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
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
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
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
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.