Valley Dog | Kathryn Hill

When I lay down on the hostel bed, I do not feel like he will come up through my mouth. When I lay down on the hostel bed, I remember the dog I saw once on the freeway to Paradise Valley. The dog was dead, its fur the color of old teeth, its body buttressed with gravel and dust. When I lay down he says something I don’t quite hear, but it sounds like bitch, like dog. When he showed me the picture on his computer—a cartoon, a boy thrust through her from hip to mouth—the boy with the hostel bed was all teeth. He kissed my neck hard and I swallowed.

What he thought as I swallowed and swallowed. What he did as I laid down on his bed, as I collapsed inside myself like a mouth. What he thinks when he grabs my hair—when he yelps—when he scrapes the crowns of my teeth. When he holds himself there over my face, stroking the little tooth mark, little valley. What about this makes me think he’s just a boy, a boy I can tell about the dog. What I saw when I passed her on the freeway, her pink teats in the dust.

I tell him and we are still for the first time in a long time, just two people in a room not ours, collecting dust. Why are you, the boy says, his hands frustrated and unsure, words unexpectedly swallowed. I want to make him listen, push him down, tell him again, caress his face, put my fingers in his mouth, put his in mine, run out of the room, yell it, smash a bottle, bark in his face like a dog. But both of us are waiting, staring at the other’s mouth. The silence between us grows into a valley. The silence, the darkness, have teeth.

He keeps his eyes on me as he stands, picks my shirt up off the floor, throws it on the foot of the bed as if to say I don’t understand you, as if to say cover yourself, as if to say I don’t like what you say with your mouth, how you bite with your teeth. He goes to his computer and the screen brightens the room with a blue film, a blue dust. I want to grab his keyboard and show him a map of Paradise Valley. I want to show him the stretch of road where I saw the dog, where I saw the dog and its baby among the bushes of bougainvillea, the pup pawing its mother’s belly for milk, show him where there was no milk, where no one was stopping, where I pounded the brakes so hard my tongue bled and I swallowed. But he is scrolling through cartoons of smooth, impossible women, pausing here for breasts like massive eyes, there for a body wet and wide like a mouth. He scrolls through the images with his hand in his lap wagging up and down like a dog.

I touch his shoulder and he turns to me, lowers me to the floor, hands and knees, and I say yes, and he says you are a dog. I say yes and he is all teeth. He rolls his chair to my mouth. He looks back and forth, the cartoon maximized, a thing covered in fur, part wolf, part fox, part woman, and me on a floor covered in dust. He wants to be swallowed. I open my mouth, good dog, yes, like a wound, like a sore, like a valley.

How hot it was there in the valley. How the sun held its fur, warm as a living dog. How the babe nipped and licked and barked but found nothing to be swallowed. How I ground my teeth. Dust to dust. How I walked back to my car, how the pup would not follow me, how I jammed tissues in my mouth.

Before he can be swallowed, it streaks my face, my shoulders, because all of my body is a mouth. I can ignore him, ignore myself, think about the dog, how by now she must be rotted down to bones, down to dust. Alone, the dog in the valley, nobody stopping to help, how for days the body lay there, the babe still pawing, the sun still warm, her chest, her eyes, her teeth.

Kathryn E. Hill’s fiction has appeared in several venues and has been nominated for both the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She holds an MFA from Arizona State University.