FEEDING THE DOG
Roanoke Review Volume XXXI
Mama woke us up not talking. She roused me and Roy by shoving at our sleeping shoulders and then walked out of our room in hard steps. While we was getting our clothes on, the sun was moving through the window, but it could not warm away the mopes that mama had left behind. Me and Roy ate milk and crackers for breakfast and made ourselfs small. When I saw that mama had run a comb through her hair and changed her dress to go to the grocery, I did not ask if we could go with her.
It didnt surprise me none when mama come home from the A&P dragging that black dog by her ankle. Me and Roy was doing like we’d been told, staying close to the house. I could watch him because I was nine, the big brother. We was by the kitchen window on the shady side of the house, driving our cars in the dirt. The window was tall as a door, and when it was raised, like today, me and Roy could walk in and out. But only when mama wadnt looking. Here where we played every day in summer, the dirt was worn soft and fine as the ribbon edge of Roy’s blankie. I saw mama first, and something fell down inside me, because that dog only showed itself when mama was mad. I shushed Roy with a finger to my lips. Mama had a brown bag of groceries on each hip, and her dress was hiked up on one side. Her steps was long and fast, even with that dog on her. Me and Roy put our heads low and shifted down to first gear.
That dog wadnt no licking dog.
We kept a sideways eye on mama as she stomped along the sidewalk, then up to the porch, step-drag, step-drag, on into the house. When that black dog come to our house he stayed for a while. I wisht I didnt feel sorry for him because I knew if he ever did let go of mama he would eat me and Roy alive.
From our roadways, we peeked on mama unloading the groceries. On our hands and knees, we drove our cars, careful of the curves and dips. We slowed our cars when we passed by grandma’s house, where we wadnt allowed to go. If daddy wadnt welcome there, we wadnt none of us going.
I heard canned goods being stacked in the white metal cabinet we bought at a rummage sale. Mama had wanted a new one. I thought of what all we saw on TV. Did she buy Van Camp’s pork and beans? Libby’s fruit cocktail? My ears watered for the rustle of a bag of Fritos. When mama opened the frigerator door to set a carton of milk on the shelf, she slammed the door shut. I shivered like I could feel the swoosh of cold air that came out of the refrigerator and pushed into the kitchen.