A Domestic Interlude
Ellen's childhood: her mother's dogs—always, three or four of
them; Marianne-imposed poverty; rooms kept dim because of Marianne's
uveitis; drifts of bristly hair gathered behind doors;
curling-up-at-the-seams vinyl flooring spackled with muddy paw prints;
growls, frenzied barking, the sharp clatter of paws, the corners of the
coffee table gnawed down. Once, they went without hot water for two
weeks, Marianne finding something wrong with everyone she called to
repair the water heater. Another time, they shat and pissed in a bucket
for four days before she found the right guy for the job.
Ellen knew better than anyone: you didn't want to cross Marianne when
Marianne was hung over. But the kitchen smelled of dog piss, ruining,
once again, the taste of Ellen's coffee. Her mother waltzed in wearing
only her underwear, four dogs clamoring behind her. Marianne hummed as
she opened the cans of gourmet dog food they couldn't afford. Her
cigarette was jammed in the corner of her mouth. Her orangey fake tan
accentuated the dinginess of her frayed, safety-pinned bra. "Come here,
babies. Yum-yum time." The dogs jostled and yelped. "You love mama,
don't you," she cooed.
"Those dogs don't love you," Ellen said. "You feed them. You let them
sleep inside. That's all there is to it."
Marianne dropped the can. "You don't know what you're talking about!"
she said. "What do you know about love?"
The dogs gobbled their food, lips and tongues smacking moistly. The
kitchen clock ticked loudly. Tick, tick, tick—and then time
Marianne's arm floated out to the side, her palm and fingers closing on
the wooden handle of a paring knife resting on the dish rack. "There's
something wrong with you." The words were elongated, the voice low and
strange. Marianne's arm glided toward Ellen, the knife tip aimed at her
good side. There was all the time in the world to sidestep her mother's
sweeping hand, but behind her was a puddle of piss and she couldn't
make her startled, stocking-footed self decide which way to move.
It was a small knife and Marianne buried the blade in Ellen's shoulder.
Then Marianne collapsed, ugly and weeping. "Call Jason," she
Ellen called 9-1-1 instead. Her Uncle Jason pulled some strings to have
his sister involuntarily committed for observation, the only way to
avoid an arrest for aggravated assault. He picked Ellen up from the
emergency room and took her home. He flipped five hundred-dollar bills
on the table. "She'll be in for at least a month. Clean up this place,
why don't you, so it'll be nice when she gets home."
Valerie Vogrin is the author of Shebang, a novel. She has stories in or coming from Ploughshares,
AGNI, Black Warrior Review, The Pushcart Prize Anthology and others.
To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/201103di.htm
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
w i g · l e a F