The Hound by Sara Starling
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The Hound by Sara Starling

The Hound by Sara Starling


I wake to the sound of unclipped claws scratching against my wooden door. A quiet moan comes from just outside my bedroom. I roll over and turn on my side light –yellow light falling across my skin. It makes me look sickly. I ease out of the cocoon I have made for myself in my twin sized bed. A rush of cold shudders through me. I consider sliding myself under the covers and cradling the warm blanket around my body, like crawling back into the womb. Again, I hear a yelp from outside the door. I feel my knees shake with the weight of my body as I stand. I christen the door handle with my touch, and it screams with the turn of rust and old brass.

I prepare myself to see the hound. To press my palm on the side of her face and give her a scratch on the ear. To my surprise, the space at my feet is empty. The pale green nightlight in the hallway illuminates wetness on the wall. I run my finger along it. It’s slimy. Like when it was small, the hound must have brushed her cheeks against the wall rubbing mucus across the paint. It’s tacky and lingers on my fingertips until I feel smeared in it. I am halfway down the staircase I reach the landing and step into a pool that ripples outward from the center of my foot. Pieces of kibble swallowed whole by the hound only to be thrown up again. It’s the colour of peanut butter and smells like soured milk.

In the kitchen, liquid is splattered across the cabinet fronts. The glow from the streetlight outside the window makes scarlet glisten. I grab the icy ledge of the marble countertop as I crouch beside it. A smattering of cranberry sauce left from Christmas dinner, perhaps. I glide my finger through it. It’s sticky. My finger slides across my bottom teeth and into my mouth, I lick it clean. A pop sound comes from my lips as my finger exits. It’s warm and smells like copper. I edge closer to the cabinet and stroke my tongue through the red, leaving a streak straight through the center. The warmth of it reminds me of the tea my grandmother used to make me before bed. The taste reminds me of papercuts in middle school, sucking on the split skin until it ran dry. I swallow and feel it line my throat like cough syrup.

In the center of the carpet lies the hound. The wound by her temple is soaked with the same wine-coloured liquid as the cabinet. It leaks from her skull into the folds of the cream rug, like flies rushing to the belly of a rodent. I can tell for certain, even from here: she is dead.  Across her canines, there are pieces of vomit that have hardened on her teeth. Her fur is matted and slick. Her body sits crooked and limp. I try to roll her over, but I see the way her pelvis twists: broken and separated at its center, like someone tried to rip it in two from the inside.

I take one of her paws in each of my hands and drag her, streaking blood across the porcelain floor and through the grout of the tile. We exit the house and I feel the hound’s fur pull on the rough surface of the concrete porch. I rip her from her position, and when her body scratches the ground, it sounds like Velcro. By the time I’ve reached the driveway I’m tired, heaving, and coated in sweat. I drop one paw from my hand, and using my right arm, I pull the hound behind me. It feels wrong, like dragging lace across gravel.

I take my sled and push her onto it, dragging her through the subdivision. I take her on a long walk. Past the houses she wasn’t allowed near because she would bark, through the ravine where she would cover her fur in pollen, and to the park where people admired her for the beauty of her coat and her playful demeanor – always sweet, never aggressive. At last, I drag the hound to the baseball diamond, where the lights are still shining. Each fleck of snow reflected by the fluorescent lights. I walk to the center of the field and feel the ground sticking to the vomit on my foot. Gripping the side of the sled, I push it upwards until the hound tumbles onto the snow with an unremarkable thud. In my hands I take her legs and rearrange them so that none touch – just as she’d prefer. I adjust her snout upwards and lift her ear over her skull, convincing myself that I don’t see the rip in her skin that gives way to bone.

I take a few steps back and admire my work. As she lays there, you could believe she had escaped in the night and found a well-lit spot to rest until morning. That her bones had not been broken and shattered, that someone had heard her cries of anguish. That her pelvis wasn’t broken and that she wasn’t left when she was supposed to be protected. I take the handle of my sled and pull it with me across the baseball diamond, towards the bleachers. I take a seat and the cold metal bites into my legs. I stare at the hound. As she lays there, another bitch that no one knows what happened to, I wonder if one day she and I will share the same fate.