Kicking to Go On, fiction by Samuel Snoek-Brown

His heart knocked like a fist against his breast­bone as his own knuck­les beat against the heavy met­al door. A des­per­ate yap­ping came ric­o­chet­ing toward him from inside. He bounced on his feet to keep warm; he hadn’t imag­ined a March cold front could sweep this far down into cen­tral Texas. And no one told him the door would be locked.

Then, the snick of a dead­bolt, and the met­al door scraped along the jamb and Bob­by was inside, still bounc­ing and breath­ing into his hands but inside now and ready to work.

The man who’d opened up for him said, “What the hell you doing here so ear­ly?” He had to shout over the voic­es of the caged and anx­ious dogs.

Just like to be ear­ly,” Bob­by said loud­er, unused to speak­ing over echo­ing ani­mals. “First day and all.”

Well shit, man. I stay away from this place long as I can. Cut out ear­ly, I say. Michael Sirus. Call me Mikey.”

Bob­by said his own name back, and they shook hands, and Mikey cocked his head toward the back. Bob­by looked instead at the man’s face, a thin pink scar ripped from the left cheek­bone down to the lip as though dis­ap­pear­ing into Mikey’s mouth. A long and cocky grin.

You ever done shel­ter work before?” Mikey said.

Nah,” Bob­by said.

Why start now?” Mikey took them into lit­tle break room, the cin­derblock walls there a but­tery yel­low, all the lit­tle pores and cracks of the cement blocks put­tied up with thick paint. They leaned against the counter and Mikey poured cof­fee into two Sty­ro­foam cups. Bob­by shook his head and held up one hand, but Mikey said, “You’ll want this, trust me. I like to hit the whole pot with a few shots of Irish. Too damned cold late­ly for cof­fee alone.”

Bob­by smiled but kept eying the scar. He took the offered cup though he didn’t want the whiskey. Didn’t want to soft­en his mind against the work ahead.

Seri­ous­ly,” Mikey was say­ing. “Why work here?”

I like ani­mals,” Bob­by said. Mikey laughed and looked into his cof­fee cup. But Bob­by said, “No, no shit. They fas­ci­nate me.”

You’re gonna hate it here.”

Ser­gio said the only peo­ple who work here are the ones who love ani­mals,” Bob­by said.

That lit­tle Mex­i­can? Don’t get me wrong, I’m no racist, but that guy, he just gets a kick out of hir­ing grin­gos to work for him.” Mikey slugged the last of the cup and poured anoth­er. “He’s right, though. I dig ani­mals. Big fan of cats. But that’s why you’ll hate work­ing here. It’s killing them that gets to you.”

Bob­by looked at him. He set down his cof­fee cup, shift­ed his weight. Then, care­ful­ly, he said, “Huh?”

Euthana­sia, Bob­by. We all got­ta do it. Sim­ple as math. Only got three dozen cages, but we get in some­thing like half a dozen ani­mals a week, and we give away maybe two or three a month, rotate anoth­er fif­teen with the oth­er shel­ters in the area. That’s five or six too many, Bob­by. We put down an ani­mal or two a week.”

Jesus,” Bob­by said.

Yeah,” Mikey said. “We keep friend­ly by shar­ing the guilt—only per­son here who doesn’t give the shots is Ma, the old recep­tion­ist.”

Jesus,” Bob­by said again. But he had count­ed on this.

Mikey had been right: Ser­gio and a guy named Elmo were the only His­pan­ics in the shel­ter. Ser­gio him­self addressed it in the break room the first time his and Bobby’s sched­ules over­lapped. He’d said, “Eh, gringo, why you wan­na work here with a cou­ple of Mex­i­cans? That ever keep you up at night? Know­ing you work for a wet­back?”

Your shirt looks pret­ty dry to me,” Bobby’d said.

Ser­gio had laughed. He said, “You’re all right, Bob­by. I thought you’d be like every oth­er prej­u­diced gaba­cho in this town, but you’re all right.” Then he’d left. Bob­by had refilled his styrene cup and turned to the emp­ty door­way and said, “How do you know I’m not, you fuck­ing spic.” His words were calm. He tried them again. “Fuck­ing spic.” It still wasn’t right. So he’d prac­ticed at home as well.

But Ser­gio and Elmo, whom Bob­by nev­er met, they were it. Every­one else was white. Bob­by liked this, liked work­ing for a Mex­i­can. Up in Nor­mal, Illi­nois, there had been a black woman, LaShelle, who hired him as an exter­mi­na­tor. In the long win­ters, when the world froze over, he would lay in bed at night and dream of fuck­ing her, not because he liked her but because she was black. He’d heard, back in high school when kids still spoke this way, that it was all pink in the mid­dle, and he tried imag­in­ing that, her dark legs spread to show the lit­tle strip of magen­ta in all her wiry hair. He couldn’t get aroused. He tried imag­in­ing him­self angry with her, imag­ined beat­ing her, rap­ing her. Noth­ing worked. He didn’t feel any­thing. Most nights he got bored and watched a nature pro­gram instead, ragged hye­nas gnaw­ing a zebra while Bob­by cleaned his insec­ti­cide tanks and spray noz­zles.

In the spring, he read the angry his­to­ry books the Revi­sion­ists wrote, strug­gling against the illog­ic when they said the Holo­caust had nev­er hap­pened, when they explained how six mil­lion Jews had scammed the world. He read that the Jews killed Jesus; Bob­by didn’t care about Jesus, or about Jews. He read that the Jews had all the mon­ey, but Bob­by had a home and nev­er went hun­gry. It was all one big con­spir­a­cy that Bob­by was out­side of. But he had stud­ied; he’d tried to learn hate because it was the eas­i­est emo­tion he could imag­ine feel­ing, the only one he thought would ever get through.

Then, in the sum­mer, when the fire ants maraud­ed north to Nor­mal and invad­ed the peace­ful sub­urbs with their red Texas fury, he would strap on the tanks of poi­son LaShelle gave him, and he would slip into the grow­ing heat to spray the world in chem­i­cal fog, killing every­thing, even that part of him­self that knew, knew he could nev­er be a racist no mat­ter what he said, or stud­ied, or killed.

There had been a news sto­ry, car­ried along the backs of the fire ants, trail­ing north from Texas. A man, a black man, tied to a truck in Jasper and dragged through the streets. Day­light. Sub­urbs. Hor­ror.

As a boy in Nor­mal, Illi­nois, Bob­by had a dog: Sandy when they adopt­ed her, same col­or as Bobby’s hair. A Chow mix with a punched-in face and a curled-up tail that nev­er, ever stopped wag­ging. Bob­by changed her name to Lady after the dog in the Dis­ney movie, and he watched her shat­ter the milk bones he threw her after din­ner, and he walked her through the thin woods out­side Nor­mal, hop­ing the dog would sniff out inter­est­ing car­cass­es aban­doned in the woods.

She got spooked in storms, kept try­ing to jump the fence in the back yard. His par­ents had rigged her on a run­ner, one of those chains clipped to a line high over­head, each end bolt­ed to a tree so every time the thun­der beat the sky she could dash about in a pan­ic but still not clear the fence. Now, instead of walk­ing Lady, he just stood over the fence and watched her, fas­ci­nat­ed, because some­times, strain­ing against the pull of her run­ner so hard she’d raise her­self up on hind legs and stay that way for half an hour, she’d bark at every His­pan­ic that walked their streets. Nev­er the white neigh­bors, some­times the black neighbors—but she def­i­nite­ly had it in for the Mex­i­cans, the Ecuado­ri­ans, and the two old Puer­to Ricans from New York. She strained against her leash, pulling the run­ner taut like a bow string, her­self the fin­gers hold­ing the tip of some invis­i­ble arrow, and she barked and barked at the His­pan­ic neigh­bors who passed their house. Bob­by nev­er knew why. But he want­ed to find out. She was a good dog in every respect he knew a dog could be, so he rea­soned that hatred must be good too.

When he was grown and ready, he fol­lowed the trail of the fire ants south, to Jasper, but found noth­ing to help him, so he went then to the cities—Houston that hot and mug­gy fall, San Anto­nio in the gray winter—then north and west, to the hill coun­try. Peace­ful, but teem­ing with ants.

 * * *

What’s with the scar,” Bob­by said in the break room on his sec­ond day. Mikey was spik­ing the day’s sec­ond pot of cof­fee.

Won­dered when you’d ask. Came from the job. We had a real bitch of a cat once. Came in spit­ting and kick­ing and throw­ing one hell of a fight. She popped loose from Elmo and scrammed, shoom, right up the god­damn wall. You look at these walls.” Bob­by looked, the yel­low paint a slick skin on the cin­derblocks. “I still don’t know how she did it. Any­way, by the time we found her, she’d made it into here some­how—” He walked to the refrig­er­a­tor and swiped his hand back near the wood­en cab­i­net over­head. “Got up into that cab­i­net there, damned if I know how, and when I went in to get her, she shot out right at me and wrapped her­self around my head. Elmo try­ing to get her off, and her try­ing to stay on, kick­ing at me to get a bet­ter grip. It was like she was dig­ging a trench right in my fuck­ing face.” He rubbed a fin­ger along the scar, back and forth, remem­ber­ing the cat’s claw there. “Lucky there was just the one deep run­ner.”

Did you kill her?” Bob­by said.

Would you believe we found a home for that lit­tle bitch?” Mikey said. “Tame as a god­damn lap cat now. Fat, too.”

How do you know?” Bob­by said.

I’m the one who took her home,” Mikey said—a grin, long and jagged where it spread from his slit lips to the long pink line in his cheek. “She’s my cat now. Keep your ene­mies close—who said that?”

What’d you name her?”

Still just call her Bitch.”

And she’s tame now?”

More or less. Every now and then she gives me this look, though, like she’s remind­ing me what she did. Like she wants me to know she could do it again.” He laid his fin­ger along the scar and held it there.

I put the lock on the cab­i­net up there,” he fin­ished. “Ser­gio want­ed to nail it shut, but I said the lock would be more prac­ti­cal. Brought the lock in myself.” He smiled again, that long torn grin, and he raised his Sty­ro­foam cup to Bob­by. “That’s also when I start­ed bring­ing in the whiskey.”

 

Spring in Texas was where north­ern sum­mers come from, the heat stir­ring ear­ly before wav­ing off the hills and ris­ing up the con­ti­nent. Bob­by stood out­side his tiny apart­ment in the for­got­ten cen­ter of town. Ear­ly as April, already in shirt-sleeves, that last win­ter front long since swept away. He drank a bit­ter­sweet cock­tail of South­ern Com­fort in beer. A neigh­bor in jeans and a plaid flan­nel shirt stoked the coals in his tiny porch grill and sent over a plume of faji­ta smoke. Bob­by looked over and the two men nod­ded to each oth­er.

Is it always this warm in April?” Bob­by said.

Warm?” the dark­er man said. “It’s bare­ly six­ty degrees out. Still feels like win­ter to me.”

What’s it nor­mal­ly get to?”

Shit, it ough­ta be sev­en­ty degrees already. Wish it was. I’m freez­ing out here.”

Hm,” Bob­by said. He ran his shoe through the dirt on his slab of porch, hoist­ed his spiked beer, and walked out into the shab­by com­plex yard. He’d seen a mound off in one cor­ner, and he went to find it.

It lay like a dried fecal lump cast out from the frigid ass of a dinosaur. Prick­ly with tiny dirt clods, pocked with holes, still and asleep. He’d not seen ant hills like this in Illi­nois. He toed it, but noth­ing hap­pened. He set down his beer and cast about, look­ing for a stick. One lay off near the side­walk, and he got it and set to pok­ing, dis­sect­ing the mound. The bare brit­tle grass crack­led behind him, and he spun on the balls of his feet with the stick up, but it was only the neigh­bor walk­ing up to him.

They sleep until it gets hot,” he said.

Fire ants—I know.”

Lit­tle bas­tards,” the neigh­bor said. “Can’t kill em for shit.”

You can try,” Bob­by said. He turned back to the mound and poked deep­er.

Hey, you want a bite of faji­ta, man? My old lady makes some mean sea­son­ing, straight from her mama’s mama back home. Good stuff.”

No,” Bob­by said.

Huh,” the neigh­bor said. He stood a moment, then left. Bob­by poured his beer over the strewn mound, stood up, went back into his own apart­ment.

Spic,” he said, to try the word out again, the first time since Ser­gio. It still didn’t feel right. Noth­ing felt right.

When he was four, he’d stood watch­ing Lady at the fence one hot after­noon, her still a pup­py and run­ning in cir­cles free because she wasn’t yet big enough to jump in the storms. He’d stood a long time. Final­ly, she’d run to the fence for a pat on the head, and he looked down not at her but at his own feet. They were cov­ered in a crawl­ing black fur, only it wasn’t fur, it was ants. He’d stood direct­ly in an ant hill all that time, and now the ants had swarmed his feet, deter­mined if not to move him off then to devour him there. He’d screamed, and his moth­er had come and col­lect­ed him kick­ing and punch­ing at her, and she’d set him, clothes and all, in the tub for a bak­ing soda bath. His feet swelled up and turned a cran­ber­ry col­or for two days, and he cried the whole time, but real­ly, he’d nev­er felt a thing.

* * *

 Bob­by watched.

Mikey fid­dled with an old tool box, extract­ing syringes and bot­tles, explain­ing while he worked. The cat squirmed in Bobby’s tight, thin arms. They both wore pow­dered latex gloves.

With cats, we use this,” hold­ing a bot­tle, “a seda­tive, mea­sured out accord­ing to what the cat weighs. Milder than the killer, and we don’t have to use it, nec­es­sar­i­ly, but you can feel how that cat is ready to pop right now, just shoot out your arms like it had a bot­tle rock­et up its ass. The first seda­tive makes it eas­i­er.”

It?” Bob­by said. “The cat’s a he, isn’t he?”

The cat’s about to get dead, Bob­by. It’s an it. That’s how I work. Got it?”

Mikey tapped the nee­dle, then reached over Bobby’s strain­ing arms and jabbed the cat in the rump; the cat kicked in vio­lent thrusts and twist­ed its head out of Bobby’s fist. It bit Bobby’s hand in the soft meat between the thumb and the first fin­ger, and it stayed there, dri­ving its tiny teeth deep­er into Bobby’s flesh through the latex.

Hoh-oh, shit,” Mikey said. He laughed. “Hang in there, Bob­by.”

Bob­by hung in there.

Mikey had drawn out anoth­er syringe and poked it into anoth­er bot­tle. “We use a wicked lit­tle blend of seda­tives on the dogs, because they’re big­ger usu­al­ly. I don’t know exact­ly what the mix is. They send it to us ready made. I just do my end with the nee­dles.”

The cat went limp, its jaw relaxed and its heart­beat slowed to match its long, heavy breath. The air was hot on Bobby’s hand, hot already from the wound, the blood col­lect­ing under the sec­ond skin of the glove.

This here,” Mikey said, “is the nasty stuff. Pen­to­bar­bi­tal.” He flicked the nee­dle and squirt­ed a bit of the drug into the air. It land­ed on the cat’s face and ran into its closed eyes. “Cats, they get a hun­dred and twen­ty mil­li­liters of this stuff per kilo­gram of body weight. Stops the heart cold in just under thir­ty sec­onds. But dogs—” He jabbed the new nee­dle in, depressed the plunger, held it a moment, and slid it out again. “—Dogs only get twen­ty mil­li­liters per kilo. Now why the hell is that? Dogs get more seda­tive but less juice in the end?”

Bob­by had been lis­ten­ing, learn­ing, and he’d missed the moment. What used to be a limp and sleep­ing cat was now a cat col­lapsed, a body with a void inside.

Damn it,” Bob­by said.

What?” Then, see­ing, Mikey said, “Yeah, it’s tough. I was so shak­en up my first time I couldn’t even cry until I got home. It was like I’d died, too.”

Bob­by looked at him.

Yeah,” Mikey said with his eye­brows raised, his head bob­bing in affir­ma­tion, “I cried. I bawled. Every­one bawls their first time. You will too, lat­er today or some­time tonight I guess.”

Bob­by stared, first at Mikey and then back down at the cat.

But the thing you got to remem­ber is, it’s just a cat, Bob­by. Just a cat. Or just a dog. Or what­ev­er. It don’t mat­ter. With me, it’s a kind of release, you know. You’re sav­ing them. You just got­ta keep say­ing that, Bob­by. Or some­thing like it. You got­ta have a gim­mick. Lov­ing death, being a mer­ci­ful angel for these lit­tle things, that’s my gim­mick.”

What oth­er gim­micks are there?” Bob­by said.

Oh, lots. Jea­nine, she hates them. Not real­ly, but she makes a hell of a show of it—cusses up a storm when she’s in here. And Elmo, he always sticks them back­ward so he don’t have to see their faces. Shit like that.”

Bob­by nod­ded.

You got a girl?” Mikey said.

Bob­by shook his head.

Get one. A girl can help, you know, after doing this shit.”

I wouldn’t know what to do,” Bob­by said.

Mikey laughed. “Didn’t say you had to love her, Bob­by. Now here,” he said, wav­ing at Bob­by to retreat, “back up. They usu­al­ly shit and piss all over you when they go, and we’ve got­ta clean you and the rest of this place up. Then, I’ll go buy you a beer over at the `Coon.”

Lat­er, the gloves stripped away but the chem­i­cal smell still hang­ing on their raw hands and in their scrubbed shirt-sleeves, Bob­by and Mikey drank beers at the Rac­coon Saloon. After his fourth, Bob­by could speak. He said, “I can’t feel any­thing.”

I know,” Mikey said. “My lips are numb.”

No,” Bob­by said, “I don’t have feel­ings.” Mikey pulled at his lips, let a fin­ger trace the scar, and Bob­by dropped it. He said instead, “I think I’d like to try my first time with the nee­dles next week.” Mikey said sure and slugged his beer. Bob­by said, “I think I’d like to try it alone.”

Slow down, part­ner,” Mikey said. He laughed, then he didn’t laugh. “You’ll want to give it time, Bob­by. Take it slow.”

I know,” Bob­by said. “I know.”

  * * *

The spring of Bobby’s eighth grade year had been fren­zied with win­try storms, cold fronts bash­ing down from Lake Michi­gan or across the plains. The earth froze, thawed, per­co­lat­ed mud until it froze again. And in a lull one week, as the sun warmed a run­ny earth, Bob­by had walked his street each day with his hands over his nose. There’d been a smell in the neigh­bor­hood for days, and it was get­ting worse. His par­ents com­plained of the smell; his neigh­bors called once a day. Final­ly, Bobby’s father sent him around back to see if Lady had killed or shat some­thing foul enough to pol­lute the neigh­bor­hood. “When’s the last time you even saw that dog, Bob­by?” his father had asked. But back at the fence, star­ing into the wide pen that ran behind the house, Bob­by couldn’t find his dog. He whis­tled into the wet air. He climbed over the fence for the first time in a long time and start­ed clap­ping and call­ing Lady’s name. He walked to the tree near the house, where Lady’s plas­tic-coat­ed run­ner was bolt­ed. The oth­er end ran into a clus­ter of trees by the back side of the fence. Bob­by walked with the run­ner in his fist, the cord slip­ping through his fin­gers with a slow plas­tic burn, until he entered the trees.

Lady must have been des­per­ate in the pre­vi­ous storm. She’d scrab­bled up the tree and between two high limbs, squat­ting in the crotch to jump and clear the fence in spite of her run­ner. But it had held. She’d snapped against the tug of the run­ner and fell almost to the ground. But only almost. The run­ner had stopped her. She swung now from the leash, a week lat­er, her head to one side and her black tongue fat and drained to the gray of over-chewed gum, hang­ing out her open jaw. Blood had crust­ed against her teeth and around the lit­tle fog-blue mar­bles of her dead, bulging eyes. There was a lit­tle pile of shit, nuggets cov­ered over in a black­er liq­uid in the grass beneath her, and her piss had mat­ted the fur around her hind legs and her tail. Flies crawled around her nose and inside her ears, prob­a­bly work­ing their way inside to lay lit­tle sacks of mag­gots on the soft folds of her brain.

He screamed. But it was like the day of the ants, the scream a noise issued from his throat like an alarm, for he found he did not love this dog, nor did he hate that the dog had died. There was noth­ing but a sit­u­a­tion that called for alarm, and this, in turn, alarmed him. Even at the age of thir­teen.

His par­ents came out, and his father crawled over the fence and car­ried Bob­by out to his moth­er, then got a hatch­et and went back in to hack down the run­ner cord. Lady fell with a heavy flump. Bob­by scram­bled away from his moth­er and tried to climb back over the fence, tried to go and stand over the body, to see more clear­ly what the decom­po­si­tion was like, what the insects were doing with the corpse. But his moth­er caught him, and Bob­by was trapped on the out­side of the fence. He couldn’t get any clos­er, not to Lady, not to any­thing. He looked at the dog. He sniffed, closed his eyes.

Behind him, his moth­er touched his shoul­der and squeezed it, then laid her fore­head against his back, and said, “I know, I know, I know.”

  * * *

Mikey scraped a thin fin­ger­nail over the scar, down, back, down again, as though keep­ing the wound fresh.

Remem­ber,” he said, “they seem pret­ty docile at first, but they’ll get you.” Bob­by nod­ded, but Mikey went on. “No shit,” he said. “I knew this girl once, got down close to a mon­grel to kiss it—she’d do shit like that, kiss them right on the lips—and this lit­tle mutt snipped up at her and bit her clean through the lip. Right here, a canine on either side. Clean through.”

Shit,” Bob­by said.

And you know what that chick did? She went and put a ring through it, like she’d pierced her lip her­self. I’m not lying. Told that sto­ry like she was proud.”

Bob­by nod­ded. He snapped on two latex gloves, and he said, “Did you fuck her?”

That chick? Nah.”

Les­bian,” Bob­by said, nod­ding again.

I don’t think so. Shit Bob­by, you’re so prej­u­diced, man.”

Not real­ly,” Bob­by said. By he was try­ing. It was the only way. Dis­tance every­body, dis­tance every­thing, keep it all clean. Clean right through.

So,” Mikey said, shak­ing his emp­ty Sty­ro­foam cup. Late in spring and still the whiskey in the cof­fee. He sucked at the last drops, pitched the cup to the garbage can. “You ready for this?”

I’m going in alone?” Bob­by said.

You said you want­ed to.”

Yeah,” Bob­by agreed. It need­ed to be this way.

Mikey shook his head, walked through the door to the hall, and Bob­by fol­lowed, the two of them haunt­ing the after­noon shad­ows gray as the wire cages. Mikey unlocked cage num­ber eight, reached in, and pulled out a whim­per­ing dog. He closed the cage, pock­et­ed his thick ring of keys, and walked back through the echoes of the halls to the break room, alone.

The Labrador half-breed still had the bone-shaped tag some­one had clipped to her col­lar: Licorice. Named, made real; aban­doned, dead. She knew it, her end fore­seen in the same ani­mal fore­bod­ing that warned dogs of impend­ing thun­der­storms. Her haunch­es spread low in a brace against the stained con­crete floor, and when Bob­by took hold of her col­lar to coax her into the room, she added her own stain, the watery stream of ran­cid urine spread­ing under her rump and away from her tail. Bobby’s sweat mixed with the pow­der in the latex glove. Licorice whined once but then hushed, con­cen­trat­ing instead on scrab­bling her claws against the con­crete, seek­ing pur­chase in her own pool of stink. Bobby’s keys slipped and hit the floor, and Licorice jumped once, her hind quar­ters and then her forelegs com­ing off the ground so her whole body rose straight up in Bobby’s grip like an armadil­lo beneath a mov­ing pick-up. It was enough. Bob­by hauled her in swing­ing by her neck, and she skid­ded, her paws clat­ter­ing and slid­ing on the floor, and Bob­by kicked the door shut. She was inside.

Bob­by put his hands on his hips and looked at her. “You lit­tle bitch,” he said.

He left Licorice in her cor­ner, where again she whined and squat­ted on the floor, refus­ing ever again to move. Bob­by opened the old tool case on the table and drew out the fat plas­tic syringe and two bot­tles. One was half-full with flu­id the col­or of a bour­bon-and-coke. The oth­er bot­tle was small­er, glass wrapped in a paper druggist’s label. Bob­by pushed the nee­dle through the rub­ber seal on the first bot­tle and pulled on the plunger, draw­ing up the seda­tive. He mut­tered, said, “Cock­tail hour, sweet­heart.” He want­ed a drink him­self. Just not a bour­bon-and-coke. Not an Irish cof­fee from the break room pot. Some­thing stronger. Some­thing to put him under.

Bob­by squat­ted now, mim­ic­k­ing Licorice, and approached her in low shuf­fling motions. “Hey, bitch, hey lit­tle nig­ger bitch,” he said, low in his chest so the for­eign string of words hummed. “Come here you lit­tle black bitch, you kike bitch, you Arab bitch. Here lit­tle fag­got bitch. Come here bitch.”

Licorice shuf­fled a bit, too. She low­ered her head and whined. She stank of urine, and Bob­by saw she had pissed the floor in here, too.

He reached in as though to pet her, took her col­lar again but did not pull. He just sat there, her col­lar in his gloved hand, both of them pant­i­ng. He held her, his eyes and her col­lar: she stayed put. Her breath­ing slowed. She resigned, sighed, and lay on the floor with her jaw flat on the con­crete, her piss soak­ing into her fur. Bob­by reached around her and slipped the nee­dle eas­i­ly into the mus­cle of her hip, depressed the plunger, sent the murky amber into her.

Hatred, he once had thought, would be just that easy. Find it some­where and inject him­self with it. Love was far more dif­fi­cult; it had to be grown from the inside, like a mold, like those psy­che­del­ic mush­rooms hid­den under the wide clay pat­ties of cow shit down here. Hate—and death—came from out there some­where, acces­si­ble. But so far, it hadn’t been so easy. So it had come to mur­der, a cold gray room with buck­ets and anti­sep­tic and death in a syringe.

Licorice sighed again. She looked up at him with­out mov­ing her head. Bob­by retreat­ed, watched her a moment, then stood and leaned against the janitor’s table to wait. He closed his eyes. He lis­tened to his breath, to her breath; the heart­beat punch­ing in his chest was hers. He count­ed them, sev­en­ty, one-fifty, two-fifty, his heart rate increas­ing each minute until, when he had count­ed four hun­dred eighty beats, he knew about five min­utes had passed. He opened his eyes. Licorice slept, her breath­ing heavy and her own heart rate slowed to a peace­ful thump.

He turned and took out the small­er syringe, jabbed it quick­ly into the small­er bot­tle, and sucked up the poi­son inside. He depressed the plunger, wait­ed for the squirt, and walked back to Licorice asleep on the floor. He took a long breath, said “You fuck­ing bitch,” and stabbed her with the nee­dle. He called her a lit­tle white-trash whore, a wet­back poo­nan­ny that deserved what she got; his voice thin and arti­fi­cial but his pulse alive, his blood its own poi­son rac­ing beneath his flesh, seek­ing escape. His chest tin­gled, dead-alive with that prick­ling sen­sa­tion of some­thing asleep hav­ing just wok­en up. He could feel it in there. An army of fire ants tramp­ing across the inside of his ster­num, the sen­sa­tions he’d nev­er had across his feet as a kid now erupt­ing inside his ribcage. His own tongue fat in his mouth. Every­thing around him mov­ing, things he’d nev­er felt before. He licked his lips then left his thick tongue between them, a syrupy trail of sali­va falling hard and fat against Licorice’s slick black fur. He tried a smile and found one, los­ing it again to his con­cen­tra­tion but know­ing at last that he had a smile, sharp but gen­uine, and from there, who knew what he would dis­cov­er. He felt her side. Her heart had stopped for­ev­er, and for one of those thir­ty sec­onds, his had, too.

 

 

Samuel Snoek-Brown is a writ­ing teacher and a fic­tion author, though not always in that order. He's also the pro­duc­tion edi­tor for Jer­sey Dev­il Press. His work has appeared in Amper­sand Review, Red Dirt, Red Fez, and SOL: Eng­lish Writ­ing in Mex­i­co. An excerpt from his Civ­il War nov­el, Hagrid­den, appeared in a spe­cial issue of Sen­ten­tia. He lives with his wife and cats in Port­land, Ore­gon; online, you can find him at snoek​brown​.com.

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1 Response to Kicking to Go On, fiction by Samuel Snoek-Brown

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