by Antonia Costa
Sock Puppet by K W Reinsch | Flickr
I wasn’t convinced it was going to happen when Mrs. Milton warned me over the phone last week: “I just want to let you know, there is a possibility that Samson could die while we’re gone,” she’d said. “The vet says it’s bound to happen within the next couple of months. We don’t anticipate it happening while we’re gone, but just in case, we don’t want you to be surprised.”
Dr. and Mrs. Milton are in Paris for two weeks, and they asked if I could stay with their dog while they’re away. I’ve stayed with Samson plenty of times before. He’s a rather large dog, although I’ve never been certain what kind. I’ve asked before to be nice, but not being at all familiar with dog breeds, the names just sound like diseases to me, let alone give any indication of what that particular one would look like. Just slap the word terrier after a nationality and I wouldn’t know the difference between that and a sock puppet with whiskers sewn on.
“If it happens,” she’d said, “we’ve decided we would like to preserve his body. I’ll leave the address to the vet just in case, and they’ll be able to hold him for us until we get back.”
“Okay. That sounds good,” I remember it coming out nonchalant, almost unsympathetic, as if we were talking about corn flakes.
I recall this conversation as I pace around the kitchen counter, holding the slip of paper with the address to the vet Mrs. Milton had left for me: District Veterinary Hospital, 10th St. NE., it reads. That’s all the way up in University Heights—I’ll have to take the Metro. I’m not sure what other choice I have. I can’t just leave him here. I don’t think Mrs. Milton’s little old heart could take it.
The Miltons and my parents go way back. They used to share an apartment building years ago and got to be good friends. Turns out Mrs. Milton wasn’t able to have kids, so they ended up moving closer to the city for Dr. Milton’s work. They’ve kept in touch over the years, sent Christmas cards back and forth. And now that I go to school right in D.C, it works out for me to stay with Samson when they go away. Real nice people they are.
I finish biting off the last bit of nail down to the stub and bring myself to inch into the bedroom where what’s left of Samson lies lifeless on the end of the bed. I shudder at the fact that I just slept with a corpse.
I’ve retraced it all a dozen times. He seemed fine just last night. His food bowl was still completely filled from yesterday morning--after he hadn’t touched it the day before either. Mrs. Milton says that happens sometimes, in which case just throw it out and start over again the next day, which I’d been doing. I left him plenty of water, took him outside, gave him his medicine, we went to bed and that was it. I am not a murderer.
I stand in the bedroom staring at him, studying how the hair around his eyes and nose has been completely overtaken by grey, and the skin around his mouth sags like an old lady’s earlobes. He lies on his side in the same position he’d gone to sleep in. At least his eyes are shut, I think, but I have to look away. I’ve already thrown up twice this morning for the first time since third grade when Randy Zarlenga got a bloody nose in gym class and blood started leaking out his eye socket.
I rummage around the Miltons’ place in search of what I’m supposed to use to transport Samson’s carcass halfway across D.C. The Miltons keep their apartment looking immaculate. They have nothing for me to work with. No basement, no attic, no garage, no shed in the back with collected remains from years of “doing-it-yourself.” I sift through all their closets and manage to find a large duffel bag. My hand snags on the tag that’s still coiled around a zipper and just about collapse at the price. I wonder why they didn’t take it to Paris. Maybe they forgot about it? Rich people: they don’t even know what they own half the time. I lay it on the floor at the foot of the bed. It’ll have to do. I unzip it, sprawl it out as wide as it’ll go, and pray they weren’t planning on returning it.
I scoop both arms under Samson's waist and lift him off the bed, trying to hold him as far away from me as possible. At standing height, Samson would come up to my hips--he’s massive, and my bony wrists can’t withstand this kind of weight. Bending backwards like spoons in a pint of ice cream, my arms give out, and I drop him onto the duffel bag. He slams hard into the floor with an awkward thump. I cringe and jump back a step.
“Sorry! I’m sorry!” I yell at him, backing further away. My heartbeat pulsates through both my temples and I’m all sweaty now. I tie my hair up. Strands stick to my clammy palms and get caught in between my fingers as I snap my hair through the elastic, ripping a few stragglers out. I reapproach. With one hand, I widen the corner of the bag and use the other hand to maneuver him inside. His stiff body doesn't cooperate, and his limbs keep reverting back to their dead positions. I have to bend and jigsaw, criss-cross his arms and legs, shove in one direction then yank back in the other--like stuffing a turkey. I save the head for last, look away, and shove it under the flap. Lumps of bone jut out in every direction. It looks ridiculous. But, he fits. I zip it up quick.
The Miltons are up on the fourth floor, situated on the corner-end of the building. I drag the bag through the kitchen and down the hallway and fumble out the door of 409, consulting with Samson about taking the side or back stairwell. Back stairwell, we agree: much more remote. We move down the hallway, stopping several times as I familiarize myself on how to carry a body bag. My shoulder already hurts and we’re only about thirty steps from the door. In the back stairwell, I have to clump Samson down every single concrete stair for four flights. I question the condition he’s going to be in for preservation after this.
We make it out the building. It’s a little over a mile to the nearest Metro station. I wish I could drag this small fortune of a duffle bag on the sidewalk. Expensive as it is, I don’t think I could fathom the chance of what’s inside here spilling out for the whole world to see. After all, I am not a murderer. I sling the strap over my shoulder and Samson’s body rests below my waist. His bones clink against my hip as I attempt to walk. Every three hundred feet or so I have to stop and switch shoulders. It’s about 8:30 in the morning and I can already feel the sun penetrating my patience level. Summers in D.C. can get unbearable.
Finally coming into range of the station, the streets grow more congested. Like ants, these people crawl in and out of the entrance. I stop and sweep scraggles of sweaty hair off my neck and face. I’ve pulled the flyaways back about a dozen times, but I still feel them crawling all over me, crawling all over me. I bunch my sleeve up to cushion underneath the strap, switch shoulders one last time, put my head down, and dig to just make it to the escalator.
“Need help with that?” somebody asks.
I don’t look up.
Almost there. I keep walking. As soon as I reach the escalator, I throw Samson down and shove him over to the right-hand side. What a perfect place to just leave him. Ship him down the escalator and be on my way. It’ll turn into someone else’s problem--not mine. But what about sweet, old Mrs. Milton? Her poor, barren heart? I continue on. I lean against the side glass panel, basking in the shade, massaging my bright red shoulder bone as it throbs. A glorious twenty seconds. I keep my eyes glued down to the ridges of the escalator step, which are filthy, by the way.
The escalator drifts underground and releases us into the station. The floor’s smooth, a much more forgiving texture than sidewalk pavement, so I drag the bag of bones behind me like a girl with a red wagon, weaving through the morning plague. I swipe my SmarTrip card, wonder how much this trip is going to cost me in ways it hasn’t already, jam into the turnstile a couple of times because the bloody thing never works for me, ignore the idiot behind me who’s getting visibly upset that his day is being held up an extra seven seconds, and finally make it through and down another escalator to wait by the tracks for the Red line. There are two sets of tracks on either side. One runs inbound on the left, the other outbound on the right, and people congregate in the mid-section waiting for their train.
A guy inches up into my area. The whole station and he chooses to stand two seconds away from me. He’s got headphones in, and by the look of those capri pants and patched elbows, he’s probably listening to some podcast about how to grow your own Himalayan coffee beans. I can feel him looking at my origami-shaped duffel bag on the ground beside me. He rips one headphone out and asks, “What d’ya have in there?”
I look down at the body bag, thinking about what I have in there. I tear through the files of my brain, trying to conjure up anything that resembles the same kind of angular surface area and irregular shaping, reminding me of the time my mom sent me away to summer camp, and my scoutmaster found my lanyard in the restricted part of camp, then confronted me in front of all of Redwood Lodge.
“Umm… just… some equipment… photography equipment,” I stumble out, squelching the PTSD. He nods in agreement and puts his headphone back in.
The lights along the tracks blink for the Blue line’s approach, and a string of people in the mid-section peel off to the left ready to board. I stay put and wait for the Red.
Even though I already know where I’m going, I take out the crinkled address to keep busy while the Blue liners file in. I study the blackness of the ink, the fluidity of Mrs. Milton’s cursive letters. Her handwriting is incredible. I wonder how they're doing. I wonder if they're sitting outside a French bakery right now over an assortment of vanilla sables and chocolate croissants. I wonder how I’m supposed to tell them their dog died. I know they’re somewhat expecting it, but for me to actually say it—how does that go? I’m so sorry Samson is no more. I am not a murderer. You guys really paid that much for a duffle bag? Will she cry? Will she pay me extra? I practice this conversation in my head as the Red line rolls into the station. About time.
Reaching down to grab that deplorable duffel bag strap, my hand waves around in empty space. I look down. Do a one-eighty. No bag. No Samson. Gone. I scan every inch of my surroundings like a kid lost in the grocery store, pacing around in circles, following every stitch of movement for something familiar. Then through the doors of the Blue line train, I see the back of Elbow Patches shoving his way through the crowd, trying to get out of sight with my duffle bag in his Himalayan clutches. The chimes chime, the doors close, and the train sails away. I stand aghast.
Antonia Costa is an undergraduate student at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. She is studying English, Italian, and creative writing and is currently interning at Kent State’s Wick Poetry Center. Toni lives in a small town in Northeast Ohio, just a short walk from the Chagrin River.