When I was a sophomore and twenty, I wrote a story about a dog for my creative writing class. A sled-dog who was part husky, and maybe part wolf. There was a mother and a young daughter in the story.
The handsome dog would not eat when the mother left to go to work in a library. He could not be parted from the mother or the daughter. They moved south for the father’s job. The father worked in a factory, no, an office, yes, he was a chemist. The father was a chemist. No, he was a salesman.
The father was a salesman. He worked at a white-collar job and income varied. His job was dependent on his charm. That was important, an important detail of the story. That, and the father’s eyes, which were limpid. I was proud of calling the father’s eyes limpid, as this was a description I felt writers usually associated with feminine eyes.
The dog’s eyes were also limpid; they were piercing Antarctic blue. The mother was very proud of the dog’s loyalty. He was most loyal to the mother. Sometimes, she would give him a hunk of stew meat, raw, before putting it in the slow cooker. He would eat the meat from her hand, licking the blood, carefully. What a gentle beast. What a good beast.
The father, he had a temper. I took him out of the story. Now, there was just the dog. The dog’s fur was a site to behold. The mother bought him when the daughter was too small to remember, in Montana. But they moved to Texas, for work. The dog travelled with the mother and daughter, riding in the back of the pick-up truck, eating scraps on the way. They lived on peanut butter sandwiches and eggs cooked on a Bunsen burner, as they camped along the way. The dog was their protection. As they drew closer to their final destination, he stuck his snout out the window, sniffing. The air was changing. It was not limpid. It was pungent. It smelled of magnolias. They were in the south.
The dog killed. He killed an armadillo, laying it at their feet. He killed a snake. What kind, they weren’t sure, but the mother said, probably venomous. He saved us, she said.
Years went by. The girl grew and learned to read, and went to school. The dog’s fur came out in tufts. “He was not meant for this kind of heat,” the mother said. The dog’s wolfyness made him magical to the mother and so, of course, to the daughter as well. Of course he wasn’t all wolf. What kind of mother, after all, would keep a wolf as a pet?
The dog killed. He killed a cream-colored cat, a neighbor’s pretty cat. He shook the cat, broke its neck, and brought it to the mother. She quickly put it in a hefty bag and took it out before the garbage men came. The daughter knew not to tell the neighbor, a senior citizen who smiled at them often from her porch.
The dog was restless. He chewed the door until the wood splintered off. Sometimes, he howled. Well, remember his origins. He could not be boarded.
The mother brought the daughter into the mudroom. For a long time, the dog slept at the foot of the mother’s bed, but that time had passed. Now, he slept in the backroom. The mother held the daughters fingers out for the dog. She stroked her daughter’s back. “He just needs to chew. He won’t hurt you at all. He is our wolfy, remember? Just a little. There, there. There, there.”
The mother would do this late at night, when the daughter, who was prone to sleepwalking, was already tucked in. But after some time, the daughter would wait to sleep until it was done. The dog would make a low growl, almost a purr, and his iced eyes would look up at the mother. This was not done in the dark. The mother would kiss the fingers and bandage them.
“She has such anxiety,” the mother said. “She grinds her teeth at night. It wakes us up. I can’t believe it doesn’t wake her up as well.”
And when the daughter began to menstruate, she was separated from the dog. He began to bare his powerful jaws. She was asked to leave the table. “He doesn’t know it’s you,” the mother said.
The daughter was not beautiful, not by day. By day, she wore big pink plastic glasses that slid down her too-small pug nose. But at night, without her glasses, and with her dark hair unbraided, she was almost beautiful.
The mother tried bringing her in to the wolf at night, but he did not recognize the girl. He grew restless. He killed more cats.
She kept forgetting the father, I mean I did. I kept forgetting the father in the story. He was a salesman. He was gone, yes. I took him out of the story.
An online journal published the story. I called it “The Girl and the Snow-White Wolf.”
My brother posted on my Facebook page. I wished he had called, or written.
He said, I read your story. I hate to say it, but it is creepy. Not a in a good way, either.
That’s why I’m the poet and you aren’t. I wrote. Then I took it down, but not before he read it.
What kind of poet doesn’t know when her story is creepy?
I think most poets know when their stories are creepy.
So you admit it, the story is creepy. Do you even know what it means? I mean, the dog, that’s our dog, right?
There is no brother in the story; I can’t bear for there to be one, not in this story. Although maybe there is. A brother, who sleeps very soundly in a room, a brother who is no rival for the wolf’s attentions. Because why? He has no scent. This little boy is a little boy in every way, but he has no smells, not of old pee or Mr. Bubbles. No one really stops to say anything about it, because they are humans, but of course the wolf dog knows. Because of this, the dog has less interest in the boy than he does in the sofa cushions.
I sent him a message. It’s a fairytale, I said. Although in my creative writing class, they had said it wasn’t a fairytale, and that there was nothing transformative in the story.
At the end of the story, the dog grows restless. The daughter goes off to college. The mother doesn’t call. The daughter calls. She takes a Greyhound home.
The mother’s corpse is in the mudroom, her fingers mauled, her chest ripped open, lots of gore. I had imagined this for a graphic novel, but I couldn’t draw. The mother would be in a white flannel robe, her hair still wound around her head in milkmaid braids. I would imagine dried blood, because how could she have walked in right after the heart was offered up to him?
The dog has eaten the heart from out of her. There is no trace.
It is, after all, a story. The daughter finds the mother in the mudroom with the dog, surrounded by dead animals, offering up the animals, little mice, little rats, neighborhood cats and guinea pigs.
Oh Good, the mother says. You’re here. He’ll stop killing now.
The dog is happy to see the daughter. There is blood on his snow-white paws. He knows the daughter. Maybe he has known her all along.
I don’t tell my brother, you know what it’s about. Even my creative writing teacher knows what it’s about.
I don’t tell my brother, I’ve stopped menstruating. I’ve stopped because I am pregnant with the creative writing teacher’s baby. The creative writing teacher has an MFA and a beautiful wispy haircut that just kisses the top of his collar. He is fucking at least two of us, but it took me until a few weeks ago to figure that out.
I dream about my father, not the dog. In the dream, my mother is telling me how much my father likes little golden puppies. How the puppy’s owners don’t like it when he squats down and tries to pet the little golden puppies. “But does he talk to the owners, to the puppies’ masters?” I ask her. Maybe he should volunteer at a shelter, or even bring a puppy home. No, she says. They are going to start breeding.
She’s aggravated. They are babysitting a litter of golden retriever puppies. The puppies are making their little squealing puppy noises. And my father is in the pen with them, smiling. His eyes are not limpid, never have been. They are brown, opaque. He wears a mask of a face. My mother interprets it for me. “See how happy he is,” my mother says. The puppies are licking his face, his hands. And now he has a little golden puppy in each arm, he lifts one puppy, sucking on its little puppy-paw.
“So sweet,” my mother says.
Claudia Smith Chen is the author of two flash fiction collections, The Sky Is A Well (Rose Metal Press) and Put Your Head In My Lap (Future Tense Books). The Sky Is A Well was reprinted in the collection A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness, Four Chapbooks of Short Short Fiction By Four Women. Her short story collection, Quarry Light, is available from Magic Helicopter Press. Her stories and essays have appeared in several journals and anthologies, including Norton’s The New Sudden Fiction: Short Short Stories From America And Beyond, The Rumpus, The Toast/The Butter, Corium Magazine, and Wigleaf. She lives and writes in Houston, Texas, where she works as an English lecturer for the University of Houston-Downtown.