Authors: W. Bruce Cameron
“Six hundred dollars!” Gloria shouted.
“That’s what it cost. Molly almost died!” CJ yelled back.
Usually when they fought I would pace and yawn anxiously, but I was simply too fatigued. I lay there while Gloria went down the hall to her room, and when she shut her door it made a very loud noise, her various smells wafting around the house.
That summer Trent wasn’t around much, but CJ and I would sleep until the sun was high in the sky and then have breakfast together and then often lie in the backyard. It was glorious. CJ would cover herself in an oil that smelled bad and tasted worse, though I would still lick her occasionally out of sheer affection. I loved taking naps with CJ.
Sometimes she lay outside almost all day, only going inside to use the bathroom and stand on the small box she had in there. I didn’t understand why she stood on that thing so often. It never made her happy to do so.
I always went with her on these trips, so I was at her side when CJ slid open the back door and saw Gloria lying on a blanket next to where we’d been basking in the sun. “Gloria! What are you doing in my bikini?”
“It fits me just fine. Better, even.”
“God, it does not! It’s gross.”
“I lost eleven pounds. And when I lose weight, it stays off.”
CJ made a loud noise of frustration, her fists clenched, then turned back to the house. “Come on, Molly,” she said. She sounded angry at me, so I padded silently next to her, my head down guiltily. She went straight to her room and went into the closet where she washed herself with water. I lay on the rug, panting because I could hear her crying. My girl was unhappy.
That day she didn’t throw up, but many days she did. She was always very unhappy when this happened, too.
One day CJ took me for a car ride and I sat on the front seat. We went to Trent’s and I played with Rocky in his backyard, which wasn’t as big as CJ’s but had the added attraction of having Rocky in it.
“Thank you so much for doing this,” CJ said.
“Oh, it’s no big deal at all. Rocky appreciates the company—he misses me while I’m at work,” Trent replied. “Did I tell you they made me an assistant manager?”
“Really? So do you get to wear a special paper hat?”
Rocky stopped playing and trotted over to Trent.
“Well … no. But I mean, I’m only in high school and yet they trust me … aw, never mind.” Trent sighed.
“Wait, no. I’m sorry. It was just a stupid joke. I’m proud of you.”
“Sure you are.”
Rocky was nuzzling Trent.
“No, seriously, I am,” CJ said. “It shows how good you are at everything. That’s why you’re class president. You can accomplish anything you want.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just tell me about your trip.”
“I’m really excited,” CJ said. “I’ve never been on a cruise before. Two weeks!”
“Try not to push Gloria overboard. I’m pretty sure there’s a rule against it, even if there shouldn’t be.”
“Oh, once we’re on the boat I don’t think we’ll even see each other.”
“Good luck with that,” Trent said.
I wasn’t surprised when CJ left me there—often she would drop me off to play with Rocky, and sometimes Rocky came over to our house to play with me. After a few nights, though, I began to worry, nosing Trent for reassurance.
“You miss CJ, don’t you, Molly?” Trent said to me, holding my head in his hands. I wagged at her name—
yes, let’s go back home to CJ.
Rocky didn’t like all the attention I was getting from Trent and jumped on my back. I turned on him and showed my teeth and he fell over, exposing his throat to me, so I had no choice but to straddle him and chew on his neck.
One night I heard Trent say, “CJ!” as if she was there, but when I ran into his room (Rocky jumping on me the whole way) he was by himself. “Molly, you want to talk to CJ on the phone? Here, Molly, the phone.”
He held out a plastic toy. I sniffed at it. Okay, it was a “phone.” I’d seen them before but had never been invited to play with one.
“Say hi,” Trent said.
I heard a tinny, weird noise. I looked at the phone, cocking my head. Trent brought the phone up to his face. “She knows it’s you!” he said. Trent sounded happy.
People often are happy when they talk to their phones, though in my experience talking to a dog is much better.
Trent’s behavior was very strange, I thought. I felt weary from having been fooled into thinking CJ was in his room. I went to the foot of the bed and collapsed, sighing. After a moment, Rocky lay down next to me, his head on my stomach. He could sense my mood—I felt sad, even with him there. I missed my girl.
Somehow, though, I knew CJ would be coming back. She always came back to me.
One day Trent didn’t go to work. He went to his basement and played, grunting as he picked up heavy things and set them down. Then he took a shower and spent a long time putting on different clothes in his room. Rocky picked up on his nervousness well before I did and started panting a little. When Trent went out to the living room and started pacing, stopping every so often to look out the window, Rocky was glued to his heels. I got bored with it and sprawled out on the living room rug.
I heard a door slam outside. Trent’s nervousness spiked. Rocky put his feet on the window to look out. I got up, curious. The front door opened.
“Hi, Rocky! Hi, Molly!” It was my girl. I was so excited to see her I whimpered, circling at her feet and licking her face when she bent down to pet me. When she stood up I tried to leap up and kiss her face all the way up there, and she grabbed my head and hugged me. “Molly, you’re a doodle-schoodle, but not a poodle,” she told me. Everywhere her hands touched me my skin underneath my fur contracted with pleasure.
“Hi, CJ,” Trent said. He reached for her and then stopped. She laughed and jumped to him and hugged him.
Rocky was so wound up he ran around the house, leaping on the furniture. “Hey, get down,” Trent said, but he was laughing, so Rocky kept doing it, tearing around like a crazy dog. I stayed with CJ.
“Want something to eat? I’ve got cookies,” Trent offered.
Rocky and I froze. Cookies?
“God, no,” CJ said. “I’m fat as a pig. They had all this food; it was amazing.”
Trent made Rocky and me go outside to wrestle, but I missed CJ, so after a while I scratched at the door and Trent’s mother let us back in. Trent and CJ were sitting next to each other on the couch, and I curled up at her feet. CJ was holding her phone in her lap.
“Here’s our stateroom,” CJ said.
“What? It’s huge.”
“It was perfect. We had this living area and we each had our own bedroom and bathroom. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Gloria and I get along best when we don’t see each other.”
“God, that had to be, like, really expensive.”
“Does your mom really make that much money?”
CJ looked at him. “I don’t know; I guess so. She’s always going out at night for showings, so I know business must be pretty good.”
I sighed. Across the floor Rocky had a chew toy and was watching me as he gnawed on it, waiting for me to try to make a move for it.
“Who is that guy?” Trent asked.
“Him, oh, he’s nobody.”
“There’s another one of him.”
“He was just a shipboard romance. You know.”
Trent was quiet. Rocky sensed something and went across the room to put his head in Trent’s lap. I seized the opportunity and pounced on the chew toy.
“What’s the matter?” CJ asked Trent.
“Nothing,” Trent replied. “Hey, it’s getting kind of late and I have to work tomorrow.”
We left and after that it seemed as if we didn’t see Trent and Rocky as much as we used to, though we saw a lot more of Shane, whom I didn’t care for very much. He wasn’t ever mean to me; there was just something off about him, something I didn’t trust. Often Gloria and CJ would talk about Shane and CJ would say, “Oh, Mo-
” and walk out of the room.
CJ would be unhappy and Gloria would be unhappy. I didn’t understand because there seemed to be so much to be happy about, like bacon, or the days when just the two of us would lie in the backyard, CJ’s fingers lightly touching my fur.
What I didn’t like very much was Bath. Always before in my lives, Bath meant standing outside and being sprayed with water and rubbed with a slippery soap that smelled as bad as Gloria’s hair and lingered in my fur long after being rinsed off. To CJ, Bath meant staying in the house, standing in a small box with very smooth sides. I felt like a bad dog as she poured hot water on me from a dog dish that had a handle sticking out of it. She would rub me with foul-smelling soaps and I would stand miserably under the assault, eyes closed and head lowered. The delicious scents I had accumulated over time—dirt and old foods and dead things—would wilt before the bowl after bowl of warm, stinky water. If I tried to escape, my nails would scratch fruitlessly at the walls, unable to gain purchase, and then CJ would grab me.
“No, Molly,” CJ would say sternly.
Bath was the worst sort of punishment, because I never knew what I had done wrong. But when it was over, CJ would wrap me in a blanket and pull me to her, and that was the very best. Being held so tightly made me feel safe and warm and loved. “Oh Molly dog, oh Molly dog, you are a schnoodle schnoodle dog,” CJ would whisper to me.
Then she would take that blanket and rub me up and down until my skin felt so alive and buzzing that when she let me go I would race around the house, shaking myself of any remaining water and leaping over chairs and on the couch and running with first one shoulder and then another scooting along the carpet, drying and massaging myself.
CJ would laugh and laugh, but if Gloria was there she always yelled at me, “Stop!” I didn’t know why she was mad, but I chalked it up to her always being mad, even when punishment Bath was over and we could all celebrate how great it felt to run around and jump on the furniture.
When the daily routine of locking me in the basement became more regular I knew CJ was back to doing school, and I could hear Gloria moving around upstairs before she, too, left the house. I would wander out through the dog door and lie in my usual spot, missing CJ. Sometimes when I slept it felt as if her fingers were still touching me.
We still did art building on a regular basis. Sometimes other people would be there and they would pet me, and sometimes it would just be CJ alone in the building with me. One night when it was just the two of us there was a tapping on the door, an odd sound that made me growl and raise the fur on the back of my neck.
“Molly! It’s okay,” CJ said. She went to the door and I followed. I smelled Shane on the other side, but that didn’t make me any more comfortable.
“Hey, CJ, open up,” Shane said. There was another man with him.
“I’m not supposed to let anyone in,” CJ said.
“Come on, babe.”
CJ opened the door and the two men hustled in. Shane grabbed CJ and kissed her. “Hi, Molly,” he said to me. “CJ, this is Kyle.”
“Hey,” Kyle said.
“You got that key?” Shane said.
CJ crossed her arms over her chest. “I told you…”
“Yeah, well, Kyle and I would like to pass our art history mid-terms, okay? Come on. You know the whole thing is a joke anyway, like we’re ever going to need to know any of it in real life. We’ll make a copy of the test and be gone.”
I couldn’t tell what was going on with CJ, but I could see she wasn’t happy. She handed something to Shane, who turned and tossed it to Kyle.
“Right back,” Kyle said. He turned and walked away. Shane grinned at CJ.
“You know I could be expelled for this? I’m already on probation,” CJ said.
“Relax; who is going to tell: Molly?” Shane reached out and petted my head. He was a little too rough. Then he grabbed CJ.
“Don’t. Not here.”
“Come on. No one else in the entire building.”
“Stop it, Shane.”
I heard anger in her voice and I growled a little. Shane put his hands out, laughing. “Okay. God. Don’t sic the dog on me. I was just kidding around. I’ll go hang with Kyle.”
CJ went back to playing with her papers and her wet sticks. After a while Shane came back and dropped something on the table next to her, bouncing it with a metallic ring. “Okay, we’re out,” he said.
CJ didn’t reply to him.
A few days later Gloria and CJ were watching television and I was asleep when there was a knock at the door. I got up, wagging, thinking it would be Trent, but it was two men who wore dark clothes and had metal objects on their belts, so I knew from experience they were police officers. CJ let them into the house. Gloria stood up. I wagged and nosed the officers in a friendly fashion.
“Are you Clarity Mahoney?” one of them asked CJ.
“What’s going on?” Gloria asked them.
“We’re here about the break-in at the art department at the high school.”
“Break-in?” CJ said.
“Laptop computer, some cash, a silver picture frame,” the officer said.
“What? No, that’s not…,” CJ said. I felt the fear rising in her.
“What have you done?” Gloria said to CJ.
“It wasn’t me. It was Shane.”
“We need you to come with us, Clarity.”
“She’s not going anywhere!” Gloria declared.
“‘CJ’, I go by ‘CJ.’”
I went to her side.
“Let’s go,” the officer said.
“No daughter of mine is going with the police! I’ll drive her down myself,” Gloria said.
“It’s okay, Gloria,” CJ said.
“It is not okay. They can’t come in here like the Gestapo; this is our home.”
It seemed to me that the officers were getting angry. “Yes, well, we need your daughter to come down to the station now.”
“No!” Gloria shouted.
The police offer reached to his side and pulled out two metal rings. “Turn around, CJ.”
Everyone left after that. CJ didn’t even pet me before departing, which made me feel like a bad dog. The house was very empty and alone with them gone.
I went downstairs to my pillow in the basement, full of the need to curl up in a safe place.