Stories in Water
It all started with the screech of tires, a thump, a gasp, and the cracking of ribs. A lump in Theo’s throat as his mother fumbled frantically to extricate herself from the car. His breath leaving a receding fug on the living room window from where he watched the scene unfold.
It was a little thing–the last-time breath the dog ever took–and Theo didn’t cry. He was never much of weeper. He always felt his mother did enough for the two of them. In many ways it was similar to the day his mother finally realized Dad wasn’t coming home.
The light rain pattered the pavement as Theo ran down the driveway. His mother only stood over her, the little pooch, just stood over the white dog and watched. When Theo bent to run his hands through the fur, they came away oily and wet, smelling of life.
Can we take her inside, he asked, looking up at his mother, whose eyes were rimmed red.
How did she get out? was all she said.
Theo slid his arms under the cooling body and he hoisted her up. He walked slowly back to the house. Theo placed Dottie in the small dog bed near the fireplace and sat with her as his mother parked the car along the street. He noticed she didn’t come in for a long time.
Dottie was gone the next day. Theo woke up to find his mother had left, presumably with the dog she had killed. The small dog bed, that Dottie had so often occupied over the years, drew his eye as if the body were still there. Then, two weeks after the incident Theo arrived home from school to find his mother beaming, Dottie curled in her bed. But she wasn’t the same.
Do you like it? his mother had asked. Her freckled cheeks were a bit too shiny and something glossy was hidden behind her eyes that were framed by her straight raven hair–dyed with some noxious smelling stuff the week before.
She looks like she’s sleeping, was all Theo could say.
I know, I know, cooed his mother. I wish we could have saved her.
Theo nodded. He understood the weirdness of the situation, and the weirdness of his mother. It was like when she had surprised him on his tenth birthday with a stethoscope and a pair of elbow length latex gloves.
Now you can be a surgeon, like your father, she had told him.
He humored his mother every day of her life. He loved her too much to tell her the truth–that he didn’t want to be a surgeon, he didn’t want to see Dottie anymore. He humored her because she did her best; it was just unfortunate that her best was much worse than other people’s.
Even though Theo didn’t want to see Dottie like that, he still held a morbid curiosity for his dead pet. Where had she gone? Was it possible that she was still in there? Somewhere? In the middle of the night Theo crept down the hall, stethoscope around his neck, and press the diaphragm to the place he knew her heart had once been. The silence within was strangely comforting; how could he find something so sick and twisted to be so beautiful?