Breath & Shadow
A Journal of Disability Culture and Literature
By E. A. Lawrence
The dog follows me. I can't explain why, I don't really know. I see him hulking along behind me from the corner of my eye. Sometimes I just see a shadow flitting along the ground. I try to tell myself it's not him; it's just a squirrel or a possum. The only problem is that I've never seen a squirrel or a possum shaped quite like that, all huge with a hump and long stiletto legs with a fluffy tail.
I know his name is Valentine. He told me so one day. I was sitting, waiting for the G-28 bus; it was running the usual ten minutes late. Then I felt the paw, his paw, thump my right shoulder. My ear hairs, the really tiny ones like white downy fuzz, all stood so tight on end it hurt. His breath rasped against my skin just when I thought that ear couldn't get any more hot and uncomfortable. Then he spoke.
"Hello." But a long "o", burning my ear with his breath.
"Who are you?"
"Valentine." The claws dug into my shoulder, very sharp claws that left dents in the shirt all day.
"What do you want?"
Then the bus came. The smell came first, that gassy hot burn up the nose, and then the paw was gone, the voice with it. I paid my two bucks and sat in the back. A Sister of Mercy sat beside me on my left; the glass cooled my burning ear. I felt safe. Then, as the bus drove through the light, I saw the dog trotting between a Volvo and an old blue Corsair, keeping perfect pace.
He's never spoken to me since, but then I haven't given him much chance. I don't sit on benches or lean against trees, I try to blend in with crowds. It doesn't really work, like how pepper never really blends with salt, but it feels like I'm trying something.
Sometimes I try to imagine Valentine as a puppy. Puppies aren't really scary. They've got big eyes and paws and chew their tails. Puppies have tubby tummies and they love attention, and they nuzzle and slick. Puppy fur is always softer too, so soft I could bury my face in it and burrow in deep and breathe in the puppy smell of warm furry skin and be happy. Only thing is, Valentine's not a puppy. Valentine is big, bigger than a child, bigger than a woman; he's even bigger than some men. Valentine's fur is black blacker than a cloudy night in the country, but his teeth are a brighter white than the brightest summer star. Sometimes they almost sparkle, just like his yellow eyes. I only looked into his eyes once. I can tell you they are yellow-- believe me; you don't want to know more.
So he follows me. Day in day out he follows. We spend so much time together I wish we could be friends. He sees all of my life; Valentine knows all of my secrets. I'm sure he knows me better than my mother, and I know I see more of him. I've left out hamburger patties and bits of bacon and cheese for him the last few days. I think he eats them. With a name like Valentine, I want to give him chocolates, but I remember that chocolate poisons dogs. Having Valentine around is kind of like having a dog again except for the fact that I've never gotten to pet him and he doesn't exactly shake a paw.
Eyes like his, I'll bet he's lonely. Sometimes my eyes look monstrous like that in the mirror. Except my eyes are hazel. That's why I've started feeding him. I mean, he hasn't killed me or anything, and it's been months and months and I know what it's like to be lonely.
Sometimes I dream that I'll have a gun pressed against my temple one night as I walk past an alley. The man will demand all my money and my watch and my cell phone or else. And I'll be standing there fumbling and the situation will be getting worse and the punk is getting the idea that a corpse is easy to search and I can hear his finger start to squeeze the trigger like they always say to do in the movies and gun safety and I'll know I'm a goner. I'll see it all; kindergarten sand pies, burnt camp hotdogs, crushing the neighbor's mailbox with my dad's sedan, losing my virginity in the cheap limo, watching the Northern lights, holding Flower in my arms after the BMW ran her over, and then-- just as my life story hits my first court appearance-- I hear Valentine's growl. It's a throaty growl. The kind of growl one expects from a big, vicious dog only ten times louder. Valentine slams into the punk--all teeth and snout and claws and bulk. By the time I turn around the punk is gone: nothing is left but torn bits of flesh and blood--lots of blood--with Valentine standing proud and fierce.
Then I gasp and I wake up and I know why he's there beside me every day. I don't know who sent him or why I have him. All I have is the dream; the dream and lots of meat in my freezer. So I feed him. I feed him and he follows. He follows every day.
E.A. Lawrence is a writer, photographer, and biologist who haunts the Great Lakes practicing science, and telling stories while living with multiple sclerosis. Her work has appeared in Playtime: An Arts and Culture Magazine. You can learn more about her work and adventures in life on her blog: Technicolorlilypond.