Sick as a Dog by Sarah Biggs Chaney

May 20, 2013 Comments Off on Sick as a Dog by Sarah Biggs Chaney

Ellen had waited for her mother all morning. Just after lunchtime she finally returned from her “quick jaunt to the corner” for a few groceries. Those she dropped on the kitchen table and then made a beeline for the bathroom without saying hello. Ellen stepped soft across the kitchen to survey the contents of her mother’s anemic bundle: Five Brussels sprouts and a box of mustard pretzels. This alibi-in-a-bag wasn’t meant to feed anyone. The real errand was stashed somewhere in the garage, the cork already popped. Her mom would go back for it later.

I am only here to put the dog down, Ellen reminded herself. Poor Jake was dying of skin cancer. Fat, round, red knots of skin pushed through his yellow coat. “They just keep multiplying,” her mother had said on the phone, as though describing a parlor trick. Ellen was not to mention what was killing the animal — the death spray of pesticides ­– the kind everyone knows will kill you — the kind her mother had rained on the front lawn for the last thirty years. In Pre-K, little Ellen couldn’t read the “Do not walk on the grass” sign, a sign the size of an index card, stabbed into the damp lawn, but she could feel and be frightened by the muscular jolt in her big sister’s grip when she lifted Ellen off the lawn.  “Just play in the driveway,” her sister would say, then Ellen would hear the voices inside the house, her sister shrieking, “How hard is it to pay attention?”  Her mom’s face would appear moments later in the window, the look on her face sorrowful, like something delicate had just fallen from a high shelf, her eyes asking how this could have happened.

“Mom,” Ellen called through the bathroom door. “What am I supposed to do with these Brussels sprouts?”

“I figured we should have something nice.”

Something nice. Ellen couldn’t bring herself to answer with a joke.

Her mother, cajoling now, a little louder through the door said, “We’ll toast the dog, catching balls for eternity.”

Of course, the dog hadn’t caught a ball in years. He waited alone to be let back in the house. He bided his time, rolling in the toxic cellophane grass.

“Jake,” Ellen called out. She heard the dog heave himself off the couch in the next room in response to her voice.  He came lumbering through the kitchen doorway, back legs barely lifting off the floor.  His yellow fur was matted pink and smelled like iodine.

“Jake, sit,” Ellen said, crouching in front of him with the bag of sprouts.

The blacks of his eyes were barely visible through a tangle of blood vessels.

“You’re not hungry, are you?” Dropping the bag, Ellen sank full to the ground and pulled the dog down with her, his life wetting her cheek.

I am a hard surface, Ellen thought, but I am sick too. The toxins, everywhere.

© 2013 Sarah Biggs Chaney

Sara Biggs Chaney is a Lecturer at Dartmouth College. Her academic writing has appeared in Rhetoric Review, Composition Forum, Enculturation, and The Journal of Basic Writing. Her flash fiction is forthcoming in the February issue of Downer Magazine.

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