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The Death Dog
By Julienne Grey
When the dog came to my door he looked pretty funny with Mom’s boot in his jaw. His body sagged in the snow, like a fur coat with legs. His eyes were dark holes and his bowels were a catacomb. That one shoe couldn’t sop up his slaver. He was The Death Dog. And he wanted my mom.
I threw him a sandal and then shut the door. Mom had so little left. I rushed to her room. Where the sun hit chest, her ribs stopped—and I froze. Had the dog taken more than I knew? But Mom’s breath returned, and then mine did too. We became two bellows, alone in her room.
I worried the dog might watch as he circled, scratching from outside the window. I turned from the glass towards Mom’s sweet-sour breath. I leaned in for a hug but her arms were shriveled balloons. So I just took her small hand and let her pulse meet my palm.
That week I looted her room for new heels for the dog but when he came back he was growling for more. I hurried for Mom’s favorite coat as tissues spilled out. She’d stuffed them so full, even before she was sick. I held out her coat and the dog sniffed at the seams. When he chomped for the collar, I slammed the door.
We had some time before he returned. Mom woke for a while and we watched Jane Austen. I sang for her, which I did for no one else, and she smiled even when I was off-pitch. Her face was bright but shrinking. I baked bread she couldn’t eat. It turned to clay in her mouth, but the scent was a thrill. She told me how she once dreamed of eating whatever she wanted and how it didn’t matter. The dream was not like this.
I didn’t tell her about the dog but she still must have known. She gave me her recipe for turkey soup and told me to take her pink hat. She spoke of the grandchildren she’d never know, listing names like hers, then got very quiet and kissed my crown. I held her, her brittle bones and withered skin. I breathed with the pump of her pulse, ignoring the scratch of the dog at the window.
That night The Death Dog came by mistake. I’d dropped a box of bulbs and their cracked shells sliced my heel. He came at the first splash of blood, mopping it up before he learned it was mine. Then he stomped out with his claws, slashing my best photo of Mom’s summer smile. I bandaged myself quickly and heated Mom’s dinner. She’d a rare craving for broth and I rushed it to her, but her lips mashed only one spoonful.
The next day Mom slept more and her face sank back from her eyes. Her head slacked to one side and her throat only crackled. When her feet went cold, I leapt for a fleece.
Yet when I returned, the window gaped wide. The Death Dog was there. He slurped at her toes as she gurgled in gasps. I met his dark eyes and dropped the blanket for fists. I wrestled him to where the window belched cold, but his legs were too strong, and he pounced for his feast.
Mom’s eyes were closed when he perched at her breast. His jaws clamped down as he gouged out her heart. Her body slunk down and I swung at his teeth. I got back her heart and let it beat in my palm. I tried plunging it back into her chest, but the dog swallowed my hand down to the wrist. He guzzled the heart and left my hand numb. Then bounded outside leaving blood on the snow.
In the bed was a slip where my mom used to be. I cradled her head and kissed the crown, tasting only the coldest salt.