PROSE by Jenny Hawkins MFAW '22
One early Sunday afternoon deep in the winter of 1981, Andrea is standing in the kitchen watching her mother layer cheddar onto slices of bread when something across the river catches her eye. She steps closer to the window and presses her face against the glass. The trees have been wiped bare from the cold and only branches remain, long spidery arms extending out. Through the trees she can see a small blur of something creamy white.
She crosses the threshold into the living room and steps out onto the back porch, shivering in her purple church dress and tights. Squinting, she can make out the outline of what appears to be a dog. No one lives across the river- it is only woods. Sometimes Andrea can hear the sounds of bullets firing from rifles during hunting season, but there’s not another house for miles in that direction.
Andrea’s father is sitting on the living room couch with an open book in his lap, and she sticks her head back inside and calls for him. He lays the book down on the coffee table and silently stands.
Outside, Andrea leads her father down to the creek and from there they can see the dog more clearly. It is shaking hard in the January cold. For a brief moment they stand together in silence with only the sounds of the current smacking against rocks and the icy wind across the back of the house. Her father sighs deeply and steps into the water.
In Andrea’s eight years of life she has never thought her father the most compassionate person and now as he wades waist-deep into the freezing river she can hardly believe her eyes. He passes through in around a minute, the current smacking against his stomach. He does not flinch. Andrea kneels down and sticks her hand in the water for solidarity, but she can hardly bear to keep it in there for more than ten seconds. She stands and rubs her arms to keep warm.
Her father finally makes it through the river and his pants and half his shirt are soaked, vacuum sealed to his body. He reaches down and lifts the dog into his arms, and as its stomach is exposed it becomes clear that the dog is female because her womb is bulging. His face is blank and detached, but he holds her to his chest like she is his own child. Andrea follows him silently back up to the house, still in awe at what he has done.One early Sunday afternoon deep in the winter of 1981, Andrea is standing in the kitchen watching her mother layer cheddar onto slices of bread when something across the river catches her eye. She steps closer to the window and presses her face against the glass. The trees have been wiped bare from the cold and only branches remain, long spidery arms extending out. Through the trees she can see a small blur of something creamy white.
Andrea’s mother has come to greet them with grilled cheese sandwiches and steaming tomato soup but when she sees the dog in her husband’s arms she sets the food down and rushes over. Andrea watches with concern and curiosity as her mother hurries to their bedroom and comes out with a blanket. She wraps the dog up and they carry her into the kitchen where she is given water and food. She eats frantically; Andrea’s mother gives her more. Andrea names the dog Sugar; a perfect name, she thinks, for her pure white coat.
Sugar allowed Andrea’s father to pick her up that first day, but after that she trembles if he comes too close. Andrea wonders if someone, a man, probably, hurt Sugar in the past. She thinks that Sugar must’ve been near death to let her father pick her up that day.
The only one in the family Sugar truly trusts is Andrea. She takes pride in this, in feeding the dog from the palm of her hands and running her small fingers through the knotted fur on Sugar’s neck in an attempt to untangle it. Sugar won’t let them give her a bath, so she still smells the same- soil, decaying leaves, wild air. In the few weeks that they have her, Andrea thinks of nothing and no one else.
Sugar’s delivery comes at dawn. Andrea wakes up to her mother gently stroking her arm, and she doesn’t have to say a word for Andrea to know what’s going on. The hall clock strikes 6:30; her father must be at work at the kiln by now. The pair walks quickly down the hall to the kitchen in worn slippers. Andrea’s hand-me-down pajama pants drag at her feet.
The overhead light in the kitchen is on and Sugar lays on a towel on the tile floor, panting heavily. Andrea sits cross-legged beside her and gently strokes her head. Sugar’s breathing steadies, and then slows. Her mother wipes the dog down with a damp rag.
A couple years before, Andrea’s father accidentally hit a cat on the way home from her grandmother’s house. The cat was barely in view before it was too late; her father swerved slightly but it was fruitless. There was a severe thumping sound of the wheels rolling over the body. Tears began streaming down Andrea’s face, and she put her head in between her knees and closed her eyes. Her father did not stop driving.
The air in the room is somber, suffocating. Andrea knows something is wrong but is too afraid to ask, so she continues to stroke Sugar’s head in silence. There is moaning, like it’s coming from underwater. Sugar’s round eyes close. Andrea’s mother is on the phone in the living room, speaking in hushed tones. There is a sense of hopelessness. Andrea waits for Sugar to push, but she never does.
That evening, Andrea is sitting on the couch staring out across the river when the front door swings open. Her father, exhaustion in his grey eyes and dirt embedded in his fingernails, steps inside. Her mother is making dinner in the kitchen and she rushes to greet her husband, ushering him away from Andrea who watches with listless eyes. They are almost too quiet for her to even make out who is speaking. She turns her focus back to the window.
Shortly after, Andrea’s mother hands her a bowl of soup made from cream and canned tuna; tuna bisque, she calls it. It is usually her favorite but Andrea cannot force herself to eat tonight. Every time she blinks she sees Sugar, belly bulging, lying on the tile floor. All the tiny hearts that stopped beating.
Across the table, her father is tipping his bowl to get the last drops of soup in his mouth.