I am in the yard and the yard looks at me it sighs she cries she yells she barks but the dog is smiling he's black and he's bigger he's bigger than me he's the whole yard he is the yard he's singing he sings he's worshipping he's praying
The deck is a few years older than she is. Pieces of plywood have been nailed over the holes in its surface. The worn wood creaks under her as she walks to the edge and calls after her mother's dog. The black mutt stops where he's been sniffing the lengthy grass and tilts his head. She hasn't called him for anything specific, she just wants to see his face.
He's growing too fast, Eight months and already seventy pounds. He is always leaping off the deck and she isn't sure what to do. She can't afford to fix it yet. But he's so heavy. She walks across the length of the deck, waiting for that moment her foot will crash through one of the beams and snap her ankle. He foot, maybe her entire leg, will go numb and she'll be trapped with her bone splintered like the wood she fell through. She doesn't want it to be him.
She looks at the dog again. Hs tail is wagging as he pauses like he always does at the block of cement in the middle of the backyard. She thinks he probably can't make sense of it, at why it's interrupting the grass under his feet. He puts his nose into the whole and she smiles.
She doesn't remember where the metal pole has gone or when her mom removed it. It used to be tetherball. She wishes it was still there. She can picture the dog bumping it, biting at it, not understanding why he can't pull the ball from its string. He could be entertained for hours. But then she'd worry, too. That he would somehow hurt himself, get tangled in the string or wacked in the head by the swinging ball, put into motion by his own actions.
Her mother used to tell her she was afraid of dying alone. She didn't like the response: "Well, everyone technically dies alone, ma."
She never asked for an explanation; her mother knew what she meant. And she knew what her mom meant. Though why it mattered to her mother whether that person was her ex-husband, a new husband, or her daughter, she could never understand.
Once, the two of them were watching a TV shoe about a man who saw his father die. The dad had a massive heart attack and the son performed CPR on him, but he still died. The other guy, the one being told the story about the son and the dad and the heart attack, was horrified.
"No child should watch their parent die," he said.
Her mother scoffed. "Lots of kids watch their parents die. It's the parent who should never see their kid die."
She had been confused by this. "I think he meant physically see them die. Like actually."
"Yeah, her mom said. "I actually saw my mother die. And I'm glad I did. I would've felt awful if I hadn't been there in the room with her."
praying to who to her to the yard to the sun my dog he eats me he bites me he swallows me whole I am in the yard and the yard sings she's singing and I can hear it I am it I am singing I am worshipping I am praying I am the sky the grass is gone the ground it's gone there is nothing under my feet and my stomach is full with song full with life and he's alive
Her mother's dog has found an apple under the tree. He brings it up onto the deck, sliding past where she sits on the step and plopping down near the edge. His coat is black and shiny in the sunlight and she thinks about ow her mother hadn't wanted to switch him to adult dog food. She was convinced the puppy food was what kept his fur so smooth.
He munches on the apple and she lets him. She'd checked all the ones on the ground before letting him outside to make sure none were rotten. She thinks about plucking some ripe ones from the tree and trying to make applesauce like they'd used to, but ever since her mom had tried to cut down the tree a few years back the apples don't taste the same. The tree grew back and the apples too, but they had soured and shrunk in size.
The dog likes them, but then he'd never tasted the old ones.
She lays back against the rough surface of the deck, turning her head to watch him and letting her cheek scrape on the wood. She reaches out to put a hand on his back paw, the furthest she can reach without moving. She frowns. He needs his nailed clipped. She'll have to make an appointment with the vet. He hates it, and her mom - who was much better at handling him - hadn't ever been able to trick him into letting her do it.
She had taken him to the vet a few times when her mom couldn't, but not in a while. The people there were always trying to comfort him by bringing her into the room to pet him. "Your mom's here, it's okay," they'd say. She never corrected them, but she was sure it only confused him. She isn't his mom. While they wait for the vet to come into the room, he would always sit on the chair meant for people. She finds this funny, how he'd curl his big body up and perch like a human.
The dog got quite a few ear infections back when he was just a few months old. After he got so scared of the vet touching his ears that they had to sedate him, the vet decided it must be a food allergy. She put him on an expensive hypoallergenic brand with no meat or yeast and restricted his treats to sweet potato and carrots. He's a vegetarian now, like her, she realizes. Strange how her mom had questioned her being a vegetarian, but not the dog. She thinks about the similarity between the words veterinarian and vegetarian for a while, the two becoming one in her mind.
She gives the dog's paw another pat and shifts her gaze to his soft belly. He's filled out a lot since the skinny thing her mother brought home from the pound. She used to check his ribs every day, waiting for when she could "feel them but not see them."
He's almost down to the core of the apple so she stands, stroking his back as she pulls it away from him. She doesn't want him to eat the seeds and get sick. He doesn’t put up much of a fight, just looks at her. She tells him to get a drink of water and he obeys, tail swishing against her leg.
Her mother always used to tell her she needed a warning before any tattoos. "I won't disown you," she'd say, "I just need time to prepare myself."
One evening while they were curled up together on the couch, she pulled up images of tattoos people got to cover their surgical scars.
"What about these, ma?"
She watched her mom swipe through the photos of swirling leaves and delicate roses, intricate designs inked with precision to hide slashes across chests and for a moment she forgot breasts were supposed to have nipples.
"They are sort of beautiful," her mom had conceded. Then she looked away. The screen stayed lit up, phone perched on her thigh. Her mother kept watching the movie on the TV, letting the image of flowered breasts sit in the room with them.
he's alive and he tells me so he barks and I understand it I understand him he gets me I am alive too I'm alive we're alive and we're worshipping the sky the sky under our feet we worship it we pray to it we're on our knees me and him and me and her and we have the sky under our knees and it's alive it's warm and it's welcoming and it is absolutely everything
She goes inside the empty house while the dog drinks out of his water dish. She grabs his tennis ball form the floor and heads back out.
"Wanna play?" She asks him.
He bounds off the desk in a hurry and she chides herself. He stands, panting at the foot of the steps, waiting for her to throw it. She tosses it towards the fence line and he takes off after it, long legs covering the distance in a manner of seconds. She needs to take him on more walks but lately she's been playing fetch with him in the backyard to get his energy out instead. She doesn't like seeing the neighbors.
He isn’t good with a leash and yields to her even less than to her mother. He isn't bad, he just gets excited and darts away as soon as he sees another human. He's so strong that he nearly pulls her off her feet, and she knows if the handle slips from her grasp she won’t be able to catch up to him.
She named him. Her mom had called her for ideas on the way home from the pound. She suggested calling him after a musician they both loved and her mom immediately agreed, much to her surprise. She moved back home shortly after her mom got him. It felt normal to sleep in her childhood bedroom again. Her mom let her redo it. She gave away the twin bed and moved her queen-sized one in, took the kid books to Goodwill and filled the books with her collection.
They'd done a whole book purge, in fact. The case in the hallway housed many books neither of them had touched. Her mom sat backwards on the couch facing the shelves and directed her on which ones to remove. They laughed at the giveaway piled after they finished; it was mostly religious books her mom had been gifted by friends and co-workers but never read. "They're gonna think I've turned heathen, those people at the shop."
The dog is getting better at playing fetch. A few months ago he would retrieve the ball but refuse to let go of it, trotting off to lay down with it in his mouth. He had seemed afraid she as going to take it away and not give it back.
"Good boy," she rubs the soft fur behind his ear as he drops the ball at her feet. He lets her for a minute, sniffing her wrist. Then he backs up a few steps and stares at the ball. She throws it again, clapping for him when he catches it out of the air.
Her mom was always talking about things she was going to fix in the house once she finished paying it off. She wanted to get rid of the wallpaper in her bathroom and replace the kitchen cabinets. She needed to fix the fence. She wanted the house painted a different color. She didn't agree with her mother on the last one.
"I like the white with the green trim, ma. It looks old-fashioned."
Her mom frowned. "Yeah, that's why I don't like it."
They'd picked up a few sample squares from the store and her mom was holding them up against the outside of the house. She didn't spend much time in front of the house and it had felt strange to be doing so. It looked both smaller and bigger from the outside. Her bedroom window was just a bit taller than her head. She remembered having to shimmy through it once, when they got locked out of the house.
She had hummed along to whatever her mom was saying about the mocha-shade-of-brown and took several steps backward. She kept backing up until the whole house was in view. She admired the contrast between the white walls and the dark green overhands. She liked how they looked with the reddish brick of the porch and the flowers in the big pots lining the doorways.
"I was thinking about a maroon door," her mom had said.
When her mom turned around to look at her, she was taking a photo of the house. She caught the corner of the willow tree in the frame, the one that had been growing there in the front yard as long as she could remember.
"I might call Jeff and see if he'd be willing to come paint sometime next week."
"Next week?" She frowned.
"I should be done and home by then," her mom nodded.
that sky it's everywhere it's in his stomach too eats it because he's alive and the sky is in here with me the sky gets on its knees and starts singing to the moon the sky prays the sky worships the sky spits me out and we spit out the dog and there he is with the moon in his eyes and he is everything and everywhere and he loves it
When the dog is panting and floppy she takes the ball from him and leads him back inside. He follows her to her mother's bedroom and watches her roll up her sleeves. She steps over the gate blocking him from coming into the bathroom. He lays down on the towel she had put on the floor and starts gnawing on one of his bones, watching her through the gaps in the plastic.
She'd found the baby gate in the garage and assumed it was from her childhood. She could shut the bathroom door, but she likes being able to see him and he likes being able to see her.
They work quietly, the only noise the sound of his teeth against bone and the ripping of paper as she peels the flowery design off the wall above her mother's sink. She starts by tearing what she can with her hands, large sections pulling away and fluttering onto the counter like the dried skin of a sunburn.
Her mom used to say she needed the background noise of the TV or she couldn't do anything. Quiet distracted her. She'd put on a film she'd seen a hundred times and go clean the kitchen, she'd fall asleep to her favorite TV show every night. She could hear her mother watching a movie from where she stood in the in-suite bathroom. She wiped the freshly rinsed bucket out with a towel before heading back to the bedroom. Her mom had been propped up against the big pillows, puppy curled into her chest. He was asleep, soft snores escaping from his small black nose.
"Uh-huh." One of her mom's hands was running over the dog's back, the other clutched around a moleskin journal.
"What's that?" She asked as she set the bucket down next to her mom's side of the bed and slipped under the comforter.
"My doctor told me to try writing."
"Oh yeah, ma?"
"Yeah. Life stories and emotions and stuff. I told her I don’t like it, but she keeps saying it will be good for me."
"Maybe it would. Writing helps me sometimes."
"Then she said if it seems too hard I should just write, write whatever comes to me without thinking when I'm doing it. Clear the mind of something. Automatic."
"Have you tried, ma?" Her mom was already tucking the moleskin away behind the lamp on her bedside table.
"Nope. I'd rather just be here, with you."
"You can tell me what's your mind like the journal."
"Maybe later. Let's finish the movie."
She had shifted closer, resting her head on her mother's shoulder until their dark hair mixed into one, until the sound of her shallow breaths and the dog's snuffling grew loud enough to drown out the TV. She thought about the painting on the wall behind her, above the bed. It used to be a wooden cross but she preferred the art.
Her mom found it at a thrift shop, a beautiful impressionist work of a man and a woman walking the streets of Paris. It was raining in the painting, the couple huddled under an umbrella on their way to a coffee shop. Her mother hadn't been able to stop staring at it.
"I kind of want it," she had said.
"Yeah? Get it. Looks a bit Monet. You like Monet."
"I do." Her mom fingered the golden lattice of the think frame. She finally looked away, to move the painting from the wall and into their cart.
She doesn't know why she's so surprised by the weight of it. She drags the pole along the grass, through the fence gate and into the backyard. Stupidly, she'd realized she needed to dig out the old cement black and redo it in order for the pole to stand. Once the cement has dried overnight and the pole is steady in its foundation, she clips the ball onto it. She leaves the dog inside while she does all this. She takes him for walks or puts him on the leash in the front yard. She wants to surprise him. She tests the ball with a few punches, the material sturdy under the drag of her knuckles.
Just as she expects, he immediately sinks his teeth into it. She's careful as she pulls the ball from his mouth and pushes it to show him how to play. He watches the ball come towards him and she waits for the moment of the crash, for him to not understand and for the ball to collide with his head. But he bumps his snout against it, ears twitching as the ball swings away and then back towards him. She praises him and steps to the side, letting him chase the ball back and forth and back again.
She knows she'll have to replace the ball every once and a while. She can see the punctures from his canines, can imagine the way the ball will dent and sag and become deflated with time. Her dog has his jaw locked around the ball again, holding it in his mouth. She waits. He lets it go, lets it return, pushes it forward.
"That's it, good boy."
Once he's exhausted himself, he goes sniffling along the normal paths of grass. She sits on the steps of the deck and watches him, tucking the moleskin under her thigh. He gets to the base of the pole and looks at her. She nods and he understands.
he loves the yard he loves the moon he loves me and he loves her and we are together here we are safe in the pit of his belly safe in the craters of the moon safe in the space between the blades of grass safe safe safe we are safe and we are praying
Jensen Heike is a young writer from the Olympic Peninsula. She recently graduated from Western Washington University, where she studied English Literature/Creative Writing and served as associate editor for the 55th edition of Jeopardy Magazine.