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Dogs Bite (Short Fiction)




I have watched her like this on many evenings, envying her ability to quickly master her toys, while mine lie confused and listless. She effortlessly works her way around the computer keyboard, games twinkling with passion, I watching intently over her shoulder. We are joined at times like this, sisters together, our intensity a thing to marvel. After the game is over I have to lie down and rest, but she is energized, leaping up and running to change channels on the T.V. Although we don’t get nearly as much time for play as I would like (I could spend all day playing!), she is much better at compartmentalizing her activities than I. She was always the disciplined one, focused and cocksure, and while I enjoy her mastery of these activities I cannot help but be envious of her dexterity, speed of thought and hand-to-eye enthusiasm. Just watching her makes me tired! The flicker of the screen, the numbing drumbeats of the keyboard, and every so often I have to walk away and sit down, catch my breath, but inevitably I am drawn back to her, to the very intensity she brings to any activity. 


It had not always been this way, indeed in the early days she could be haughty and aloof, and occasionally cruel. But gradually we became as one, brought together by her generosity and spirit, and by my affection and care. We are happiest playing outdoors, running around in the back garden, playing typical sisterly games: Hide-and-Seek, Ring-Around-The-Posy, or simply skipping or jumping up and down together. She is more graceful than I (sometimes I still bump into doors!) but what I lack in grace I more than make up for in athleticism, and I can outrun her, even though her legs are longer than mine.  My energy at times like this is unbounded, and I feel as if I could run forever. She is more conservative when running with me, sometimes pausing, turning, or occasionally even feigning disinterest.  The contrast in our behaviors only serves to accentuate our similarities. I guess you would say I am the tomboy, bounding when I should be walking, producing the same glottal noises and bodily emissions boys do when we watch them in the park; She is the lady, debonair and restrained, walking haughtily and looking down her nose at any one that does not meet her standards. Still when we go to the park, arm-in-arm, our hair (hers’ dark, mine blonde) flowing in the wind, people stop to stare, and sometimes to talk. The friendly ones (usually older women) pat our hair, as if they can’t quite believe it is real. At times like these we feel more like twins than sisters, so close are our mannerisms that often one imitates the gestures of the other. Once we arrive at the park however we typically play separately, she on the swings and the climbing gym, me on the field and the sand-pit, each immersed in our activity, yet forever aware of the other. We sense each other’s physical and emotional state and are ready to come to assistance if needed. Other children watch enviously, no doubt wishing they had a sibling that they could be so attached to! Even though our games in the park bear no resemblance to each other, still instinctively we look for each other at the end of each episode, evaluating and assessing each other, and only then moving on. There is a pleasing order to our play, a program, and its very repetitiveness gives us solace. 


We come back inside and I am exhausted, lying flat on my stomach on the carpet staring at the T.V., stomach heaving rhythmically.  She is organized, putting away the toys and ropes and other paraphernalia we have taken with us. I am the first to get a drink, slurping noisily, and even though we are both hot from the activities in the park, we like to joke that young ladies like us “don’t sweat but glow”. This is our favorite line right now, “little girls glow, they don’t sweat”, and I am secretly pleased it is more true for me than for her.  Our mother gives both of us a snack, something hot from the kitchen where she has been working, and I greedily gobble mine down first, without waiting for her. My sister was always more fastidious about her eating habits, always the fussier of the two of us. She likes to eat her food in a meticulous, painstaking fashion, a pretension she adopted from observing adults at dinner when she was still small.  I instead am much more concerned about just getting it down, satisfying my hunger pangs, I have no time for niceties or politeness! No doubt some would find my behavior crass, unsophisticated even, but in turn I might consider theirs’ snobbish and pretentious. Despite these differences in our habits (nobody would ever accuse us of being twins if they watched us eat!), Mother has always been good to both of us, anticipating our needs, never criticizing us for our differences. Perhaps she has resigned herself to the fact that two children brought up by the same parent can turn out differently even though they have so much in common. I am the younger of the two, but Mother has never had any expectation that I should behave like my sister, serenely accepting my eccentricities and peccadilloes. She possesses a heavy formalism of her own, a repressed desire for a stricter age perhaps, a time when gender and parent-child rules were clear and unambiguous. But she does not try to enforce this code on us. We can be frivolous, spontaneous, running when we should be walking, wearing foolish caps on our heads or bandanas around our necks, playing the fool in front of company, adult company even. Mother tolerates all of this and does not admonish us or for our acts of gaiety. Except for her occasional angry outburst, we couldn’t imagine having a better mother. She can sense when we are hungry, when we need a nap, even when we need to go to the toilet. Now that we are older we are more aware of her faults and limitations of course, and she no longer seems omnipresent. Still we long for her affection, and when she sits in front of the T.V. knitting, we draw close to her. There we are together, Sabine resting her head against Mother’s ribs, I sitting at (and sometimes on) her feet, warmth flowing between the three of us. She is not my original mother (my birth-mother), but she is my mother. I long for her when she is away and Sabine does too. There are times that she has to leave the two of us alone in the house, Sabine and I, and then I get anxious and hope that Sabine, who is much more organized and, let’s face it, smarter than I, will make sure everything is alright until Mother returns. Sometimes I think Sabine feels the same way about me, and I find it amusing and a little worrying that Mother puts so much faith in our ability to look after each other. To confess, I don’t really remember my birth-mother (she died when I was very young), nor my siblings, and whatever proto-memories I have of that time have long since been subsumed by my childhood at this house. Do I wonder about my past? Do I ever wish I could have known my birth-mother or my (apparently many) brothers and sisters? Never. I cannot imagine a life different from the one I now have, and while many have written about the needs for adopted children to have the opportunity to get in contact with their birth-parents and siblings, I want nothing to do with them. I want to be here, in this place, Sabine and me, playing all day, fighting sometimes, but always making up before we go to bed. What could be better? 


It is true that sometimes when we take our walks, or even on T.V., I see other girls like myself, certainly far more like myself than Sabine, and a little pang erupts from somewhere deep within. Another little blonde, or perhaps one with dark eyes and long lashes like mine, or just someone with a similar build (I am quite broad-shouldered for a girl), and for a moment there is puzzlement, a hint of recognizance, and sometimes, despite myself, I call out. Sabine admonishes me severely at these times, telling me I shouldn’t talk to strangers, even others like myself, and secretly I wonder if she isn’t just a little jealous. Perhaps it is because she was an only child, and she knows for certain that she doesn’t have any brothers and sisters, whereas I am always attuned to anyone I see with even a passing likeness to myself. Even mother gets upset when I do this (particularly when she is watching her soaps!) and at times like these, her cruel streak emerges, and she punishes me, sometimes severely. I know I should get over it, and indeed I have gotten much better as I’ve become older. Either I’m not as impetuous as I used to be, or perhaps those sharp memories of early childhood are simply losing their bite. Occasional fleeting glimpses come back to me, barely visible in the recesses of my mind, of a group of us together all snuggled up, but I quickly suppress them and remind myself of how lucky I am to have a sister like Sabine.


When we were younger life did seem easier, Mother was around more then, not working as hard, and indeed there always seemed to be people in the house. Not just Mother’s friends and their children, but other adults, men sometimes, and the recalling this event triggers a jumbled stream of memories, and he is present in each one, tall and frankly terrifying. I had tried to make friends with him once, and certainly he crafted an elaborate pretense of politeness with Sabine and I, particularly in front of mother. At these times he would laugh and jest, crack jokes and indulge in horse-play, and Sabine and I, caught up by our naïveté, would laugh and shout and clamber onto him. But there was an undercurrent of fear, lurking but not recognized by us, and his mood-swings were difficult to handle. Not that he ever hit us, (as Mother sometimes did, a cuff around the ears or a slap on the butt), but it was there, in his voice, the darkening of his eyes, the lines pursing around his lips. He always favored Sabine over me, and for this I never quite forgave him. He would take her out for rides, sometimes even for ice-cream, all the while leaving me at home with Mother.  This I never understood, the discrimination, punishment for a crime not committed. (It wasn’t like this when I was younger, I remember once him picking me up and carefully wrapping me in a blanket and putting me in the back of the car, and then taking Sabine and me out for a ride.) I love cars, the motion, the wind, the sound of the tires on the asphalt, surely he must know this?  But something had changed, somehow, now that I was bigger I didn’t warrant his attention to the same extent, or perhaps it was because Sabine played up to him and sought his affection more strongly than I, but if this was the case I certainly didn’t feel that way, since I was always attempting to snuggle up and kiss him just as much as she did.


I suppose it is natural for children to split their affection for their parents, one closer to the father, and one to the mother. Perhaps Sabine felt closer to him after his separation from Mother, certainly the two of them had been inseparable when she was younger. I don’t really know how she managed to adapt so well to two different households, two bedrooms, two different ways-of-life, when all I wanted was the stability and peacefulness of home-and-hearth. When she went away with him (she stayed with him on alternate weekends) I remained with Mother, and while this arrangement seemed guaranteed to please no one, it was the best compromise at the time. Perhaps Sabine respected him for his intelligence (I would willingly admit that she is far smarter than me, as her skill in computer-games readily attests); and perhaps naturally I gravitated to Mother. Mother was more like me, willing to scrabble in the mud getting her fingernails dirty, and I loved working in the garden alongside her on weekend afternoons, digging holes and removing old plants (even though Mother didn’t always appear pleased with my horticultural skills!) Not that Sabine didn’t love Mother too, she was certainly as comfortable as I spending time with her. It was just that she was also able to go away with Him (once they were gone for weeks), yet not appear to evince any emotional wear-and-tear. I envied her this, her ability to tightly manage her emotions, to keep her feelings in check.  Unlike her I was the one wearing my heart on my sleeve. Of course now that we were older, the obviousness of my affections played somewhat to my advantage, and perhaps because of Sabine’s reticence, or perhaps just because of the phase she was in, my emotional forthrightness meant that both father and mother found her harder to read, and consequently more of a challenge to understand.


Discipline. Where does discipline stop and betrayal begin? I understood Mother’s need to emphasize discipline, to keep the house running after all things had to be put in place, and yes, it was true that neither Sabine nor I, despite our best intentions, were particularly helpful. But when the punishment does not fit the crime, one cannot help feeling betrayed. Yes I was the more immature of the two of us, the more impetuous, and I would be the first to freely admit that I took more looking after, that there was always more to clean up once I had been through the house, and Mother was always complaining about my toenails clattering across the kitchen linoleum, dragging mud across the yellowing tiles. Still, the extent of the punishment meted out at times like this could be harsh, sadistic even. What bothered me most was the arbitrariness of it, and how Mother seemed to play Sabine against me at times like this. Why was she not punished in a similar manner to me? Why was she allowed to get away with things that I could never dare transgress? After all Sabine and I were more than just siblings, we were friends and confidantes, and more peculiar than the harshness of the punishment was her desire for betrayal, her ability to snitch on me for any transgression no matter how minor. What is it about betrayal that sends ice ripping through my gut. And here it was, so clear, so bright. My eyes burned with fear, anger, and jealousy resonating equally behind slit-like pupils. Given how much I had invested in Sabine, it was amazing how quickly her feelings for me could change. The capriciousness of her decisions could be shocking. And Mother! This was the most galling, the hardest to take. Yes, sisters were always ratting on each other but mostly these were on minor transgressions, issues so minor we used them to compete for Mother’s affections, each playing up our saintliness and the other’s capacity for evil. But this was beyond the pale! To be cast out of their circle for such a minor transgression was a cruelty to casual to be meted out with such capriciousness. Even after all these years, the punishment was hard to take. There they were, the two of them safely ensconced in the living room, happily watching television. While here was I, admonished, banned, destined to pace up and down outside in the grey evening drizzle on the backyard deck. How could they do this to me?  Granted, my crime was there in the room for all to see, my lack of civilized behavior blatant, and I would be the first to admit that I had erred in even imagining I might get away with it. But to be punished like this! Surely the sentence must fit the crime! And worse than the admonishment, to be ignored so completely! It was as if I was no longer part of the family, no longer an integral part of the household, no longer one of them. And there they were, laughing at the show on television, chatting, warming themselves in front of the fire. And here was I, tongue panting for water as I pace the wet deck, paws numb from the cold, my chew-bone my only comfort. (2837 words.)




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