Page 19


“Is that where he lives?” Shelby asks.
Dorian nods.
There’s a deli and a gas station and an auto parts shop and a yard that looks like a dumping ground for old cars. The traffic on the avenue is so noisy Shelby leans close in order to be heard.
“I don’t see him.”
Dorian nods to a high chain-link fence on the other side of the street, circling the junkyard filled with tires and the rusted-out hulls of cars.
“You want to wait here while I go kill him?” Shelby says.
“Are you going to kill him with the knife?” Dorian holds tight to his paper bag lunch. Something about him makes Shelby want to cry.
“I might and I might not,” she tells him.
Shelby runs across the street. She can’t wait to get the kid to school and go home and go back to bed. If she pretends the monster is real and kills it, maybe Dorian will cut the crap and take the school bus. It’s up to Maravelle to get him to a therapist. Shelby turns back to the kid to wave, just to let him know everything is okay.
Then she hears the monster.
The snarling makes her think of a bear growling deep down in its throat. The thing facing her is the size of a small bear too, only it’s white; filthy and bloody, but white. It’s chained to a pole, so as it runs toward her, it’s stopped short when it reaches the end of its chain. It’s up on its hind legs, and she swears it’s taller than she is. The kid is right.
Shelby’s heart is pounding as she runs back across the street.
“Did you kill it?” Dorian’s got his hands over his eyes.
“Not yet,” Shelby says.
Dorian slips his hands down and stares across the street. A shiver passes over his face.
“Give me your lunch,” Shelby says. Every beast has a soft spot after all.
Dorian hands over the bag, and Shelby runs back across the street. She’s getting more exercise than usual due to this monster. He’s still barking when she takes out a cookie and pitches it over the fence. The monster backs away, as if she’s thrown a stone, so she tosses over another Chips Ahoy! He catches that one and swallows it whole. Shelby unwraps the string cheese and sends that over the fence. The monster gobbles it. He’s no longer barking. He’s staring at her. Shelby sees that he’s a Great Pyrenees.
She runs back across the street. More exercise when she’d planned to spend the morning sleeping.
“Is he dead?” Dorian asks.
“As it turns out he’s not a monster. He’s a dog.”
“I don’t think so.”
Dorian seems poised to run. He is convinced that a monster will get him if he takes another step.
“Dorian, I know about dogs. Come on. I’ll show you.”
It takes a while, but Dorian is finally convinced to cross the street with Shelby. He stops at the curb.
“He’s just a dog that they keep chained up,” Shelby explains. “When you chain something up, you turn him into something he shouldn’t be.”
Dorian nods. “You’re right. He looks like he’s broken.” All at once, with that one sentence, Shelby understands how you could fall in love with a kid. “Look at his foot,” Dorian whispers.
In fact, the dog is limping. Shelby can see how skinny he is. He’s being starved.
“I’m going to walk you to school,” she tells Dorian. “You don’t have to worry about anything being broken.”
She does so, but instead of going back to the apartment, Shelby heads to the deli and sits near the window. She has a cup of coffee and a buttered roll. She’s staring at the junkyard, thinking about how the kids pointed and laughed at her when she took Dorian to his classroom. Someone shouted out “Baldy!” She usually doesn’t care if people insult her, but now she’s worried that Dorian may be ridiculed and embarrassed because of her.
When she’s done with her breakfast, Shelby goes to stand outside so she can study the big dog on its chain. One of the guys from the deli is out having a cigarette break.
“Hey.” He nods at Shelby.
“Hey,” Shelby replies.
The deli guy notices her gazing across the street.
“It’s a damn crime,” he says. “I throw stuff over to him. Like when I’m making chicken salad I throw over the bones.”
“Chicken bones kill dogs,” Shelby informs him.
“Yeah?” The guy might have said more if he hadn’t noticed the butcher knife stuck in Shelby’s waistband.
“Chicken bones fragment,” she tells him. “They can pierce the esophagus and intestines.”
“You a vet?”
“I’m nothing.” Shelby has one of her last cigarettes. She’s decided she’s going to quit. She wants something all right. She wants everyone who has ever been cruel to a dog to be tied up on a chain for twenty-four hours, no food, no water.
“One time I saw the guy over at the junkyard hit him with a metal pole when he wouldn’t stop barking. There was blood everywhere.”
“Monster,” Shelby says before she stalks away.
Jasmine doesn’t come home after school. Shelby is still wearing the same clothes she arrived in. Her shower never materialized. Teddy and Dorian are having a snack before they get to their homework. Shelby is doing her best to follow Maravelle’s schedule, which doesn’t include a missing girl who wears makeup when she isn’t supposed to and who, now that she’s gotten away with lipstick and rouge, probably figures she can do as she pleases with Shelby in charge. When asked where their sister is, the twins both shrug. They are clearly sworn to secrecy.
At last the phone rings and Shelby jumps for it. She’s hoping it’s Jasmine, but it’s Maravelle.
“How are my babies?” Maravelle wants to know.
“Good,” Shelby lies. Real panic is setting in. “Doing homework. How the hell do you do all this, Mimi? Plus a full-time job? You’re super­­woman.”
“Jasmine’s doing homework? Is that what you said? That doesn’t sound like her.”
“I’m having some trouble with her.” Shelby backtracks. “She’s definitely not perfect.”
“Put her on and I’ll let her have it.”
“I would, but she locked herself in the bathroom. Let me put the boys on.” Shelby grabs the twins and puts one hand over the phone receiver. “Don’t mention Jasmine,” she warns them. “Got it?”