It was dark outside and I was scared. Mom and Dad went to bed and left the fire to burn down to coals in the living room fireplace where we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows for supper. There were potato chips with waves on them. Barbecue was my favorite, but that's not the kind we had. We had the plain ones. I was in bed too, but it was too cold and I got out and went into the living room where it was warmer. I didn't turn on the lights because I didn't want Mom and Dad to find me and get mad. I sat in front of the fireplace and shivered. I was still cold.
Then the dog came. It was a big dog, a dark dog, and I knew it was a doberman. It had a long nose and black eyes that made me feel funny to the point where I would pee. I didn't want to be close to it, but it wouldn't let me get away. It bit me bad. It bit me all over and in the places I'm not supposed to touch except when I take a bath. When it bit me, it didn't bleed. All these little holes all over my body and no blood came out. Instead, I tasted chocolate, like I just ate a big candy bar. Every time I tasted my mouth it tasted like chocolate cake and chocolate milk and hot fudge all swirled together.
"My mouth tastes like chocolate," said Whisker.
"Do you like it?" said the dog.
"Very much," said Whisker.
"Now I will bite you some more," said the dog.
The holes on my body were gone until the dog bit me again and chewed on my thing and growled and scratched at me and made more holes and I wanted to cry so much because it hurt more than all the things that ever hurt me hurt all combined. I tasted trash and puke and worms and boiled asparagus and ice cream cones covered with ants on the ground and I shivered because I was freezing but my between my legs parts burned like they were in the fireplace and the dog smiled all these big ugly teeth at me like an alligator who never went to the dentist.
"My mouth tastes bad and my pee pee hurts." said Whisker.
"Do you like it?" said the dog.
"No. I hate it." said Whisker.
"Then you have to do things for me." said the dog.
"Like what?" said Whisker.
"Hurt your friends." said the dog and he licked my face all over like he loved me.
I went to school and hit Brett with a rock. Then I saw Bashika and I kicked her in the face. Chaz wanted to play soccer, but I just beat him on the head with a stick and called him names and said his mom was dead because he was stupid. Shane wasn't really a friend, but I hurt him too. I drove over him with his dad's truck until he cried. I hurt them as much as I could and hoped it would be enough.
At night when I was in bed the dog came in and started biting my legs. I tried to kick it but it held me down and rubbed its face against me, biting me more, and I tasted chocolate again and it made me feel good so I and it crawled up on me and breathed in my face.
"Why do you keep biting me?" said Whisker.
"It's the only way you learn." said the dog.
It bit me again and this time the holes bled drops of blood like marshmallows that grew into kittens with no fur and bloody noses that cried and squeaked at me. I knew all their bones were broken because they moved like Jell-O.
"Make them go away." said Whisker.
"You didn't do what I told you." said the dog.
"I HURT THEM ALL." said Whisker.
"All but one." said the dog. "And that's why I brought them back."
"They're dead?" said Whisker.
"You didn't love them enough." said the dog.
"You're lyin'." said Whisker.
"You're tiger." said the dog and it licked me because it loved me.
"I don't want to see them anymore." said Whisker.
"Then you have to hurt Damon." said the dog.
"I thought you already did that." said Whisker.
"I guess I did." said the dog.
It went away and I went back to sleep. There were no more kittens.
Mom read the top of the piece of notebook paper: "Bad Dog by Whisker White, Age 7" and let out a long, slow breath from her bottom lip.
"This is appalling."
I sat with Mom and Dad, in between them, on a high back chair that scratched me through my shirt and pants. We were in Mrs. Greer's office with Mrs Switt, who sat next to Mrs. Greer on the same kind of chair, but looked perfectly comfortable which looked tired and bored to everyone else. I rarely saw Mrs Switt smile, but when she did she was pretty. Most of the time, though, she looked worn down. I liked her okay, but I was pretty sure she didn't feel the same way about me and that is why I thought we were all sitting together with Mrs Greer after school. Mrs Switt spoke softly, like we were in the library.
"So you can see, Mrs. White, why I-- we-- thought we should bring this to your attention."
"I should hope so."
"I really don't know what to say. Whisker is a good student, generally attentive--"
I looked to Dad who looked to me and smiled and then I looked to Mom who also smiled, but only with her mouth.
"But I think this here, it umm-- I think it shows there are deeper issues that should be addressed."
Mrs. Greer cut in.
"Call me Kathryn."
"Kathryn. Okay. We are not here to lay blame or intimate Whisker has any as yet unconfirmed-- issues-- we are merely trying to assess the situation before it becomes a bigger problem."
It was Dad's turn.
"Are you saying there's a problem?"
"Not as such, which is why we are here, as we are in a position to help should the need arise."
Mom was unconvinced.
"This smells like a witch hunt to me."
"We assure you it is most certainly not. We only wish to make everyone aware of the situation."
Mrs. Switt leaned forward slightly.
"This is a delicate, urm, subject we will handle only with the utmost discretion."
"We just want to insure Whisker's best interest is taken into account."
"Are you saying I don't have my son's best interest at heart?"
"Not at all, we only--"
Mrs. Greer gestured politely for silence.
"What we are saying is everyone here wants what is best for Whisker and that is why we asked you to be here."
Mrs. Switt concurred with a wan smile.
"Are we done here?"
"I think so, unless you have any questions or wish to voice any concerns."
"I don't have anything."
"What about you, Whisker. Is there anything you want to tell us?"
"All right then. Thank you so much for coming in."
Mrs. Greer smiled and offered her hand to Mom who just looked at it.
Dad offered his hand to Mrs. Greer and Mrs. Switt, eliciting warm smiles.
We got in the car and headed home, but the conversation was only getting started.
"I can't believe they acted like we were the problem."
"Do you think we are?"
"What are you, high? Those women are idiots."
"I don't know about that."
"Of course you don't. I saw the way they fawned all over you."
"Oh don't act all innocent with me. They were staring at your crotch the whole time."
"I honestly didn't see it."
"I don't know how you couldn't. They were drooling."
"What about Whisker?"
"What about him?"
"You read what he wrote. Do you think he needs help?"
"He needs a better teacher."
"I think Mrs. Switt is an okay teacher."
"Whisker is bright. He's creative. He's only writing about the things he reads and sees on tv."
"He sees that stuff on tv?"
"You know what I mean. It's his age. And you know he doesn't like dogs."
"I think there's more to it than that."
"Are you saying you agree with them?"
"Well why don't you just have them take turns sucking your dick while you're at it."
"Does it always have to be that way with you?"
"Me? You're the one practically offering yourself to them for chrissakes."
"Let's just- not go there."
"How about you drop us off at the car and go back to the Y or wherever the hell it is you're living these days."
I was hoping the ride home would include two forms of cow, but we went straight to the house and mom ordered a large pizza for delivery from Pizza Bill's and I deemed it a worthy alternative. Pizza Bill's had the best pizza ever and let me tell you why: the pepperoni would shrink and turn upward with drops of grease like little soup bowls and the surrounded cheese had its own languid pools of grease; the sauce was sweet, but not too sweet, and salty, but not too salty; the crust tasted like it had beer in it and I've never had one that even came close since. Sure, it was the cardiovascular equivalent of armageddon, but to my seven year old taste buds, it was me behind a kissing booth in a sea of chocolate lipped—and tongued—Van Moms.
It was really good pizza.
Mom sat next to me on the couch and we ate in the front room with the TV off, drinking Pepsi and making hungry people eating noises. Second stomach took the wheel, my very own one organ cheer squad, and praised every slice, every bite. They cut the pizza in squares instead of rectangles, so they were smaller than the average piece, but one wouldn't know it by the way I was going. Mom watched me while I ate.
"You're not crazy, you know."
I stopped mid bite and put the pizza on my plate.
"Those women are wrong about you."
"But I like Mrs. Greer."
"You're not sick."
"Did she say that?"
"Not in so many words."
"Am I in trouble?"
"No. You're scared."
"I don't- feel scared."
"It's okay if you are."
"I'm scared too."
The next day Mrs. Greer pulled me out of class and asked me to come with her to her office where she shut both doors and we were alone. She smiled, the way she usually did, and I could see it was in her eyes as well as her mouth so I knew it meant she was happy to see me. I sat down in one of the scratchy chairs across from her, but she asked me to sit next to her so I did. She pulled her chair close and leaned forward so we were face to face and I could feel her breath on my nose and cheeks. She liked coffee.
"Whisker, I'd like to talk to you a little about yesterday."
"Do you remember what we talked about?"
"I have your story right here and, I must say, it's very creative."
I waited for her to continue.
"Did you make all this up yourself?"
I wasn't sure how to answer.
"There are some things here that I find very interesting. For instance: I see you write in the first person, you say 'I' or 'we', but in the parts where you speak, you refer to yourself in third person, by your name."
I looked at the paper, then at the floor.
"Is that bad?"
"Well, I don't imagine it's what Mrs. Switt teaches you, but it’s not bad, no. I'm just curious as to why you wrote it that way. Do you know why that is?"
"So there's no reason in particular?"
"It, umm, f-felt like."
I stuttered, and slouched in the chair.
"It's okay. You can tell me."
"It felt like someone else said it."
"Okay, that's very good."
She smiled again and I smiled back this time. I liked Mrs. Greer.
"Now what about this part here. The part with the dog."
"The doberman is bad."
"Yes, he's very bad. He hurt you in this story."
"He always hurts me."
"That’s terrible. Is this a pet? A dog you have at home?"
"A relative's dog? A neighbor's?"
"No. I got bit when I was little."
"Ohhh. I'm sorry to hear that. Was it bad?"
"I had to get stitches."
"And it hurt I bet."
"So this-- bad dog-- this is that same dog?"
"What makes this bad dog different."
"You trust me, don't you?"
"Then you can tell me anything. I want to help you, Whisker."
"Why is the bad dog different from the one that hurt you when you were little?"
"It lives in the bottle."
"Bottle? Like a pop bottle?"
I took a pen from Mrs. Greer's desk, a blank piece of paper, and began to draw. I made sure every line was perfect and showed every feature. I liked using a pencil better because I could erase my mistakes, but the picture came out almost exactly the way I wanted it to.
"This is very good, Whisker. What is it?"
"The snoopy dog."
I told Mrs. Greer about the snoopy dog, about the trip with Chaz to the arcade, but not the part with Haley, about Mom and Dad fighting a lot and how I dreamed Chaz's mom was in a bad accident. I avoided the subjects of Bedbugs, Bashika, Aunt Ky and Dad's bottom dresser drawer. There was only so much I could take, and only so much, I was convinced, Mrs. Greer would believe.
"You're a very brave little boy."
"If you say so."
"I do. You're more like a man, like your father."
"Look at me."
I looked up and straight into Mrs. Greer's vibrant green eyes and for the first time saw how much they were somewhere I wanted be. There was a deepness of love and understanding no one I yet knew ever possessed, and I knew when I was there, in those beryl rice paper partitions, caressing me like flower petals, I was utterly lost and would never want to be found. She was watching me as I slouched and I wondered briefly if she was staring at my crotch.
"Call me Lydia."
She was wearing a tweed business suit and a puffy, pleated blouse with an unpretentious neckline underneath. I saw her heels were off, somewhere under the desk, and she shrugged out of the jacket which she draped over the back of her chair. I wondered why it was suddenly so warm and my jeans were so tight, but when I looked down, it was clear. Lydia chuckled and began to unbutton her blouse, soft, slender fingers maneuvering ivory discs through silky slits, and I was gulping air. She was smiling with only half her mouth, but all of those luscious eyes, and when the blouse came off and I beheld the soft bandeau tethering her modest breasts, I felt faint.
"Put your hands here."
She took them and placed them lateral to her chest so that my palms just lightly brushed exposed skin. She inhaled sharply.
"Now give me your lips."
I kissed her like I remembered kissing Van Mom in the dream, eyes closed, using my tongue where appropriate and she held my hands where they were. I always liked Mrs. Greer—Lydia—but now it was becoming something more. She was someone I thought I might be able to trust with the whole truth, not the heavily edited one she inherited only moments before. She wanted to help me.
As I wanted to help myself to her.
"WHISKER. Are you listening to me?"
"I asked if there was anything else you wanted to share."
Shame-faced, I wiped my mouth with my sleeve and slumped deeper in the chair.
"I think that's everything."
"Thank you for being so honest with me. I know it must have been hard."
That about covers it, yeah.
"It's okay. I'm okay."
Lydia—Mrs. Greer leaned right into my face, piercing me with her eyes.
"Now listen to me. I'm going to do everything I can to help you. Do you understand?"
“Good. Do you need anything?”
“Can I, umm.”
“What is it?”
“Can I-- have a hug?”
We hugged from our chairs and I knew she was smiling.
I was too.
When I saw Dad that weekend, we went to a Mexican place in the city we only went to on special occasions and as such was the case, I’d only eaten there once before. It was in a building next to a wide alley and had a huge mural on the side facing it with big people and cars and even a steamliner ship. It was called Witch and Weasel, a name I both loved to say and thought was funny for any kind of place you might eat, but the food was good and I thought maybe Dad had something exciting in store for our visit. When he told me where we were going, I cheered “WITCH AND WEASEL” until we arrived, even out the window where an older man walking by waved and shouted back “OH YEAH” like Kool-Aid Man.
The inside was kind of dark, but it reminded me of nights when Dad would make spaghetti sauce and we ate with the lights off, just candles, and he and Mom drank wine. While we waited for the food, Dad was looking around. He seemed nervous.
“Is it about what I wrote?”
“No, but while we’re on the subject--”
“And here’s the steak tacos, with beans, and-- Mexican egg rolls. Is there anything else I can get you?”
“Some more water, please?”
“Sure. Would you like some more water?”
“I’ll be right back with those.”
Dad waited for the water before he spoke.
“Does your mom let you watch scary movies?”
“I don’t watch scary movies.”
“What about books?”
“I read a lot of King Arthur. I like dragons.”
That was about it. We finished eating, walked around towntown for a while, went to the library so I could get a card and it was time to take me back to Mom. On the way, I thought about the things Dad asked me and what Mom told me when we ate pizza and I realized Dad only ever had questions and Mom only ever had answers. I suppose that’s why they used to work so well together.
“Try this one.”
Haley had a white one in between her thumb and forefinger which she held out for me and I took it, squeezing it between my fingers and popping it in my mouth.
“What flavor is this?”
“What does it taste like?”
“I-- can’t tell.”
Haley got another white one and put it in her mouth, making her thinking face.
“I think it’s pineapple.”
“I like it.”
“Thought you might.”
“What are they?”
“They’re called Gummi Bears.”
“Do you have more?”
“Try this one.”
It was red, like Santa’s outfit, and when I ate it is tasted like how I imagined Mrs. Greer’s lips did; her lipstick was the same shade. Haley had a whole bag she bought while she and Mom were Christmas shopping and she got them out while we were waiting for cookies to bake. We sat at the kitchen table together, which was a nook, with three benches attached to the walls, and a wooden chair with a woven seat on the outside. Wire racks full of cookies were all over the table and Mom was in the process of mixing up amaretto icing to put on the cutout ones. There were almond snowballs, seven layer and chocolate pinwheels as well. Second stomach howled with drunken anticipation and I knew I was headed for a sugar coma.
“It sounds like you love your sister.”
“I’ll be right back.”
Mrs. Greer went out the door on the wall behind her desk and came back several minutes later with a cup of coffee and a can of orange Crush. It wasn’t as good as Pepsi, but I liked orange and I liked pop, so the two together spelled win in my book. Besides, it was something from Mrs. Greer and anything from her was something I wanted.
“Is that flavor okay?”
“Good. Now I want you to tell me more about the snoopy dog.”
“Do you know what it wants?”
“Me to do bad things.”
“What kind of bad things?”
“Be mean. And umm.”
“And hurt people.”
“Like call them names? Hurt their feelings?”
“That and hurt them. You know, their bodies.”
“It makes me scared.”
“I know, honey.”
I liked it when she called me honey.
“It gives me bad dreams.”
“Do you have them a lot?”
“Do you lose a lot of sleep?”
“Okay. You said you had a dream Chaz’s mom was hurt?”
“I dreamed she was in a car accident.”
I decided to leave out the part with the kissing; I didn’t want her to get the wrong idea.
“Are you saying you knew she was going to be in an accident?”
“It was in the dream. I didn’t know it was her until later.”
“Chaz showed me a picture and I knew her.”
“Did you tell Chaz?”
“It’s okay. You didn’t do anything wrong. I think maybe that’d going to be it for today.”
“Are you okay? Do you feel all right?”
Mrs. Greer smiled and it made me happy even though talking about all the bad things made me feel sad and scared. Her smile was second only to her eyes, which made me feel all mushy inside.
“Whisker, will you do something for me?”
“Hehe. I think I know something that could help you a great deal.”
“I want you to bring me the snoopy dog.”
My stomachs fell through the floor.
I sat on my bed after I was supposed to be asleep. It was dark in my room, but I could still see from the street lamp coming in through my window. The snoopy dog was sitting on the shelf, but now it was facing me.
“Mrs. Greer is nice. You’d like her.”
It slowly rotated, back and forth, like it was shaking its head.
“She asked me nice.”
It moved again, the same way.
“She makes me feel safe. That’s supposed to be your job since Dad’s not here.”
The snoopy dog began to shudder violently.
“All you do is make me scared. I’m taking you to-”
It shot from the shelf and hovered in front of me, swaying back and forth.
My forehead jolted with pain, white hot sparks.
Something licked my face before I blacked out.