Claudia Smith


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 wroteThen 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 RumpusThe 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.