by Effie Collins
Read by Jason Warden
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Dew-cooled morning air swirled lightly around Mike’s knobby and exposed knees; he was still in his boxer shorts. Fifteen damn minutes trying to remember what he’d forgotten and it was his trousers of all things.
“Old age makes a fool of all men,” he said to his screen-enclosed porch. “Especially me.”
With the memory fading and arthritis eating his joints away, he was ready to just quit. He had old people’s disease, rotting in inches, smelling the stink of his own death creep up to greet him from his toes. He knew he was a goner within a few years, maybe months yeah, but he still felt like a man with more years in him. But old men fade to time, as they all do. He was.
Next to the door leading outside stood what he needed. Despite the pain, he must never dare forget this, the most sacred of his morning rituals. She had, of course, earned her own comfort. But not until he’d put on some pants.
In the seven years since his retirement, if it hadn’t been for Kilo, he’d have starved at times. Long, hard stretches of months when the electric company upped the charges, always careful to put their little “E” for “Estimated Service Rates” in the proper column. He didn’t have electric heating and shouldn’t have to pay more in the winter, to his mind. He was a gas man, always had been.
“You can’t kill what’s already in nature. Wood, rock, mineral and yes, gas, were things the Earth gave us to use”, Pa had said.
His voice was gentle and even, but still firm. Always firm.
“Using what she gives, now that’s straight, boy.”
He’d taken it to heart and, as a man, had taken his viewpoint as far as he could. But he ended up paying the increased rates anyway. And during the long winter months, his dog had been his savior. She gave him the extra money to eat, to stay warm. After basic needs, there was no extra money in the winter. She provided that when nothing else would.
But now she was getting old, too old to fight anymore. Some of the young cats down at the ring said he should just put her down when she started losing, but no. Not his girl. He owed her his life.
His very life.
He owed her and as far as he was concerned, she was worth the pain filled trip outside, even when the weather was bad. He couldn’t keep her in, no. She was too big for his tiny house. He tried, for a while. She got her own house when she broke the TV set.
And a nice house it was, too. His only child, Malcolm, had thrown a fit, but he didn’t care. After sixty-seven years on this planet, he was fairly certain he had a right to do whatever he fam-damn liked. His boy could have a calf if it suited, but Kilo had gotten her house, yes indeed. Oh sure, it was a fifteen year old mobile home parked in his yard, but it was hers. Everything in the place belonged to Kilo. Her bed covers, her beer, her newspaper. The girl was set up smart, but by God, she’d earned it. Every bit. Other than Saturday nights, the girl was queen of the scene, mistress of her own house with no master, just her friend, big Mike.
So out he went every morning, rain, snow, sleet, or hail, as the P.O. puts it, and crossed the nearly acre long yard to his dog’s house without complaint. And now, he’d do it again. This time his trousers would go with him.
He grabbed a three-pound coffee can full of dry dog food from the bin next to the door and went out.
He couldn’t help loving her at all; she was as much his child as Malcolm—little Mikey—had ever been. He bought her as a pup, raised her. Mikey never thought of her as anything more than an annoyance.
‘Dad, she’s a dog, for fuck’s sake.’
‘But she’s my dog, Mikey.’
‘You shouldn’t even have a pit bull. They’re dangerous.’
‘Are you shitting me? Dangerous? Kilo?’ He’d laughed, of course, and that had sent poor Mikey into another hissy fit, but he couldn’t help it. His namesake got the best of him at the worst times.
‘I’m not joking a bit, Dad. You see it on the news all the time.’
‘But those dogs are not my girl. She’d never hurt me.’
And then Mikey had said something; something wrong, something mean and spiteful and downright wicked for any son to say to his father.
‘But you hurt her plenty, don’t you Dad?’
Oh the nerve of that boy! If he’d have known what was good for him, he’d have kept his trap shut, but no. That child just widened that cocksucking hole of his until it burst and yes, Mike had socked the boy. Right in the nose, the little shit.
Mikey had never come back. His wife called. Once.
How could you, Mike? Over a dog! I tried to talk to him, but he says he’s done with you and your shit-bitch, as he put it. I’ve done what I could, but I doubt he’ll be back around. Maybe if you came over in a month or so…
He told her that was fine, just fine. Little Mikey’d come around after a while. But he hadn’t and as it turned out, that was just fine too. It was nice to not have to defend your income every time company came around.
He crossed the worn down swatch of fenced in yard surrounding Kilo’s house, mounted the porch steps and moved to the door; he could hear her barking inside, a low and grumbling grawoof that so many people shied from, but he adored. She was hungry, he’d taken a whole extra thirty-five minutes and girl wanted her breakfast. She knew he was out there listening and another impatient howl sounded through the metal door. This was their game, but today she was having none of it.
She was an obedient bitch pit, and as beautiful as any dog of the same breed. Pits were lovely animals and none deserved the treatment they’d gotten. Hell, some of the boys down at the ring didn’t even name their dogs, just assigned them numbers like a government experiment. But not him. No, he loved his girl. She was not an instrument for his gain, but her skills had helped pay for her. She paid for herself ten times over.
Laughing, Mike pushed the door open. She paced, back and forth, back and forth between him and her food dish. She wrinkled her eyebrows, a very human expression for a dog, and snarled low, questioning.
“You want a little to nibble while I mix up this other, huh?” he asked. Her answering tail wag was enough.
“Just a little though. You know how this shit makes you heave when it’s dry.”
Shaking a little into her bowl, he nuzzled the top of her head with his whiskers, just how she liked. Her gentle nip on his cheek; quick kiss, gotta go, food is waiting, Daddy-o. Such is the affection between master and pet.
He straightened and started to turn to the wall mounted cabinets to get out the canned dog food when pain exploded in his chest and up his left arm. A grunt rumbled in his throat and the coffee can clattered to the floor, kibble skittering here and there. His tried to move forward, but his right side, the important side because he was right-hand dominant, refused to move. Numbness spread through him and he pitched forward. The room brightened, then went dark and for a while, he knew nothing.
‘Dad, you have to stop this. You’re going to get caught one day.’
‘Then I’ll deal with it, Mikey. Stop harping on me about it.’
‘I can’t stop. What if she gets hurt bad at one of those fights? You’ll be all to pieces.’
‘She won’t get hurt, Mikey. She’s good.’
She was good. A good dog, a good friend. A good fighter. He loved how she sounded when she was happy… but wait.
He knew that sound. The first sound, not the terrible nuh-nuh-nuh he heard, but the other sound. That rumbling half growl.
Nuh turned to guh and Mike realized that he was speaking. That garbled, strangled sound was him. His voice.
No, he thought. I can’t. Not in here, they’ll never find me–won’t even look.
Girl, c’mere girl.
He could smell that faint clean-dog smell her house always had, a combination of flea shampoo and coconut conditioner that he’d come to love. The high-traffic carpeting beneath his face squished as his mouth worked to form words that wouldn’t come out. Hot, sticky liquid pooled further around his head–his blood. He could smell it too now, that coppery metallic scent. He’d smelled it a thousand times at the fighting rings.
And that sound, that low gut growl that had caused so many fighting dogs to shiver and shake in their corners. Mike’s eyes jittered to and fro, looking for his girl. His Kilo.
‘What a fucking name for a dog, Dad.’
Maybe so. Maybe so.
“Es Guh, nuh-nuh-guh. Ba Ba, Ki-ki. Ki-ki!”
That’s good, no no girl. Back, Back Kilo. Kilo!
He could see her now, her snow and cream fur covered with wretched scars, her roving, expressive amber eyes–eyes alight with hunger. With need.
The very need he’d taught her.
Two fat tears rolled out of his eyes and onto the cheap carpeting, briefly lightening the blood which had now seeped through the fabric and rubber backing into the plywood sheeting beneath. He glanced up and saw blood—and a large clot of what looked like scalp and hair—smeared on the counter top. He must have hit his head when he went down. She sniffed at the clotted mess, lapped it once with her long, pink tongue and turned to him. She could smell him, of course, but now she had the taste.
Blood, blood always blood. Dogs get a taste for it and it was this that made him understand what he saw in her eyes. She’d looked the same way in the ring a thousand times, as her many scars showed. A thousand times.
That taste for blood.
She circled him, pacing back and forth. He spied the coffee can and it’s spilled contents, left forgotten in the floor. She smelled something better, something she’d lived for once a week since he’d trained her to fight.
“Nuh! Nuh!” He tried to force an arm up, willed it to go, but no response from those death-heavy limbs. His son had betrayed him, his dog would soon, why not his body too? Fuck it if it did. He’d go to his Hell just as easily as the next. His own fucking heart had given up on him and gave him a concussion to boot. Well, booger the lot of them. He was done.
Years my ass, he thought. I’m going out now, and damn me to hell, that boy of mine’ll get my dog. He’ll turn her into some kind of pussy house dog, no doubt. Should have put her down, boy. Yes indeed. But I owed her. Owed her my life, I did. He thought of his son taking Kilo home with him and how his little granddaughter, Sheree, had just turned four. Lots of cuts and scrapes and accidents to come… lots of blood. And dear God above, she’s got a taste for it now. A taste for blood—human blood.
Pain shot through his legs as his pet, his beloved Kilo, fell to her feast, ripping through his flesh and to the bone. He would have screamed, but his throat refused to make any sound other than that awful nuh-nuh-nuh.