“Bitch, that was my spot.”
Angelina swung her Civic into the parking spot seconds before the man could edge in with his Mercedes. His face inserted itself before hers. His breath: mocha and stale clove. She didn’t even have the wits to quip that she hadn’t seen his name in the spot. She hurled her hot coffee at the man. Caught too off-guard to duck, he crumpled to a half-stoop. The cup bounced off his shoulders, coffee erupted over his white peacoat.
She kneed him in the crotch. His entire body constricted; as Angelina sensed the protectiveness of the gesture, she felt contempt for the very smallness that allowed her to hurt him.
Most rubberneckers eventually wandered back to their cars, or into the Target; but Angelina felt the weight of a hand hovering behind her. The woman’s face furrowed with concern; Angelina turned away, ran toward PetSmart. Every approaching footstep was a cop coming to bust her for assault.
The parking lot was nearly empty when she walked back to her car. But this didn’t calm her. Her nerves were ripped twine. Even though she won, she still wanted to do worse to him.
Her dog still greeted her like she was a good person. The dog was a mutt, mostly Shepherd; she’d been haunting the neighborhood for about a week when Angelina started leaving bowls of food on her porch. One morning, Angelina opened the door to find the dog sleeping beside an empty bowl.
The dog gleefully bumped Angelina toward the couch. Angelina scanned the apartment for signs of pee or shit or savaged furniture. Nothing. Everything was okay here. She hadn’t come up with a name yet, so she called the dog “Girl”. Whenever her father joked about getting a dog, he said he’d name it No. Two birds with one stone: he knows his name, and he knows his place. Girl’s head burrowed in the folds of Angelina’s skirt; Angelina stroked Girl’s face and ears.
“Its okay, Girl,” Angelina mumbled. “It’s all going to be okay.”
Angelina got the shrink’s number from the college health center. She was pleasantly surprised to find that he was Italian—the nose and the olive coloring. But his last name was Gosling. His father was English, he explained. His mother was Sicilian. Angelina sensed this conflict in his build, which wanted to be leaner than it was; he was long through the torso but with compact shoulders and the beginnings of a gut.
“Is having a Sicilian mother as crazy as having a Sicilian father?” She asked, easing onto his couch.
“Well, we’d have to define ‘crazy’.”
The bareness of his office forced her eyes to settle on him. He tilted his cheek into his cupped palm. Red-blonde hairs curled up from his wrists. His hands were long, with thin fingers. Whenever her father flexed his fingers, his knuckles strained white, as though there wasn’t enough skin to cover his bones.
“Do you have experience, with like, anger management?”
He asked her what she meant by that. She liked the low, mild sound of him clearing his throat. Angelina told him about the man in the parking lot. Nothing on his face registered disdain or even surprise.
“You should’ve just thrown the coffee on his groin and killed two birds with one stone.”
Her shock wasn’t so much that Dr. Gosling said what he’d said, but how familiar it sounded.
“That’s something my dad would say.”
“He has kind of a twisted sense of humor, then, huh?”
Her lips twitched. “He has his moments.”
Doctor Gosling asked what she thought her father might make of what happened in the parking lot. Angelina replied that he’d no right to judge anyone for a lack of impulse control. Her body thrummed with rage. She listed the things he used to hit her over: spilled milk, overfilled bathtubs, late-night giggling, bad grades, back-talking her mother, looking at him the wrong way, and, finally, the worst, that night she came home with dyed green hair and he slammed her head in the sink basin.
“Are you sure he’d judge you?”
His question didn’t register. Her head crackled with static, the shrill white sound that pushed her out of her body and wouldn’t let her back inside until her father’s hands were still again.
Dr. Gosling said her name, giving each syllable a gentle heft that felt like a tap on the arm.
“We get so tired of feeling violated—so we start taking on the attitudes of our abusers; we’d rather be them than us. There’s even a technical term for it: identifying with the aggressor.”
Angelina remembered watching her mother stand at the kitchen sink. Her mother’s body sagged as though it had tired of itself. But her father’s hands coaxed it alert. Sidling behind her, he found her secret aches and smoothed them loose. Her mother sighed like everything she’d ever been promised and never been given was suddenly delivered.
These were the same hands that pulled Angelina’s hair so hard that green dye stained his fingers for days.
Then she remembered that vicious little thrill she’d felt in the parking lot. But she never wanted to believe that her father took pleasure in what he’d done.
“It’s tiring to be angry,” she mumbled.
The thought of punishing the man from the parking lot crowded her mind like an eel whipping its muscular body through a too-small tank.
“I was walking Girl the other day, and one of my neighbors stops and starts petting her, trying to make pleasant conversation. All I can think about is curb-stomping this guy from a day ago. I look down, and Girl is pressed against the guy’s legs. Panting like she’s smiling.”
“Pettiness can take us out of life,” he said. “Your father must’ve missed a lot.”
But he hadn’t, sometimes. Her father stopped to watch her draw. His affection was a silken tendril curling out of his chest to cradle and sway her. “We can’t just put this on the fridge,” he’d say, “We’ve got to frame it.”
“Sometimes he does nice things.”
Angelina told him how, three months ago, she’d been T-boned by a Georgetown waif who’d been mapquesting on her I-phone. Her father said he’d “deal with those insurance assholes.” Every other day, he left her voice messages about his “progress in the case”. The gallantry in his voice touched her.
“I think you’re giving him a chance to take care of you.”
She started to say: about fucking time, but the words didn’t feel fair. Not entirely.
She used to think she had him pegged. Getting sick on Budweiser or Green Apple Schnapps or whatever else she and her friends could secret from their parents’ liquor cabinets to the park-and-ride behind the mall; Angelina called him a “narcissistic Godfather wannabe. Thinks he’s Vito, when he’s really fuckin’ Sonny.”
Throughout her teen years, Angelina and her father merely co-existed. Their mail came to the same address, and they occasionally shared family dinners of spongy meat and overcooked broccoli. Her mother would titter anxiously about something one of her girlfriends said about some starlet that neither Angelina nor her father was aware of. Her girlfriends: as if they weren’t on the older-end of middle-aged.
Angelina’s girlish chub became the heft of breasts; he could no longer rip her shirt off to spank her with a belt. Spank: her mother’s word. Spank: a mild corrective; nothing that would leave scars. But the scars rutting her skin were not mild—lunar-white from the everlasting loss of blood. He’s beaten parts of me until they’ve died.
They regarded each other like enemy combatants who, after the war, found themselves refugees in a neutral territory. Every Saturday night, he sat at the kitchen table with his true crime novel and a cup of coffee, waiting for her to return. Angelina would enter, stoically attempting to hide her drunkenness. Wordlessly, he slid his coffee toward her, and, with a nod, she accepted. They both drank their coffee black.
Still, his offer to teach her to drive was a vise-tight pressure in her chest. His attempt to help her study fifth-grade American history ended with him backhanding her; open-palmed, but still hard enough for her face to sting every time she heard “electoral college.” Yet she felt great tenderness when she thought of those flashcards written in his cramped, tilting scrawl.
So they took his green Taurus to practice left turns on side streets, to practice merging on 83 North. His long arm slung out the window, hand waving along with the breeze. He made her pull between cars that hadn’t parked within the lines: “Two-thirds of the time, it’s not how you drive, it’s those other assholes.” Angelina winced as her left side-view mirror chipped the VW Beetle beside her. “You’re doing fine,” he said. “What matters is getting out without scratching your car.”
Her father guided her in and out of parallel parks with an affable calm that startled her; her body knew his moods like a chameleon knew its colors; randomly, she’d feel a hot shiver of annoyance, or she’d bristle with an inchoate listlessness—and, looking up, find that he’d entered her room.
But he didn’t even push her when she waited a little too long to make her left turns. Just fiddled with the radio, chatting about concerts he’d gone to. “When I wasn’t that much older than you are, I saw Bob Dylan in the Village, twice. Me and a bunch of trust-fund bohemians. Bet you don’t believe that.”
She wanted to. Her father riding the subway—or better yet, borrowing his father’s Cadillac Bel Air—into the city; his body, stiff from laying brick, made hot and taut again with anticipation. Still, he’d feel out of place among the city kids; they wore his clothes—work flannels and dusted-up jeans—with irony.
Suddenly, a car horn trilled behind them. In the rearview, Angelina watched a green Saab zip within an inch of her bumper. The driver’s face was puckered with disgust. The Saab passed her inside the turn lane, swinging into the strip mall parking lot.
“Follow him,” her father growled. Then, under his breath: “Your name is no, asshole.”
Angelina couldn’t breathe. She could only obey him.
“I don’t know where he went.”
She hardly heard her own voice, so she was surprised that he replied.
“With that car, he isn’t at the dollar store.”
The Saab was parked in front of the Starbucks, which was separate from the strip. Her father directed her to block in the Saab. A lean man in a salmon-colored shirt approached, distractedly sipping from a large cup. A venti. When he saw the Taurus, his eyes flashed at Angelina. Her father spoke first:
“You in a big rush, faggot? You’ve got to get your mocha-frappa-extra-soy latte in such a goddamn hurry that you’re going bully a young girl who’s just learning to drive.”
“Are you serious?”
The man wanted to sound insouciantly amused, but his face drained as he glanced sidelong at her father’s hand. Her father slung his arm out the car window, his thick ring thudding against metal. With his blunt, powerfully muscled chest and shoulders, he recalled one of those burrowing mammals she’d studied in science, a wolverine forcing his way through frozen soil.
“As a heart attack. It says ‘rookie driver’ on the bumper. You didn’t have to be a dick about it, and now you’re going to apologize.”
The man stammered something about calling the police, but Angelina knew intuitively that he wouldn’t.
Her father unbuckled his seatbelt, and the man mumbled “sorry.” He pushed his door open, and the man said “sorry” louder.
Angelina could’ve driven off once her father closed his door. But she kept staring at the man until his eyes offered another apology, this one even more defeated than the one her father forced out of him. .
With a satisfied sigh, her father eased in his seat.
“You held your own,” he said, reaching for a Marlboro.
He tilted his head toward her like he might offer her a cigarette, but then turned to face the window. Still, his voice invited her into the secret space his power lived, coiled and ticking.
Before her second visit to Dr. Gosling, Angelina found the domestic violence awareness pamphlet. These pamphlets confronted you in bathroom stalls; they all looked the same: an unthreateningly attractive woman stared at you with a stunned numbness that was supposed to make her seem open enough for you to displace your vulnerabilities onto her—but instead made her look mildly retarded. Severe black lettering described “the signs of abuse”; when you related to the ways this sad woman had been “isolated from friends and family”, “made to feel worthless”, and “told that being verbally and/or physically assaulted was ‘for her own good’” you’d be inspired to seek the help of noble professionals who clearly knew what was best for you.
The pamphlet she found in the ladies’ room outside Dr. Gosling’s office followed these tropes; however, the woman appeared again on the back of the pamphlet. Here, she was bright-eyed, smiling, holding a bouquet of tulips. A tight wave of irritation rolled through Angelina’s spine.
In the waiting room, she charcoaled the tulips into Venus Fly-Traps. She wasn’t aware that Dr. Gosling had come to get her until she felt him hovering above her. She started; surely, he’d bitch her out for using charcoals in his waiting room. But he just chuckled, motioning for her to come back to his office.
“I can see where the ad is cheesy,” he said. “But why is it offensive?”
“The flowers, it’s like, yeah, I got my face bashed in but now my life is all fucking tulips!”
“The tulips are overly simple as shorthand. Perhaps, though, the sentiment behind them isn’t so bad. That at least her life got better once she took some steps—”
“Oh, yeah, it all got instantly better. Forgiveness is instant.”
She felt the sharpness of her words, and grew hot with shame. But he smiled at her with an ease that encouraged—but didn’t expect—her to follow up. She’d never been allowed to interrupt anyone before. Angelina closed her eyes. She sought out that dark, dry place at the base of her skull—a burrow of softly packed earth. Dark water gurgled forth, breaking the burrow flat and loose.
Dr. Gosling cleared his throat.
“Maybe the image isn’t implying that everything gets better instantly. Maybe it’s suggesting that, in a hard time, small joys can matter. Even now, you have your dog. Unconditional love.”
Whenever Angelina walked the narrow pathway to her apartment, Girl’s face popped up behind the window. Her eyes were a honeyed hazel. She stood on her hind legs, balancing her front paws on the radiator; her whole body swayed along with her tail. Angelina couldn’t clear the entryway before Girl bounded up on her back paws with a comic exuberance. She pressed the muscular lank of her Shepherd’s build against Angelina’s legs until she’d been properly petted.
“It’s not hard to feed her and give her water.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
He lifted his glasses to rub his eyes. The sight of his knuckled eyelids—faintly swollen, softly pink—startled Angelina with its sudden intimacy.
“One time, I asked my mom why, you know. She just said: it’s better to be apart of something.”
Angelina remembered her mother as she placed breaded casseroles and soggy beans on the dinner table with the strained hopefulness of a C student who just knows she’s gotten a B- this time.
He laughed in a way that included her on whatever was so funny. But, despite herself, Angelina felt a hot shiver of indignation on her mother’s behalf.
“There’s no intrinsic value to being a part of anything, including a family,” he said.
“So I’m just fucked?”
“Your father can be a golem, or he can be an angry, unfortunate man who modeled certain traits for you. You can internalize these traits with a sense of purpose, or not.”
An unfortunate man; unfortunate men were the tattered men who scrapped for change on roadway medians; they were the men with shoulders like bent hangers who filed off the metro late on a Friday night, still in their work clothes but still sober. Unfortunate couldn’t wind his fist so tightly through her hair that it took days for the circulation come back into his fingers; unfortunate would not punctuate his frantic cries for her to hold still by slamming her head into the sink.
Frantic. When she remembered now, she heard his voice splinter around “still,” like he wasn’t quite certain he knew what he’d do if she wasn’t still. She’d never considered that he could be afraid. That slamming her head wasn’t deliberate cruelty, but the violence of fright, like smashing a spider on a wall.
“It’s good that you tried to talk to your mother,” Doctor Gosling added. He edged up in his seat. The session was ending. “But you really need to ask him.”
She drove home from that session with the pamphlet in her purse; she couldn’t bring herself to toss it. While parallel parking in front of her apartment, Angelina watched for Girl to appear in the window. Girl’s head popped through the curtains like a whack-a-mole. Distracted, Angelina tapped her neighbor’s back bumper harder than she had to.
Though Girl shed loose tufts of gray-black, Angelina still let her on the red sofa. Girl reclined with her head on the armrest, her paws crossed primly over the side.
“You’re such a fuckin’ lady,” Angelina laughed.
Girl responded with low-throated rumblings; Angelina mimicked them back as she puttered about the kitchen. When Angelina finished her TV dinner of Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes, she left the plastic tray for Girl. As Girl slurped at lukewarm sauce, Angelina took her place on the couch. She opened her sketchbook to a rough study of hands: large hands with blunt fingers. The first sets of large hands were unabashedly male, but as she moved down the page, the hands softened, became ambiguously female.
Her cell phone trilled. Her father never left messages. You can’t trust that the guy heard what you had to say or not, so you might as well wait until you can say it yourself. He would keep calling until he got her.
“I got the police report.” His voice shimmered with pleasure. “I’m putting together what I’m going to send to that woman’s insurance company.”
Angelina imagined him seated at their kitchen table. In front of him: a file folder with each document separated by colored post-its. Her mother wouldn’t wait for him. She’d take her dinner into the living room to sigh and shake her head at the television exploits of wealthy housewives. When he joined her, he’d gamely offer that at least the midget family on that other show seemed like salt of the earth people. Her mother would shush him. He’d stab silently at his over-nuked potato, watching two grown women pull each other’s hair.
“All I need is the final doctor’s report,” he said. Angelina heard the TV in the background: women’s voices, yelling.
She started to say that she was going to mail the report, but Girl crunched down hard on the TV dinner tray; Angelina shouted her name, and she dropped it. Girl slunk over to Angelina, her head down but her tail wagging slowly, cautiously.
“Your dog okay?”
“She was chewing something she shouldn’t have, but she dropped it.”
Girl placed her head on Angelina’s lap, ears lowered.
“You oughta check, make sure she doesn’t have anything in her mouth.”
“I’m not sure–”
“She’ll let you.”
Angelina smoothed her hand over Girl’s muzzle before gently parting her mouth. She felt the coiled-spring tension of Girl’s jaws as she reached for the long piece of plastic on Girl’s tongue.
He must’ve heard her grumble, because he said, laughingly: “They’re like kids. Nothing but agita.”
Angelina bristled; she imagined her father at his work site, laughing with his buddies: one time my daughter came home with green hair; nothing but agita. Sound still could not pass clearly through her right ear; words became a cottony muffle. This—like the broken nose for dropping her juice box on his papers, and the belt lashings for getting charcoal shavings on the carpet—nothing but agita.
“I could meet the grand-dog. You could come up.”
His voice was rich with something like need. She remembered the dry warmth of his palm on her shoulder. His calluses were like flat stones, thick and smooth. Her pencil would stop as he gazed down at whatever she was drawing. One-by-one, his fingers pressed down; that gentle pressure spoke for him.
“I’ll mail the doctor’s report,” Angelina repeated.
“You could come up.”
Girl nudged her insistently. As a child, Angelina thought that a dog’s panting mouth was actually smiling. Her mother told her that panting was the way dogs released body heat. Her father laughed. They’re smiling because if you show them you love them, they love you back.
What she remembered most: his hands shook as he released her hair. She felt that secret trembling more than the pain of her cheek hitting the sink basin. His body hummed into hers. She became a tuning fork that, once struck, never stopped quivering. Without him behind her, she felt her own weakness.
Days later, Angelina moved as though picking her way through a darkened room. She’d always had a hard time swallowing pills, and swallowing aspirin was made painful by the water still hiccupping in her ears. Her mother hovered at the foot of her bed; Mother clasped the aspirin so tightly that white pill coating streaked her fingers. Angelina didn’t drop the Winnie the Pooh Dixie cups into the trashcan; she hurled them listlessly toward her door. Every so often, her father passed by the doorway. Mother looked at him, her swollen face creasing with something like anger.
He stooped to retrieve her cups. When she saw them in the trashcan, tissues covered them. He hadn’t even used the tissues, just grabbed fistfuls from the box. Still, when she saw her father, her face ached with shame. She hated herself for fearing that he didn’t like her anymore. Sometimes, his eyes were inscrutably mute; sometimes, they narrowed with something like apology. She almost didn’t want him to show remorse. The truth—that his rage was unprovoked, unearned—was a slow descent into a bottomless cavern, a place where she could never stop moving.
The night she said she’d kill him was the night she looked him in the eye again. She’d been drinking his whiskey. She’d never had whiskey before. His drink blistered her throat, but her whole head hummed with warmth. The warmth sponged through her aching ear, through her ticking jaw, and muffled the sting.
Light flooded the kitchen. Her father’s eyes widened, but they offered no expression: no rage, no grief, not even shock. Yet she felt the agitation crackle through his skin. A spark struck at the back of her skull. His body became unfamiliar to her, tensed from the muscular endeavor of restraint. She knew that he’d never allow himself to be so vulnerable ever again.
She spoke with a blankness that could’ve passed for calm. He blinked once before his eyes eased into their sadness. His soft heave of a sigh told her that he understood.
What she would feel the most ashamed of, years later, was not having been beaten; it was that she needed him to forgive her.
She copied the Italian masters and their sad-eyed Gods; even as a child, she knew that despite their immaculate musculature, the Gods’ bodies should be fluid, loose; only their lips should be tight, pursed with bitter disappointment. Her father would find these drawings in his briefcase, his lunch bag, even on his car windshield.
Being forgiven used to be worth the beatings. His lips twitched before he let himself smile. The warmth of that smile made him flush. But he didn’t flush pink; his skin darkened a richer olive, like he was sharing a secret only she could see.
This was the smile that greeted her as she pulled into the driveway.
Dr. Gosling said I don’t have to be apart of anything.
Girl sat up in the back seat, her ears perking. Girl didn’t just wag her tail, her whole body swayed with excitement.
He walked to her car, moving more stiffly than she remembered. His knees bent hesitantly. There was a slight tightness to his hips. Angelina absently cracked her knuckles, one-by-one, against the car wheel.
“Christ, Angie, I hate that sound.”
He crowded the passenger seat as he reached back for Girl’s leash. Girl let her front paws drop to the pavement before bringing her hind paws out one at a time, stretching her long body with a satisfied grunt.
“Big stretch,” her father said, elongating the “i” in big and the “e” in stretch.
His voice opened like a soft-bodied creature sliding from its shell. Girl nosed eagerly at his hands, which hung at his sides. His fingers circled her ears, rubbing upward.
“The dog should go potty before she comes in the house.”
Angelina’s mother stood on the stoop, her face furrowed with concern. Even in her bathrobe, Mother’s long waist dripped into her hips. Mother was plump yet firm, her hips like the slope of a spoon. Her skin was too mild for the gold eye shadow she favored; she was the color of a wax peach.
Girl sniffed zigzag toward the door. When she strained the leash, Angelina’s father reined her back with an easy sweep of his wrist. Angelina could only follow him. But her mother lingered on the stoop.
“She went before getting in the car,” Angelina offered, her voice like a shrug.
Mother nodded, but her eyes trailed through the screen door; he was on the couch, inviting Girl’s head onto his lap. His blunt fingers smoothed up her snout, over her eyes. Her ears flattened with tender expectations for his touch.
Angelina gnawed her mouth, a bad habit from girlhood. Her mother cleared her throat sharply, but when Angelina looked, she saw that Mother’s lips were also chapped. Chewed raw.
The kitchen felt thick with heat. Mother stirred a bubbling pot on the grease-blotched stovetop. A placard hung over the stove: “We give our children two gifts, one is roots, and the other, wings.” The placard was manufactured to look as though it had been hand-sewn.
Girl loped into the kitchen, her claws clicking over browned linoleum. Her nose twitched toward the stovetop.
“She’s not a jumper, is she?”
“No, Ma, she doesn’t even beg.”
Angelina spoke like she’d been accused of something. Girl sniffed at the hem of Mother’s bathrobe. Mother drummed her fingertips between Girl’s ears before turning back to the sink. She lowered her hands into the steaming basin.
Her father whistled softly from the dining room.
Girl trotted to the dining room. Angelina heard her tail thump against Mother’s teacart. Mother sucked her breath sharply. The teacart was where she kept what Angelina called her Craptastica Italiana: porcelain cups too tiny to drink from, porcelain shepherds with overlarge eyes that made you say “how precious” in a way that soured your mouth. Fake tulips rising from the gaping maw of a white porcelain fish.
“Angie, c’mon.” His tone: didn’t I just call you a second ago?
She drew out the “a” in that vaguely nasal way that sounded jocular while retaining its sharpness. She pressed her fists together at the knuckles. The pressure oscillating through her arms was a rolling tide that couldn’t quit the shore.
He sat at the head of the table, under Mother’s framed print from Vogue, a drawing of a goddess-gowned woman reclining in a crescent moon with her head turned sideways to reveal a crystal teardrop of an earring. The file folders in front of him were exactly as she’d imagined them. He lifted his glasses to let forefinger and thumb rub slow circles down his nose. The mildness of the gesture actually surprised Angelina; she never remembered him with glasses. She knew he needed them to read sometimes, but whenever she thought of his face, she thought of how his nose sloped slightly rightward, of how, as a child, she’d wanted to touch that scar along the bridge.
“You have the doctor’s report?”
“The final report,” she said.
“He thinks he’s done with you? What does he say about the long-term? Arthritis and such?”
The only conversations Angelina had with the orthopedist the ER set her up with involved him telling her to hold still while he instructed the assistant who plastered up her wrist, and then, later, sawed off the cast. But even if he’d said anything about the long-term, arthritis and such, she wouldn’t have heard him over the fearful railing of her pulse.
“Goddamn ghetto hospital.” He shook his head. “Alright, well, we’ll get a referral and go to someone who doesn’t have his head up his ass. If you get the arthritis in your hand, it could mess up your drawing. We oughta get reimbursed for that.”
We. Before she could process those two letters, he turned his head toward Moon Lady.
“You used to draw that all the time. Used to get this determined look on your face. I got you those colored pencils but you’d say ‘nah, Daddy, I can’t use color until I have the drawing just right’. I thought, damn, she takes after me all right. ”
She could tell he was waiting for her to mirror back his smile. He wrote quickly across the top folder: “Get Angie Doctor!” The overlarge exclamation point coaxed a half-grin out of her. He chuckled like he’d won something.
“Jackie, can I ask you to move?”
Her mother approached, tablecloth draped over her forearm. The fingers of her free hand worried the edge of the cloth. Her face caught between a smile and a sigh. Girl peeked over the table, sniffing at his folders.
“Your name is no, kiddo,” he laughed. He tapped the folders lightly against Girl’s snout.
As she moved back into the kitchen, Mother coughed lightly, Angelina’s usual cue to get up and start helping. But Angelina didn’t move. Girl nuzzled her father’s thigh with a militant insistence until, gingerly, he knuckled her throat.
“Sweet dog,” he said. “I worry, though, that she’s not aggressive enough to protect you.”
“She’s fine,” Angelina mumbled, scraping the breaded layer off her chicken Parmesan.
As their forks sang out against the plates, her father detailed how Angelina should save the money he was going to get for her. When Mother demurred that the insurance company might not give Angelina multiple thousands of dollars, he galloped over her.
“Given the situation, they’re practically forced to.”
Angelina’s lips twisted wistfully, but she didn’t quite smile. Already, she heard him on the phone, roiling with indignation over her pain and suffering.
After dinner, she told them she had to go. As her father again explained “the new game plan” before making her repeat it back to him, her mother scooped leftovers into tupperware.
“I’m just worried the dog will get into this while you’re driving,” her mother said, a little too loud to be talking to herself, but a little too tentatively to be talking to anyone else.
“She’ll just put it in the trunk,” her father said.
His voice was a wet rope pulled taut. The voice that made Angelina’s body expand and constrict simultaneously. Then he sighed. Relief felt like a sudden drop in an elevator. He braced his palm against the table as he stood up. He whistled for Girl, who followed him out onto the deck. Angelina stood at the open window, watching him usher Girl out to the yard, a thatch of grass surrounded by a rain-battered wood fence. Girl nosed the ground before rolling on her back, kicking skyward and snorting with abandon.
“That’s not what I told you to do.”
He chuckled. Girl kicked back onto her paws, and, after circling the yard twice, squatted. He was still shaking his head as he opened the door for her. Girl bounded in, then skidded into a downward stretch.
“Dad—” Angelina started, but his smile stopped her.
“Did she pee?”
“She’ll be fine in the car.”
He hooked Girl to her leash; she sniffed expectantly at the tupperware in his other hand, but lowered her head again when he pulled the leash. Not hard. Just a flick of his wrist. Angelina didn’t hug her mother so much as let her mother ease against her. After Mother’s hands swept dog hair from her jacket, Angelina joined her father outside. He’d let Girl in the car. He slid her car keys into her jacket pocket. His embrace was tight yet tremulous, as though something inside him licked through his skin and only her body could press it back.
Angelina was nearly at her apartment when the red Dodge skipped the stop sign, careening leftward onto the main road. The sign was at a narrow cross-street, and traveling straight, Angelina had the right-of-way. Angelina’s foot fell on the brake. Girl rolled forward with a sharp cry. The Dodge continued on ahead of her. Angelina accelerated until she was within an inch of the Dodge’s bumper. She laid on the horn before flashing her high beams. The Dodge sped up too suddenly, started weaving within the lane.
Stop it, your street is the next turn. The thought narrowed, becoming as thin and shrill as Girl’s crying.
Angelina veered onto her street. Girl slid her head onto Angelina’s shoulder. Angelina smoothed Girl’s nuzzle. Girl licked her hands and cheek.
“It’ll be okay,” Angelina muttered. “Okay.”
The feeling was a fist around her heart that slowly spread its fingers.
Bio: Laura Bogart’s fiction has appeared in 34th Parallel and Limp Wrist, among others. In 2009, she won a Grace Paley Fellowship from The Juniper Institute at UMass Amherst.