4: Food Chain

Dori was not in the habit of screaming in pain, and never really had been.  She had a profound childhood memory of getting a sewing needle stabbed deep under the nail of her thumb (only a half inch of it protruded) and she hadn’t screamed then either, just appeared in the kitchen in front of her mother with tear-swollen eyes and blood running down her arm.  The pain-noise connection had just never been there.

Screaming in fright was a different matter entirely.  When Cherry bit her leg, it didn’t hurt much–more of an uncomfortably firm clamping sensation–but then Brian saw what was happening.  He jumped up and cried, “Cherry!  No!” and that was what got Dori screaming.

Her throaty ex-smoker’s shriek in turn agitated Cherry even further, and the dog promptly began shaking Dori’s leg fiercely, tearing denim and pulling her victim off-balance.  Not particularly graceful under the best of circumstances, Dori flailed at Brian’s desk and fell over backward, managing to take the phone and most of the books on top of the desk with her.

Brian yelled at the dog again.  The fright in his voice made Dori scream louder, and the dog shook harder.  “Bad dog!” he yelled uselessly.

It was starting to hurt, and based on Brian’s reaction, the little dog was ripping her leg off.  “Get it off!” she screamed.  “Get off!”  She was trying to crawl away, dragging the dog behind her.

He had to grab Cherry with both hands and wrench her loose.  The enraged cockapoo continued snarling and snapping, writhing in his hands.  Brian shoved the dog into the hallway and closed the door.

“Shit, Dori, I am so fucking sorry, are you okay?”  Brian knelt next to her, examining the torn leg of her jeans.  Cherry hadn’t broken the skin.

“Fuckbitchdog,” Dori muttered.  She was already lightheaded, from screaming.  Fear took a lot of energy.  Cherry was scratching wildly at the door, clawing as if bent on digging her way underneath.  Dori gave the door the finger.  “I am so glad you don’t have a bigger dog, Brian,” she said. 

“I’m sorry,” he repeated.

“Don’t worry about it.  I–“

There was a knock at the door, and then Brian’s mother opened it.  “Is everything okay?” she asked.  As if in answer to the question, Cherry charged back into the room and took another flying leap at Dori, this time connecting with her face.  Dori screamed incoherently and threw herself backward in a failed escape attempt.  The dog’s teeth sank into her cheek and upper lip, as Cherry began to shake her head.

The next few moments were a pandemonium of hollering and colliding centered around Cherry.  Brian seized the dog by the scruff and throat; Dori struggled to push the animal away.  Thrashing in panic, she kicked the garbage can into the hallway, and Brian’s mother took a boot in the shins.  Mrs. Warner lost her balance and stumbled into Brian.  Everyone fell on Dori, who stopped screaming as all of the air was squashed out of her.  Cherry released her face with a yelp of startlement, and Brian yanked the dog fiercely away, sending her little legs flailing.

“Outside, Dori!” he yelled, figuring it was quicker and easier to get Dori out of the house than to chuck Cherry into the backyard and simultaneously make sure all of the dog-doors and gates were closed and locked.

Dori didn’t need to be told twice (actually, she did, but Mrs. Warner pulled her to her feet and gave her a push in the right direction, and she figured the rest out).  With one hand clapped to her bleeding face, she stumbled through the house.  It felt like she was holding half of her face together, and she could feel blood running down her chin.  Her eyes were tearing up.

Outside, the cold air was a relief–it felt like safety.  The dog’s frenzied barking was muted by the door.  Dori was surprised to see that Mrs. Warner had followed her.

“Let me see,” she said in a way that made Dori think of grade school, when the resident mommy could be counted on to act as mommy for all kids present.  She had learned from other kids’ homes what “proper” mothers acted like.  The wife of an ex-Navy sailor, Mrs. Warner was very much a proper mommy, and emergencies like this were just part of the territory, even when the children involved were in their twenties.  Dori obediently took her hand away from the wounds.  Her cheek was gashed and bleeding freely, and there were smaller toothmarks on her nose and upper lip.  The worst puncture was inside her mouth, where one of Cherry’s fangs had left a deep cut in her gum and the roof of her mouth.  When Dori opened her mouth at Mom Warner’s instruction, several teaspoons of blood fell out of it.

“Gafuck,” Dori said, spraying blood from puffy lips.  “Thorry.”

“It’s okay.  Did she get you anywhere else?”

Dori shook her head.

The front door opened and Brian came out.  Cherry’s barking crescendoed, then faded again.  “I put her in the basement,” he said, handing gauze and Band-Aids to his mother. 

“Pinch your nose,” Mom Warner said, her hand on the back of Dori’s neck.  “It’s starting to bleed.  And put this in your mouth.”  A wad of gauze was pushed between her lips.  “Press it against that cut.  Try not to swallow the blood.”

“I cand beleeb your dog dried do bide my face obb,” Dori said, complying. 

“I swear she’s never done anything like that before.  She’s had all of her shots.”

“Dad’s a releeb,” she said sarcastically.

“If you go to the hospital,” Mom Warner said, “I want you to call our insurance company.”

“Ohgay.”  She had no intention of going to the hospital; it seemed like that would just be causing trouble for the Warners, and even though she couldn’t stand the dog she didn’t want to be the reason that Animal Control came and killed it or something.  Not for the dog’s sake (any cockapoo that ran out in front of her car was going to find itself in a world of hurt, that was for sure), but she knew the family was really attached to Cherry.

They made Dori stay until the bleeding stopped, which took about fifteen minutes.  Before she went, Brian got her a towel to clean off with.  “Guh,” Dori said, spitting to get the taste of blood out of her mouth.  “Nasty.  I don’t think I’m coming over for Thanksgiving,” she said.  She was still lisping a little bit, as her lip and gum were swelling fiercely.

He smiled slightly.  “Are you going to be okay?”

“S’long as I don’t bleed in my new car,” she said, opening the door.  “I mean, I don’t think that I was going to be on any magazine covers any time soon.  Hey, I forgot to ask you about living at home.  Aunt Andrea is talking about me getting an apartment.  Do your folks ever hassle you about that?”

Brian shrugged.  “Not usually.  But I pay rent.”

“Really?”  He nodded.  She couldn’t imagine paying rent for her little room at Aunt Andrea’s.  She didn’t even like it that much, it was just that staying there was easier than finding someplace else.  “We should talk more about it later then.  I gotta find out what Aunt Andrea wants me to do.”

“No problem.  And seriously, I’m really sorry.”

“Dude, forget about it.  If I still have a boyfriend, do you want to come shoot pool with us Thursday?”  None of them were any good at it, but it was better than just sitting around drinking.

“Sure, give me a call.”  Brian patted the Neon’s roof as she left.

From Brian’s Dori went to Pandora’s.  It wasn’t exactly on the way home, but she wanted to see Smile, and maybe finish the conversation that she had cut off, if he’d let her.

Of course, he wasn’t there yet, so Dori talked to Bree, who was the only day staffer she sort of knew.  Pandora’s night and day staffs didn’t see each other much.  Bree was working her way through EMU, like most of the daytime waitresses were, and she looked the way the chicks who went to Catholic school were supposed to look when they were finished:  neat, perfect blond hair; neat, perfect white teeth (frequently flashed in smiles); a neat perfectly demure cheerleader’s body.  Although, for the record, Bree wasn’t Catholic, she was a born-again psycho Christian, and Dori didn’t think they counted as Catholics.  Bree was fascinated by Dori because Dori’s sexual preference (or lack thereof) was common knowledge among both of Pandora’s staffs.  Dori didn’t mind.  At least Bree had stopped trying to save her when she started dating Smile.

Speaking of whom…  “Wasn’t he supposed to work at four?” she asked Bree.  It was four-twenty.

“He was.  I think Kelly told him he could come in late, because of the robbery.  Hey, did you hear that Walter quit?”

“Really?”  If Bree had chosen to point this out as concrete evidence that there was a God, Dori would’ve been hard pressed to argue.

She nodded.  “It was probably because he’s been robbed three times since he started here.  He came in and told her he was quitting this morning.  I don’t blame him.”

“So who’s doing nights now?”

“Kentra is filling in tonight.  They found a new manager.  Just a sec.”  Bree grabbed two menus and cheerfully seated a couple who had just arrived.  She was back in a moment, still wearing her Welcome-to-Pandora’s smile.  Dori had one too, although it wasn’t as stunning as Bree’s thanks to genetics.  “He starts tomorrow.  He applied a few weeks ago, and I recommended him, actually.”

Dori nodded in disinterest.  “Really?”

“His name is Daniel.  He’s the brother of one of my friends from church.  He just moved up from Toledo, and he used to manage a pet store down there.  He’s a really nice guy.”

“Oh, boy,” Dori said.  A born-again Christian night manager, that would be interesting.

“Dori, I don’t mean to pry, and you certainly don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, but what happened to your face?”

“Can I tell you about it later?”

Bree nodded vigorously, eyes wide.  Dori wondered what sort of story she was making up in her head, and on the heels of that wondered if she even wanted to know.  There was no way the truth could be as scandalous, considering she’d been attacked by a cockapoo.  “Oh, there’s one other thing, someone came by looking for you.  An older gentleman.  I told him you worked nights, and weren’t scheduled until tomorrow.  He asked if he could have your address, but I wasn’t sure I should give it to him, so I didn’t.”

“Shit!  Did he leave his name or number or anything?”

Bree shook her head with an apologetic look.  “He seemed like he would come back, though.  I’m sorry.  I hope I didn’t mess up something important?”

“No…prolly not.  Um, I should go,” Dori said.  “It’s been kind of a long day.  Tell Smile I was here to show him my new car and stuff.”  That wasn’t why she’d come, but Dori suddenly didn’t feel like having Bree speculate about the reasons for her visit.  Of course, telling Bree she had a new car meant she had to show it to her.  Surprisingly, she didn’t mind that part too much.

When she got home, Dori showed the car to Aunt Andrea too.  Everyone seemed suitably impressed, which was a relief after Smile had gone nuclear about it.  This new car thing was getting to be pretty good for the ego.  She even took Aunt Andrea up to the video store, and while they were driving she told her about the dog, since it was going to come up anyway.

Aunt Andrea responded as she usually did to such news, with a quiet sigh as if she were processing everything very slowly, word by word.  “You said the Warners’ insurance would pay for you to visit a doctor?”

Dori nodded.  “I wasn’t going to, though.  It doesn’t hurt that much any more.”

“I think you should go anyway.  You never know what that dog may have been eating.  Coprophagia is common among dogs.”  Aunt Andrea was a crossword fanatic; Dori figured she had read the whole dictionary at least twice.

“That’s a fancy word for eating shit, isn’t it?”

Andrea smiled.  “It is.”

She had a point.  “I’ll make an appointment, maybe tomorrow before work or something.  So, um, I wanted to ask you about the note you left this morning.  About looking for my own place.”

“I’m glad you saw that.  Carl and I wanted to talk to you about it, that’s all.  It’s not an ultimatum or any pressure, mind you.  We just thought a young woman your age ought to be out on her own.”  She paused uncomfortably.  “Of course, you’re welcome to stay with us as long as you want to.  We enjoy having you in our home.”

Dori braked for the stop sign at the end of the block that was always covered by tree branches, wondering idly if the Danielsons, who lived on the corner, saw and heard lots of accidents.  She had never noticed before, but she knew the name of the family living in nearly every house on the block.  “You enjoy having me there, but it would be cool to turn my room into a sewing room,” she said.

“Oh, no no no, that’s not it at all.  It’s not the space, Dori.”  Aunt Andrea sounded hurt.

“I’m sorry,” Dori said.  “That was kind of mean I guess.”

“I didn’t realize you were planning to buy a new car today, either.  I want you to understand that this is something we want you to consider only if you can afford it.”

“So should I plan to move by like the beginning of ’97 or something?”

“That’s only a couple of months!  We’re not kicking you out, Dori.  We just wanted you to consider it.  I think it would be good for you.”

They rounded the last corner and headed back toward the house.  “I’ll think about it, I guess.”

“That’s all we wanted you to do.  This is a very nice car, Dori.”  Dori bristled inwardly at the almost singsong tone in Andrea’s voice at the last, as if she were talking to a child who’d made a particularly interesting mud pie.  Aunt Andrea meant well, but sometimes it seemed like even after eleven years she had no idea how to deal. 

Uncle Carl was just pulling into the drive when they got back; the evening passed in a haze of dinner and idle chitchat about cars and whatever was on television.  Dori didn’t have any shows she liked to watch Tuesday nights, and there wasn’t anything she felt like doing either, so she just ignored the world.  She thought a lot about Peter Thomasson, but there were no new thoughts, just the same ones over and over again, and that endless wondering how someone could think of someone she was related to as a hero.  She was almost to the point where she wanted to go to her parents’ house and ask her father about him, but then her father had never known him either.  Besides, the last voluntary visit to the trailer park had been three years ago, and had gone decidedly poorly.

Dori lay on her bed, her head on the belly of Mr. Hedgehog, her favorite stuffed pink and orange something or other (there was much debate as to whether Mr. Hedgehog was a bear, a dog, an anthropomorphic grapefruit, some sort of cute monster, or, indeed, a highly stylized hedgehog.  The fuzzy was over twenty years old, and the toll that repairs and weathering had taken didn’t help much), and flicked on her television.  It was a little TV/VCR combo that had migrated into her room when Aunt Andrea stopped watching soaps and decided that they didn’t need a television in the kitchen any more.  Since then, it had been Dori’s porno TV.  She had a file box full of videos under the bed, most of them just random copies, or even just copies of scenes.  There were three coloring books on top of the videos, and a sixty-four color box of Crayola crayons.  The videos weren’t labeled, just marked with a big red “X” of nail polish to prevent their getting mixed up with Andrea and Carl’s home videos, and Dori dug one from the bottom of the pile and stuck it in the player.

The coloring books came out, too.  Dori liked to watch porn and color.  Actually, she didn’t pay much attention to the video at all, just let it play while she scribbled with her crayons.  Decent coloring books were getting hard to find, too–a lot of them were stupid, and the art got shittier every year.  She knew it was a throwback to her childhood, because she had random memories of coloring while her parents watched porn and went at it on the couch behind her.  Why she still felt the need to recreate the situation on and off was beyond her, but something about the vaguely orange-colored light and soft sighs of fake ecstasy drifting quietly out of the TV made it easier for her to think.

Peter Thomasson came back into her mind over and over again while she colored, a semi-faceless hero.  If nothing else, she wanted to know what he had done to leave such an impression on Mr. Barrett.  It probably didn’t involve working at a pizza restaurant or buying a new car, she thought as Peter North deposited a massive money shot on some anonymous girl’s face, and that was incredibly depressing.