The Child From the Dogs
by Rebecca Brown [originally published in Nobodaddies]
© 1995
 
 

I did not kill the child in the garden. Although it was my burden to uncover her.

I didn't know there was a child or that the child was dead. The dogs made me discover her.

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I lived alone inside the house. The house was far away across the river.

My room upstairs was white and bare. The window in it overlooked the garden. Every day -- but never in the night -- I worked the garden. I tilled and sowed and planted it. I did the hard work every day but never in the night. The night was always dark, there was no moon.

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Every night before the dark I went upstairs alone. I pulled the curtain closed and I got in my shirt and in the bed and I lay down. I listened to the sounds of night, the settling of earth. I stilled myself.

I never went outside at night. I stayed inside alone. For I was terrified. I lay deep in my cover and I curled around myself and tried to sleep.

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But then one night I heard a sound. I woke up to the sound of teeth, the snapping and the claws. I woke up to the sound of awful rutting.

I didn't want to look or see. I lay in bed and curled in tight and hoped that it would go and would not find me.

The next day I went down and saw the damage it had done. I cleaned it up.

It came again that night.

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At first it only stayed awhile. It barked and whined and scratched against the trees. When I heard it leave I tried to sleep again.

At first I hoped that it would not come back. Then I hoped eventually it wouldn't, although it always did. Then there were two. Then three. And when I heard them leave it took me long to fall asleep. And then I hoped eventually they'd finish and would not come back. Every time I told myself it was the last, it had to be.

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But then I could no longer hope like that.

Then there were more. Then I told myself that they were not here very long, and I could live through anything for a while. And there were only six or eight.

But then there was a pack. A dozen. There were hundreds.

Then I could hear it in their voices, in the digging of their claws. That they were growing bigger. Every fucking one of them was huge.

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So I lay in the bed each night and pulled my knees toward my chest and tucked my feet and closed my eyes and put my fists across my eyes and lay so still inside myself I almost didn't breathe. I burrowed in my shirt the way I'd burrow in the earth. I tried to cover up myself but I could always hear them.

Every night I heard them tear the garden. They squeezed in through the hedges and they ripped apart the brush. They split the dark earth open and they pillaged it.Every night it was the same -- no -- every night was worse.

Then I began to pray to die. But could not undo myself.

And then I didn't pray, I only waited.

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When they left it was as quiet, almost, as if they'd never been. And there was no one else to hear, and no one to believe. Sometimes I didn't.

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But every morning when I woke, I picked myself up from the bed and went down to the garden and I saw what they had done. I tried to look away and to forget and I could do that some. But more, I worked. I turned the torn earth over and I made it smooth. I tried to mend what they had torn. Some of it could be revived, but some of it was dead.

Every day I did the work.

And every single night they all came back.

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I built a fence but they climbed over it.

Upstairs, inside the waiting bed, I heard them whine and snap. I heard their stomachs scraping where they hadn't cleared the fence. They tore it down.

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One night I heard them scratching on the wall outside my room. I bolted to the window and I listened. The sound was terrible so I cried out and suddenly they stopped and the only sound I heard was someone waiting.

I pulled the curtain back and looked and, though the night was very dark -- it was the blackest night -- I saw them.

Their back were strong and wide and black. Their eager mouths were open and they looked at me. Their muzzles twitched. I heard them grumble low inside their throats. Then one by one, and then in groups, they left.

But I knew they'd come back.

But only once. I knew that having seen me see, they dogs would do me in, so I could never tell.

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The next day, in the garden, I did not clean up the wreck. I gathered sticks. I tied the sticks together like a torch. I took an old post from the fence and held it like a club.

That night when the dogs returned, then I went down to them.

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My body moved like someone else. I saw my hands pull back the locks and saw my hands take up the club and torch. The light was bronze against the wall. I saw my shadow moving down.

I stood outside and listened. They scraped and dug and panted. I put my hand against the door. The door was smooth and waiting like a skin and I was terrified. I gripped the post and torch. Then I unlocked the door and kicked it open.

I startled them. They stopped their awful rutting and they looked at me. Their eyes were red. I saw the red and black of what they'd torn and I was terrified, I could not move.

But that was only for an instant -- though it could have been for years -- but then I roared it out of me, I leapt down in among them and I shone the light like something fierce and swung the club like something fierce alive.

I swung the club the widest I had ever moved. I felt my arms and shoulders pull, my flexing back and neck. I felt my stomach tighten and my thighs. I felt the air against my skin, the fire in my body -- I was opening. I swung the club around so fierce, I slammed the club and lifted it and swung and swung again. I hit and hit and smashed and hit the dogs.

I screamed and yelled and cursed at them. They made these useless little yips but no one heard them. I knocked the stinking breath from them. I beat and smashed their stupid brains and clubbed their bones and guts. I splattered blood and tore their skin and smashed their necks and stomped them down until I couldn't tell, I didn't care, where one of them had ended, where the other was. I kicked their carcasses against, into, each other and I shoved their parts up one another's holes.

I yelled that they deserved it, worse, I yelled at them to not again, to never, not to anyone. To get the fuck away and not come back.

And then when I had finished, when I got them all and got it out, when everything was almost done, I stopped.

When everything, almost, was almost quiet. There was no more the sound of them, there only was the sound of something gone.

I closed my eyes. I dropped my face into myhands. My shoulders shook. I tried to hold myself inside. I shook.

I fell to the ground. After awhile I kneeled up. I bowed my head and tried to breathe in, quietly.

Then something -- it was not myself -- began to move my hands. My hands were moved along the earth and then were put inside. The hands went down where they had dug. The dogs had almost got what they'd come back for. I put my hands inside the earth, my fingers flexed, I felt me gather up. I dug down in and found what had been buried:

Bones.

I say this was my burden, to uncover her.

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The earth down in was wet and dark, like something rich and old, but also warm and clean, like something good. And I removed my shirt and lay it down. I leaned above the earth and felt the rising moon along my naked back. I looked up and I saw the moon where it had never been. My work was lightened.

So I brought up the waiting bones. I brushed the earth from every one and lay it on the shirt. I cleaned each one alone to white, I saw them all alone.

The bones were small and slim and some were broken. Some of them were split or gnawed and some were torn apart.

And I went over every one and every piece I took and held as long as it was needed.

I did this through the whole of night, and when the bones were gathered, then the night returned to dawn. I smoothed the place the bones had been and tied them in the shirt.

I left the place where I had been and walked down to the river. Though I had never been, the way was clear. I walked down to the water's edge. The rising sun was pink then white, the water underneath was white then gold then green with what was growing, then was blue. I held the bones and looked down in the river and I saw myself.

I stepped into the water. It was cold but clean and good, as smooth as oil. I walked out till it came up to my stomach. I held the bones in front of me, then lowered them to the surface of the water. I slipped my right hand underneath and with my left untied the shirt. I was careful to lose nothing. I dipped my left hand in the water and I splashed it on the bones. When all the bones were moist, I saw them change. They moved a way I recognized.

I saw the body color -- pink. The bones were being clothed in flesh, the body was returning to the child.

And when the child was fully formed, I saw what had been done to her: what had been done was the unspeakable. What had been done is what I cannot tell. But I did what I could:

I lay my hands upon the girl and drew out what I could.

I held the child. I poured the water over her and bathed her wounds. The water was smooth as oil and it smelled clean and good.

The neck which had been bruised and stiff returned to white and supple. I washed the scratches off her back. I washed her broken ankles and I held them till they healed. Her fists unclenched inside my palm, her open hands were whole. I wiped my hand across her lips and made them clean. I put my hand across her cheek, it softened under me. I sprinkled water on her face. The child coughed and sputtered and breathed. The child lived again.

Then I anointed both her eyes. She opened them.

She looked at me, inside me still, and so we saw ourselves.

The hands were lifted up and touched the skin. She placed her hand above the place where once had beat my heart. She put our hands above her heart. We felt the beating, two.

She pulled my face towards her face and put her mouth against my ear and told me the unspeakable. I listened and I recognized and told her, Yes, that I believed, and, Yes, that I would not forget, and, Yes, I told her, Yes, I would remember.

So when what had been buried was unburied, then, and when what was untellable was told, there was release. She put her hands around my face. I bowed my head and closed my eyes and wept.

I wept with the remembering, and what the telling was. I wept with rebecoming, and the bringing back to life of what was dead.

I wept till I was clean. The child held me. And though I longed to stay like that, I knew we must be separate.

So when she loosed her hands from me, I loosed myself from her and stepped away. The water sucked around us and she floated on her back. The white shirt floated underneath her in the water like a sac. She stretched her arms above her head and pulled. Her eyes were closed, the water swept across her face. She rolled onto her stomach and I saw her back. I saw one arm and then the other stroke. Each stroke pulled her away from me and it got hard to see. But every stroke she pulled, the child grew. I saw her light hair darken and her child's limbs grow long. I felt her stomach tighten and her thighs. I saw her body change, I saw the opening.

The river moved towards the light. The light was bright, I held my hands above my eyes until I had to close them from the brilliance. I saw inside what covers me, I see inside the skin:

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I see the child swimming whole.

I see the water opening.

I see the flesh transported into light.