I was still mostly deaf. I stepped up to Muffin, and her remaining eye looked up at me. She looked more intelligent in that moment than she ever had in the eight months we'd had her. And I could hear her whimpering, even over the ringing in my ears.
I took careful aim and shot her a second time.
I don't know what was going through my head, I really don't. From the moment my mom slammed that pistol down on the table, it's like I wasn't even myself. I'm sure I was feeling something, right? I'm sure I was thinking something.
But it doesn't feel like I was. None of it feels like it was even me. In my memory, it's like I'm watching a movie. It doesn't seem real.
What I did next was, I put the gun against my head. Right up against my temple, and I pressed hard. It slipped a little because the muzzle was all bloody, and there was quite a lot of splatter on my face and head, as well.
I turned to tell my mom goodbye, I do remember that, I remember wanting to tell her goodbye, like that would make her not worry about me being gone.
And right when I turned, that's when she hit me. I don't know how she did it, but she managed to knock away the gun and catch me a good one in the face. It was an open-handed slap, but it knocked me on my ass, and left most of my face numb. She dropped to her knees beside what was left of Muffin. She reached out like she was going to pet the corpse, but she didn't touch it.
The ringing was fading, and I heard her sobbing. At first, it just sounded like crying, but then I could make out words. There weren't that many to make out.
"You monster, you horrible little monster."
That's what she kept saying, over and over again. Even though she was looking at Muffin, I knew she was talking to me.
I stood up and went inside. I wiped myself off with a paper towel--we were only supposed to use them when we had to, and I figured this counted. My little brother came out from our back bedroom, carrying two He-Man action figures we'd found at a garage sale for ten cents.
"Go back and play," I told him. "It's okay."
"I heard mamma yelling."
"She's mad at me."
"The cops showed up, and the neighbors came over to see what had happened. My mom convinced them that it was a horrible accident--I had found the gun and didn't realize it was real. Took it outside to play with my dog. They all bought that. It looked bad, but not as bad as the truth."
She's not sprawled over me anymore. During the course of the story, she has gotten up and put on a t-shirt and a pair of panties.
"You just went out and killed your pet?"
"Sort of, yeah."
"And that doesn't....you don't feel bad about it?"
"I never really felt anything about it."
"Oh my gawd! That's like...that's so messed up! Please tell me you're lying."
I shrug. "I'm lying."
"Are you really?" She seems to settle at the idea.
"Yeah--that wasn't the worst thing I've ever done."
She pulls on her jeans. "Dude. You are fucked up. I'm outta here."
She's almost to the door when I say, "Hey!"
"You didn't tell me yours. What's the worst thing you've ever done?"
"The worst thing I've ever done is fuck you, you sicko!"
She slams the door behind her, leaving me with a room full of thoughts I don't want.
Posted under Short Stories on 8/22/10