-The Free Lance-Star – Nov 30th 1987
The whirring blades did not blow coolness through the room, only pushed the musty odor of rot, once every forty-five seconds, into the bathroom, where they huddled—the child, Liddy, sinking her head into a pit bull’s brown fur coat. She was quiet. The pit-bull, Warbux, perked its ears with each rise of the girl’s chest. Curled upon a haunch, she lay face to face with the dog’s curled body. The dry stink of her breath blew in and out by its nose. Past the tiled floor, in the living room, a harsh yellowing desk lamp illuminated the stains drying on the carpet and the nearby fan-head, on its 321st oscillation, clicked, motor sputtering, and died, leaving stillness and silence. Warbux barked, his eyes still closed. They opened slowly, one following behind the other, so that his view was cross-eyed. Scanning the doorframe, the dog waited. Nothing moved in either room. After three or four minutes Warbux settled, resting its head on its paws, now licked clean of sticky iron, and watched the reflection of moonbeams dance across ceramic tile.
The night was warm and despite the humidity, or maybe because of it, Warbux’s tongue lolled, swollen, outside of its mouth where it was unguarded to the taste of spoiled meat. The coughs and panting of the dog resonated in the bathroom, amplified in the toilet basin, yet Liddy did not stir. Warbux smacked its lips. Without warning, he unwound his neck from the girl and sat at attention, listening as if he had heard some noise at the far end of the house. Warbux stopped panting. The sound came again. A sound like a croak or the widowed motorcycle in the garage grinded, muffled by the maze of hallways, listlessly in Warbux’s head.
Lifting its head, Warbux turned to where Liddy lay, nursing on the pit bull’s ankle. For a brief moment, as she shifted away from the contracting leg muscles of the dog, an eyelash fluttered; she twisted aside and grabbed ahold of a small dirty washcloth, which the pit-bull had pulled from the closet, and formed it in front of her like a teddy bear. She breathed deeper than before, only once, and slept.
Standing, the pit-bull smelled her hair, taking a few long pulls on it. Liddy was an earthy smell – of grass and oil and piss, a subtle reminder of life penetrating the suffocating smells of fermenting innards from the next room. Before leaving, Warbux leaned his head in the toilet bowl, as he had shown Liddy two days before, and refreshed himself with a cool drink.
The wood floor creaked under Warbux’s feet when he left the bathroom, as he skirted the shag carpet embellishing the center of the room. It was as though the whole woven rug had been seeped with the poison that lay upon it. The dog did not look upon the man or how he had fallen upon the woman. His arms cleaved behind her, rigid and grasping as if they were half cooked spaghetti bathed in a sour sauce. His eyes did not follow Warbux, nor did the dog make eye contact with him. The pit-bull only looked towards the bits of jelly cascading, dry, rusty and thick, to the floor, or sniffed at the shattered bone ash. The woman on the floor watched him with opaque blindness.
Her head was tilted back, and she was in the middle of pushing the man away with her forearms. Her hands were clean of his filth but the delicate pattern of blood cloaked her splotchy arms to the elbow.
Warbux started towards her. It stopped just short of the maroon inkblot and the man’s lightening toy. Her eyes hadn’t followed the dog; they only stared through the bathroom door to the little girl in Dora pajamas, sucking her thumb. Three suns earlier, when the man and the woman had hurled thunder back and forth, when they both had gone down, her eyes had been the ocean – dark, sandy green and reflecting the desk lamp. Now they were clogged with the detritus of plastic bags and seagull skeletons. Warbux wrinkled its nose and sneezed six times, layering a mist of snot upon the dead on the floor. A sputtering cry came from down the hallway, near the other end of the house. The paw prints Warbux left on the floor alternated between half articulated red patches and nothing as he loped towards the noise.
Erin’s feet were still strung though the holes on the bottom of the baby bouncer and a different stain soiled the carpet of the nursery. Warbux’s nose sniffed at Erin’s forehead, but the impossibly small child batted away the wet and cold bauble with little fists. Erin made a hacking sound that lasted for almost thirty seconds. Warbux’s ears dropped and it backed away from the sound before circumnavigating the room and coming upon the baby’s other side. The next time the dog approached Erin, she let it come. Her head lolled from side to side and her eyes were half open. She reached for Warbux’s ears, and the dog felt the pinch as she tugged on it. Warbux did not move, but waited. The moonlight had not entered this room but light began to creep in from the east, bringing with it a new rolling current of moisture, and inferno. It was the sunlight warming Warbux’s face that woke him, not the gentle release of Erin’s hand. Warbux had not noticed when the girl had released him, only that now she had. It nudged the baby seat but no sounds came and when it licked her elbow nothing in the house stirred. The dog walked away.
Before returning to where Liddy slept, curled in the towels she had pulled from the linen closet deep in the night, Warbux trotted to the kitchen and pulled a bag of greasy chips from the shelf he had only been able to reach because he had long since learned how navigate the chair, kitchen table and countertop like a cat in his puppy years. The bag was almost as big as he was—one of those supersized numbers. He dragged it, a hunter and his venison, through the hallway, passed the door with the slumped baby bounce, passed the laundry room where a green light blinked on the dryer, passed the set of the murder suicide and the broken fan and the yellowing spotlight and into the bathroom. Two weeks later, when a relative came to check up on her sister, Liddy was given a new family, and the dog taken away by animal control.
©2014 Lex Vex