The Dog in the Hole11 July 2017
CONTENT WARNING: IMPACTFUL VIOLENCE
Continued from ‘The Mother Isn’t the Problem’.
“Whose dog was it?” my father asks. His voice cuts through the darkness and the distant hum of cars. Moonlight washes over the concrete slab of a derelict steelworks. We gaze down at the lifeless Dalmatian in a heap by our shoes.
“Just a kid from school,” I answer.
My father shoots me a disapproving look.
“He deserved it,” I say, justifying myself.
When I was younger, my parents would make faces at me when trying to hold back a smile. They’d frown, or look upward, or furrow their eyebrows as if thinking deeply. But if I stared hard enough at them, their smiles would come through in the creases around their eyes, seeping into their stony faces, softening them. Then, a chuckle or two would crack through before their façade completely collapsed and they’d burst out laughing. They’d wrap me in their arms and say things like you cheeky boy! I could always tell when they were hiding their smiles.
I see it, if only for a second: my father’s face morphs into a mixture of disapproval and pride. But a smile peeks through his hardened face. He clasps my shoulder firmly and lets out a long sigh.
“I suppose you’d like some advice on how to get rid of it?” He starts to walk away from me, and all I can see is his silhouette as his feet crunch over loose gravel on the cement slab. “Pick a spot, and start digging.”
A few hours later, we’re sitting around a low table in father’s shed, back home. This dusty room takes up a considerable corner of the backyard, which has fallen into disuse of late. But our recent endeavours have since given it purpose. It’s become the site where he plans for the night’s events: who he kills, how and why. I squirm in a dirty chair. I stroke the armrest where our old dog used to scratch at the wooden frame – mother moved the chair out of the house when that mutt died. Sentimentality and all that.
In the corner of the room sits a locked file cabinet with his notes. He keeps the key wedged between two stones in the backyard – I’m the only other one to know where he hides it, and he says it’s very important that I don’t show the cabinet’s contents to anyone, or we’ll get in trouble. I know that, I’m not stupid. Father is running his fingers over the countless files he’s amassed from years of research and planning. Tracing the files, he hums to himself, before plucking one out and removing the picture attached.
“Look at her, Anton! Isn’t she something?” He shows me a grainy picture, taken from a distance on high zoom. The woman’s aggressive blond dye-job almost bounces off the sheet. Her eyes are hidden behind dark sunglasses, hiding her eyes. Pity, you can tell so much about a person from their eyes. “She’s working tonight at a mini-mart. She’s the manager, so she’ll be there until closing. That’s when we’ll meet her.”
He makes it sound almost romantic. But as he stares at the picture clutched in his hand, something else flickers behind his small cloudy eyes.
“Why her? I mean, what makes her special?”
Father takes a second to collect his thoughts, then his words tumble out furiously. “Rachael Walsh. A year ago, this woman, this scum, was let off the hook for killing her baby. Drowned the thing. I saw it in the newspaper and just about choked on my food. I thought to myself, imagine if my Anton was put in danger like that, and I knew that she couldn’t be left to get away with something so vile. If I accomplish anything at all, it’s that I ensure that a waste of space like that doesn’t clog up this city.” He looks up out of his hazy reverie. “You will come, won’t you Anton?” He smiles at me, no trace of concealed emotion on his face. He wants me there. “If only so I can show you the ropes.”
I take another look at the blonde in the photo. She isn’t all that memorable.
As we walk to the mini-mart, our collars raised against the stiff wind, I tightly grip an empty syringe in my pocket. Father’s rambling on about the woman, Rachael Walsh, why she deserves to die. To be perfectly honest, I zoned out a few streets back. Lack of evidence. Unusual circumstances – I don’t care about the reasoning. My heart is pounding hard and fast in my chest. I hold my breath, trying to slow it down. If they appear in my father’s filing cabinet, their excuses mean nothing to me. Their time is up.
We sit on a park bench outside the mart, smoking Marlboros. The place is quiet. We probably don’t look any better than the low-lives that frequent this area. An older woman shakes her head at me as she walks past, but seems to decide against making a verbal remark. We sit and blow out our smoke in unison, and I try to cross smoke streams like in Ghostbusters, and when we do, I make a big explosion gesture with my hands, and we jostle each other and laugh, trying not to burn the cigarette butts on our clothes.
As I enter the mini-mart, she glances up from her phone behind the counter. She does a bit of a double take, and I release I still have my hood up from the wind. I pull it down and she seems to relax somewhat. I walk down an aisle and feel her gaze following me in the mirrors around the shop. She doesn’t look much like her picture. She’s gained weight since it was taken about 6 months prior. Acrylic nails click on her phone screen as she pretends to scroll. I look directly at her in the mirror, she fakes a smile and looks down. I chuckle to myself as she averts her gaze. I clasp the syringe, reassuring myself that it’s still there.
She recoils from the smell of Marlboros on my father’s breath. He has her pinned against the wall in a dark stockroom. Her mascara is running – her hands are bound with cable ties and they’re cutting into her wrists, blood staining her cuffs. I keep an eye on where the blood droplets fall – I have a wad of tissues in my pocket, I’ve thought this through. We’re not leaving any traces. She’s shaking now as he taunts her, whispering in her ear about her baby. But something strange is happening – that hardened resolve that I’ve come to know so well isn’t there in his eyes. Rachael sees this hesitation and starts mumbling in what is part whimper, part sob.
“P-please, Lily’s death was an accident! She would have been a year and two months old by now. She’d been crying all night, and I was so tired, and there was no one else to watch her. I fell asleep by the tub for two minutes. TWO MINUTES.” It all comes out so fast. I jump when she suddenly screams, so does father. We’re losing control. Someone might hear her. Father drifts away from her.
Taking that as a good sign, she talks faster, “I won’t say anything to anyone about this – you haven’t done anything to me, not really, and we can just forget this ever happened. Okay? If you’ll just cut me free, we don’t have to worry about it. Just cut me free.”
I look to my father. He’s lost his resolve, standing with his back to the wall, staring at this young mother who, tired and overworked, made a mistake. She fell victim to her exhaustion, and left her baby unattended to drown in a bathtub. He glances at a pair of scissors on a desk a few metres away. He softens, and I can tell what he’s thinking.
“We can’t cut her free. We can’t let her go at all. She’s seen our faces, she could identify us, and what then?”
“Please, no!” she blurts out, backing herself into the corner of the room.
She’s easy to overpower with the syringe in my hand. I push the needle into her neck, and her eyes widen. I clutch her shoulders and feel her pressed hard against me when I push the plunger down. Then suddenly, she’s all dead weight. I push her head back and look into vacant green eyes. I can’t stand to look at my father. He choked.
“Don’t forget the blood drops – they’re on the floor there,” I call back to him. I leave him to dispose of the body, and walk home alone.
It’s late when I sneak in through the backyard, jumping the fence to get onto our property. I slowly inch the door shut, aware that my mother is most likely asleep upstairs. I go through to the living room and peek outside to wait for father’s return.
After a few seconds of absent-mindedly scanning the street that I see officer Reynolds, parked in his car, watching our house from a few doors down. I try to pretend that I didn’t see him, but it’s too late, he stares me down for a few seconds before he flicks on his lights and drives off. I hightail it back out into the yard and over the fence, slamming the door in my wake. As that loud bang cuts through the night, pavement blurs beneath my feet.
I need to tell father. The police are onto us.