There are plenty of sounds you would never want to hear. Sounds that scratch at your eardrums like airborne razors. I can’t stand the squeal of bicycle brakes, or the cries of my neighbor’s three-month-old child. Nails on a chalkboard? You kidding me? I’d take that any day.
That’s part of the reason we never had a child. My husband doesn’t see a father looking in the mirror, and me? The few glimpses of the future I’ve seen never had our own little thing that would grow up to be its own. I never could imagine it. But for that reason, a few years ago now, we adopted a whippet—Jeffers.
Now see, dogs aren’t exactly as high-maintenance as some would make it sound. Sure, Jeffers needed food and water, some attention, but most of the time we could get away with leaving him in the back yard while my husband was away at work and I was out and about. But if I was in my home office, I liked to leave the door open. Sometimes Jeffers would come inside and lay down while I phoned up clients.
The good news was that Jeffers didn’t like to bark very often. He was quiet as a ghost, aside the little bell that jingled on his collar as he walked by. The bad news, was learning that most dogs make another kind of sound, and it makes me clench my fists to hear their tongues smacking against their skin when they lick themselves. Jeffers seemed to insist on doing it in my office every time. Electric drills? I’d almost take that instead.
What I’m about to tell you, was about two weeks after we saw Jeffer’s stomach bulging out, and about three weeks before the date the vet thought the tumor would kill him.
I was in my office calling up this client and that. The imagined smell of dead dog had been hanging in the air ever since we found out. And all I could think of? The fact none of our sorry selves could do anything for him. Sometimes I’d walk into the backyard and see him pacing in circles, but I could never look him in the eyes. There was a sadness you could see in everything he did, like he knew he was going to die. I felt bad not spending a little more time with him, but my husband kept telling me, “Just leave the poor thing alone, he’s trying to deal.”
Looking back, I think we all were.
So I’m calling umpteenth Jane or John Doe, answering questions, collecting information, the works. My mind is off in autopilot, and deep down my brain recognizes the sound of Jeffer’s little bell, and his staggered breathing as he lies down on the floor behind me.
“What’s that?” I say to the voice on the line, “Can you read the order number off to me?”
The little bell jingles again, and the same part of my mind knows what’s about to happen. Or at least, it thinks it knows. There’s a smack, slurp, a wet dripping noise. At it again, I sigh. The sound continues.
I’m wondering if it isn’t making its way through the air and into the phone receiver—if only a little. It’s certain Ms. Jane Doe would be as rattled as I am to hear it. Everyone has sounds they hate.
Well it keeps going, and damn how it makes my teeth grind together, putting up with the rising intensity of those licks and smacks. It’s more wet-sounding and horrible than how I ever remembered it—cloying and unsavory like sex heard from an oblivious neighbor’s window. I want to tell the woman on the line to hold onto those numbers. Hold on while I turn around and strangle the little bitch. Only a fantasy sparked by rage, but satisfying in the moment.
But I can’t excuse myself. I have to sit there and listen as she reads off the numbers, and as I work through this stranger’s case with the slow minutes crawling by. After awhile I get the problem sorted out, and I hang up the phone—letting a grimace consume my face. Finally, I think. Time to lock the dog out.
But I don’t need to, because the dog is no longer behind me.
No, instead, there’s a pile of fur—caked in coagulating blood and some other green-black crap. It’s all soaking in a dark pool on the floor. I can feel my jaw go limp staring at it, and at the gaping hole in the skin. A gaping hole where a dog used to be. But there isn’t a dog anymore, only the loose remains of its exterior.
And when I look up, I catch a glimpse of a face. Almost human. Lidless eyes. Colorless, porcelain flesh. It ducks behind the corner before I can even focus in on it. There’s a rattle of claws on the hardwood, and then it’s gone—scampered out the back door before I can run out for another glance.
I scraped all that awful stuff of the floor before hubby got home, and when he asked what happened to Jeffers, I said he must’ve lost it and hopped over the back wall of our garden. It wasn’t much of a lie come to think of it, but I couldn’t even begin to imagine what would’ve happened if I relayed what I saw.
He asked if I wanted another dog.
I offered to have a child instead, and he laughed with me at that.
Still though, sometimes he tells me—when we’re laying in bed together at night—that there’s something watching us. He points to the sliding glass door and insists that I go out and have a look. I tell him he’s just over reacting: that there isn’t a reason for anyone to be back there.
But I know better, and I’m trying not to think about it.
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Have you ever had a scary pet experience? I’d like to know.