Chippy Says Yip

Reads: 65  | Likes: 3  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 1

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
When Adam returns from vacation, he discovers the worst thing that happened to his mother isn't that she died.

Submitted: August 11, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: August 11, 2017

A A A

A A A


Chippy Says Yip

 

“Adam, I’m sorry to even ask, but do you have time to take Chippy out before you go?”

Adam Bailey winced, not at his mother’s request, but at the shriek that had emanated up from under the dining table. Adam looked down.  Chippy, his mother’s Pomeranian, was beating its front paws, left right, left right, on the carpet so fast his feathery body seemed to vibrate. 

The shriek rang out again, and Adam wanted to put both hands around the dog’s fluff-covered neck and squeeze until it stopped.

Adam checked his wristwatch. The black digits showed 5:20 p.m.  He had a 10 o’clock flight to catch. 

“I’ve got fifteen minutes,” he told his mother.  “I can take him down the block.”

Adam had more time than that.  His suitcase was packed and he’d checked in online.  He’d put his perishables in a garbage bag and put the bag in the dumpster.  He’d unplugged his appliances and set a six-pack of Heineken in the fridge for his return.  All that was left was to go back to his apartment, change into the jeans and sweater that were fresh from the dry cleaner, and wait for the car service he’d ordered to pick him up.

“That would be so wonderful if you could, sweetie.  What would I do without you?” His mother, Gwen, beamed.

“Please, ma.  Taking the dog out is no big deal.”

“Yes, it is!  For one thing, it’s gotten so cold outside.  And I’m such a lump these days.  This way I can clean up and when you go I can settle down and watch the news.  And start trying not to miss you too much.”

“God, ma!”

Adam was going to Europe.  Over ten days, he would be shown around London, Paris and Rome.  He had to take the trip; this was October and he had three weeks of PTO to use by January. This was an annoying situation; he had projects to deliver by December 31. The migration to the new service portal was mid-way and every day counted.  But using the PTO was mandatory.

In previous years, Adam’s mother had accompanied him when he traveled.  Now Gwen preferred to stay home in the little house in North Plainfield where Adam had grown up.  This preference was not because of her age, 75.  Nor was it due to health concerns.  The only thing wrong with Gwen as far as Adam could see was the plastic strip by her right nostril.  The strip hid the spot from where, the week before, her doctor had shaved off a mole that had turned out to be benign.

“It hasn’t healed at all.”  Gwen touched the strip with her fingertips.  The strip’s pale pink made her fingers look maroon in comparison.  “It just looks so ridiculous.”

“No one will even notice it,” Adam said.

“You’re right.  That’s one good thing about getting older.  Nobody cares if you look like hell!”

As if enjoying Gwen’s humor, Chippy gave Adam a wide grin that showed his lower fangs. 

“Yip. Yip!” Chippy said.

“Hush, you bad baby!”  Gwen bent and Chippy rushed to her.  The little dog raised himself on his hind legs and pawed Gwen’s thigh.  “Does mommy have to give baby’s tummy a big rubble tubble?”

“Yip!” Chippy said.

“God, ma!  He’s not a baby.  You know he just wants food, right?”

Gwen straightened.  “You’re right.  I’m ridiculous.  But he is like a baby.”

“Yeah.  He needs you to do everything for him.”

“Well of course he does!  It’s wonderful to be needed that way, Adam.  You’ll find out some day.”

“Ugh,” Adam knew Gwen meant, “when are you going to find a nice young lady and give me grandkids?”  

The answer was: not anytime soon.  Maybe never.

“What ‘ugh?’ You needed me for everything too, once.  But you don’t remember that.”

Adam was sure if he looked, Gwen’s honey-colored eyes would be wet.  So he didn’t look.  She got very corny sometimes.  Most of the time.

“We had such fun when you were a baby, Adam.  We used to love to play games.  Remember the games we played?  Remember ‘Monsters’?  From your favorite book?” 

Adam knew Gwen was waiting for him to supply the title. “’Where the Wild Things Are,’” he said gruffly.

“’I’ll eat you up I love you so!’” Gwen growled.  Her monster voice was terrible because of her soft, high voice, and because she was smiling a big, wet-eyed smile at him.  “Then I’d bite all your toeses.  You loved that!”

“I’m sure I did, ma.”  Adam sighed.  Gwen had probably had too many glasses of Cabernet with dinner; he hadn’t noticed.  He told himself to buy her a case of a wine with less alcohol in it when he got back, Pinor Noir or Beaujolais.  She didn’t seem able to handle the strong stuff the way she used to.

Chippy hurried back to Adam and beat his paws on the carpet. Left right, left right.  “Yip.  Yip!” he said.

“All right, all right!  I’ll take you out already,” Adam said.

Gwen pressed her hands on the table for balance, rose slowly, and began to collect the dishes.  “Thank you so much, sweetie.  He really does need the walk.  I was feeling so lazy today we only had a short one this afternoon.”

Adam went to the closet by the front door.  He retrieved his shoes, stepped into the black oxfords and double-tied the laces.  He drew his black, wool scarf from the hook and wound it around his neck, careful to cover his throat from chin to clavicle.  A cold was the last thing he needed on his trip.

“Yip.  Yip!”  Chippy ran in a circle in front of Adam.

“Would you calm down?”  The dog got even more irritating when it needed to “make,” as Gwen put it.  “Where’s your leash?  There it is.” 

Chippy’s red leash hung from a hook on the closet’s door.  A yellow vest trimmed in reflective tape hung beside it.  Adam bought the vest several years before so Gwen would be seen by cars when she walked Chippy through the neighborhood at night.  Adam wasn’t convinced she’d ever worn it, no matter how often he reminded her.

“Thank you, sweetie!” Gwen called from the kitchen.

“No problem, ma.”

Adam knelt to attach the leash.  As his fingers groped through the apricot-colored fluff, Chippy sent a shriek into Adam’s ear that replaced everything else with a single thought: Stop!

“Stop!”  Adam jerked Chippy’s collar. 

The noise stopped.  Chippy’s triangular ears disappeared into its cloud of orange fur.  Sad Chippy. 

Adam opened the door.  “Come on already.”

The ears popped up.  “Yip.  Yip!”  Happy Chippy!

***

Adam stepped outside.  Cold wind filled his nose, making him feel as if the whole neighborhood had been transported to an iceberg.  Autumn was gone and winter was slicing in.  He was glad he had packed his leather gloves for the trip.  Paris was sure to be even colder than this.

Chippy exploded forward.  He tugged Adam down the stoop’s three front steps, along the sidewalk into the night.  Adam knew Chippy was straining toward the end of the block, a spot to which all the neighborhood dogs pilgrimaged. 

That Chippy would not move his bowels unless he was walked was a flaw in training Gwen hadn’t bothered to address since she had adopted the dog.  “Adopted.”  Ridiculous.  Also ridiculous was the money Gwen spent on him.  The previous year she’d broken into her IRA to pay for surgery on one of Chippy’s kneecaps that had slid out of place.  

Six thousand dollars?  Are you kidding me?  You could get ten new dogs for that; dogs without any bum legs!” Adam had said.

“It’s such a lot of money.  I know it is.  But Adam, it will make Chippy happy.  He’s completely perfect aside from that.”

Still, Adam appreciated that Chippy kept Gwen company.  Especially these days, since Adam’s job as an IT director kept him too busy or too tired to visit his mother for anything other than their Friday night “dinner dates.”

Chippy hopped forward, jerking the lead.  “Yip.  Yip!”  Each bark sounded to Adam like the hard smack of a metal spatula on an aluminum pan.

“Dammit, Chippy!  I’m hurrying already!”

They reached the end of Hurley Street.  Not for the first time, Adam admired the red fire hydrant on the street corner.  Hydrants were an excellent example of planning and forethought.  No house in the neighborhood was beyond reach of the protection offered by those simple, squat pipes.

Chippy rushed to the hydrant.  He smelled it and shifted forward to hoist a rear leg the size of a dinner knife.  He dropped the leg, trotted a few steps away and began to spin in circles.  Around and around the dog went, each circle slower than the last, until on the fourth or fifth spin, his feathery hindquarters lowered to the ground. 

“Crap.”  Adam had forgotten to bring one of the poop bags Gwen kept in a sack on the closet door.  He had instructed his mother several times to tie a few bags to the handle of the leash, thus saving the extra step of having to remember to bring them.  But she always forgot.

Delivery complete, Chippy lifted his haunches and turned to examine his achievement.

“Knock it off.”  Adam yanked the leash.  He glanced around.  No one else was out.  The pellets were miniscule anyway.  Adam kicked them into the street, along with some of the dry leaves that the cold wind had sent scratching down the sidewalk.  He wiped his shoe on the dead grass.

“Come on.  I gotta get going.”

But Chippy was already bouncing down the sidewalk.

Before they reached Gwen’s small yard, the front door of the neighboring house swung open, letting light out. A woman stepped onto the stoop.  She propped the storm door open with her back, swung a white garbage bag to the step, and blew out a big breath. 

“Yip.  Yip!”  

The woman looked up.  “Hey! Adam!  How’s it going?”  It was Gwen’s neighbor, Lynn.  She reached behind her back and tugged up the waistband of her sweatpants.  She didn’t seem embarrassed that Adam was seeing her in what were essentially pajamas. 

Even in the sloppy outfit, Lynn was attractive.  She was slim and had long, curly black hair  Lynn was divorced and, though Gwen never said it, Adam got the feeling his mother hoped the two of them would hit it off.  Adam might have considered asking Lynn out, but recyclables were always overflowing the bins by her garage; her house’s yellow siding was edged with black mildew; and she wore those sweatpants all the time.  To top it off, she had kids.  Adam didn’t want kids of his own and he had no use for anyone else’s, either. 

“Hi Lynn.”

“Hey, your trip is today, isn’t it?  I think I have it calendared.” Lynn put a finger to her chin, as if being confused was cute instead of lazy and annoying.

You better have it calendared, Adam thought.  Two weeks before he’d spent close to fifteen minutes on the phone with her, detailing his itinerary.  The call had been made from Gwen’s kitchen.

“Guys, I’m not an invalid, you know!” Gwen had called from the background as Adam listed out his flight numbers and his hotels.  “I really can take care of myself!”

“Ma, please!”  Adam glared at Gwen and returned to the phone.  “I really appreciate you keeping an eye on things for me, Lynn.”

“No problem!” Lynn had said.  “I’m over there all the time anyway.  Your mom helps me out more than I help her, probably.  I’ve got so much going on, you know how it is.”

Adam didn’t, frankly.  He didn’t get how someone could be as disorganized as Lynn seemed to be, even a single parent.  He was glad to have run into her this evening, before he left for the airport.  With some people it never hurt to double-down on reminders. 

Adam now gave Lynn a tolerant smile.  “Yep.  It’s Friday.  I’m leaving tonight, like we talked about.  Just spinning Chippy down the block one last time.”

“You’re gone ten days, right?” said Lynn.

“Yes, back next Sunday, just like we talked about.”

A shout came from inside the house.  Lynn turned her head. “Just a sec!” she yelled.  She turned back to Adam.  “Ugh!  Megan is such a crabcake when she gets sick.  I should go.  Have a great time!  Take lots of pictures!”

“Thanks, Lynn.  Oh, by the way, keep in mind the cleaning lady will be around Saturdays, too.”

Adam had hired a cleaning lady to be extra sure Gwen was fine while he wasn’t around.  Maria had been coming for the past five Saturdays to vacuum and dust, though Gwen had protested that she didn’t need it.

“Honestly, Adam.  It’s a waste of your money.  Chippy and I hardly make any mess at all,” Gwen had said.

“Ma, the hair from that dog alone is too much for one person!”  

Adam was confident that with both Lynn and Maria around, Gwen would always have someone on hand should any emergencies arise.

“Have a great time!”  Lynn backed into the house.  “I’m said I’m coming!” she shouted, as the door shut and the brightness went out.

***

Adam unclipped Chippy’s leash.  Chippy rushed to the kitchen to find Gwen.  Adam didn’t take off his scarf.

“Gotta get going, ma!” he called.

Gwen joined him at the threshold of the small living room. “I hope you have the best time, sweetie.”  Her eyes had that extra moist look they got whenever she said goodbye to him.

Chippy hovercrafted over and buzzed around Adam’s ankles.  He smiled up at Adam with his white teeth.  Adam ignored the dog and reached into the living room to straighten a bronze picture frame that was askew on the nearby cabinet.  Maria must have moved it when she dusted and Gwen hadn’t fixed it.

The frame held an Army portrait of Adam’s late father, taken long before Adam was born.  The photo, all brown shades, showed his straight-lipped father in a smooth, tan shirt with flaps on the chest pockets and two big, metal buttons on the collar between which rested a perfect tie knot.  A tan cap shaped like an upside-down rowboat covered most of his father’s head.  It was funny how the picture had changed over the years; these days that guy looked like he could be Adam’s own son.

Adam aligned the frame with the edge of the bookcase.  “That’s better,” he said.

“You always make everything better.  What would I do without you?”

“Oh, ma!” 

But Adam did take pride in helping Gwen keep things in order.  Tonight, for example, if he wasn’t about to take a red eye to Europe, he would have washed and put away the dishes and scrubbed the stainless-steel sink until it shone.

One item still bothered him.  He had meant to get an international cell number before his trip, but hadn’t had time.

“Don’t even think about it,” Gwen had reassured him, days before.  “If you had a phone you’d work.  This way you’ll really relax.  It’s so important.  You need it.  You work so hard.”

“I’m not sure how relaxing three countries in ten days is going to be.  Anyway, I’ll try and call you at some point.”

“Really, don’t bother.  It’s just ten days.  What could happeen?”

It was silly to worry.  Gwen lived in a safe neighborhood.  Two people would be checking on her.  And Gwen was, aside from that plastic strip by her nose, the same as always: tall and wide-hipped, which was emphasized by those high-waisted jeans she wouldn’t quit wearing.  Even her hair was the same: jaw length, with some fluffy layers chopped into the light-brown.  Adam knew she dyed her hair, but he could convince himself that the color was natural, and that she hadn’t really aged.

“You’ll come with me next time,” Adam said.

“We’ll see.  Honestly, I kind of feel like I’ve been everywhere already.  And I’m sure you’ll have fun, but travel is so hard these days.  And I’d have to leave Chippy, wouldn’t I?”  Gwen looked down at the wet, black eyes fastened onto her face.  “You don’t like to be left aw a-wone, do you Chippy-Chips?”

Adam figured Gwen must have talked to him like that when he was a baby; his legs kicking in the air, spilling drool while he angled for a tit.

“Okay, ma.  I should get going.  I’ll see you in a few days.”

“It will fly by.  Have such a great time!  And don’t get me a thing.  All I need is pictures of you having fun.”

Adam put his arms over Gwen’s shoulders and hugged her.  She pressed her lips to his cheek.  Her kisses always landed on the same spot: the right side of his face, just above his beard line.  He felt her lips on his cheek, pressing the bone, felt her arms and elbows strap tight across his back, felt her chest yield against his belly.  His nose inhaled the warm scent of shampoo-candied hair.  He dropped his arms, she released him. 

“Okay!  Bye!”  Gwen’s eyes were shinier and wetter than before.  “Love you!”

“I know, ma.  Love you too.”

“Have fun!”

“I will.”

“Yip.  Yip!” said Chippy.  As Adam stepped into the cold and dark, he heard his mother say, “Hush, Chippy.  You silly baby.  You bad thing.”

&&&

 

Adam’s tour group spent three nights in London, where the girls wore miniskirts below and glares above.  Then three nights in Paris, where many gorgeous women swept by Adam as if he was no more interesting than a street pigeon.  Then three nights in Rome, which his travel-fatigue made hallucinogenic.  Why was it ninety degrees in October?  How could every street be so choked with tourists?  Had the Roman empire really depended on the swampy, green Tiber?  Shouldn’t spaghetti taste better in Italy?

In all, Adam had had too little sleep and too much shuffling through museums, too many meals with too many courses and way too much wine.  By the time he settled into his seat for the flight home, he thought he might have given himself gout, or at least a sinus infection.

After slumbering for the entire flight, however, a re-energized Adam emerged from the plane at JFK and headed to the bathroom to refresh himself.  He washed his hands in hot water and splashed his face with cold water.  He brushed his teeth, combed his hair and then, with a Duty-Free box of chocolates for Gwen in one hand, his suitcase in the other, met the driver at baggage claim just as planned. 

Adam relaxed in the town car’s back seat.  He took in the row houses above the concrete sluiceway in which he was being carried along.  An enjoyable feeling of discombobulation came over him.  Yesterday he’d used his map of Rome to shade his forehead from the yellow sun.  Today he was hurtling through the cold, brown suburbs of New York City.  What a world traveler he was!  How cosmopolitan! 

But still, it was good to be back.  Tomorrow he’d go to the office and catch up on emails.  Then he would call the team in and get everyone’s statuses.  They wouldn't have gotten much done without him. 

Back in his apartment, Adam showered and slipped on pressed black jeans, a navy polo shirt, matching v-neck sweater, black cotton socks and comfy black loafers.  He opened one of the cans of Heineken he’d left in the fridge.  He turned on his cell phone and checked his messages.  Only one.  He’d expected it to be from Gwen.  But the message was from Maria, the cleaning lady.

“Mr. Adam?  I calling to say I working new job.  Is more money.  I want to tell you I no coming again.  Okay?  Thank you very much.”

Typical.  Adam frowned.  He couldn’t blame Maria for taking a better-paying gig.  Still, the message was annoying.

Adam dialed Gwen’s number.  The line burred and burred.  Gwen didn’t have a message machine.  She had a cell phone, but never used it.

“I don’t need a cell phone!” she had said, a few years before.

“But ma, what if something happens to you?”

“What if it does?  I’m not that important.”

“Yes, you are!” Adam had shouted.  In the end she had accepted the phone he gave her, but it usually lay uncharged in a kitchen drawer.

Adam checked his watch.  Three-thirty.  He knew he had to ride the wave of alertness he was experiencing while he could, and that in a few hours the weight at the back of his eyes would become too heavy, and all he would want to do would be to lie down in his very own bed and sleep.

He finished his beer and brewed a cup of coffee.  He decided to drive to Gwen’s.  She would be back soon from Lynn’s or shopping or walking Chippy or whatever it was she was doing and would have food for him.  Adam was hungry and the fridge was empty.  Tomorrow, after he was work, he’d stop at the supermarket and stock up.

***

Adam turned his Subaru’s wheel to leave Oneida Avenue. There was the fire hydrant on the corner, darkened by the fading daylight, and there was first of the little houses on the block, its face half-hidden under its sloping roof.

“What the …?”  Adam’s foot lifted from the gas pedal and pushed the brake to the floor. The Subaru lurched up, fell back and stopped.

A carnival was spread out across the road before him.

Adam lifted his foot, rolled the Subaru to the curb and parked.  He gazed through the windshield. It wasn’t a carnival.  The bright metal and flashing lights belonged to three police cars with spinning pink and blue lights; a white ambulance with gold trim and two silver-gilded, red fire trucks, big as yachts.

“Jesus!”  Adam cut the engine.  Had something happened to Lynn?

He got out of the car.  People on both sides of the street stood on their lawns and watched the activity.  Adam took a few steps into the street.  And saw that the activity of the police and firemen and the ambulance personnel wasn’t centered on Lynn’s house. It was centered on Gwen’s house, instead. 

He started to run.  He ran up the road and flew up onto the curb, over the grass.  His foot touched sidewalk and while his other foot swung to propel him forward something grabbed him by the arm, pulled him back. 

“Wait!”  Lynn shouted, but this was a different Lynn.  This Lynn had a crumpled, wet face.  “Wait, Adam!  Stop!”

He didn’t stop.  He lunged toward the front door, dragging Lynn with him. 

A stranger with a clipboard stood on the doorstep.  Seeing Adam, the stranger tucked the board under his armpit and descended the three steps.  He nodded at Lynn.  “Is this …?”

“Yes.  This is him.  This is Adam.”

“Hey there, Mr. Bailey.”  The guy raised his hands and stepped backward, staying between Adam and the front door.  The guy was young, with a cap of smooth, dark hair and big, brown eyes.  He looked, in his green sweater and leather jacket, as if he’d just graduated from college.

“Mr. Bailey, Adam, can I call you Adam?  I’m Detective Rogalo.  Can you stop a second?  Can you stop here so we can talk?”

Adam stopped.  “My mother …” 

The grip Lynn had on his elbow got tighter. 

The detective dropped his hands.  “Unfortunately sir, I have to tell you that your mother passed away.”

Gwen! The police cars flash-flashed electric pink, flash-flashed cold blue; brass streaks scarred the sky at the end of the street; the doorway behind the detective wavered, the figures inside melted and spun. 

Adam grabbed a thin thread of thought to lead him out of the spinning: the detective didn’t know what he was talking about. 

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.  That’s ridiculous.  She’s fine.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Bailey.It takes a little while to process news like this, I know, believe me.”

“I’m telling you, she’s fine …”

No message.

No message from Gwen had been waiting for him when he got home.  There should have been a message, Gwen’s soft voice saying, “Hi sweetie!  Just wanted to see if you got back okay.  Can’t wait to hear all about your trip!” 

No message.  The atoms between him and his mother shrilled the truth:  No message.  Dead!  No message.  Dead!  Dead!  Dead! 

Adam pressed his fingers into his temple.  Inside an iceberg was breaking apart, splitting him in half as it fell. 

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah, Mr.  Bailey.  We won’t know a hundred percent until the autopsy, but it looks to be natural causes.  Probably an infarction.  Heart attack.  That’s what the medics tell me.”

A heart attack.  Alone!  The muscles around Adam’s eyes squeezed and released, squeezed and released.

“I should have been here.”

Lynn pressed his elbow.  “It’s not your fault.” 

Adam shook Lynn off.  The hurricane funnel around which Adam’s thoughts whirled shifted onto the detective’s face.  His stupid face.  Why was he looking at Adam like that?  Was he wondering what kind of pussy Adam was going to be about his mother dropping dead? Well, FUCK HIM. 

“I want to see her.”

The young detective’s pointer finger floated up and drifted to the spot where the eyebrow met the cap of smooth brown hair.

“Oh yeah.  Definitely.  Sure.  The thing is, we’ve got the EMTs cleaning up a few things right now.  How about we give it a few before you go in there.”

“Oh God,” Lynn moaned.

Adam screamed.  He didn’t mean to scream but he screamed. “Could you shut up?  You’re not helping me!  At all.”

Lynn’s fingers covered her face.  Her shoulders jerked, so she was probably crying.  At least she was fucking quiet about it.  Adam turned back to the detective.  A poison was burning his brain, but now, his management skills were returning to him.  The number one thing to do in a crisis was to stay calm.  Okay, he was calm.  The number two thing to do in a crisis was to focus on the solution.  Not blame.  Solution.  What was the solution?  The solution was to get these people out of Gwen’s house.  Get everything back to normal.  Back the way it had been before he’d left. 

“Look, just tell the paramedics to clear out so I can have a few minutes before …” 

“Before they take the body?  Sure, sure.  I can do that.”

“He can’t go in there!  He can’t see that!”  Lynn shouted.

“Ms. Gordon, please.”  The detective turned back to Adam.  “Before you go in, I need to prepare you for something.  How do I put this?  Okay.  Mrs. Bailey owned a dog, right?”

“Oh God,” Lynn moaned.

“Do you mind?”  Adam glared at Lynn.

“Okay.  So, sometimes, when a person dies, and they aren’t found right away, and there’s an animal, well, it can be that nature takes its course.”

Adam didn’t get what the detective was saying.  Or why Lynn’s fingers had moved to cover her ears.  This dumb kid was making it all much worse than it had to be.

“And?”

The detective looked unhappy.  “Okay, let me put it this way," he said. "The mailman said there was at least four days’ worth of mail in Mrs. Bailey’s mailbox.  That’s why he called us.  So we’re pretty sure your mother passed away three, maybe four days before we found her today.”

Four days?  What?  That can’t be right.  People were checking on her.”  Adam turned to Lynn.  “You were checking on her!  And the housekeeper.  But the housekeeper quit.  But you … Are you fucking telling me you never checked on her?”

“I did!  I saw her last week!” Lynn looked hideous, all mucus-lipped and swollen-nosed.  “But Megan was sick and then Amy got sick.  I didn’t think it was a big deal!  You said the housekeeper would be there.” 

“Well she quit!”

“I said I’m sorry!  But Adam, listen to me.”  Lynn grabbed Adam’s hand, wrapped her other hand around it as if trying to fuse their fingers together.  “Don’t go in there.  She wouldn’t want you to remember her like that.”

Adam wrenched his hand from Lynn’s.  “She's my mother!  I want to see her!  What is wrong with you?”

“Okay, Mr. Bailey.  Let me lay it out to you.  Just lay it right out.  Here we've got a deceased person, and a pet together for several days.  The deceased’s body starts to decompose.  The animal doesn’t recognize the body as human.  At the same the animal is going around wondering, ‘where did my person go?  Where is Mrs. Bailey?’ At the same time, he’s like, ‘oh boy!  Here’s some old salami on the ground!’  Sometimes if there’s a cut or blood on the body, from the fall or whatever, that might sometimes get the animal going a little bit.”

The plastic strip by Gwen’s nose.

“There’s a chemical that gets released; all dead animals have it.  Shoot!  I used to know what it was called.”  The detective looked up, as if the word might be handed to him by something hovering in the twilight.  An EMT came out of Gwen’s front door.  The detective called to him.  “Hey Carl!  Tell me the name of that chemical, the decomposing one.”

The EMT’s windbreaker was flat black and his face was ghostly above it.  “Whaddaya mean?  It’s a lot of different chemicals.”

“Then what’s the process, or whatever, you know, the thing that happens, when the body starts to smell and everything?”

“Autolysis.  Means self-digestion.”

“Autolysis!  That’s it!  Thanks Carl.”

“Sure.  Happy to help.”

The detective turned back to Adam.  “So as I was saying, the autolysis starts, and the animal smells it.  It’s hungry, starving.  That’s when you get what we call ‘post mortem predation.’  Okay?  Happens way more often than you think.  The thing to remember is that it’s not personal.  The animal was just doing what it had to do to survive.”

Adam felt churning at the base of his throat.  His jaw clenched and he felt the root of each tooth. Through his teeth he said, "Are you telling me the dog ate my mother?"

The EMT had come closer as the detective talked.  He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at Gwen’s house.  “Not so bad.  Mostly just earlobes, eyelids, lips.”

“Soft tissue is always the first to go, isn’t that right Carl?” said the detective.

“Exactly.   To tell you the truth, I’ve seen it a lot worse than this.  Sometimes you go in and there’s feces and vomit, piles of it, full of blood, full of bone, all over the place.  Lots of times the animals chew the whole head right off.”

“Jesus Christ!”  Adam gasped.

“Hey!  Do you mind?  This is her son!”  Lynn’s fists were up high, as if she was going to punch the detective and Carl in their mouths.

“Sure, sure.  Sorry,” the detective said.  “We’re not trying to upset anyone here, believe me.  I just want Mr. Bailey to understand it’s not the dog’s fault.  I mean, there was no other food.”

“I said STOP!”  Lynn stepped in front of Adam, shielding him with her body.

Adam wondered what these men thought of him.  What they thought of a guy who let his mother get eaten by a dog.  “I did make plans,” he said.

“Of course you did, Mr. Bailey.  This isn’t your fault.  It’s not anybody’s fault.”

The open front door filled with movement and there, at the end of his red leash, dancing on his hummingbird feet, came Chippy, leaping and pulling a policeman as he strained toward Adam.

“Yip.  Yip!” said Chippy.

“Now, Mr. Bailey, the question is, what happens to the animal?  Normally, in a case like this, Animal Care and Control takes it.” The detective looked over into the street.  “Here they are now.”

A big, gray van with a decaled shield on the driver’s door slowed and double-parked in front of the ambulance.  A man got out and started to write on a clipboard.  He glanced in the group’s direction and wrote some more.

Adam looked down.  The little dog lay on his stomach, paws out, panting, on the grass.  The pink tongue pulsed in and out as his black eyes took in the van and the police lights.

“I’ll take him,” Lynn said.  “Gwen would want …”

“Give him to me.”  Adam grabbed the leash. 

Chippy leapt to his feet.  Up popped the triangle ears from the mane of orange fluff.  Happy Chippy!

“Adam, are you sure?” said Lynn.

Adam looked at Lynn and knew that this day ended any thought he’d ever had about dating her, or touching her or even talking to her ever again.

“Yes, I’m fucking sure.  I need a few minutes.  I’m taking him down the block.”

“Okay, that’s fine, Mr. Bailey,” the detective said.  “You take your time.  This is a shock.  When you get back the medics will have everything all cleaned up and bandaged and you can go in and see your mother.”

“Come!”  Adam tried not to pull the leash too hard.  He didn’t want the Animal Control guy seeing him drag the dog.  He’d get a fucking fine or something.

Behind Adam, the EMT, detective and the other policeman were talking.  “If you ask me cats are way worse,” Carl said.

Adam hauled Chippy down the sidewalk.  The dog kept up, staying close to Adam’s ankles.

Oh, so now you’re behaving?  That’s not going to save you, pal.

Because Adam was going to get Chippy away from all the people, was going to take him down the street, was going to take him around the corner and was going to crush his skull for him.  He was going to get the little dog away from the men with clipboards and rules and rational thinking and stomp on its head and strangle it and throw it in the gutter; the fucking dog, the fucking thing that ate his mother. 

As if the leash channeled Adam’s thoughts, Chippy glanced at Adam’s face, then looked ahead and kept trotting. 

They neared the hydrant.  Chippy lunged for it.

“Get over here.”  Adam yanked so hard that Chippy tilted over and landed at Adam’s feet.  The dog righted himself, shook his fluffy body and turned again toward the hydrant, but he didn’t try to reach it.  Instead, he lowered his haunches and sat.  The white teeth appeared in a yawn.  His front legs slid forward until he was reclining like a Sphinx.

Adam looked down the sidewalk.  Night had fallen, but the streetlights hadn’t come on yet.  Lynn and the cops couldn’t see them from that distance and no one was nearby.  He could lift his foot and smash it down and keep smashing and no one would see. 

Chippy’s jaws opened and he panted.  He turned back to gaze at the fire hydrant.  He blinked and brought his jaws together.  A whine eased out, long and high-pitched, like a model train’s whistle.

“Shut the fuck up.”  Adam jerked the leash.

Chippy sprang to his feet.  “Yip.  Yip!” His tail rolled side to side on his back.

“I said, shut the fuck up!”  Adam bent down.  His hands dove into the fur at the neck.  His fingers touched metal; the clip of the lead on Chippy’s collar.  Adam flipped the clasp open, wrenched off the lead.  He balled it up and whipped it into the street.  Yellow headlights from an oncoming car’s caught it; a red ball unrolling in mid-air.  Taillights fired a spray of lava red and went dark.  The car surged past.  Chippy sat on his haunches, mouth open, tongue spilling over his lower teeth. 

“You ate my mother,” Adam said.

“Yip!” Chippy agreed.

With just one kick, Adam could break all of Chippy’s ribs.  Adam lifted his right foot and pulled it backward from the knee.  Chippy’s round eyes tracked the movement.

“Fuck you.” 

Adam’s leg swung down.  His shoe scooped, lifted, and Chippy was flying up and out into the street.  A new set of headlights lit him; a biscuit-colored cloud, sailing toward the intersection.

Adam heard a shriek.  Then the shriek was covered by the tearing sound of rubber tires abrading asphalt.  An SUV shuddered to a stop, its horn blaring.  A male voice shouted, “What was that?  Did I hit it?” 

The headlight beams were white fire, but Adam could hear from the man’s voice that the man was out of the car.  One blinding beam went off and back on, then the other went off and then back on, as the man crossed them and hurried to Adam on the sidewalk. 

“Hey!  Do you see what happened?”

Adam felt the muscles of his face doing something weird.  He was smiling. “I think you killed my dog,” he said.

“Are you sure?  I didn’t see anything.”  The man was older, with a half-assed gray beard and fat boobs and big, pregnant belly showing through a thin white t-shirt.

“I’m pretty sure,” Adam grinned.

The man stopped looking down the street and stared at Adam.  His eyes narrowed.  Now he looked angry.  Angry Santa Claus. 

“You think this is funny or something?” Angry Santa Claus said.  “Letting your dog loose like that?  What if I went into a telephone pole?  I could have got killed!  I ought to call the cops.  I should report you, is what I should do.”

“Go ahead.  They’re right there.”  Adam pointed down the street, at the spinning matchheads of pink and blue.

“I fucking A will report you!”  The guy’s eyes bulged.  His fat lip hung open and showed little wet teeth.

Adam stopped smiling.  “How about you shut your fucking mouth,” he said.

“Are you threatening me?  So now you’re threatening me?  I oughta punch you right in the face.”

Yes oh yes!  Adam opened and closed his fists.  He stepped close to angry Santa. “Go fuck yourself,” he said.

Angry Santa shoved Adam’s chest with both hands.  Adam stumbled backward.  The guy was older, but sizable.  The shove had strength behind it.

“Come on, hit me, you idiot.  You maniac.”  Angry Santa’s hands were up, as if he was ready to catch a big ball.  “I’ll beat the shit out of you.”

Adrenaline surged through Adam’s body, filled his arm, charged his fist with power.  The arm lashed out and the fist caught Angry Santa on the side of his head.

“Ow!”  Angry Santa screamed.  “You son of a …”  He threw himself at Adam.  His fists landed on Adam’s head, chin, shoulder, chest, sides, his stomach.  Adam gave it back, punched as hard as he could, felt his punches hitting hard spots and soft spots as he clubbed, kept clubbing through blows that pushed him back and sideways. 

Angry Santa grabbed Adam’s sweater, bunched in one hand and trapped Adam close as he pummeled Adam’s torso.  Adam felt welts rising on his ribs, on his arm.  He grabbed the fist that pinned him, twisted and forced the hand backward, pushing as hard as he could.  His shirt collar was tight against the vertebrae on the back of his neck.  He heard his shirt ripping.  He pushed the hand up, up, the shirt ripped again.  Santa’s hand, his hands, broke free, all of them flew up.  And hit Santa in his face.

“Ow!”  

 Santa stumbled backward.  A dark streak leaked out of his nose.  Blood.

Jesus Christ!  What was he doing? 

Adam dropped his fists. 

“Hey!  I’m sorry, okay?  I’m sorry!”

Santa was still flailing.  “Eff you!  You crazy person!  Son of a bitch; I hope your dog did die!  Hear me?  I hope I did kill it.  You maniac.  I’ll sue you, you know that?  I'll sue you for everything you’ve got!” 

Angry Santa thrust up a middle finger and backed away, wiping at his nose.  He disappeared in the headlights and Adam heard a car door slam.  The engine started, the white-fire beams swung away and the car raced off. 

The street was dark.  Adam was alone.

Adam’s legs trembled.  He dropped to the curb.  His ass scraped rough concrete through his pants. His feet spilled into the road.  The adrenaline dissipated.  His hands shook.  His shoulders and arms ached.  His fingers ached.  Lumps throbbed all over his body, radiated pain.  He was drenched in sweat.  He plucked his sweater; the front gaped, stretched out of shape.  Drops of the Santa's blood spotted the sleeve.  

Adam's head fell into his hands.  His body hurt and he was so tired.  A sob choked up from his throat.  Another came, and another.  His mother was dead.  Chippy was dead.  He was alone. 

Gwen!  I’m sorry Gwen!

As if in answer, came a sharp sound:

“Yip!”

Adam lifted his head.  Something shimmered in the streetlight further up the road.  The shimmer became movement.  The movement became an animated tumbleweed, an overgrown hedgehog, an orange puffball, fast-footing toward him. 

Chippy!

Adam opened his arms.  The dog rushed in.  He propped his feet on Adam’s thigh and, as if to say, ‘I’m okay, Adam!’ he applied himself to licking Adam’s jaw.  He licked up the water that streamed down, mopped Adam’s cheek; bathed the spot where Gwen had kissed him for the last time ever, swabbed it with licks. 

Adam gripped Chippy’s body and cried until his ribs hurt.  Until at last there weren't any more tears to give and he rested, his head on Chippy’s padded back.

A wind stirred in the dry leaves overhead.  Adam felt it touch the back of his bared neck, felt its cool fingers sift through his hair, slip into his collar, surround him.  Adam lifted his head, he felt the wind on his wet face.  The dead leaves rattled gently and he could almost hear his mother in the soft sound, as if she was leaning down to him through the leaves and swaying telephone wires, as if she was smiling down to him from the stars up there bright as her shining eyes, saying, “Sweetie, I promise you, I don’t mind a bit.”

Mom!  Don’t leave me, mom!

But the wind died away.

Chippy’s feet pressed into Adam’s thigh.  Adam clutched his body tight.  Inside that fur and muscle, right there under Adam’s hands, particles of Gwen were at that very moment changing from from person to dog, from dead into living.  Chippy was alive because of Gwen.  Adam knew she would have wanted it that way.

He wiped his sleeve across his jaw and eyes.  He rose to his knees.

Chippy was his responsibility now.  Whatever Chippy needed, Adam would do.  For Gwen.  No more endless hours at the office, no more no-pets apartment.  Adam would move to Gwen’s house.  Adam would feed Chippy, he would walk Chippy and pick up his poop.  He would brush Chippy and vacuum his fur.  He would pay for his checkups and surgeries.  And if it came to it, Chippy could eat him, too.  What the fuck would Adam care if he was dead?

“Where’s your leash?  Oh, yeah.  Never mind.  I got you.” 

Adam cupped one hand under the tiny chest, slid the other under the dog's folding back legs and stood. Chippy’s nails pressed into Adam’s arm through his shirt.  Ears up.  Happy Chippy! 

Adam returned down the sidewalk with Chippy in his arms, back to the house where, past Animal Control, past the cops and EMTs, past Lynn, lay his mother.  And no matter if she was torn to pieces or wrapped like a mummy, Adam would go to her.  He would go to her and hug her and kiss her.  Because she was his mother and she loved him.  And he loved her, past her body, into eternity.

“Let’s go home, boy.  Let’s go say goodbye to Mommy.”  

“Yip.  Yip!” said Chippy. 

###


© Copyright 2017 S. Emmy Runnette. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

Comments

avatar

Author
Reply