In aisle 7 of the pet store, Annabelle’s dog, Roger, a golden retriever, began to bark at a bullmastiff sniffing the cheapest brands of dog food on the opposite end of the aisle.
“Quiet,” she told the dog. “No.”
Roger normally lived with her ex, Alan – Annabelle had given him their dog as a kind of consolation prize after they split up for good, and they had both agreed that Thea should live during the week with Annabelle, and on weekends with Alan.
Alan had had to take an emergency business trip, and he said Annabelle was his only option on such short notice. “I can’t stand to board him,” he’d told her over the phone.
Roger stopped barking.
“Good dog,” offered Thea, in a light blue dress, her blonde hair tied in a ponytail. She scratched his neck, and put her head close to his face. She squealed when Roger gave her a sloppy kiss. The mastiff barked at them, and Roger growled back.
“Ranger, no more, you hear me?” the mastiff’s owner ordered, yanking at the leash and causing it to rattle.
“You too,” said Annabelle, locating the enormous Iams bag and grabbing a fistful of it with one hand. As she did so, she felt the leash move through her other hand as Roger lunged in the direction of the bullmastiff, and then stopped for a moment, as if, surprised at his new freedom. The mastiff’s owner didn’t even see Roger coming, and before anyone could react, the two dogs were tearing off bits of flesh and fur in the dog food section.
In the scuffle, the mastiff tore the ear off of Roger. At the sight of this, Annabelle, grayish blonde hair, sunglasses on her forehead, began to shake and she didn’t stop. Thea was bawling now, with her hands interlaced around Annabelle’s left leg. Annabelle stood like that — Thea hanging off her, the bag of food against her chest — until a squat, gray-haired woman in a dark blue sweatshirt grabbed up the little girl, darting out of the aisle, and out of view.
With a weary eye on both dogs, the owner of the mastiff grabbed up his dog’s leash again, and pulled him out of the aisle — effectively putting an end to the carnage. Roger was left to collapse onto the floor, finally registering the pain.
A curly-haired man in a store-issued blue apron scampered into the aisle and when he saw Annabelle’s state, he took the Iams from her. Annabelle began to sink down as soon as he did, as if she had suddenly lost her life preserver in the ocean. The man put his arms around her to prop her up, and for a moment she thought she was in Alan’s arms moments after he had told her that he thought they should stop living in the same house. Then her eyes shut and her brain switched off.
When she came to, Annabelle was lying on a dark brown dog bed. Her feet hung off, and her pocket book was beside her. Almost immediately, her thoughts returned to her daughter. Sitting up now, she noted a pot-bellied man in a Nets hat applying a cloth bandage to her deformed dog, but she did not see Thea anywhere.
“She’s right outside,” said the man caring for her dog.
Annabelle pushed herself up by her palms, and tore out of the aisle. When she got to the registers, she slid a few feet on the tiled floor. Stopping to regain her footing, she now could see immediately outside of the entryway of the store her daughter in the arms of a woman she had never seen before — the automatic doors opening and closing before them.
She jogged toward them, and the woman handed over Thea. Annabelle did not feel the frigid January air on her cheeks.
“Thank you. Thank you,” she cried, placing her hand inside the lady’s hand while clutching a little too tightly to her daughter.
“Mommy, is Roger okay? Is he dead?” asked Thea.
Annabelle kissed Thea forcefully on her ear, making a squeaking sound.
“Are you okay, honey?”
“I’m fine. Roger is hurt, though.”
“I know, honey. I know.”