In The Suburbs
The grass underfoot was brown and resistant to my feet as they pressed it down, finally squashing it flat. It sort of hurt. I sat down on something that appeared to be a chair, a strange plastic moulded thing in bright red with four legs. It was too hot. I looked at it disappointedly, meeting my own warped reflection in the smooth bend. I shifted awkwardly on the grass, searching for something else to look at. Overhead a plane soared across the blue, carrying a bunch of strangers to somewhere unknown.
I watched the grass move, or the things in the grass move. The dog was tied up on a chair. They must have left quite recently, I thought, as I watched him bask in the sun unfazed by the flies swarming around a patch of grass an inch to his left. He was a small, hairy thing with a sweet face, severe halitosis and an irritating habit of licking your leg. But we had grown up together, Toby and I.
I thought that my sisters had school today, but if they had only left recently then perhaps it was the weekend.
Toby had to be tied up because otherwise there was a chance, my mother insisted, that he might run onto the road and die. He didn’t seem like a suicidal dog to me, and I wasn’t much into chaining animals up. Animal rights definitely featured somewhere in my moral catalogue. I undid his lead, my magnanimous act of the day. Toby didn’t move.
‘Are you as bored as me?’ I asked, mimicking the voice of suburban housewives everywhere, a high pitched and breathy squeal. He didn’t reply.
I realised that the flies were crawling over the dog’s shit, but I couldn’t be bothered to deal with it.
The sun was warm. I could feel it stubbornly burning my pale skin, exposed for the first time to the summer heat. Patches of pink were brought to the surface as my dry skin began to warp. It was inescapable and inevitable. The sun had that power over me. I tried to look up at it, but I couldn’t. A bit rapey really, the molestation of my flesh, when I couldn’t even look it in the eye.
I went inside and realised that I was hungry. On my computer I searched ‘things to eat when there’s no food in your house’. An article about a man who never needs to eat again came up. I waited for a picture of Britain’s largest man, shrouded in blubber, to appear on my screen. Instead, it was an article on food reduced to powder. They simplify, simplify, simplify, until there is nothing. I wasn’t very interested. I shut my laptop.
At some point my phone began to ring, storming into my vacuum with an obnoxious buzz as it vibrated on the table. It was Andy. I guessed he must have arrived in Stockport now. I watched his name flash on the screen like a prayer, or monastic chant: Andy, Andy, Andy.
The vibration began to annoy me. I picked up.
“Well Stockport is a fucking dump”. His northern accent, once so endearing, grated on me as he dulled and reworked vowels.
“Yeah, and the weather’s shit.”
“What’re you doing down there?”
“Yeah,” I paused to give him time to mull it over.
“Alright, well I just wanted to say hello really. The first show is tonight.”
I yawned and looked at my nails, feeling cruel. “That’s good.”
The dog started barking, and I remembered that he was still unchained.
“I’ve got to go. I think the dog is going to commit suicide.”
“Okay, well I love you and miss you and that.”
I could feel him smiling and I felt annoyed. “Yeah sure, me too. I’ll talk to you later.”
I put the phone down and looked at it, wondering if I should call him back and end it now. But I didn’t know if I wanted that either. I quite liked Andy, sometimes. I could still, when pushed, remember and inhabit the feeling I’d had the first time I saw him on the stage. At the back of a beer stained room in the lazy light of a Saturday afternoon, there he’d been; his accent revolutionising my language as he rapped Shakespeare to an enraptured crowd. It had been snowing, and after the show he’d poured me whiskey in the white. And I was sold, or so I thought, forever his. But six months seemed like a long time ago. I smoothed the creases in my jumper and turned over my phone so that the screen faced down.
Outside, the day was beginning to disappear and the sun felt softer now. The cars charged past on the road outside indicating the beginning of rush hour.
I swayed forward and back on the grass to the rhythm of nothing in particular, the blades spiking me as I moved. In the garden next door, I could hear Charles-the-pensioner-cum-possible-paedophile mowing the lawn. The coniferous waxy leaves on the hedge looked plastic, and especially fake against the red chair. I tried it again. The plastic was only lukewarm now. I sat. I kneaded my pink thighs, poking in my fingers, watching the blood evacuate under my touch and then come back. Another plane soared overhead.
I leaned back on the chair. My skin felt uncomfortable against the plastic. I could feel myself drying welding to it. I was restless. As I moved I felt the suction from my skin as it stuck and unstuck to the plastic. I’d have to wait for the sweat to break the bond and then I could peel away. I needed to go out. I needed to leave.
But where was the fucking dog?
I looked around, suddenly alert and concerned. If he had been run over, I’d never hear the end of it. I called his name. Nothing. This, I thought, traipsing across the grass with a growing sense of adrenaline, was a bit of a disaster. I heard a rustling.
“Toby” I shouted, navigating his faeces as I stooped towards the hedge”.
Cars sped past, their noise building into a primal rhythm that seemed to increase in pace as I broke into a steady jog around the garden. I shouted again, stopping after a few attempts. I didn’t want Charles to come over with an offer of help. And I was out of breath. I paused and lit a cigarette. The smoke curdled in the air, and I watched it weave its way into the sky. I held its taste in my lungs then slowly exhaled, watching as the same thing happened again. If he was dead I would have heard a screech from the brakes of a car.
A spider’s web glistened in the waning sun. A blackbird called to its neighbours. The noise on the road lessened, or perhaps I had tuned it out. Something moved behind me.
Toby appeared from around the corner, looking sheepish. Relieved, I ambled over to him. He looked at me, expectantly. “You”, I said reaching down to grab him by his red leather collar, “have suicidal tendencies”. His hair was coarse and wiry. As I brushed it away from his neck I could see his blue skin underneath.
I attached his lead and brought him over to the chair. It was difficult to see how I was meant to tie him up, the chair wasn’t that sturdy. It had seemed a simple procedure, one that I’d watched my mother do a hundred times before. I wound the lead around the chair a few times, and then secured them tightly under the legs. I stepped back. He couldn’t really move, but I presumed someone would be coming home soon and they could tie him properly. It was more important that he was safe.
The last rays of the sun winced across the leaves, as though it had lost all interest, or hope, in my activities. I went back inside and noticed that I was properly burnt. I had been branded so that I could never forget it, whether it came again tomorrow or not.
I went upstairs and thought about making my bed. I was saved through, by the familiar crunch in the gravel signalling that my mother, possibly with the others, was returning home. I lumbered downstairs again, formulating lies about my day to relay in the next few hours. Perhaps I might have applied for a job… or thought about my future… or made a cake, then eaten it all. I heard the ignition turn off but the car door didn’t open. She was probably on her phone. I went outside.
The dog usually barked when mum arrived home, I hoped he hadn’t somehow escaped at the last moment.
It was cold now. The sky was empty and tired.
I looked over to the red chair. Toby was there, head to the sky and tipped slightly to the side. His body twisted in a funny way. It was cool the way animals could do that I thought, beginning to walk towards the car.
But it was quite a weird position for the dog to be lying in. I walked back, calling to him. He didn’t turn to look at me. I stood over him. So close, I noticed that his neck was tilted unnaturally far back, as though something had caught had his attention unexpectedly. His body curved, like skin when you twist it in a Chinese burn. He looked more solid, inert. It was strange, he looked the same, but distant, as if I were seeing him through a different lens. But then I noticed that his eyes were glazed, and he didn’t appear to be breathing.
My reflection in the chair showed panic. The silence was heavy and stoic. I looked at my unfinished nails, waiting for my mother to appear.
The vet arrived a few hours later. He said that if I hadn’t wound the lead so tightly, when Toby jumped up to bark at the car, he wouldn’t have strangled himself.
Photograph by Thomas LeuthardHire An Editor