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The dust of 100 dogs, p.12
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       The Dust of 100 Dogs, p.12

           A. S. King
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  “Are you in here, my little English girl?”

  Emer watched his bushy dark hair flick around as he tried to adjust his eyes to the darkness within the cave.

  His voice echoed. “Do not be afraid. You do not need to kill me too.”

  He sounded happy, as if he were playing a game with a child. And like a child, ten feet away, Emer suddenly didn’t know what to do. She froze. Would she have to keep killing for the sake of this useless chastity? One man already lay dead because of this game. Need there be two?

  Before she even felt him grab her, she was flat on her back on the rocks, her cutlass snatched, and he was pressing his full weight against her. He kissed her neck the same way as he’d done the day before, and breathed in the sweetness of her sweat.

  The Frenchman reached down to Emer’s breasts and this time she did not flinch—half for fear of a slap, or worse, and half because she was still frozen in her childish game of indecision. She didn’t scream or squirm. She just lay still and let him touch her.

  He yanked her slip up to her waist and she could feel his hard groin grinding against her thigh, now wet from seawater. Emer didn’t know if she was feeling desire or repulsion, excitement or fear. He kissed her bosom and grabbed her tightly around the waist, almost crushing her ribs between his hands, before plunging himself.

  She groaned in pain and pulled her hips from the hard stone to avoid injury as he thrust back and forth, panting, his head buried in her neck. Her hands moved to her sides to balance this whole event, trying to control the uncontrollable. Still frozen by her mixed emotions, Emer prayed that he would finish soon. She thought back to the nights she had lain in the boat, listening to the whores please the crewmen. How long had it taken them? Was time making any sense at all? How long has he been doing this?

  And then he stopped. He hadn’t finished, just stopped, and breathed slowly until he felt contained—then started at the beginning again, in her neck and breasts, taking his time as if he were her husband or a great lover. Emer didn’t know what to do, and in a desperate attempt to end the terrible procedure, relaxed and opened her legs wider. The Frenchman seemed so invited by this that he began again, and continued for such a short time that Emer could barely believe it was over so quickly. He collapsed on top of her and breathed into her ear loudly. His left hand moved up her side and landed on her head, where he stroked her cropped hair and whispered something in French, and then repeated it in English: “I love you, woman,” he said, and sighed. This English she did not confuse.

  Emer’s emotions spun back to Seanie. Every bit of heart she had left broke, and she cried. The Frenchman, still on top of her, flopped slightly to her right, and she let silent tears drop from the sides of her face into her ears. As he breathed, each tear blew cold. She shivered. Now she knew what was worse. Now she knew what was worse than all of the things she had been ashamed of in a day. It wasn’t killing or running or hiding that was worse, and it wasn’t the prudishness of her chastity or the innocence of her ideals. It was this. This right here.

  A stranger who felt love in her, wrapped around her and inside her, who had taken from her the thing she had wished to be rid of only a day before—it felt worse than killing. It felt worse to endure such an animal act than it did to crush a man’s skull. It felt worse because of Seanie, and because of her mother and because of her confusion. Now, she would never know what had just happened. She would always ask why. Why hadn’t she fought, after killing another man only an hour before? Why hadn’t she tried to escape and hide? Why hadn’t she cared enough to do something?

  Susan picked Sam and me up from school on Skip Day, and we went to the mall. Susan turned to go into Tower Records while Sam and I dug through bargain books on the tables set up outside the bookstore.

  “Have fun, you two,” she said, and I clenched my teeth. Ever since she started dating Jay, Susan had become one of those girls—an annoying, giddy, simple-minded baseball groupie. On several occasions, when she wouldn’t shut up, I’d hung her from the yard arm and used her for target practice.

  I spent a while in the travel section, looking at books about Jamaica and the Caribbean. I decided on one and bought it, then found Sam slumped on a bench next to the fake mall greenery.

  “What’s wrong?”

  “Nothing,” he said, but he said it all depressed-like.

  “Come on.” God, I wanted to kick him.

  He looked up at me and said, “You know, the prom is in three weeks, and if I’m going to go I have to buy tickets now, and my pop said he could buy them for me if I wanted to take you, but I told him you probably already had a date, and now I feel like an idiot because I don’t think you do, and I never asked. Do you?”

  He was like a ship’s dog.

  “Do you?”

  “Are you asking me to the prom?”

  “Uh huh.”

  A week later, I found a great old beaded dress at the Goodwill in town and took it to Mrs. Lindt in the Home Ec wing, who helped me tailor it to make me look less flat chested. I tried to act excited, but really, the whole thing made me want to puke. To me, it seemed like just another opportunity for the rich kids to sit around and snigger at the rest of us.

  And Sam was just complicating things.

  He started acting all stupid around me, like we were a couple or something. He came to McDonald’s every night and dropped by the trailer unannounced, which really pissed me off because it was hard enough living with my new-levels-of-loserdom parents without having to show them off to the neighbors.

  By prom night, he’d worked himself up into a nervous wreck and his mood fluctuated between morose insecurity and babbling excitement. I began to hate him for it, so much so that, as I slipped into the dress, I half considered calling the whole night off. Before I could, he arrived at the trailer door with a boxed corsage and his hair combed and slicked down with some sort of shiny stuff.

  I’d put on makeup, and this shocked him as much as his hair shocked me.

  “Wow. You look great.” The way he said it felt insulting—as if I’d never looked great before. Before I could answer, my mother was posing us next to the front window, inching Sam to the left or right to hide the peeling paper paneling.

  “Hold that!” she said. “Saffron, smile, will you?”

  I smiled.

  “Sam, can you lean in toward Saffron a little? I can’t fit you both in the frame.”

  She was backed up against the far wall of the living area, and I let her snap a few more shots before I suggested that we go.

  Sam had left his pop’s truck at #20, so we walked over there, and the old folks came out on the warm May night to watch us. There was something about how they looked at us that I tried to connect with. Though I felt as stupid as a sack of rat shit in my beaded dress, lacy shawl, and a wrist corsage, I felt a little bit of happiness for us, too.

  But then, Sam opened his mouth.

  “Uh, I’m not sure I can dance tonight. I think I sprained my ankle.”

  “You look fine to me,” I said. “We don’t have to dance if you don’t want.”

  “Oh good.”

  What a pathetic lying jerk.

  Sam’s granny and pop took some pictures and then we got into the truck (Sam didn’t open the door for me) and headed for the Jefferson Hotel. About a hundred yards from the trailer park entrance, I saw two guys walking down the road in hooded sweatshirts. As we passed, my eyes met with Junior’s. I groaned.

  “Do you know those guys?” he asked.


  “So how come you made that noise?”

  “I just did,” I said.

  “Did you used to date one of them?”


  “Are you sure?”

  I turned my head to look at him. He was clearly doubtful, upset, and, from the sounds of t
hings, possessive. “Yes I’m sure. Though it’s not any of your business.”

  “It is my business because you’re my date.”

  And that was pretty much how the rest of the night went. When he found me having an innocent conversation with Mike from the Quiz Bowl team, he grabbed my arm so roughly it left a little red mark. When he saw me heading to the bathroom with Susan and two other girls, he asked, “Where do you think you’re going?”

  “To the bathroom.”

  “Just don’t talk about me behind my back,” he said. Susan looked at me and made a crazy face. I smirked. Wasn’t this her idea to begin with?

  Sam and I had one dance together, a slow number, and he grabbed my ass. Like, grabbed it so hard it hurt and I let out a little yelp. I walked off the dance floor, gathered my shawl and my purse, and waited for him to catch up.

  “Why’d you do that?” he demanded.

  “Let’s just go home,” I said. “I don’t feel well.”

  “But, I—” he stopped when he saw my face. I must have looked three hundred years’ worth of pissed off and ready to kill him. And I was.

  He drove home emotionally. At first, he seemed sad and tried to get me to feel sorry for him, and then, when I didn’t, he drove like an asshole. When we got back to the trailer park, he stopped at the entrance, put the truck in park, and pouted at me.

  “I can walk from here,” I said, reaching for the door handle.

  “But I thought since we went out we could, um …”

  I was already stuffing his eye sockets with salted limes, already carving his acne off, zit by zit, and feeding it to him. What more did he want? I made a move to open the door. He slammed the truck into drive and peeled forward on the gravel, aiming for every pothole there was. By the time we arrived in front of his granny and pop’s place in a cloud of gray dust, I’d hit the truck’s ceiling twice.

  Before I’d regained my balance and straightened myself, he leaned in to kiss me. I recoiled a little, and then figured if this was prom night etiquette, and if it would get me out of ever doing anything remotely “normal” again, then I was willing to give him one stupid kiss. But then there was a knock on the truck’s window and I saw Sam’s granny standing outside, crying and gesturing toward the trailer.

  “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I didn’t want to interrupt your special night, but Sam, I need your help.”

  Sam was out of the truck before she finished the sentence. She started telling him what happened. I was still in the truck and couldn’t hear her. But I heard Sam say, “Who would steal a wheelchair?” and then I slowly turned the handle on the truck door and slipped out. I knew exactly who would steal a wheelchair.

  “Two of them, in ski masks,” Sam’s pop said as I neared the front door.

  “They pointed a gun at me!” his granny cried. “And they took all of our pills!”

  I reached out and touched Sam’s back, but he flinched. “Didn’t anyone call the cops?” he said, and when they shrugged at him, still obviously in shock, Sam took off for the pay phone as if I wasn’t standing there.

  And then I realized that if Junior had been to Sam’s place, then he’d have been to ours, too, and I worried about my parents. I walked (as fast as I could in two-inch heels) to our trailer and scanned a hundred mental images—Mom and Dad shot, sliced, hung, burnt, and beaten—but when I got through the door, I found them alert and watching The Late Show.

  “Was Junior here tonight?”

  My father stared at David Letterman. My mother said, “No.”

  “Are you sure?”

  I looked around the room, trying to see the gaps Junior would usually leave. The toaster was there. The heater was there. The microwave.

  “I’ve been here all night and I didn’t see him,” my mother said.

  “Well, he robbed #20 tonight,” I said. “And he stole Sam’s grandfather’s wheelchair.”

  My mother looked at me sideways. “How was your prom? Isn’t it still early?”

  “Mom! I just told you that Junior stole an old, handicapped man’s wheelchair! Don’t you care?” I stormed into my room to take the stupid dress off and get myself into a pair of jeans as fast as I could.

  “How do you know he did it?” she asked. “I mean, it could be anyone, right?”

  I walked into the bathroom to wipe off the stupid prom face I’d painted on, and then I saw it. The cigarette butt in the toilet.

  “Did you hear me?” she yelled, aggressively. “Anyone could have done it!”

  I poked my head around the faux wood accordion bathroom door. “Yeah. Sure. And so this is anyone’s cigarette butt in the bathroom, then, is it?”

  I heard some cars arrive and went outside. Two cop cruisers were parked outside #20 with their lights on. When I got there, Sam was sitting on the steps talking to himself. When he saw me, he scowled.

  “Are they okay?”


  “Can I do anything to help?” I asked.

  “Who would steal a wheelchair from two poor old people?”

  I shook my head.

  That’s the thing with drug addicts. They steal wheelchairs and hearing aids and walkers and canes and seeing-eye dogs, and I’m sure if Junior needed a fix that he would reach right into every one of those trailer-park old people and grab their pacemakers. Sam didn’t understand this, so he just looked at me and repeated the question.

  “I mean, who would steal a wheelchair?”

  The police never found out it was Junior who stole Pop’s chair on prom night, even though I found his cigarette butts outside three other robbed trailers and it was about the simplest puzzle there ever was.

  After that night, Sam stopped dropping by to see me, which was a relief. The last thing I needed in my life was an overly possessive pseudo-boyfriend who couldn’t take a hint. I was less than a month from high school graduation and the fulfillment of a lifelong plan. I started taking double shifts at McDonald’s as the warmer nights approached. I had plenty to do without having to worry about a twentieth-century boy’s fragile feelings. Ugh. The mere thought of it made me want to gouge my own eye out.

  As the school year wound down, I tried to get myself in the mood for what lay ahead. I did my final senior research paper for AP English on King Philip’s emerald—and concluded by blaming historians for misleading us into the belief that its whereabouts were a mystery. In the high times of privateering and piracy, we all knew where the emerald ended up. Well, at least I did, anyway.

  I got my passport in the mail the same day I got my last report card. I’d aced finals and, as expected, I was crowned class valedictorian. I think my mother showed her pride by blinking twice after I told her.

  All the other speakers at commencement had been awarded college scholarships and grants, and gave speeches about their glorious academic futures. I didn’t want to speak but I had to, so I wrote a piece about how graduates should do what they want to do, and not let themselves be steered by anyone else’s desires.

  Parents probably didn’t like what I had to say, but what did it matter? It got me as much applause as it got the others. It made my parents burst from their chairs and pound their pasty palms together, even though they probably hadn’t heard a word I’d said. They were stoned out of their minds anyway, with new tablets my mother had gotten for her migraines. My father wore a wrinkled linen blazer with jeans and sandals, and a POW/MIA baseball cap. My mother didn’t take off her sunglasses once.

  I kept looking around for Junior. If he had any brains, he’d show up and try to take the cash out of all the cards I got that day, but he was nowhere to be found. Maybe he was in jail somewhere, maybe asleep in a crack house. Maybe uptown scoring more drugs.

  My mother was still wearing her sunglasses when we got home from the ceremony.

  “I don’t want you drink
ing tonight, Saffron. I’m scared you’ll be killed in a horrible accident or something,” she said through my bedroom door. I sighed, sliced off a strip of her ear, and ate it like beef jerky.

  “Don’t worry. I’m only going to Susan’s house and I’m sleeping over. I won’t be on the road at all.”

  “What time will you be home?”

  I walked past her and out the door. After all those years at the kitchen table, and all the years living through Junior’s bullshit together, she hadn’t the courage to tell me she was proud of me that day. So I refrained from answering her at all.

  The next day, I arranged my flights from Susan’s house. On Sunday night, I packed my few summer clothes and my father’s collapsible army shovel into a drab duffel bag Pat had given me. Before Susan drove me to the bus station, I said goodbye to my parents.

  “I’ll call you once I get there,” I told them.

  My father searched for the missing remote control. My mother had a glassy-eyed stare. Neither of them made a sound. It was as if they were finally suffering from the years of imaginary torture I’d inflicted.

  From the bus station, I traveled to Philadelphia, to spend one night and catch a plane the next morning. For two hours, as I struggled to fall asleep under the glow of a city night, I walked through my plan of action in my mind—each time throwing a different wrench in the works to see how I could solve unforeseeable problems. What if I get there and no one meets me at the airport? I’ll find a taxi. What if I get to a town and there are no rooms available? I can stay with someone, I’m sure. What if I’m robbed or lose my money? That’s why I bought traveler’s checks. What if I can’t find the bay?

  That was the big one. What if I couldn’t find the bay? Things would surely have changed since I’d seen the Jamaican coast in 1664. If an important town like Port Royal had sunken thirty meters under the sea, then what else would have changed in three hundred years?

  In my mind’s eye, I was confident I would recognize it somehow. Whenever I’d closed my eyes to sleep for the past three hundred years, I’d walked that sand in long, measuring footsteps. But what if all my information was mixed up? I knew that no one had ever officially claimed Philip’s emerald, but who knew? Maybe someone had already found it all and sold it, not knowing what it was. Then what? Back to Hollow Ford? On to medical school?

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