Author’s Note: “Rescue” was my first attempt at writing flash fiction when I craved something immediate and stark in between revisions of a novel. That initial dabble with flash years ago spawned a series of stories about women who reluctantly come to care for dogs. While most of the other pieces—flash fiction, short stories, and a novella—deal with connections between people or with nature, and some even have hopeful notes, my firstborn remains my favorite.
THE CHILLY FALL MORNING when she returned to the animal shelter came three years after the sweltering July day her husband first took her there with the girls. The heat then had magnified her sense of melting.
“Come on, it’ll be fun,” her husband had said, petting the dog. Tilting his head toward the girls, who were six and nine at the time, their eager faces slightly green under fluorescent lights, he intoned, “They’ve been waiting.”
She looked away from his gaze toward a framed poster on the wall of the small visitation room. At the front of the poster was a dog’s large snout, in focus, while slightly blurry children beamed with smiles in the background. She winced at the finality of a “forever home.”
At her feet, an actual dog panted, its brown sheen wrinkly under its chin but smooth along its back. The creature looked more natural—more real—against the faded gray linoleum than did her family’s version of mammal, skin-covered and clothed.
Three human years later, after the twice-daily doling out of food and the bagging of its excreted remains during so many walks, the wiping of paws at the front door, the baths where he shook dirty water onto her and the white tiles, and the incessant vacuuming that everyone complained was too loud, they were both older and slower entering the animal shelter. The dog settled on the tile floor, as if they planned to stay and chat. But the woman was brief. Left her husband’s phone number, saying he might be interested.
The workers didn’t appear to understand, possibly expecting her to wait for paperwork. She dropped the leash at the dog’s side and pushed against the ridged metal bar to open the first of two heavy glass doors.
“We’re not a day care!” the shelter worker called out after her.
What a curious term. Imagine someone lifting your cares for the day and keeping them safe until you picked them up in the evening. Nothing gone, just held, like electrical current blocked temporarily by a plastic cover in a socket.
The woman suspected that no one would follow her out of the building. She kept walking.
Without being pulled along, her body felt airy, grounded only by the drag of her phone in one jacket pocket and keys in the other.
As she walked home, she imagined doing more dramatic things to her older daughter’s doll than simply leaving her. She could dunk the plastic girl headfirst into the toilet, submerging the hair that had been recently chopped into uneven spikes. The doll had cost a small fortune before the girl declared her obsolete and declared her mother a cunt. Like father, like daughter.
The woman might like to see the doll kick up her legs gloriously like the synchronized swimmer she longed to be. But no. She didn’t even enter her daughter’s room. She hesitated before deciding not to go into the younger’s either, as though she’d begun to press the pause button on an old tape player and then released the weight before the mechanism caught. Let it play until it ran out.
She set her suitcase near the front door and almost grabbed a treat to throw into the dog’s crate before she switched to reach instead for a pen and a notepad.
She wrote where to find the dog.
Where to find the woman would be anyone’s guess.
Jessica Claire Haney is a Northern Virginia-based writer, editor, and writing tutor. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Gargoyle Magazine, Porcupine Literary, Washington Writers’ Publishing House, Earth’s Daughters, Scary Mommy, and anthologies, including the Grace & Gravity D.C. Women Writers series, and Written in Arlington. Website: JessicaClaireHaney.com
Delmarva Review publishes the most compelling fiction, nonfiction, and poetry selected from thousands of new submissions during the year. Designed to encourage outstanding new writing, the literary journal is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit publication. Financial support comes from tax-deductible contributions and a grant from Talbot Arts with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Website: www.DelmarvaReview.org
Letters to Editor
Bill Haney says
“Rescue” is written with grace and power, paired all too seldom in modern short fiction. One more thing: mastery of tension building to the relevant unexpected. It is a gem.
Dale McCarthy says
Very compelling and heart wrenching evoking both both anger and sympathy simultaneously in this reader