Barking Dog Nocturnal

From The Offing:

I come from the country, from a home in the woods where nights are filled with cricket chirps and coyote howls. My most persistent childhood memory is my mom guarding the front porch, one hand on her bottle and the other holding her 12-gauge as she fired into the dark.

“Why do you do that?” I asked, a little girl as frightened of the sound as I was of my mother’s reddening eyes.

“To keep the coyotes from getting close,” she slurred.

If a coyote ventured near the porch, my mother would point the gun at its howling mouth. She never fired, but I could see her itch to kill as the twitch in her trigger finger.

“Why do we hate coyotes?” I asked on another dripping hot night. I was just old enough to ask questions with no grammatical inconsistencies and old enough to shoot the BB gun if I wanted. I often fired unloaded pops into the air during daylight hours. I’d seen a coyote slinking in the sun once: mangy red-orange fur and pointed ears, like a wolf and a fox in one body. “They’re beautiful,” I said.

“Beautiful things are wild,” my mother said. “In packs, coyotes don’t care for fear.”

“What’s fear?” I asked.

“Fear is what keeps us safe.” She ran her finger over the safety, waiting for the howling in the distance to come closer. “Fear is what separates us from chaos.”

I knew nothing more about chaos than that it was the word that sprung to mind when I snuck peeks into my mother’s liquor cabinet: half-drunk bottles of liquor in every color imaginable, a cityscape of differently-sized alcohol glasses, and a clutter of little umbrellas she utilized to placate me when I cried about her drinking.

. . . .

Around that time I developed my routine. On Tuesdays I pulled all the clothes out of my closet and forced myself to put each shirt, each dress back one-by-one, arranged by color. On Wednesdays I wiped down every drawer in the house with a wet rag folded in quarters. On Thursdays I tossed scraps of paper from my desk into the recycling bin then promptly emptied it. On Fridays I plucked stray hairs from my face. I kept these tasks arranged on a calendar I hung on my wall. But there was only so much order I could enforce in a house where I wasn’t the only occupant.

My mother scolded me for staying up too late, but she had a front porch to defend and a cabinet of vodka bottles to empty, and as such didn’t follow through on her threats to punish me if I stayed up again.

I moved out after high school graduation and rented an apartment with its own drawers. But there was only so much order I could enforce in a house where I hadn’t been the only occupant. The dust on the baseboards seemed a type of permanent that no amount of Wednesday scrubbing would erase. The cracks kept me awake. I imagined them opening, swallowing me into the dusty walls. On TV I watched the news of mass shootings, endings messy and terrible in their gore, and worried that one day the opening of a gun would swallow me into its gunpowder-dusted shaft.

I spent my work days in a real estate office yawning and dozing off on bathroom breaks, waking with my pants around my ankles. I struggled to remember where and who I was. On Saturdays I scrubbed at old mold stains in my bathroom until my fingers bled. On Sundays I brushed over inconsistencies in the apartment’s paint until sunlight crept through the windows.

Link to the rest at The Offing