by Myfanwy Collins
The neighborhood dogs are merciless in the heat, barking, barking, barking like the caw, caw, caw of the crow that wakes you up each morning. The one on the corner has a bark like a smoker’s cough—cloying, endless, painful. You want it to stop.
But the heat ticks on and dogs bark and everyone waits for the day to end.
The tongue, shriveled and wrinkled, had soaked up all of the moisture it was going to inside that mouth of hers.
“What are your plans for the summer?” the dentist asked, maneuvering the pick into her rotting molar.
She spasmed in pain, fought the urge to grab his wrists and pull his hands out of her mouth, and wondered just how many dentists had been injured by an involuntary punch to the head. It might be prudent to fashion dentist chairs with mental patient wrist straps.
“We’re taking the kids up to Acadia in August,” the dentist nattered on, unaware of the imminent danger of patient-fist to crotch.
Pick, pick, pick. “Going camping.” He stopped and looked at her, apparently waiting for a reaction. She smiled as much as one could smile with lips stretched wide. “Do it every year.” Resume picking. She shut her eyes then and let tales of blueberries and tidal pools drown out the sound of metal scraping teeth.
“Yup.” Pain searing through her skull. “You were right. This one’s going to have to go,” the dentist said, smiling and shaking his head. “Sure you can’t afford the root canal?” She shook her head as the dentist inserted the dental dam and prepped the needle.
Wherever there is night, the dogs of the world join voices in one giant chorus, rising above the land like a cloud of locust.
In fear of the coming of the second son, they are calling out their dead.
“We are not seeking redemption,” they sing, “rather our relief.”
Later, she would wait for the bus on a heat-shimmering sidewalk. At the back of her mouth was a patch of cotton soaking up the blood to help it “congeal” and then “cover over.” In her hand, a plastic baggy with more cotton, which she was to switch in whenever the first piece became too blood soaked.
She tucked her tongue back and the cotton sponged against it. A gag.
Up the street there was nothing but an endless line of cars, a shimmering mirage.
There is the pant, pant, pant of the dog in your room at night, sitting by your bed, watching you for movement. You feel his breath on your cheek. That breath is all pain and comfort.
It is your breath.
When the bus arrived it was seatless. She stood with one hand on the railing, woozy, body weaving and bobbing like a buoy with the motion of the swaying sea bus. She counted the potential stops to hers.
Out of the corner of her eye, a man seated at her hip was smiling up at her. No contact, even if he was trying to offer her his sticky spot on the plastic seat. Avoiding eye contact was the name of game. Do not make friends. Friends follow you home. Friends call you up late at night and ask for forgiveness. Friends have expectations. Do not make friends.
Tongue sponged against bloody pulp at the back of her mouth but there was no way to change the cotton now. Everyone would see. And what would they think.
But maybe it would serve him right. Force him to watch as she extracted a glob of blood from her mouth. Who would be smiling and offering seats then?
Nine more stops.
There is the dog that belongs to no man. He marches along in a straight line and stops from spot to spot, sniffing and avoiding all eyes.
You try to pet him but he glances at you like you are a piece of shit. “You do not move me,” he says. “Simply put, you are nothing.”
Three more stops. Blood from sodden cotton leaked into mouth proper. At the back of her teeth was a gushing, gagging river. The blood inched down her throat and she coughed with tight lips.
Someone nearby opened a window and hot air rushed in, overtaking her tsunami style, blasting her backwards and swaying.
Everywhere she looked there were lights—shining as reflected sunlight in windows, piercing out through eyeballs, snaking in through a chink in the bus door.
Even though the heat of the day has embedded itself in the pads of their feet, they will not give up their song.
The smoker’s cough barks and barks and you wish it would just die. Vocal chords thrum against each other as taut elastic bands, tightening and contracting like a birth canal.
He is in your head.
The street, supposedly cooling in the dusklight, steamed up in grass cracked pockets. Someone was walking behind her.
Turn the corner and pick up the pace. Number of blocks to go: three.
The blood was now seeping down her throat in wave upon belching wave. She fell to the sidewalk on hands and knees and opened her mouth. It splattered before her in a pool of gore. At its center was a dark redblack blob—the cotton.
A hand on her back asked, “Are you okay?” She noted familiar shoes and nodded. “Should I call a doctor?” She shook her head and pointed to the plastic bag that, in her fall, had landed several feet away.
The man jogged up to it, grabbed it and walked back, cheap heels click-clacking the pavement. With dirt-ringed fingernails, he handed her the bag.
She sat back a little, resting on flattened feet and stuffed another piece of cotton into place. She stood then and with her hair as a shield and downcast eyes she said thank you and walked away.
Even in the darkest night, if you listen carefully, you can hear them barking in the distance. They are waiting for it all to end.
It is their only recourse. Their only defense.
She noted that the new cotton seemed to be doing the trick as she turned the corner on her street. With relief she saw the familiar red door that signified her salvation: the fan in the window on high, codeine from her prescription and a cold beer.
Up the steps and the door welcomed her home. Somewhere in the distance a dog barked insistently; there would be no rest tonight.