Issue 2

Fiction

Craig Sanders

Wagging Their Tails Behind Them


    Hold on. I wanna tell you what happened at the shelter but you gotta understand my uncle. He’s Uncle Ken and no matter what kinda shadiness goes down I have to trust him. He’s just smarter and I should listen better.
    It started with that dog Matador. He was just one of a million dogs that have come through here all torn up and half dead. But he was cool anyway, all big and stupid and at least half pit if not purebred too. His fur was kinda red but he had jagged brown scars and scabs from fights I guess. Some bastard left him chained up to our front gate overnight. We found him that morning lying there whimpering and licking a broken dew claw, that’s the little thumb claw.
    Usually my uncle does the first aid but he wanted me to do this one. I dressed his wounds and some of them were pretty fresh. The poor dog would just lie there and cry, even through the muzzle I put on him. He stayed helpless on his back with his feet pawing the air. Uncle Ken stood off to the side and told me when I messed up.
    This was the kinda dog that Uncle Ken would put to sleep right away cause he was hurt real bad and who’s gonna adopt a hurt pit bull and better to just get it over with so I didn’t really understand why he gave him to me.
    “Don’t whine about it, Kat.” He said through bites of a peanut butter sandwich. He’s a vegetarian but its weird cause he’s a big fatty and most vegetarians are skinny guys with dreds that talk about how much it sucks that Phish broke up.
    “I don’t wanna. I just . . .”
    “You need the practice. I can’t have my second in command not being able to run the ship, can I?” Then he winks and I gag. I mean, how lame is that?
    I shouldn’t be surprised cause I just end up doing all the shit work because no one else comes here except Donnie the Botard from Jawanio on Mondays and Wednesdays and anyone who has to do community service, you know, mostly high schoolers whose parents’ lawyers got them off if they got caught dealing.
    My uncle wants me to stay on with him and maybe take over some day. “You have a knack at this,” he’ll tell me a million times while I’m flea dipping a puppy or holding a kitten to be put to sleep with this pink liquid. I’ve been living with him for a year now and he’s kinda old and I think likes the company. My aunt left him a long time ago and took my cousins who I never see and probably took most of his money too cause his place looked like shit until I moved in and girlied it up for him. I know that he’s lonely cause he always asks why I never go out or bring any friends home but I don’t have any friends anymore so I stay home and watch TV. I hate it, but I’m over going out.
    I owe Uncle Ken a lot cause I was fucked up for a long time on E and meth and shit and was crashing on couches and futons until I found a job. I used to strip for a year or so at the Doll House, you know, that place off the Palisades. You can’t even imagine the cash. I mean, yeah I had to grind my cooch on lonely fat guys, but you don’t even realize they’re there after a while. They’re like ATMs in pleated pants. I’ve probably gotten a twenty from every man in Rockland County. And my boss hooked us all up with anything we needed so I was always high.
    He healed slow and was scared of everything at first, but once he got better and could go out Matador was too fun. I’d play fetch with him and when he’d see the ball his tongue would hang out and his back paw would start thumpin’ the ground. It reminded me of that old ass cartoon where the wolf is at a bar and sees like Red Riding Hood or Bo Peep all skanked out and freaks out. My Mom loves those old cartoons and used to watch ‘em with me on Cartoon Network.
    I really don’t talk much to my Mom anymore. She’s happy that I didn’t die I guess but in a way she’s embarrassed I didn’t too. Now she has to explain me, like I can see her talking to her friends at Weight Watchers, “Um . . . No, my daughter isn’t a junkie-stripper anymore.” “That’s FAB-ulous. What’s she doing now?” “Oh, um . . she cleans dog shit at a job my brother got her.” “Well, that’s . . . lovely. No really, wonderful. Would you like another low-carb-high-protein-sugar-free-fiber-flake?”
    I’d never tell my uncle or my mom but I miss stripping a lot. Not just the money or the drugs. It’s the music and the bass pounding you in the chest and the smell of lotion and the sweat and the glitter and knowing that all the guys there are gonna go home and jerk off to you. I ruled up there and it’s the only place where I could and I won’t ever again.
    We get back to the shelter and Uncle Ken is out front talking to a couple of Mexicans leaning against a pickup truck. There’s an old one with a potbelly and greasy hair who I’ve seen here every couple of months and one about my age in a striped shirt left open to show a wife beater underneath. The young one looked damn ass good.
    “Are you sure there’s nothing good here,” The kid said to the older one.
    Oldy pointed at Matador and me and mumbled something in Spanish.
    They walked over, Oldy in short puffy steps and the young one staying at his side and sometimes supporting him.
    Oldy kept brushing him away like a gnat or a yippy dog.
    “Kat, let them see the dog,” Uncle Ken said.
    Matador hid between my legs when I gave them the leash. They inspected the dog and checked his teeth, muscle tone, eyesight—it was like some kinda weird dog show.
    “Is he mean?” The kid asked me.
    “Um, no . . .”
    “S’ok.” Oldy handed me back the leash. “We’ll take him.”
    Uncle Ken stepped forward. “Not yet. He took a bad beating and isn’t ready yet.”
    “He’ll be fine with us,” the kid said.
    “C’mon kid.” Uncle Ken made a gesture with one of his hands.
    Oldy leaned in and grunted a number.
    “Better.” Uncle Ken turned to me, “Why don’t you take the dog inside, Kat,” and I did. Fuck them. I knew what they were. Haverstraw’s had a problem with pit fighting for years now. They’re like sick bastards who’ll sit around getting shitty on Coronas and blunts and watch dogs kill each other.
    I go back outside without the dog and they’re not there anymore. They’re all in his office cause I can see them through the plexiglass window. I’ve been around enough shady people in my day to know when something fucked up is happening and this was it.
    Sometimes you’re helpless and you can only watch so you have to think about something else. One time I was
Sandersat a party and had eaten too much E. I’m in the bathroom all puking and shit and pullin’ off my shirt cause it feels like my skin is like on fire. I can’t get off the floor and some guy I didn’t know comes in and he locks the door and pins me down and all I can think is how nice and cool the tile feels against my skin.
    The two Mexicans came out of the office. The hot one smiled at me but it was like a creepy smile as they crawled into the truck and pulled away.
    “What the hell was that about?” I said to my Uncle as I walked back inside.
    “Forget it, they’re good people.”
    “Bullshit.”
    He didn’t even look up at me. “You’re right, it is bullshit. But the shelter needs the money and dogs like that bring it in. Don’t look at me like that. No one’s gonna adopt that thing. You can’t save all of them. It’s taking up space for the dogs with a chance.” He picked up the phone in his office and dialed.
    I wanted to say how wrong I thought it was but how would I know anyway cause I’m not what most people would call moral so Uncle Ken is probably right and I’m just a stupid junkie whore who doesn’t even know that its ok to sell a dog for fighting if you can run your animal shelter with the money so I just walked away and cried.
    That was the last I heard of it for a week or so. Then just yesterday I was at work and Donnie Botard had just sprayed down the hall with bleach and all the dogs were on the outer part. So I go outside and I’m looking at my beautiful Matador. He’s got his paws up on the fence barking at me and like waggin’ his tail in a little booty dance. I wondered if he used to bark at his old home or if he got beaten or was he a runaway and how he ended up with me.
    I heard gravel grinding behind me and that same truck from the other day rolled up on me. This time only the young one got out.
    He like shuffled up to the cages and then up to Matador. Looking at him this time I saw that he was younger than I thought, like a little bit younger than me. His skin was very light for a Spanish boy like chocolate milk without enough Hershey’s and he was very skinny in that dancey sort of way, like he spent a lot of nights at the club. No, probably not Mexican but I can’t really tell the difference.
    “He looks good,” the boy finally said. His voice was real soft and shaky. He was nervous and I felt kinda bad for him.
    “Thank you. I took care of him myself. When he came in here he was hurt really bad and I bandaged him and gave him all his shots and stuff. I’m the reason he’s still alive.”
    He smiled and shifted his feet. “That’s great . . . Kitty, right?”
    “No. I’m Katherine, Kat. Definitely not Kitty. How do you know my . . .”
    “But you were—I mean—you were, right?”
    “I really have to get back to work.”
    He looked back to the dog, then behind him, and scratched at the back of his neck. “You wouldn’t remember me.”
    “You came by with some old guy a couple weeks ago.”
    “No. No, before that. Way before that. “C’mon, SandersI know it was you. You used to dance at that place off the Parkway. I remember. You would do this . . .”
    “Ok, you can leave now.” I moved toward the office door to get Uncle Ken.
    “Wait!” He froze me. “Just tell me.” And he seemed so sad that I mumbled out a “yes.”
    “I knew it!” He shouted and then quickly lowered his voice into a hard whisper. “I knew you were. I used to watch you every week. Sometimes you’d talk to me. You were nice to me. I mean, I know it was cause I was giving you money, but even after I’d run out you’d still talk to me—like I was different—you could tell that I cared about you.”
    “I’m sorry.”
    His hands moved quickly as he talked and made me nervous. “I was really stupid back then. I wanted you so bad. I heard about what you strippers did after your shows, you know, for extra money,” we both blushed, “but I could never have enough. You know . . . I was poor and I knew you didn’t want me no matter how you acted. But my cousin . . . We started with the dogs. He said he knew a guy that ran a shelter and could get him dogs.
    “It was such easy money. And I walked into that club, sat you down on my lap, and said ‘how much to take you home, mami?’ And you were mine! For that one night, you were mine! Don’t you remember?”
    I shook my head. He could’ve been anybody.
    “Not even a little?” Shake. “Not even my name?” Shake.
    He frowned. “I wanted to pull you out of that place and take care of you forever. Everything I’ve done, it was all
for you. You didn’t know, but it was all you.” He straightened up and walked to his truck. “I’ll pick up the dog tomorrow,” and he drove off.
    I’m really not the smartest person and I don’t handle that sort of thing real well. I was just thinking about back when he knew me, how I’d let some guy put his dick in me or be sittin’ cross legged with some random junkie tapping each other’s arms till a vein popped up and how that’s the closest I was gonna come to love.
    I walked into the shelter and brought Matador into the exam room. The room was clean like it always is with all the drugs and syringes lined up in the cabinet. I helped my dog onto the table. The syringe went into the pink liquid. I pulled it out and then I killed him.