I Love You, Mary Grace

📅 Published on July 29, 2021

“I Love You, Mary Grace”

Written by Amelia Mangan
Edited by N.M. Brown
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

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There was roadkill all up and down the highway this morning.

It is nine AM and sunlight is sifting through the treetops. The lake is still and black and crawling with bugs. Thin grass grows beside it, tamped down by the boots of men I’ve never met. I am sitting in the hot police cruiser with the windows up, thinking about roadkill, as the sheriff hauls a dog’s head out of the water on the end of a fishing line.

Maybe there was just more of it than usual, I think. There was a possum and a raccoon and something that was all bloody tubes and hair. Maybe there’s more reckless driving going on in these parts, these days. Or maybe there was always this much killing going on and I just never noticed.

Ned curses and sweats. He’s stripped to his shirtsleeves. His jacket, with the badge pinned to the front like always, like he wants it to be the first thing about him you ever see, is crumpled up next to me on the driver’s seat. Light refracts through the windshield and cooks the leather. All the smells that make up Ned Cardew rise up beside me: beef and hops and dried salt, spicy aftershave and sour coffee. I’ve been his deputy since I was twenty-one. Nine years of his smell in my nostrils. I’d be able to track him just about anywhere.

Ned digs his heels into the muck and strains at the line. Jim Tarrant, who reported the head, stands to one side, shriveled arms crossed, gray face barely curious. I can see the dog’s head from here, bobbing on the end of the line like it’s worrying at it. One bare tooth flashes in the sun.

“God damn,” Ned spits. “Frankie! Frankie, boy! Get your ass outta that car and lend a hand here, will you?”
You told me to wait here, I think. I am waiting here because you told me to wait here. And now I am getting out because he tells me to, and I am crossing the mushy ground because he tells me to, and I am grabbing the line and helping him draw this dog’s head toward the bank because he tells me to. Jim watches, unmoved, unmoving.

“Christ, it’s huge,” Ned mutters. The cords in his neck bunch. “Big bastard. Maybe a wolf or a bear or something.”

It’s a dog. I know it’s a dog. And it is big. The closer it comes the more I see. Seaweed fur, streaming black. Empty eyes, withered as dead brown seeds. Hard strong bones under thick tanned hide. And its mouth. Its mouth. A broken, swinging jaw and a black gullet so deep you’d never find the bottom. Yellow fangs stud the darkness, winking underwater.

“You better get it out of here,” says Jim, refolding his arms. “Looks old. Diseased. Probably leaking all kinds of sickness into that water.”

“Yeah, it’s old, all right,” Ned says, crouching, examining it. The neck is cut cleanly.  No gore. Its flesh is pressed flat against its skull. “Looks like it’s been here for years.”

“Centuries,” I say. Quietly.

Ned looks me in the eye. “Now what makes you say that, Frankie?”

I look down.

“You an expert or something? You been an expert in dead dogs all these years, never told me?”

“No,” I say, staring at the soil. “It looks preserved, is all. Like maybe it’s from before the town was founded. Maybe it was buried on the lake bottom and got loose somehow and floated to the surface.” I glance up; he’s still looking at me, so I look at the head. Water drips from a petrified lash, pools in a socket. “Like one of those peat bogs you hear about, with mummies in ‘em. Maybe.”

“Mummies,” Ned repeats. He looks at the head and chuckles.

“When I was a kid,” Jim pipes up, “people used to say this whole area was settled by dogheads. Y’ever hear about that, Ned? People from someplace in Europe. Had heads like dogs.”

“I heard that,” I say. “In grade school, I heard that.”

Ned squints at me. “Well, ain’t you just a font of knowledge today.”

I hunch my shoulders. “Just trying to help.”

He nods, pauses. Laughs. “I’m only kidding you, Frankie. You’re a good boy.” He reaches out with one hot hand and ruffles my hair, and I relax.

Ned gestures at the head. “Let’s get this thing in the trunk, huh?”

“Sure, Ned.” I hunker down and gather the head into my arms. It’s bigger than my own. Heavy and stinking. Rotting waterweed and gritty mud. Wet dog smell. My fingers knit in its fur, snarl up around its long stringy ears.

Ned strides up the bank and I trot along after him, pressing the head to my chest. “So you really think it’s a few hundred years old?” he says, popping the trunk and hauling out the cooler.

It takes me a moment to realize he actually wants an answer. “Could be,” I say, opening my arms. The head rolls out of my hands, settling into the cooler. A tight fit.

“So it’s probably worth something, then?” Ned asks, slamming the trunk. “To a museum or someplace?”

Sunlight glares off the lid. The lock seems very solid.

“Could be,” I say.

“‘Could be’. ‘Could be’,” says Ned, climbing into the driver’s seat. “An opinion would be nice, Frankie.”
“Honestly, Ned, I don’t know about these things,” I say. I am avoiding his eyes again. I find myself very aware of my neck, of the way it dips of its own accord nowadays, lowering my head as if it knew no other way to go.

“Well, we’ll keep the thing in the evidence locker ‘till I get a chance to make some calls.” Ned guns the engine and glances into the mirror, back at the trunk. His lip quirks. “Centuries,” he says, and shakes his head. “Goddamn.”

We’re moving. Heading up the hill, further into the trees. I wind down the window and force myself to breathe the air. Tangy pine and oozing sap. Melted asphalt. Laced with roadkill.

* * * * * *

The trailer squats at the top of the incline, right where the road ends and the woods begin in earnest. We’re off Jim Tarrant’s property now, in the trees, the real, wild trees, owned by nobody. This isn’t the only trailer in the vicinity. There are a series of clearings like this, and, technically, they all make up a park. But that makes it sound like a community, and it definitely isn’t that. Nobody up here ever talks to anybody unless they have to.

I get out of the car and follow Ned up to the trailer’s front door. The clothesline is out, like last time, like always. Water beads on fraying elastic. Wounded clothing. Holes and patches, stitches, scars. The ground beneath is mud.

My heart twists. Every time.

Music rattles and thumps behind the rusted tin. Hammering piano, drowsy saxophone. A woman’s voice taunts and swoons, warning us that if we should lose her, we’ll lose a good thing.

Ned balls up a fist and knocks. Patient, polite. He knows he’ll be heard.

The music cuts off. There’s a long, still moment, crystallized in the heat. I can feel breath being held. Maybe it’s mine.

Ned waits, out of courtesy. Knocks again.

Chains jangle, locks click. Mary-Grace Hogue shuffles out, bare-legged and blonde and mosquito-bitten. Her shoulders are bare and slumped, dusted down with sweat, and her eyes are turned to her feet, her glossy painted toenails. Cheap polish, a brand new coat. That sticky drugstore smell. A melted plastic candy apple.

Ned places one hand on the roof of the trailer, right over her head, and leans in. “Well. How’s this morning finding you, Mary-Grace?”

Mary-Grace’s eyes dart up and I see dark red blood hatred shiver through them, but Ned is very good at looking at people, very practiced. Mary-Grace can’t match him. Her lids lower again, the lashes fall back down. “Good,” she says, very low.

“Good,” says Ned. “And how’s business?”

Mary-Grace’s arms hang limp at her sides, but I see the little finger of her left hand twitch, crooking down, like a slashing claw.

“Fine,” she says.

“Fine,” says Ned. He nods.

Mary-Grace raises an arm, scratches at a bite on her wrist. The bite is very red, the skin puckered.

Saliva, I know, is a very good treatment for bites.

“Well,” Ned says, louder, “if you don’t mind…”

Mary-Grace shudders aside. Ned vanishes into the trailer. I hear him rustling things, emptying things, turning things over. Upending Mary-Grace’s little life. Same as every month.

I am left alone with her. “Hi, Mary-Grace,” I say.

She looks up. “Hi, Frankie.”

Mary-Grace Hogue has the biggest eyes I have ever seen and smells better than anything in this world. I think this, as I have thought it for most of my life.

Ned grunts.

Mary-Grace’s mouth is a line, set hard as cement. One arm is crossed over her body, shielding it from me. Her forearm is poised in the air, clutching for a desired and nonexistent cigarette.

Normally I do not talk to Mary-Grace and she does not talk to me.

“We found something this morning,” I say. “In the lake. Down near the Tarrant place.”
Mary-Grace blinks. “Oh,” she says.

Something heavy topples inside. She flinches, looks over her shoulder.
My head buzzes with heat. “Do you remember when we were in grade school?”

She looks back at me. “What?”

“What you told me back then? About the town settlers?”

Another crash. Her face does not move, but her arm begins to shake. “What about it, Frankie?”

Ned reemerges. His footsteps shake the floor. “Okay,” he says. “All present and correct. Nothing illegal on the premises.”
Mary-Grace is silent.

“Come on now, Mary-Grace,” Ned says, spreading his hands, helpless, “don’t you be giving me that look. You know I gotta obey procedure. We have to keep things honest around here.”

Her lips convulse. A glimmer of shadowed teeth.

Ned coughs. “So,” he says. “Guess I’ll be on my way, then.” He stands over her, waiting.

Mary-Grace bows her head and shoves past him into the trailer.

Ned tilts his head. “Y’all have a nice chat?”

I stare at him. Mary-Grace returns and slaps a thick paper envelope into Ned’s hand.

Ned weighs it and nods. Tips his hat. Turns and saunters back to the car, stuffing the envelope into his back pocket.

I look at Mary-Grace, who does not look at me. “I’m sorry, Mary-Grace,” I hear myself saying. I have never said this before.

“What for, Frankie?” she says. “You didn’t do anything.”

And now she does look at me. Right at me. “You never do,” she says.

* * * * * *

We’re driving down the other side of the hill. Ned isn’t watching the road as he stuffs the envelope into the glove compartment. The stiff paper crackles like fire. Hurts my ears.

Ned straightens, frowns at me. “Stop that.”

“Stop what?”

“Looking at me the way you do. That sulky way you do.”

“I’m not.”

Ned leans one arm on the back of the seat, rests his hand on the wheel, stares out through the bug-stained windshield. “I’m looking out for that girl, you know,” he says. “Maybe you don’t think so, but I am. Without me to look out for her, she’d get herself into all kinds of trouble. That type always does.”

We’re back in town now, out of the woods. At the foot of the hill is a wide suburban street, clean and friendly, every house painted in varying degrees of white. The lawns stretch from one end of the street to the other, bounded by hedges as neat and square as cinder blocks. Newspapers rest on doorsteps. Sprinklers gulp and wheeze.

Ned reaches out and squeezes my shoulder. It hurts, but I don’t show it. “Hey. Let’s get some food into you, huh? Grab us some burgers, whaddaya say?”

I am hungry. But I don’t want to show that, either. “What about the head?”

“It’ll keep.”

There is a house at the end of this street. I come by it every morning, before the sun is up, and I pick up the newspaper from the doorstep and make sure the sprinklers are working. I take the mail with me and throw most of it away.

“I mean,” Ned is saying, “I don’t know about you but I am just starving. Probably all the effort, you know, fetching up that head. Think I’ll get me a double.”

The house is mine. It’s been mine ever since my parents died last year. But I don’t live there now. I don’t ever go in.

“Maybe some fries, too,” Ned says, sneaking a look at me.

When the crash got called in, Ned was the one who told me. He took me out. He bought me a burger and we ate in the car, saying nothing. The meat was burned, black charcoal dust bleeding out onto the bun.

“Sure, Ned,” I say. “Sure.”

Ned nods, satisfied.

He feeds me. I can’t hate him. Not so long as he keeps me fed.

I slide back from the window and sink deeper into the seat. I am so tired of sitting upright. Of standing, talking. My uniform is made from 100% synthetic fibers, nothing that sweats with me, nothing that breathes. Beneath the woven mesh, my skin bristles, angry to the touch.

* * * * * *

It’s late. I’m not sure how late. I’m at the station, sitting alone at my desk, surrounded by paperwork and takeout wrappers. It’s cold now, as cold as the day was hot. Ice chills the air wafting in from the empty cell. I should go into it, get some sleep. If I go to bed around midnight, get about eight hours, by the time Ned arrives I can be showered and dressed and brewing coffee and he’s never the wiser.

But all the shadows are off-balance tonight. Through the barred cell I can see the barred window, high on the wall, and through those bars I see the moon, dripping with light.

The head is in the evidence locker.

This is not, by any means, the first time that I have had this thought.

My keys are in my pocket, hot from my skin. I am burned. Too much sun. I reach into my pocket and take out the keys and a ribbon of dead white skin peels back from my finger, drops and coils on the desktop.

I am burned, like meat. I am burning.

I palm the keys and go to the evidence locker. I slide the key into the lock, twist and pull. Wisps of refrigerated air curl out toward me, and there, propped up against the cold metal, is the head.

It’s bigger than I remembered it. I stored it only a few hours ago, so you’d think I’d remember it pretty clearly, but it is definitely bigger. We tagged it and bagged it, and now it stares out at me from behind a wall of smeared Mylar. Drops of brackish water cling to the plastic. A long tongue, dry as jerky, lies limp between the spiked yellow jaws.

The keys are still in my hand. One of them is the key to the cruiser. Parked right outside.

* * * * * *

Most nights, I drive around. I always tell myself that I won’t, that I will remain at the station and get the rest I need, but I almost never do. The steering wheel finds its way under my hands and I am out, deep in the frozen dark, where there is no pulse but mine. The leather interior releases the baked heat and sweat of the day and I can stretch, feel the bones crack inside me, crane my neck out the open window and breathe the dim heavy ozone sizzling under the streetlights. I don’t have to talk to anyone out here. Don’t have to stand up straight.

I turn thirty at the end of the week. Feels like I’ve lived too long already. My teeth itch, like they want to turn inward and start eating themselves.

A light bleeds red, then green. I swivel the wheel and cruise the empty roads. Fast food joints, garish and bright; dive bars, sullen piles of wood and mortar. Car dealerships fluttering tape. Motels streaming neon. I’ll bet I know everyone who’s in those motels right now. And I’ll bet I know just what they’re doing. My flesh is tight as a steel band. I can feel each hair on my body, and the slow heat that licks in between them.

I think about driving past my parents’ house. I do that sometimes. Sit outside and feel the motor purring up and down my legs and spine; stare at the wispy curtain and into the void beyond. I imagine that there is another life beyond that curtain, a life that carries on without me. That life is warm and dark, and the sound of beating hearts and soft breathing lives in the walls of every room. There is a fire in the grate, and you could fall asleep beside it every night, knowing that you were safe, and that you belonged to someone.

But the sky is lifting and I hear birdsong. So I leave it alone. Drive past the exit to my old neighborhood without a backward glance.

On the way back to the station I pass a fox, torn open on the tarmac. Its blood steams, red as its fur. But although the hole in its body is wide and raw and gaping, whatever lies inside is as shadowed and unknowable as all the world beyond.

* * * * * *

“Frankie,” says Ned, “you called the museums yet?”

I blink, threading his words through my fogged brain. “Museums?”
“Jesus, Frankie. About the head. Didn’t we talk about this? Huh? Didn’t I tell you to get on it right away?”

I rest my head on my hand, closing my eyes. “Guess you did, Ned.”

Ned’s foot slams into the side of my chair; my eyes jolt open. “Hey!” He points. His finger is right in my face. Right in front of my mouth. “No. You listen when I’m talking, boy. You pay attention.”
I lift my eyes from Ned’s finger and try to look into his face. It occurs to me that I have no idea what Ned actually looks like. I am so used to him as a presence, a great looming shade, that I find myself unable to identify one single, solitary human feature. What color are his eyes? Are they close together, far apart? Any scars? Birthmarks? Tattoos? I don’t know. I’ve shared my entire adult life with the man and I doubt I could pick him out of a lineup.

Ned sits down at his desk and pulls an envelope out of the drawer. Thick paper, white and creased. Mary-Grace’s envelope. He rifles through its contents, stops, and smacks it down on the table. “Shit.”

“Never you mind.” He stands, rubbing a hand through his hair and glowering at the envelope. “Never you mind,” he says, and sits back down, opening the flap and peering inside. “Unbelievable,” he mumbles. “You try to help someone.”

I barely hear him. I am looking, listening, past him, toward the evidence locker. Inside the evidence locker. I am almost thirty years old, I think. And Ned is much older than me. But that fur and those fangs. That big hard skull, that thick strong neck. The rotten black larynx inside. All of that is older than Ned. And anything it could tell me would be older and sharper and purer than anything he could even dream.

My mouth is wet, flooded with saliva. I am tired and hungry. I am beginning to understand that I could very well be dangerous.

* * * * * *

A colder night, a deeper dive. Prowling. Prowling. The red lights hurt my eyes, so I ignore them and drive on through. The windows are down and scent fills my pores: fried food, burning garbage, possum piss, gasoline. Damp fur and dried blood. I check the rear view mirror. The head is in back, tightly belted to the seat. Its smell, brine and wet dust, filters through the wire grille.

I couldn’t take you to a museum, I think. You would never belong there.

Bared and broken teeth glint back at me.

I pull my gaze away and there, sitting on the bench at the end of the street, is Mary-Grace.

Barefoot under the street light. Smoke twisting up from a cigarette. Staring at the concrete. She doesn’t see me, not until I pull up beside her. Her eyes get even bigger than they already are and she jumps up, throwing the cigarette to the ground. She straightens up tall and crosses her arms.

“I wasn’t doing anything,” she says.

“I know,” I say.

“It’s not illegal for me to be in town,” she says. Her jaw is set hard. Eyes narrowed to wet black slashes. “I got every right. I can come down here if I want and there’s nothing you or Cardew or anybody can do about it.”

“I know,” I say. “I just wanted to say hi.”

Mary-Grace shifts. “Oh.” She drops her arms. “Hi, then.”

She looks at the ground, where her cigarette lies dead. “Shit.” She fishes around in her pocket and finds another one, loose and bent. She straightens it out, looks at it and sighs. “I don’t have any more matches,” she says. “You got a lighter in there?”

I do. I pull it from the socket, hold it out to her. She leans in, angles her head next to mine in the close space. Sharp peroxide, chemical flowers. Musky perfume and stale tobacco. Clothes battered by rain and dried out in the sun. Her flesh, the folds of it, breathing in and out.

She pulls back, draws in smoke. Her hair is a corona, a sunburst in the failing light. Her acne scars bloom pink.

“Thanks,” she says.

She smokes. I watch.

“I don’t normally smoke so much,” she says. “Only I got a headache. Bad one. Kind of headache you normally only get when you been crying a long time.” A beat. “I haven’t been crying, though.”

“Oh,” I say. Then: “Maybe it’s the weather.”

She nods. “Could be. Yeah. Could be.” Another drag. “That’s why I come down here at night, you know. Can’t sleep. That trailer, man. Fuckin’ freezing. I just end up kicking around in bed ‘till dawn. So I come into town, walk around. Try and warm myself up.”

“Sure,” I say. “Makes sense. Get the circulation going.”

“Yeah. And if it doesn’t, at least by the time I get home I’m too tired to care.” Mary-Grace fiddles with the cigarette, twirling it in her fingers. “I just hope nobody robs me while I’m gone,” she says, and barks a laugh.

“Has that happened before?”

She studies the sidewalk. “Yeah. Well. Not much I can do about it.”
“You oughta get a guard dog,” I say.

Mary-Grace looks at me. The wind rushes down from the hills, gusts trash around the street.

“How come you’re not home?” she asks. “Sleeping?”

I lean on the wheel. “I don’t have a home.”

“You got a whole house. I’ve seen it.”

“Not a home.”
“You should sell it, then. Go someplace else. I would.”

I nod. “I do think about that.”

“So? Why don’t you?”

“Too big of a world. I don’t belong to anyone out there.”

Mary-Grace lowers the cigarette. Smoke spirals up her arm, evaporates on the air. Her lips are raised at the corners. Very, very slightly. You’d almost never know.

I want to roll around in you, I think. I want to bathe in you.

She lifts her chin, jerks it. “Go get yourself some sleep, Frankie,” she says. “Go on, now.”

I do as she tells me.

On the way back I see that the fox is still there, mashed into the asphalt. I stop the car and get out, not a single thought in my brain. Feeling the dog’s head watching me as I stoop and pick up a hunk of meat and fur; as I rub it, soft and slow, over my face, my neck, the top of my chest where the hair begins. My eyes are closed, my nose is full. Dreaming. I am already dreaming.

* * * * * *

Very early. The sun is hard and bright and painful. Ned comes in and I smell the blood before I see it. A long red-brown stripe, all down his shirt front. Like someone hosed him down with it. His face is blank, his voice very, very calm.

“Frankie,” he says, pulling out his gun and starting to wipe it down, “there’s been a shooting. Out at the trailer park.”

Fresh cordite lashes the air. He stinks of it. His gun stinks of it.

My heart is beating in my stomach.

“Survivors?” I manage.

Ned shakes his head slowly, looking at the gun. “I wouldn’t think so.”

“Ned,” I say, “what did you – “

He looks in my direction, not quite at me. “You better get up there,” he says. “Take a look around. Call it in. Make it official.”

I get up to leave.

I look back.

“Bring your gun.”

* * * * * *

The head is still in the back seat. I left it there overnight. I see it in the mirror and am glad. I wouldn’t want to do this alone.

The quiet, up in the woods, is terrible. It attacks me the minute I step out of the cruiser. It is a rupture, a tear. Every bird has flown.

Mary-Grace’s trailer is pocked with bullet holes. I slip a finger into the jagged metal. It scrapes off a layer of dead skin.

The door slams open and Mary-Grace staggers out, clutching her side. Her face is white. Blood blossoms under her hand, seeping into her shirt.

She sees me. “Shit!” she yelps, and darts around me, skidding and tumbling down the hillside.

Sunlight glances off the car windshield and I catch the dog head’s wasted eye. It is staring right at me, past layers of glass and plastic and chrome. Go, its open maw tells me. Go.

And I go.

Smashing down through bracken and fern, churning dead leaves under my feet. My vision narrows. My nostrils gape. I can smell the entire world, every last filthy delicious molecule of it. Mary-Grace’s blood is sweet and sharp. Red droplets soak into the soil. Ropes of hot spit trail from my jaws.

Mary-Grace crashes through the last of the undergrowth and down the base of the hillside and I am behind her and we are in the suburbs. We are on my street. Pretty houses, pretty lawns. Fresh newsprint and flecks of mown grass and water gurgling beneath the dirt. Every scent fills me up. Everything tastes so new. Mary-Grace is ahead of me, tearing through hedges, racing from lawn to lawn. My knees bend and my spine arches. I am low, close to the ground. My palms brush grass, push it down flat.

Mary-Grace grabs at her side and stumbles, one foot turning in. She is at the end of the street. She is in front of my house, getting ready to fall on my lawn. I am upon her. I snatch at her and she mashes her hand into my face and we fall. The sprinklers erupt, hissing a sheen of fine cold water over the grass.

“Get off me! Get off!” she gasps, clawing at my neck. Her wet hand smears my lips and teeth with red. Blood weeps from her abdomen, reeking of iron and smoke. Cordite. The bullet is still inside her.

I cage her with my arms and legs, dip my head, bite into the thin soaked material of her shirt and tear it away. Water streams from the tips of my hair, into her wound. She cries out, clapping her hands to the hole. Her belly is slick with water and mud.

I move down. Pull my lips back, all the way to the gums. I set the thinnest edges of my teeth against her flesh and I look up into her eyes and wait.

Mary-Grace stops thrashing and stares down at me. Her rasping breath gusts over the hills and vales of her body, every bump and curve and swell. I taste the tar on her lungs, the lingering ghosts of old cigarettes.

“To the left,” she says. “‘Bout six inches in.”

I bite down.

Mary-Grace throws her head back and sucks in air, sharp, between her teeth. Painted nails stab my shoulder. I bow down, absorbed in her. Slippery rills of fat ride my tongue. I widen my jaws, widen the wound. Blood spills into my mouth. Mary-Grace moans, twists. Her inner thigh slaps my cheek. I am panting. Our flesh steams.

My teeth touch warm lead. I wrap my tongue around the bullet, draw it into my mouth. Mary-Grace gushes into me, all over me, rust and ruby, gleaming in the sun. I raise my head and spit the bullet into the grass.

Mary-Grace breathes. Her nails are embedded in me. Her knee is pressed to my neck. I go back down. I lap at her bullet hole, lick it clean. I take it slow. I take my time. The sprinkler’s whirring mist catches the light, and a hazy rainbow wavers above the grass.

I am done. There is no more. She is clean. She is safe.

Mary-Grace sits up, unwinds herself from around me. She stands. I kneel before her. Her blood is on my breath.

She looks down at me. I look up at her.

* * * * * *

When Ned comes to my house, probably to check that I haven’t been lying here dead these last few days, Mary-Grace is standing at the top of the drive, waiting for him.

I watch from behind the doorframe as he stops, stares. He is clutching a takeout bag. The smell of charred burger meat is strong enough to reach me even from there.
Mary-Grace smirks. “Hey, Ned.”
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“I live here now. My old place got kinda busted up.” She touches her fingertips to her bandaged side.

Ned sees it. He stands firm. “Now, Mary-Grace…”

“Yes, Ned?”

“You got to understand something here.”

Do I, Ned?”

“Yes, you do.” Ned bites the inside of his cheek. “I know we had a little altercation…”

Mary-Grace spits.

“A little altercation,” Ned forges on, “but I want you to know that I forgive you.”

“Oh,” says Mary-Grace. “You forgive me. That’s downright decent of you, Ned.”

“And,” Ned continues, “I’m willing to let it go if you are. Way I see it, we can just go right back to the way things have always been. No harm, no foul.”

“Mm. Well, actually, Ned,” Mary-Grace says, “that isn’t really the way I see it. No. That’s not the way I see it at all.”

Ned watches her. The bag twists in his fingers. “Come on now, Mary-Grace. Let’s try and make some sense here. You know as well as I do that you can’t get by without protection.”

“Oh,” says Mary-Grace, “I got protection.”

Ned pauses. “How’d you mean?”
Mary-Grace grins so wide it just about splits her face in two. “I got me a guard dog,” she says, and snaps her fingers.

I nudge the screen door aside and lope out, on all fours, into the sunshine. My uniform is long gone. I wear nothing but my flesh and my fur. My muscles pull and stretch, every tendon taut, every nerve humming. A shiny metal disk swings from a collar around my neck. It says that my name is Frankie, and that I belong to Mary-Grace Hogue.

Ned’s eyes grow huge as I come to rest beside Mary-Grace, crouching at her feet. She gazes down on me with a look of pride so fierce it makes me tremble. She slides a hand through my hair; I nuzzle my face into her palm.

Ned takes a step back. “What in God’s name – ? Frankie? Frankie, boy, what’s she done to you?”

I don’t hear him any more, not really. His voice means nothing to me. Not compared to Mary-Grace’s bare foot, rubbing up and down my back. Not compared to this body I live in, listen to, fully inhabit, for the first time in my life. I may be just a dumb dog, always have been, but I know what I am and I know who I belong to. I’ve got a thousand years of doghead blood in my veins and a choke-chain around my heart.

I love you, Mary-Grace. Until the end of this world.

“Frankie,” Ned says. He drops the bag. The meat scatters. “Frankie, boy. Come on now.”

Mary-Grace leans down. Her lips graze my ear. “Throat,” she whispers.

I feel myself begin to smile. More than smile. My mouth is open and every last yellow steak-knife tooth in my head is bared to the world. The growl starts deep in my guts and builds up and up, a chainsaw snarl at the back of my throat.

Ned backs away, starts to run. And I am moving, sprinting down the lawn, every blade of grass alive beneath me and hot blue Heaven open wide above my head. Mary-Grace is laughing and clapping, wild with joy. Ned is running and I am gaining, and I am starving.

My name is Frankie. I belong to Mary-Grace Hogue. And today is the day I am born.

Rating: 8.67/10. From 3 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Amelia Mangan
Edited by N.M. Brown
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Amelia Mangan

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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