The Beast

The woman’s right arm thrust forward, her finger pointing at the huddled mass on the kitchen floor. “What’s that thing doing in here?”

“I got me a dog,” the man said as a self-deprecating smile crossed his face. He walked to the refrigerator, got out a can of beer, popped the top and took a huge sip. “Norm and me are going rabbit hunting tomorrow.” He gulped down the rest of the can, scrunched it up and set it on the counter.

The woman leaned against the sink, reached for her lit cigarette, brought it to her lips and inhaled in one fluid motion. “It ain’t gonna live in this house.”

The man shrugged. “I knew you’d say that.” He got another beer, threw back his head and swallowed. “So I’m gonna build her a house out back.”

The woman took another puff. “Then you’d better get busy.”

“C’mon, girl,” the man said as he led the dog outside.

The woman laid her cigarette in the ashtray and then walked into the front room, her skirt making a swishing sound with every step. She turned on the television, switched channels until she was satisfied, sat on the couch and then lit a new cigarette.

She twisted a chunk of her hair into a tight curl, bobby-pinned it tight against her scalp, then picked up another swatch of hair and did it again. Again and again until her head glowed from the sheen of the pins. She stopped only long enough to smoke, each time the end of the cigarette glowing like the sun. When finished, the woman wrapped toilet paper around and around her head until she looked like a surgery patient.

All the while, from outside came sounds of sawing, swearing and pounding, accompanied by the occasional whine of the dog.

“Come outside,” the man said just as the sky was turning gray.

The woman followed him to the end of the yard, where now stood a finished doghouse with a rectangular doorway and a sharply pitched roof. The dog sported a chain attached to its collar, the other end looped onto a large stake.

The man smiled. “The dog will live out here.” He stood tall, with shoulders squared, proud of his work.

The woman turned and went into the house, sat on the couch and puffed on her cigarette.

The man followed, stopping long enough to chug down a beer. “I’m gonna take a shower and go to bed.”

That’s when the noise began. At first it was a high-pitched whine, but it quickly escalated into an ear-piercing howl that spoke of loneliness and despair.

The woman opened the back door, stuck out her head and yelled, “Shut up.”

The dog quieted down immediately.

The woman went into the bedroom, put on her nightgown and got into bed. As soon as her head hit the pillow, the howling began again, this time louder and longer in intensity. “Go shut that dog up,” the woman said when her husband came out of the bathroom.

The man went outside and cussed at the dog. It whined and whined and so the man cussed some more. When the dog was finally quiet, he got in bed. Pulled the covers up to his shoulders. Closed his eyes. The racket began.

The woman punched the man on the arm and said, “You’d better keep that dog quiet or the neighbors will complain.”

The man got up and slipped on his shoes and a shirt. Cussing all the while, he walked down the hall and outside. The door slammed.

In the morning the woman unwrapped her head and took out the bobby pins. She carefully fluffed her hair so that the curls kept their shape. She dressed and went to the kitchen where she found her old cigarette in the ashtray. She lit it and inhaled, closing her eyes as the wave of nicotine hit her.

She looked out back and saw that the dog was gone. So was the car. “By God, he did go hunting.”
In the late afternoon, the man returned. He staked the dog to its chain and came in for a beer. “That dog is worthless. She wouldn’t follow the pack and jumped every time someone fired a gun.”

The woman smirked.

“I’ll take her back tomorrow. I’m gonna go take a shower.” The man headed down the hall.

The howling started up as soon as the water began to pour, so the woman stepped outside and yelled, “Be quiet.”

The dog obeyed. The woman slowly walked toward it. “What kind of beast are you? You’re a pretty thing, aren’t you.”

The dog turned its sad brown eyes at the woman, laid down its head and rested its chin on its front paws.

“Look at those eyes,” the woman said. “You’d melt butter.” She bent over and rubbed the dog’s head. “My, your fur is soft.”

The dog inched closer until she was able to rest against the woman’s leg. The woman patted the dog on the shoulders and back. “You’re a sweety, but I’ve got work to do.” The woman walked away.

Immediately the dog began to whine, its tail flopping from side to side and its eyes wide and sorrowful. The woman returned, bent over and picked up the dog. She cradled it in her arms and rocked it like a baby. “I bet you’re hungry, poor thing.” She unhooked the dog and carried it inside. She gave it a bowl of water and some of the canned food her husband had brought home. The woman smiled as the dog wolfed down its breakfast.

When finished, the dog collapsed to the floor with a sigh and promptly fell asleep.

The woman moved her ashtray to the kitchen table, sat on a chair, and smoked with a satisfied smile on her face.

“What have you done?” The man hit himself on the forehead. “What’s wrong with you, woman? I thought you didn’t want that dog in the house?”

“She was lonely. And hungry. I couldn’t leave her out there, all alone, another minute.”

The man opened the back door. “You’ve ruined her. You’ve made a pet out of her. Now I can’t bring her back.” The door slammed shut behind him.

The woman smiled, inhaled, blew smoke in the air and said, “Now, what shall I call you?”

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