When them pupils go demon-dime and the numbs begin ta tingle, that’s when I know I’m back. If I lie still enough, I’ll feel myself takin’ flight and I’ll hear Momma whisperin’ ta me ta have a good night and then I’ll smile big and wide and breathe deep and think ’bout how Momma dresses me and how she sometimes likes ta leave the tag on jus in case I don’t like it none, but I always love it.
Papa tells me I’s special. Papa tells me that I’s conceived from jus a kiss and he tells me it all started with him beggin’ pretty Momma for jus one little kiss, and when she did, he slipped her me, right onta her tongue and she saw my colors beginnin’ ta bloom and she knew some’n truly special was brewin’.
Papa told me I’s born that very same night, up there at that Eastside Tulsa Vet, right across the street from the El Chico restaurant. I sure love hearin’ the story cause it make me smile every time Papa tells it, but I suppose everybody loves hearin’ bout how they came abouts. Papa was jus originally gonna stop by there ta let Momma pet on them homeless kitties and Papa said Momma was so tripped up she kept tellin’ em that the walls looked like the floors and the floors looked like the walls.
Papa was good buddies with the doggy doc there, who was jus so happenin’ ta be workin’ on this big pooch that he had all propped up and on the tall table, and it looked like the doggy been shot by a farmer’s two barrel, and the doggy was pantin’ and in pain and was havin’ a hard time breathin’ and Momma kept sayin’ that watchin’ that hurtin’ doggy was makin’ her numbs tingle a bit and she started gettin’ anzy from a sting she’d never felt before, and when that doggy doc said he was gonna have ta put em down, Papa asked Momma if she wanted ta test out those new feels a hers. The doctor already had an IV line in the doggy and a syringe full a some frothy, milk lookin’ stuff and Papa said his assistant pushed in that syringe and fed the line and it made the doggy go into a deep sleep.
Papa walked my Momma up to the dyin pooch and guided her tremblin’ hand onto the doggy and placed the heal of her palm onto his chest and Papa said that when the doggy doc nodded ta his assistant, he quickly unscrewed one syringe and put another one on, a clear one. Then he told Momma that they’s pushin’ in the heart stopper now and Papa said Momma started full body shakin’ as she began feelin’ that doggy’s heart race at first, before then breakin’ rhythm and quiverin’ and then stoppin’, and then she let out a gasp and Papa said her eyes started tearin’ and she made a big, sad smile before laughin’ nervously and grabbin’ her chest and sayin’ she could feel the good in her tryin’ ta come out. Then she got real dizzy.
And then it happened. I came inta this world and I looked up at Papa for the first time and I’s cold but I wasn’t, and I looked down at that poor dead doggy and I embraced him and we stayed there for hours and Papa held me, and I was so scared but he held me so tight and I felt so safe and even though I didn’t know him, I knew he had ta be my Papa by the way he looked at me. The way he treated me.
Papa drove me home and I remember how green the grasses was and how it was as if the world was a picture paint, and I told Papa that when yu drive too fast yu smearin’ up the world and he laughed and said that callin’ him Papa was gonna take some getting’ used too, and he said I’s makin’ him feel like a mad scientist.
* * *
Every night before the dawn I’d cry cause I’d get real weak and sleepy and start feelin’ different. I told Papa that every time I went ta sleep I felt like I’m dyin’, like I might not ever come back and he would rub them bangs outta my hair and kiss me on the cheek and tell me you got nothin’ ta worry bout and I’d look over and see them sheets a stickers. Papa made stickers and stamps and he’d drip stuff on em. He had him all kinds a stickers. Neon stickers, peace sign stickers, horsey stickers, a bunch a happy face stickers. He had set aside some big sheets a baby bee stickers and I asked Papa if those are for me and he’d smiled and said they’s actually for Momma and he said “Momma uses em when she misses ya.”
Then I went ta sleep cause I sleep a lot and I saw Momma when she was a little girl in the dirt circle, a little girl that didn’t feel the way you or I feel, and she was buildin’ castles in the Pit dirt and she’s all smiles, and then I see the bird ribbons a blood soarin’ in the air and then splatterin’ on that very same dirt, the iron stench, and I smelt it well, as if she’s wavin’ it right under my nose, the blood mud and the always single, bright light from above, cuttin’ through that Marlboro haze and lookin’ like a bright moon tryin’ ta push through a dark, fallen cloud mornin’. I see her grippin’ a chain link circle cage with blood red fingernail polish, a slick floor concrete pit, the grey floor coated in the smeared crimson, paws slippin’, clawin’ fightin for the traction, in the back a some industrial nowhere. And I see the flickerin’ a fire light and it paints the side of a barn with quivery, spooky shadows.
The outdoor, cage-less Pits now, the cheers of a tipsy, blood thirsty crowd, the pig pens and the fasted hogs that wait in the delight ta dine on the loser. Two dogs tied in, the teeth clinch, them whimpers, so loud, and it scared me and I woke up and screamed for Papa and he came runnin’ and I told him that I’m scared a Momma’s stuff and he gave me one a Momma’s stickers and told me to put it in my mouth and then I relaxed a bit and I asked him if Momma works with doggies and he nodded and said that Momma is a special kind a doggy trainer, one of the best in the Midwest and I smiled and we had pizza and he took me up ta see one a his newborn nephews at the hospital. I got ta hold him and his smell, his sight, he was so beautiful, it’s like I couldn’t take it and I asked Papa if I could have babies someday and he said, “You can do anything you heart desires.”
* * *
I saw in my dreams a doggy mutt shakin’ up on that big centennial oak, the one that’s up there on the hill. A stolen family doggy. A retriever mix maybe. His snout ducked taped. He’s tied to a tree. The young girl is my Momma and she smiles and touches the doggy as he goes a frightful jump twitch and the doggy fears Momma cause the doggy should fear Momma and I see Momma smile in the sight of his fear, not with a sinister feel, but more of an interestin’ one, and I feel her feels and her feels, they feel way off course. All that’s in her feels is like, the superficial, the hunger and the thirst, and the cold and the hot and the pain and the feel goods and it’s, its as if everything else was left out and if I look deep in Momma I see neither good nor evil, but instead like this machine glowin’ on with blinkin’ buttons.
I see her and the other dogs coming down the path and she smiles and looks to her Papa who stands nearby with rifle in hand, with a happy, proud look, and these doggies, they’s comin’ but they’s ain’t dogs, not no more. They somethin else. They are all steam nosed, and their heads are like watermelons and their ears clipped by chew, and them scars upon their mouths are paper white and they move like demons and the pack races towards her and she stands there with this dull spark of a roller coaster fear cause this feel, this little bit a rush is all the feel she can muster up. She closes her eyes and smiles and extends her hands in trust and as they come the pack move around her as if she wasn’t there, or as if these demons from hell recognize her as one of their own.
She smiles a bit as they brush by and tickle her finger tips and palms and the wind creates a gust that scatters her pretty blonde bangs and she turns and opens her eyes and watches as the pack moves in on the bound doggy whose life will be sacrificed for practice sake and she looks upon the animals with a satisfied smile as them pits lunge upon the dog with quick, retractin’ like bites that don’t look natural but instead trained, like technique; the extend, the bite, the pull, the tear, only ta repeat, the extend, the bite, pull, tear, like a boxer’s jab, a technique not ta kill but ta harm. They test and prod for defenses, defenses that, in this poor animal’s case didn’t exist none and the crimson colors spray in the air by just these, gentle, probin’ attacks, that which has already killed the doggy, whose corpse now lies a bloody meat bag, unrecognizable and the practice continues and it twitches on the grass, lifeless but being pushed by the dogs’ continuous strikes.
I wake and I pet on my kitty and sometimes Papa records me on the big camera thingy. Papa shows me the stars and it’s like I remember all this, and yet it all feels so new to me like I’m just an over-sized newborn. Like they’s someone else’s memories and I’s feelin’ em.
* * *
I see Momma grown up now, tapin’ up dog snouts with expert speed and I see rows and rows a various house doggies. Labs, Goldens, and a few little nipper dogs and she’s got a thin, jus bout dead, row a duct tape that she finishes off on a big, fat lab mix who fights her a bit but, with experience, she sits on his back and winds the last bit around his mouth, takin a bit of the paper roll with it. These doggies are all scared and shakin’ as if they know what horrible death is ta come of em, and I see Momma walkin’ a big pit on leash slowly up a steep hill. The dog struggles as he drags a rope tied on his harness, the end of the frayin’ rope tied ta a loop chain that necklaces a whole clankin’ cluster a old, rusty barbell plates that drag with dirt markin’ till, turnin’ green grass up. The plates, they rattle as this muscular, dog grips the ground with his paws and pulls in with sinewy struggle. Momma reaches the top of the hill and thinks bout me.
* * *
“Why you cryin?” I asked Papa, watchin’ him squish a tear before it rolled into his mouth.
“There’s a lot you don’t know,” Papa said ta me and I begged em ta explain it and he jus shook his head and was all teary eyed.
“Momma’s hell bent on cookin’ ya in permanent. Even if it kills her,” he says and I asked him if he misses Momma and he nodded and said he loves Momma but it was too weird and they couldn’t stay together the same way they used ta be together. Then I asked him about the dreams and about Momma and he told me that she was a dog trainer and I asked him what kind a dog trainer? I could see him gulpin’ a bit and then I asked him again and he told me that I probably already knew and I gulped cause I did know.
“Does she have trouble doin’ it?” and he looked at me.
“Trouble doin’ it?”
He looked at me and smiled and shook his head with confidence. “Never.”
I got upset and he told me that your Momma didn’t want me ta tell you cause Momma thinks you’re such a good person but I didn’t really understand how Momma could be like that. And Papa told me that Momma ain’t like me or even him. He said that Momma was born with them numbs and that she couldn’t really feel too well.
“Momma tried ta be a better person. I tried ta help her, we, tried ta jump start them feels a hers, but she got you instead, and she’s real happy bout that.” Papa said it flashin’ me one them lovin’ Papa looks.
I cried a little cause Papa cried a little and I went ta sleep cause most of my life is sleep and I saw Momma again up on the hill and she was filin’ down, dullin’ the canines on a chained bird dog with a grinder file and the dog wrestles her but she knows how ta do it, once again climbin’ on the docile doggy’s back and pinnin’ him, preparin’ the soon ta be live sparrin’ practice. Her face is pale, cold, with these no sleep swells, stuck in the numbs. She walks over and brings one her latest clients, a young pit pup with a lot of potential, good fightin’ stock, good genes but too gentle, too kind in his youth. She warms up the cattle prod, her instrument to bring about the beasts, and I yell at her. I screamed at her ta stop, and she looks up. I think she hears me.
* * *
Papa laid me out some ugly clothes and said I had ta dress professional cause Momma took someone else’s meds instead a Papa’s, and it was a bad batch. I asked Papa if she was poisoned and he shook his head and said that Clay always dunks his sheets instead a drippin’ em and I didn’t know what that meant but either way Papa said it stretched my trip way too long and Momma wouldn’t be back till god knows when, so I’s gonna have ta cover. I didn’t want ta have ta watch, but Papa said I didn’t have to, that I jus had ta be there.
I took a chair by the big bonfire and jus stared at that illuminatin’ barn that beaconed with both the artificial light and fire light inside, and you could hear the screamin’ and shoutin’ a drunks and I watched as a big man walked over and he was carryin’ two dogs by the scruff and they weren’t movin’ and they’s both dead but they’s still locked onta each other in this death clinch. They’s like a big doggy knot and the man, the man, he, he didn’t even bother ta break em apart, he didn’t even try ta untangle em, instead he just tossed em on top of the bonfire and, when he did it, it felt, it felt like someone had just stabbed me. Then the man, he waved at me with a smile cause he thought he knew me. I started shakin’ as I watched them animals burn. I couldn’t get that image outta my noggin and no matter how much I shook it, it wouldn’t go away and then I got real dizzy and felt real sick.
* * *
I woke and I looked over and I saw Papa standin’ in the kitchen. Papa came over and brushed my hair and he started askin’ me stuff that I didn’t understand. Talkin’ to me like I’s a different person, askin’ me questions that got me stuck in the headlights a clueless. While waitin’ for my response he must a caught my blank gaze.
“Milley?” he said and when I looked at him strangely again. “Bee?” he said and I told em I’m hungry and his face relaxed and he smiled and kissed me, and I asked him how Momma was and he said, “Momma don’t care bout Momma no more. She only cares bout you.” And then I smelt coffee and then I went ta sleep.
* * *
Papa woke me up. It was my birthday and I asked him how Momma was and he said bout the same and he made me my favorite, the spaghetti and the meatballs.
“Oh, your Momma got yu somethin’,” he said pullin’ out and sliddin’ me a silver wrapped little present across the dinnin’ table.
“From Momma,” Papa said. “I’m sorry. Momma ain’t well these days. She don’t like her life takin up yours,” he says twirlin’ his spaghetti and I look down disappointed, but I wanted ta help Momma.
“But you gotta open it up there, later tonight. OK?” Papa says lookin at me with raised eyebrows, kinda serious like.
I look at him then nod and we finish our spaghetti.
* * *
Momma used ta tell Papa that a good fightin’ dog is like a switch you can jus turn on. A good fightin’ dog is a normally calm, unloyal dog who you could sell ta a total stranger and the dog won’t fuss or ever miss you or nip the new owner that jus dropped four grand. A dog that won’t snap or bite at the handlers and be a good boy until ya throw it a little chihuahua or kitten ta bite into, and then they go all machine.
It wasn’t like the last one. This was big time. The field was jus a pasture and yet rows after rows after rows a big ol diesel trucks and trailers seemed ta turn the middle a nowhere field, like some rural parkin’ lot. I looked on my right breast at my name tag and adjusted it for Momma cause it was crooked and I sat far back, way back this time from the event which was under a big, circus style tent and they’s these bettin’ boxes set outside the tent and they’s dealin’ with a damn small casino amounts a cash, while a bunch a filthy, dirty sheriffs were standin’ guard ta somethin’ that ain’t even legal. The roar of the crowd echoed across the field and I looked ta the far right at the bait cages, the collection of a bunch a them baitin’ dogs and most em were sleepin’ and I was sad cause I’d seen it in Momma’s dreams, jus how quickly them baits get torn apart, and how much they bleed for such little things, and how the blood and how the kill triggered them dogs and turn em in ta somethin’ they ain’t. I stared at Momma’s little silver wrapped gift for a long time and thought bout jus tossin’ it in the horse trough cause I was mad at Momma for puttin’ me through all a this again.
So I stared at it as that silver wrapper weakly tried ta shimmer against the light but there wasn’t much, cause I was real far out. I look over and a man walks over and grabs a couple of them little pups from the cage, grabbin’ them by the scruff. One was still asleep and I prayed that the little pup wouldn’t wake up.
“Hey, Milley,” the big ol bellied hillbilly yells at me and I flip him off and tell em Milley ain’t here and he laughs cause he thinks I’m crazy. Everybody thinks I’m crazy, but
Papa says they put up with it cause Momma’s such a good trainer.
I look down at the gift once more and then decide ta open it. I unravel the pretty paper and it reveals a long, white rectangular box, as if it was a necklace jewelry box but was too heavy for that. I open it up and it was a cell phone. An old, worn black one. There’s a folded up, hand written letter on yellow legal tab. I unfold it and stand up and walk over to the big bug zapper hangin’ atop a tall L pole that’s right near by an empty cattle pen. It turns me and the dim yellow paper a neon blue and I look at the handwritin’ and I get all nervous cause I knew it was Momma’s handwrittin’, I didn’t know how I knew but I did, and I shook, and I, I gulped, and then, then I read, “My sobers got you aftertaste. For my baby bee. Happy birthday.”
And she left a number ta call.
And I was cryin’ so hard I’s soakin’ up the yellow legal tab and I was shakin’ cause Momma had never written me a letter before and, I heard the whimpers of the dogs, and I called for my Momma. I moaned like a child does after a bad dream, but I knew she wasn’t gonna come. I knew I wasn’t gonna feel her warm hug cause she couldn’t do it. I knew she couldn’t stop it all. All of this. How could Momma do it? How could she make it all stop? But, I went ahead and dialed the number hopin’ that she maybe left me a message. Maybe I could hear her voice. It only rang once and, after that, there was a sound, a sound so loud I only heard it for a moment before it killed my hearin’, an explosion, one of the cars in the parking lot detonatin’ like a war bomb and that deafin’ sound was only surpassed by the brightness of the flames and the fireball that propelled the van high into the air as it road atop the massive orange fireball and then came down. The doggy fightin’ show was rattled and them people all scattered and screamed in terror and the tent drained with retreatin’ rednecks as another car bomb exploded, and then another and another, and another, and it was so hot, so warm and I stood there as everyone ran. The cars were parked far enough not ta hurt no one. It was jus ta scare em and I guess I jus knew that I was in no danger and so I stood still while everyone ran around me and the heat warmed me to the bone, and I basked in Momma’s hug, and it rained firey car parts and it was so beautiful.
I looked over and saw Papa standin’ there with his cell phone,too, a co-orchestrator of the mayhem I’m sure, and I ran over and hugged him and he whispered inta my ear,”Your Momma and I, we both love ya ta pieces, Bee.”
And I cried and hugged him tight and we went over ta the bait cages and let all them little doggies loose and then we watched the lights of the police and fire trucks comin’ down that long country road.
• • •
W.A. Coleman is a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma. His work has been featured in Evergreen Review, Typehouse Magazine, LAROLA, Houston Literary, 3 AM, Thrice Fiction, Founding Review, Echo Ink, Crack the Spine, and many more. His first collection, entitled Wound and Suture (Montag Press),
was published last year.