Whitney felt sick after having witnessed this murder. Her legs shook as she drew near, looking down on the corpse. Yet, a strange, creeping jealousy meandered up her insides. It was almost like she wished she’d been the one to kill him.
She imagined a male body thick with muscle, heavy with hatred and somehow, violently vegetative, face down in the dirt. With a hot ringing surge, a sense of power Whitney had never known unearthed itself from the cold bedrock in her gut. Whitney felt the corrosive fear that had lived within her dry up to a chalky nothing. The strength flowing through her cleared her vision.
The empty park, the scattered cars, the quiet hulking apartment buildings seemed to back off a pace from her. The damp pedestrian surroundings held no threat. Even though the sunlight shifted to acute angles, drawing long shadows across her path, Whitney felt safe.
Boogie looked up at the sound of her voice. Her tail wagged slowly, though she remained standing possessively over the dead body.
“Good girl.” Whitney murmured as she clipped the leash back on Boogie’s collar.
Turning her eyes back to the dead, Whitney felt a stab of shock as reality confronted her. The sprawled man she’d imagined shrank into something else. His limbs and torso compressed into the size of her two fists, curled crescents of cartilage extending into long velvety tapers and the black hair turned grey, thick and pelt-ish, with a single horror-glazed red eye fixed on the darkening sky.
When Boogie had launched herself across the dog park at the ill-fated rabbit, Whitney had frozen. She’d simply stared, paralyzed, Boogie catching the rabbit against the chain-link fence as it vainly attempted to wedge itself through a too-small opening. Boogie had bitten it hard three times in quick succession, her jaws pulsing over its neck. Not drawing blood, not tearing flesh but clamping down powerfully on its spine.
When Whitney finally regained the ability to move, she hesitantly tread over to the crime scene. Boogie’s sleek, muscle-bound shoulders covered in gleaming, black-ticked fur eased in tension. Whitney couldn’t help but feel jealous, spellbound even, at this hunter by her side.
Whitney’s paralysis defined her most frightening moments: lying on her side on the bed, cringing away from John as he screamed at her, his face bruised from who knew what, after returning home late from who knew where.
He raged, “You don’t know what I go through! What it’s like to live in my head!”
All she could do was feel embarrassed for disturbing the other tenants in the house at such a late hour.
She felt the most shame when she stood before a judge in front of lines of other strangers, where something pretending to be justice was doled out like lunch meat in a cafeteria. He said in a flat, tired voice, “Don’t take him back. He will not change.” Before approving a flimsy paper shield, the Order of Protection.
Or no, it was when the policemen had accompanied her to her own house after she’d spent three days hiding in a hotel. Even though she shook with nerves, Whitney had tried to think of some small talk to make. To show them she wasn’t some pathetic victim, was a person with a good job, capable of making sound decisions. Maybe they played football, these corn-fed men with barrel-like chests puffed out by bullet proof vests, buzzcuts and mustaches like they’d lost a bet. But instead, she walked behind, head down. She couldn’t tell if it was their male judgement or the fact that they’d seen so many like her. But they didn’t look her in the eye.
The four of them said nothing as the biggest one pounded on her door. John answered, half asleep, face unshaven, innocent, and docile, like it was truly his house to live in and not hers, not her money that paid the rent and subsidized his life. After they’d served the papers without incident, she’d begun to walk away, only for John to say, “Can I get a hug?”
Whitney had looked at one of the policemen, a red-haired man, and felt so exposed—like he knew she had considered allowing it so she could replace the last time she’d been touched by John with a hug. She wondered if she had only said “No!” because she could feel the policeman’s stare, heavy with criticism.
The Protection Order they’d served that day only worked if John violated it. Whitney went back to the house a few days later, feeling very much like a hunted rabbit: alone, desperate, heart rate through the roof. He had had to vacate the house but he’d come back—she knew he would—and all she could do was change the locks.
From the first staggering footsteps she heard around the perimeter, she knew he was drunk. Her cell phone began to ring, and she threw her body over it to muffle the sound, switching the ringer off under her sweatshirt. When she could safely pull it out, she saw his name on the display screen.
Suddenly, a pounding came on the back door. She’d imagined so many peaceful evenings on the back deck looking over the city from Capitol Hill, the Sound and the skyline alight with an orange sunset. Instead, curtains and fear obscured her view as she cowered, her heart in her throat.
“Whitney! I know you’re home! Open this goddamn door! You better not have some other man in there!”
She dialed 9-1-1 over his beating on the door and his shower of expletives coming from the back yard. When someone finally answered, she tried to come up with words for what was happening.
“I need help… my boyfriend is on–” All the while trying to keep her voice down so he couldn’t hear.
“You fucking bitch!”
“I can’t… um, he’s trying to get in—”
“Let me in or I’ll break this door down!”
“Please send the police—he’s gonna—”
“He’s gonna get in!”
The pounding on the back door stopped and hollow footsteps receded on the wooden deck. Whitney curled on her side on the floor. The rough, tight carpet scratched her face. She wished she could melt into it, hide in the foundation of the old house, the darkness obscuring her. But she remained solid, above ground, forcefully present.
The threat loomed as she half-listened for John’s return and half-listened to the voice on the phone. A question about being placed on hold, a ringing silence from the back of the house. She squirmed around to face the side doors, knowing he would pass them if he was leaving the property. But the seconds creeped by, and the silence lingered. Just as she wondered if he planned to sleep in the backyard, the side doors jumped to life, almost bowing inward from a harsh blow. The metal latch barely held.
“Fuck you! You slut!” He screamed.
Whitney listened as his footsteps faded away toward the street, her eyes shut tightly against the carpet.
The cops didn’t arrive quickly enough to catch him until the next time.
He trapped her on the side of the house under the arch of vines that she once thought to be romantic. His arms snaked around her, pinning her arms to her sides so that every time she tried to pull away, John would yank her back.
“Stop fighting. You’re hurting yourself.”
Whitney clutched desperately in her pocket for her phone. She wished she could dial it by touch like they did in the movies.
“I’ll call the police, John. Let me go.”
Terror seeped into her entire body through every artery, every vein, every capillary and back to her desperately thumping heart as she lifted the phone out of her pocket. John’s fist came down hard on her wrist, trying to knock the phone free of her grasp. Her arm fell, still clutching the phone but the arch of his swing carried his fist into her side with a thud. As the pain shot through her, desperation came next.
“Just kill me then and get it over with!” She shouted, beyond endurance, beyond any sense.
“I’m not gonna kill you. What are you talking about?”
Finally, the police arrived. One of her neighbors must have called and the realization made her shame harden like clay in a kiln.
The shame only grew. At the next courtroom appearance, she stood alone behind the benches, witnessing the measly sentence of twenty-two months. The pervasive nausea threatened to overcome her as John looked at her across the room, head to toe in orange, stubbled and hair shaggy but somehow not a whiff of shame about him. His eyes widened like a puppy’s with a sheen of accusation.
Whitney had done everything she could to put space between who she was now and that person who had allowed John to treat her that way. She moved to a new place—an apartment within a gated community—changed her hair, started running. But she still found herself jumping completely awake out of her bed, an innocuous noise or imagined shadow ringing through her like a gunshot.
Desperate and sleep-deprived, she found herself wandering down a concrete hall lined in cells. The occupant of each cell looked more defeated than the last, except for the ones that raged against the bars, wailing so loudly the competing voices echoed off the thick walls.
Whitney paused before one cell, finding the detainee sitting quietly before the door as if they expected her.
The sign on the bars said, “Boogie, female German Short-Haired Pointer (GSP). 1.5 years old. Likes walks.”
Whitney looked down at Boogie. Her black ears hung limp on either side of her face, a proud, black-ticked chest sloped down to her lean body and long legs. Her ochre-colored eyes stared back dully. She didn’t wag her tail or bark.
Casting a glance up and down the hallway to confirm no other people were around, Whitney turned back to the dog.
“Kind of insulting to be summed up like that.” Whitney said, softly. “Wonder what mine would say… Whitney, female human mutt. 26.5 years old. Likes running.”
She laughed at herself. “So boring, right? We’ve got to have more than that to us.”
Just then, a woman approached from the end of the hall, eager with a gleaming name tag that said, “Glenda.”
“Aww, have you found your pup?” She called as she bustled toward them, radiant with the possibility of a match.
“Uh… maybe.” Whitney cast a questioning look at Boogie.
Boogie stood up and turned toward the sound of Glenda’s voice.
“Oh, Boogie’s a good girl! I can tell you she won’t be here long, a great breed, GSPs.”
“I don’t know anything about them.”
“High energy. If you’re active, she’ll be perfect for you.”
“Yeah, I run.”
Glenda nodded, approvingly. “Is it just you at home?”
Whitney hesitated, thrown off by the intrusive question. “Um, sorry?”
Glenda chuckled. “I only ask because if you live with a man, Boogie might not be a good fit.”
“Why is that?”
“She doesn’t do well with men. I think she may have been abused. Poor girl. She’s a bit aggressive with them. Especially big guys.”
Whitney smirked despite herself. She looked at Boogie, who tossed a paw at the gate, scratching it impatiently.
“Looks like she may have chosen you.” Glenda said.
From then on, jolts of terror at night were met by the soothing gaze of those deep brown eyes, so calm, looking up at her from her mat between Whitney’s bed and the door. Boogie stood watch and Whitney finally slept.
Whitney heard Boogie whine from the other side of the door as she fumbled with her keys. Her paws danced around on the linoleum floor as Whitney wound the deadbolt back.
“Hey there, beautiful girl.”
Boogie spun around, jumping with delight as Whitney slipped through the door and locked it behind her. A warmth grew within her every night she came home to Boogie. Her presence prevented the cavernous space of the apartment from feeling as if it held crouching figures, untimely ends.
Whitney turned to face Boogie, smirking. “I bet you want a run, huh?”
A jolt of excitement sizzled through Boogie’s body as she reared up, placing her paws on
She knelt and pushed Boogie’s paws to the floor. “Okay, okay. Let me change.”
Within ten minutes, they ran through the park, along a path overhung with dripping hemlocks. The stress of the day slowly loosened and evaporated from Whitney’s body as they ran: Boogie trotting easily at her side, Whitney enjoying the cool air on her face.
Toward the end of their route, a figure appeared from near the entrance, shrouded in the darkening evening and moving at an uneven gait. They headed in her direction. With Boogie before her, Whitney’s fear didn’t flare uncontrollably. But the ambling gait and bedraggled shape of the stranger made her cautious. As they came closer, they resolved from the mist into a man covered in layers of rags, with plastic bags dangling from a pack over his shoulder. His eyes settled on Whitney as she ran.
Whitney didn’t have an escape route from the park other than the path that the stranger currently occupied. She didn’t want to change her course and go deeper into the park. And he probably didn’t intend her any harm.
She gripped Boogie’s leash tightly in one hand and continued their jog along the walkway. The man loomed before her, eyes pale blue and bloodshot, tongue licking at his overgrown mustache.
“Hello, beautiful.” He leered, nearly stumbling into their path.
Boogie lurched at the man, yanking Whitney’s arm to full extension. She let deep resonant barks loose and flashed her long lines of sharp teeth. Whitney nearly fell, catching herself and coming to a stop.
The man staggered backward, hands before him. “Whoa!”
The fur along the ridge of Boogie’s back stood tall, a rumbling growl emanating from her clenched mouth, lips quivering over her bared teeth.
“Jesus!” He exclaimed, scrambling away from both of them.
When he disappeared along the path, Whitney crouched down beside Boogie, breathing hard. Boogie’s hackles slowly lowered as Whitney ran her hands along her taut back.
Boogie looked up at her touch. Her tail wagged gradually, eyes softening.
“Good girl.” Whitney whispered breathily, kissing her velvet-soft black ear. “Let’s go home.”
Two years later, here they stood, wondering what to do with this dead rabbit’s body.
“Hey there!” A voice called out, making Whitney jump. She looked up and saw a lone man getting out of his car. His black hair slipped out of his big hand as he swept it across his forehead. “Beautiful dog!”
Whitney nodded, keeping her expression reserved. “Thanks.”
“Is that a GSP?” He asked, slowly approaching.
It looked like he’d just gotten home from work. He wore dark gray slacks and a light blue button-down shirt.
Whitney felt her body automatically stiffen, stepping closer to Boogie.
“Yes, she is.”
“Oh, fantastic. I’ve never seen a black one like her. Aren’t they usually brown? She’s gorgeous! Do you run with her?” He smiled, teeth bright and even. His manner remained calm and he hung back from the fence.
“I do. She needs it. She’s got a ton of energy.”
“That’s what I heard about GSPs. Being bred for hunting and all…”
Whitney thought of the rabbit. She wondered if this guy would notice it and judge them: judge her for not controlling her dog, judge Boogie for her violent behavior.
“Is that a rabbit?”
Whitney cleared her throat. “Yes.”
“Did she kill it?”
“Um, yes, unfortunately.” Whitney began to feel the creeping shadow of shame.
“Unfortunately? That’s what she was born for. Can’t blame her for it. Man, I bet she’s fast.” He slowly came up to the fence, watching Boogie admiringly.
Boogie lifted her head slightly, taking note of the man’s proximity.
“What’s her name?” He asked.
He let out a bark of laughter and Boogie turned her body to face him, sniffing the air curiously. Whitney saw with relief that the tension along Boogie’s spine eased as she continued to watch this stranger, her tail low and relaxed.
“Hey Boogie girl.” He said in a sing-song voice.
Boogie briefly wagged her tail at his tone, her ears perked up and watchful.
Zack then turned his green eyes on Whitney.
“God, you can tell I love dogs—I asked her name first. How rude am I? What’s your name?” He laughed at himself.
“Zack. Nice to meet both of you.”
Whitney let herself smile. “You, too.”
She could tell at this range that he wore no wedding ring.
A quiet moment passed, and they all looked down at the dead rabbit again.
In a moment of hope, Whitney wondered if this could be the start of something. Maybe she could finally feel normal again and let go of some of the devastating weight of her relationship with John. But the chasm between who she was and who she wished she could be felt devastatingly wide. She pulled herself back from that line of thought, forcing herself to quell any expectations.
“The thing is, I don’t know what to do with the body.”
“I think you can call animal control and they will pick it up. Don’t want any other pups getting into it and getting sick.” Zack pulled out his phone and tapped on it.
As he called and explained everything to the person on the other end, Whitney couldn’t help but get her hopes up just a tad. He really was thoughtful and a dog-lover, not to mention handsome. Maybe she could ask for his phone number.
When he hung up with animal control, Zack’s eyes settled on Boogie.
“Is it alright if I come around to meet her?”
Whitney hesitated, feeling her anxiety spike. “Well, she can be aggressive toward men. If you want to try, we can but we need to take it very slowly and I’ll keep her on the leash.”
She was pleased with herself for expressing their needs clearly and relieved when she saw Zack nod with understanding.
“Of course. If you feel like she’s scared or might not like me getting close, just say the word. I’ll back off, no worries.”
She smiled at him, the pleasure of feeling understood reverberating through her body. “Sounds good.”
“Alright, Boogie girl, I’m going to come around to see you.” He said, slowly making his way around to the gate.
Boogie followed him with her gaze, tail still but shoulders relaxed.
Zack opened the gate, walked through, and shut it behind him. When he turned, he beamed at them both.
“Boogie girl, you’re so pretty. What a good girl.” He crooned in a soft voice as he got closer, crouching down about fifteen feet away so Boogie could approach him at her own pace. He carefully let his eyes rest on the ground as if he were slightly more interested in a twig at his feet, calling soft words to Boogie.
Whitney felt a surge of appreciation for this stranger, who apparently understood dogs and how to control his body language so Boogie wouldn’t feel threatened. Boogie began to walk towards him, Whitney trailing behind still holding her leash. She left slack in the leash so Boogie wouldn’t have any tension to respond to. For a moment, she stopped watching Boogie and looked at Zack’s face, all tranquility and warmth.
Whitney began to think about the implications of this meeting. At first, she had been afraid that Boogie would try to bite him. Now, she wondered if it would be worse if she didn’t. If Boogie liked him, it would up the stakes. If he asked for her number, it led down a path Whitney wasn’t sure she wanted to retread. That whole cycle of dating, the pressure, the potential for pain, for trauma, all rose up in her mind: terrifying, unfathomable to take that leap again.
Suddenly, Boogie launched herself at Zack, teeth bared and barking raucously. Whitney drew her back just in time before Boogie could get within striking distance. Zack fell backwards from his crouch and landed on the ground, bracing hand smashing into a pile of dog poop, squelching up between his large fingers.
“Holy shit!” He shouted over Boogie’s barks.
Whitney restrained Boogie, attempting to calm her with soothing words.
“It’s okay, Boogs. You’re okay. I’m here. You’re fine, baby girl.”
But it didn’t help. Boogie continued her rabid reproach, wild and terrifying. She pulled so hard at her collar, each breath sounded ragged and out of control. Then she left loose a stream of growls and violent barks, still straining to get at him.
Whitney had to use both her hands to hold Boogie back.
Scrambling to his feet and attempting to shake his hand free of feces, Zack said, “I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to scare her…”
Whitney attempted to explain over Boogie’s growling and barking. “Oh no, I’m sorry she did that… It seemed like she was fine. She was… abused by men so she’s trying to protect herself, I think.”
But she couldn’t tell if Zack really heard her. Boogie’s frenzied barking continued, and he was backing away while carefully holding his filthy hand out to his side.
“I should go. I’m sorry…poor girl.” He said, his face flushed and not quite meeting Whitney’s eye.
Once he got closer to the gate, he turned and exited quickly.
Following his progress as he rounded the fence again, Whitney saw he glanced back once just to give her a sad smile.
Boogie finally stopped barking and looked back up at Whitney, whining softly.
“Seriously?” Whitney said, in wonder at Boogie’s shift in emotion.
Whitney glanced up, looking across the parking lot for Zack. He was gone, probably scurried inside his apartment to wash his hand.
The darkening park remained deserted, save her and Boogie. She felt grateful no one else had seen the interaction. The whole thing had been ridiculous. How quickly she had let herself drum up implications out of a simple chance meeting. Her heart still thumped heavily in her chest, and she still felt the sting of adrenaline in her limbs. She tried to slow her breathing and calm down.
Casting her eyes at the ground, Whitney spotted the smushed pile of poop. A distinct handprint lay across the drying turds. Suddenly, a wave of laughter overcame her. She knelt beside Boogie for balance. Her laugh expanded until she lost her breath and braced herself against Boogie’s shoulders, wheezing with hilarity.
Boogie began to squirm under her weight, so Whitney got to her feet. She let Boogie pull them out of the enclosure. After they passed through the gate, Whitney looked back at the dead body, small and insignificant in the dusk light. Hopefully, the animal control people could find it without her. She didn’t want to wait.
As Boogie paused at the base of a great oak tree, Whitney leaned down to her, running her head along the smooth fur of her shoulder.
Boogie’s presence beside her comforted Whitney and yet, she wondered if it meant she would remain alone, her guard against fear her only companion.
Katie works at a marketing firm and is in the Navy Reserve. She studied creative writing at Florida State University and has been published in Collateral Journal and CafeLit. She lives with her dog, Diggity, in Augusta, GA.