by Darlene Cah
The first day the little white dog showed up, all fluffy-haired, wagging tail, I shoo’d it away. I didn’t need no stray mutt peeing on my azaleas or digging up my snap peas.
The second day the little white dog ran out of the woods right up onto my porch, its paws caked in clay, legs stained orange and red. Still it sat, head cocked, mouth smiling wide, tail sweeping dead beetles and pollen through the floor slats. I stomped like an ogre to the door, and the dog scrambled back to the woods as if we were playing a game. I didn’t need another mouth to feed, another crybaby to tend to.
On the third day the dog returned, its coat gray and matted with leaves and clumps of dirt. It brought a stick and dropped it at the foot of the porch stairs, then sat pawing the air like it was slapping a high five, and yipping like a coyote. I screamed like I do at Billy Jr. sometimes, when I’m cooking, or giving the twins a bath, or feeding Baby Cee, and he comes whining about some stupid video game he wants, or why can’t we have a flat screen TV, or a computer like his friend Joey has. I went and got Big Bill’s rifle and aimed it right at that little dog’s head. I fingered the trigger. So smooth and cool, so easy to squeeze. My breath came raspy. I shivered though the sun had already turned my arms and cheeks red. I felt the flutter deep in my belly. The little dog backed up, lowered its head and clamped its tail, turned and shuffled into the woods. Inside, Baby Cee screamed for lunch.
On the fourth day, I hung wash on the line and watched the woods, but no dog came.
On the fifth day, the nausea started. I picked tomatoes from the garden to make sauce for supper while the twins ran naked under the sprinkler of the hose. I heard a rustle in the woods, but no dog appeared.
On the sixth day, Big Bill came home from work early, said he was laid off, him and three other guys. I didn’t mention the stink of beer or the twisting in my gut. I stood by the sink while he took the money jar from the top self of the cabinet. He left me a ten. Said he and Buzz were heading to Cumberland, said he heard there was work out that way. Said he would call when he was settled. I bit my lip so as not to say the phone would be cut off next week. I didn’t look out the window when I heard the muffler on the old pickup pop and sputter and give way to Billy Jr. yelling at the twins and Baby Cee shrieking. Exhaust fumes mingled with the onions burning in the skillet. I looked up and thought I saw a white streak in the woods.
On the seventh day, I held the tea leaves Mercy gave me, and inhaled their acrid odor. Myrna had a stash. So did Lydia and Bea. I poured water in the kettle and lit the burner. We still had gas. I took a cup from the drain board and steadied myself against a wave of dizziness. Billy Jr. was at his friend Joey’s house. The twins were in the playpen. Baby Cee was asleep. I poured water over the leaves. The steam burned my face. I left the dishes in the sink. Left the mop in a pail of dirty suds. I took the cup out to the porch, sat on the steps leaning my head against the rail, watching the woods. The click of claws on wood made me sit up. Out of the shadow at the corner of the porch the white dog walked, tail swaying, hair like clumps of cotton, wadded with twigs, pellets of dried clay and dead leaves. I noticed it was a girl. She leaned into my side and panted. I placed the cup of tea on the step near my feet, and worked my fingers through the little dog’s hair, untangling her fur. Phoebe, I called her. I named her Phoebe.
-refers from the word sink in Tuere T.S. Ganges story Dishes before Daylight