“The Silent Bell” Dark Fiction by Phil Rosen

The waitress poured wine into the two glasses on the table. Dark and bitter, bloody. She looked at the glasses then looked up at the man and the woman before her. She examined their faces. Tight and quiet but familiar, like feuding siblings. The waitress raised her eyebrows, shrugged, and added a generous splash to each glass. Her heels clacked on the floor as she walked away.

The waitress was correct to add wine but incorrect in guessing the two patrons were siblings; they were not just man and woman but husband and wife. The bar tonight was as quiet as the couple was wordless. The pair had come in after putting Jill to sleep. The man spoke first.

“So how do you want to deal with Frankie? He hasn’t stopped bleeding since yesterday morning.”

The woman looked up, eyes wide and tired. Her ink-black hair reflected the light in the same way as her husband’s. “Why can’t you ever take the lead on anything?”

He looked at her and his face betrayed nothing. He sighed and adjusted the sleeve on his left arm. “Frankie was your idea,” the man said. “You said every child needed a dog to grow up with.”

“And you agreed with me,” the woman said.

“I agreed that a dog and a child are meant to grow up together but not that we need to rescue a stray and sick hound.”

“Whatever, I thought you’d at least have the spine to handle it on your own instead of letting our baby watch it all,” the woman said.

“Oh take action on my own and risk your scorn after the fact? No thanks.”

“Well Frankie has been puking his insides up and he doesn’t sleep and he can barely walk and Jilly cries so much and—” The man cut her off.

“I know, Beth. I know.”

He put both hands on the table. Scarred knuckles and nails that suggested anxiety. “Last week you were too scared to take Frankie to the vet because you didn’t want to scare Jill. ‘Kids know what the vet means,’ you told me. ‘Better not to scare our baby.’ Well she’s damn scared now. We should’ve just had Frankie put down when he first started dyin’. You should’ve seen the amount of blood he threw up tonight.”

“He’s not dead, David.” The woman’s eyes were deep and red and sad like her wine. She took a swallow and tightened her lips. “We just need to deal with Frankie before Jill wakes up tomorrow. I don’t want her seeing her puppy dead on her birthday.”

“Well what would you suggest, then, eh?” He emptied his glass and beckoned for a refill from the waitress. His knee tapped up and down. Up down up down up down. The table bounced in rhythm with his knee and his wife felt it through the floorboards. “The vet, the doctor, everywhere’s closed now, it’s after nine o’clock.”

“Again, David, I will not let Jill wake up to see a dead dog.”

“You say that like you want me to do something, Beth,” the man replied. “You said it yourself, Frankie isn’t dead. He’s hurtin’ bad and real sick but he isn’t dead.”

The woman looked across the table at her husband and wondered how they got here.

“Everything, everything is always done too late with you,” the woman said. “You have not a preemptive bone in your body, everything you do is reactive.”

The man shook his head and the woman kept talking.

“You think it’s fine to raise our daughter reacting to things as they happen,” the woman said. She spoke softly now, decisive and pointed. “If you wanted things so easy you shouldn’t have been so cavalier when you married me or put a baby in me or got a goddamned puppy for our Jilly.”

Years ago, the man and the woman agreed to marry out of fear of having a bastard. Sitting there at the table with empty wine glasses, though, the woman thought that old-time worry seemed so small and childish compared to how things were now. Happiness was something to witness in films only, and joy was something she thought was reserved for Jill. Their dog was ailing bad and their daughter was hours away from waking up to her best friend dead.

The man began to speak.

“You really think me takin’ care of a dog is going to change how our little girl grows up. That’s foolish because the dog don’t have nothing to do with what you’re talkin’ about Beth. Look at the way we fight and drink and yell, Beth. Jill’s been heartbroken since before Frankie got sick. She can’t be happy ‘till we are.”

The woman was smiling now — a twisted, toothless grin but a smile all the same. “Because you’re incapable of devising one, I’ll give us a plan.”

“None of what I just said should make a sane person smile,” the man said. He tilted his head as he looked at her.

“You are going to fix this,” the woman said. “Tonight.”

“What are you getting at now?”

“You’re gonna go home, take Frankie out to the yard and be done with it. Use one of the neighbor’s big trash bins out front. Tomorrow our baby won’t see any dead dog.”

“I’m telling you Beth, this isn’t going to fix anything,” the man said. “Frankie being sick makes Jill cry but it isn’t the reason Jill cries.”

The man and the woman drove home in silence. Both felt ready to be done with it all. Both felt resentment tingling just beneath their skin. Sapped and drowning and angry. They had a simple plan: The woman would check on Jill in bed and make sure she wouldn’t come downstairs, and the man would kill the dog and dump the corpse in the neighbor’s trash bin outside. Easy and fast and depressing, not unlike their dog’s life thus far.

The woman dropped her purse when she walked into the living room. Sitting there, red hands and blood matting down her hair, was Jill. Frankie lay beside her, ragged and unmoving. The dog’s belly didn’t raise and lower with its breath. No gentle canine whimpers floated through the house, and the bell on the dog’s collar hung still and silent.

The man came in behind her and, when he saw his daughter, inhaled sharply.

“What happened, baby?” the woman asked Jill.

The little girl looked up. Her eyes were dry and the dead animal next to her had little effect on her disposition. She wore one sock, and her pajamas had palm trees on it. “Frankie always makes me scared, the way he barks when we play. But Frankie’s the only one who plays with me,” Jill said. Blood had pooled but had long dried on the carpet, so if you stepped on it it would crunch. “But he’s dead now.”

The little girl stood up. She walked upstairs to her room with neither a word nor a sniffle. The parents stood silent and staring at the bloodied and dead carcass in the living room. His eyes were still open, and its legs were stiff with rigor mortis. The man, no longer tasked with killing the dog, felt relieved. The woman, too, felt relief knowing that it would no longer be by her order a dog was killed. Each felt, incorrectly, that they could escape the night blameless and unblemished.

The couple shared another, deeper relief beyond the events of the night. Nothing was verbalized but all had been revealed. They looked at each other and knew it was over. The dead dog. The little girl stained with dark maroon. Husband and wife playing marriage. Everything was done.

Phil Rosen is a Hong Kong-American journalist and writer. His reporting has appeared in Fortune Magazine, Buzzfeed News, and Business Insider, among other outlets. He is the author of the book, Everywhere But Home (2020), which was an Amazon #1 bestseller in travel. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @philrosenn.

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