Black Dog by Kathy Hoyle

I wasn’t expecting to see you there, tongue lolling, amber eyes, pleading. Your fur was drenched from the rain. You were shivering on the step, do you remember? I could see the outline of your rib cage, it had been so long since you’d had a decent meal. I let you in, of course, didn’t know how to turn you away, old friend. You dripped onto the patterned lino in the kitchen while I fed you that first meal. I was amazed at how quickly you devoured it… I had forgotten, you see.

It took us a good few days, didn’t it, to get used to one another again? At first, I tiptoed around you, tried to carry on as normal, just the odd rub of my palm across your back, in passing. The kids had no idea you were there. You huddled in the far corner of the bathroom when they were around, do you remember? Then, when I had my bath, I would hang my hand over the side and let the lukewarm water drip down between your ears and you would let me, wouldn’t you, boy? You never moved away, even though you hated it.

It took less than a month really, when I think about it. By June you were with me on the school run. You would sit patiently by my side as we waved them off, then we would walk…those long, long walks. I had read somewhere that exercise was the best thing for us. So, we walked.  Over the bridge and past the railway line, even as far as the dunes, where the ocean would sing to us, like a siren calling us home. The long grass whipped our legs and left red welts.

I went to see Doctor Kahn. He said it had been a long time and I nodded, unable to tell him that you were back.  I sat there with the words stuck in a tight ball on the roof of my mouth. He said he thought maybe these would help and gave me a prescription for green pills in metallic sheets that upset my stomach and gave me headaches. After three weeks, I flushed them away. Michael said they needed longer to work. I told him I was fine and left him in bed to steal downstairs and stroke your back while the TV flickered  with the sound off.

Michael said he was leaving at the end of the summer. Said I was devoting too much time to you. That I should give you up. As if it were that easy. He had no idea, did he boy? What was I supposed to do? Just tell you to leave and you would pad away with your shoulders hunched and your tail flat between your legs. I couldn’t do that, and you wouldn’t leave me either, do you remember? You licked the tears from my cheeks as I lay sobbing on his side of the bed.

In the Autumn, dark nights and cold air saw us puffing out sharp white breath as I drank  down neat vodka on the back step. That’s when I began to feed you more ,  do you remember? The numb warmth meant we could share. I would peel tiny slivers from my forearm and you would lick them from my fingertips.  The next morning, we would walk to the corner shop for milk and I would pull down my cardigan sleeves against the cold.

Christmas. It was just us by then and it was so cold, wasn’t it? We closed the doors to the kid’s bedrooms and moved into the kitchen. I curled around you on the floor, the black fur on your back pressed hard into the pit of my stomach. You  kept me warm while I watched  time tick by on the clock on the oven. We found the good whiskey that Michael had left in the cupboard under the sink and we toasted the Father, the son and the holy spirit. I took the paring knife from the kitchen drawer and stripped the flesh from my knee to the ankle to feed you . I stroked your back to soothe me.  You smacked your tongue across your black lips, licking away the white froth and pink ligament. We lay sated against the table leg listening to the children’s voices on my message service, do you remember?… Merry Christmas, Mummy.

You waited so patiently. I noticed how plump you had become. Then, like an indulgent mother, I fed you more and more. In the end, I succumbed to the need in those huge brown eyes and as the bells sang out that a New Year had begun, I looked down at the remnants of my body.

Loose flesh hung there, dripping cherry-red blood into a slick puddle. Your teeth had ripped away the essence of me. You no longer waited for permission to eat. I saw the sheet white bone of my rib cage and my heart, beating slowly underneath.  I lifted it out, so carefully, then held it up into the silent, empty space. I took a peaceful breath… and waited for your jaws to lock around it.


Kathy Hoyle is a Creative Writing student with the Open University. Her work has appeared in Firefly literary Magazine and on the Brumradio ‘Tall Tales’ programme. She has forthcoming Flash fiction at Spelk. She has been both long and short listed in various competitions, most recently, London’s Spread the Word Life-writing prize. She is currently working on a YA novel whilst completing her degree. She can often be found procrastinating on twitter @Kathyhoyle1 and will work for chocolate!

Image: Freddie Marriage