Dad lives in Green Meadow Terrace Estates. When he moved out of the yellow house he promised I could have a cat, and when I live with him, I do. I have a hundred cats in the walls of his apartment. It smells like cheese and orange juice.
Mom lives in the yellow house, hoarding dogs. Strange kennels appear everywhere and I don’t know where they’re coming from. The walls have massive holes full of puppies. We crawl around the house with a flashlight gazing into puppy holes. We have to throw dog food inside the holes in the walls.
When he first moved to Terrace, Dad was all about the ladies. Old school hook ups, one shot at a time. First Nancy, then Mona, then Rae, then Tamika. Now it’s Sadie, and she sees the cats, too.
“We’re in this together,” she says. I don’t know if she means Dad or the cats. Sadie is my pick, and Dad says that’s good because she’s his pick, too. At school families are all different and the teachers aren’t allowed to say one kind of family is better than another, but they do anyway. We aren’t allowed to have guns, but sometimes we shoot.
Mom has a gun and Dad has a gun. Sadie has a toothbrush that vibrates; there’s a battery inside. “But will the battery get wet?” I ask, thinking of guns in the walls of the house. Dad has a gun safe. The combination is 1-2-3-4. Mom has a box under her bed and it locks with a key taped to the top.
I know how to shoot because Sadie taught me. She said hold onto your toothbrush and don’t let go. Pointing it at her head she said shoot to kill. She said head or heart. She said if you miss, you’ll shoot something else.
Out in the woods behind the yellow house.
Down by the river near Dad’s apartment.
Between boxcars by the port where I ride my bike.
Straddling the train tracks where kids go to smoke.
These are my practice places, my kickbacks. I take Mom’s gun when I go to Dad’s and I take Dad’s gun when I go to Mom’s. They don’t notice anything. They have other guns, other kids from other lives. They have books on tape and barbecue sauce.
Mom’s boyfriend Lute makes soundtracks for commercials. Like that commercial for auto insurance where the whole family dies except the sister, left behind in the rest stop, still combing her hair.
I have a gun and I have bullets and I’m teaching myself to aim for the heart.
Out in the woods behind the yellow house I shoot leaves from trees.
Down by the river near Dad’s apartment I shoot cans on a log.
Between boxcars by the port where I ride my bike I don’t shoot anything.
Straddling the train tracks where kids go to smoke I name all the names and the mean girls go down. One by one, blood on the tracks. My make-believe movie; in real life, they just laugh.
We don’t have metal detectors at school. We have signs that say No Drugs No Guns. We have signs that say Dirty Hands Spread Disease. We spend hours on dead names and hours on kickball. We kick and we kick but our teachers can’t text, can’t navigate the internet. They want to be our friends on Facebook. They want us to teach them what it means to live now.
After school, I walk to Mom’s. The walls of the yellow house howl around me. When I close my eyes, I’m surrounded by puppies. I feel their warm fur, smell the meat on their breath.
Sometimes Sadie and I watch shows while Dad’s working late, or whatever he calls it. Dad doesn’t deserve her, but maybe I do. We binge watch the bloodiest shows on TV. Sometimes Dad stays out all night. Sadie and I sleep head-toe on the sofa. We name all the cats, working backwards from Z. We sleep soundly in Kevlar, guns safe in our holes.
Carol Guess is the author of numerous books of poetry and prose, including Darling Endangered, Doll Studies: Forensics, and Tinderbox Lawn. In 2014 she was awarded the Philolexian Award for Distinguished Literary Achievement by Columbia University. She teaches in the MFA program at Western Washington University.
Aimee Parkison is the author of Refrigerated Music for a Gleaming Woman, which won the FC2 Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize. She is the director of the Creative Writing Program at Oklahoma State University and has published four books of fiction.
“Girl in Dog House” was nominated by NDR for the 2018 Pushcart Prize.