by Steve Passey
Flower had been there first. Flower was four years old, the baby was two. Flower was a Shepherd-Rottie cross. The baby had the blondest hair, hair as fine as corn silk. She had hardly started to walk when she had begun to run. Everyone loved her.
In the yard the barbecue smoked and the music played in the late afternoon sun. The baby laughed and ran. “Flower, no!” the baby’s mother had shouted, her voice high and thin. “Flower, no!” sharp and hard. Flower had not even barked but that she had taken the baby into her mouth by the neck and shaken her, shaken her hard and flung her to the ground with the sound of a wet towel snapping. “Flower, no!”
Flower had cowered before the baby’s mother and offered her belly. “Flower, what have you done!” The mother wept, cupping the dog’s face in her shaking hands. The mother’s boyfriend had come running with a shovel. “No,” the mother said but she was too late and Flower yelped with the first blow and then howled and ran at the second. The blows sounded like raw meat dropping on pavement. A third caught her and cut her on her hindquarters, but she kept her feet on the ground and ran down the street screaming like a burning thing.
That was the last anyone on the lawn saw of her—the mother, the baby, the boyfriend. Anyone except the municipal officials who caught her and the vet who put her down.
The baby lay on the lawn, already sublimated to the earth. She lay there resting her head on a silky halo, her blue eyes looking towards bright sky, breathing but not moving. The mother knelt over her, knelt over her and wrung her hands, her tears her prayers.
The ambulance came within minutes.
Baby needed 81 stitches. Baby lay 29 days in the hospital’s care. She was assessed to be “cognitively impaired”.
“What is that?” the mother asked. “What is that?”
30 days in the custody of Children’s Services followed.
“Why that?” the mother asked. “Why that?”
In due course, Baby was returned to her mother. Baby did not talk. She did not walk. No one could speak of the days when she ran. Everyone still loved her, loved her.
“We will do what we can,” they said.
“There is no looking back, only forward.”
“Attitude is everything.”
These were their mantras, chanted like prayers.
The mother took her child outside for fresh air. She’d lie upon the silken crown of her hair and stare at the sky. The mother would take her inside. She would lie there resting her head upon that same hair and stare at the ceiling with the same eyes. And so the days passed, one the same as the other except for those days when the “cognitive impairment” would cast a shadow and the baby—a child now but hair still fine and eyes still blue—would pitch a fit. A hum would become a moan; a moan would become a scream. The scream would become another, and the world would stop for an hour while she screamed and screamed and screamed. The mother would pick her up and hold her too tightly and rock and rock and rock, and her tears were her prayers. Her prayers would fall upon her child’s face and she’d rest, the girl in her lap and her back against the wall. She would hold the child’s face against hers, and every time she did, she thought she could smell the breath of her dog in the hair of her daughter.
Always then, always with the salt of her tears mixing with the breath of the dog, the child would cease to scream. She’d sleep then, closing her eyes so blue, her fine hair damp with sweat.
“Flower,” the mother would say, her eyes on that ceiling, or even on this sky. “Flower.”