Brevity Nineteen

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Bulldog

By Greg Bottoms

The one time I saw the dog—I was eleven and had just met Mark—she had nearly hanged herself, in her maniacal aggression, from a stout oak tree.

Mark and I stood outside of the chain-link fence, in his father’s narrow side-yard, watching. The grass was winter-brown; it crunched under our shoes. A jet from the nearby Air Force base, where my mother was at work, roared over us, writing a thick chalk line of exhaust across the sky.

We looked up, at each other, back at Bulldog balanced on her hind legs at the end of the taut leash, tongue out, hopping, gagging, her pink chest forward, exposed. She was short, bulky, white with large brown spots, one encircling her left eye. The leash was wrapped several times around the trunk. Every fourth or fifth inhale was a panicked, gasping snort, her breath pluming out like a cartoon dialogue bubble.

“I told you,” Mark said, in that petulant, contorted-face way he had. His parents were in the middle of the divorce at this time; there was name-calling, a custody battle. “She’s insane. She does this every time she sees me. She bit someone in my mom’s neighborhood, so my mom told my dad he had to keep her here until they could sell her. My mom says my dad drinks and that’s why the dog is wild. She’s like, ‘Stop drinking and pay some attention to the dog.’ And then he’s like, ‘I don’t drink.’ And then she’s like, ‘I can’t talk to you. Why do you lie? Why do you lie? It’s over and you’re still lying.’ I hate my parents, man. I wish my mom would die sometimes.”

“Who’s going to buy a dog like that?” I asked.

“She’s a purebred.” He put his chapped hand on the top bar of the fence. “So you have to find like a dog person, you know, a purebred person. My mom and dad bought her when they were trying to keep everyone in one house. At least they didn’t have a baby. Christ.”

Bulldog’s eyes bulged; her rage sent a tingle like someone’s fingers across my scalp.

“Come on,” Mark said. “Watch this.” He jumped the fence.

The dog became wilder, hopping much higher than before, baring her teeth, slobbering soapy foam. I was sure she’d either strangle herself or get loose and tear him to shreds.

I jumped the fence. I was eleven. My new friend did it. I had to.

I stood fifteen feet or so from Bulldog, whose anger was a magnetic field. I felt it in my back and neck, heat down in my legs. I could hardly breathe.

Mark picked up a rusty hatchet from beside the woodpile. “Come on!” he yelled at the dog. “Come on!”

He wound up, hand cocked high over his head. He threw it.

My whole body blinked. My hands curled like claws, my shoulders flinched up toward my ears.

After I opened my eyes, he turned toward me, laughing, the hatchet still in his hand, a tormentor playing a joke for my enjoyment.

Did the dog yelp and briefly cower? I don’t know. In the close-up shot my memory supplies I see only Mark’s face, and the hatchet blade, brown from corruption.

What I do remember clearly—what happened next, the image organizing these words—is how Bulldog lunged at him then, the feral, almost otherworldly sound of her, the way she pulled hard against the leash, stretching her leather and metal collar until it was about to break, willing, like the rest of them, to be hanged there by her own truculence if that’s what it took to get revenge.


 

Greg Bottoms is the author of Angelhead: My Brother's Descent Into Madness. He teaches nonfiction writing at the University of Vermont.

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