Bitch – Sam Agar

I wish I could run. It’s my favourite thing. Having the wind push against you as the ground moves below. Closest thing you can get to flying, I reckon. Me and my man used to go out and catch that feeling together. When we were younger, it was different. He was kind. Protective. Used to be his touch was gentle. Now his hands are hard. Full of sharpness and edge. Can’t help but wince when they come close. Only makes it worse, of course. Those itchy fingers winding up my throat to squeeze. As much as I deserve for flinching. Should know better, me. Should know well by now. Don’t remember when the change happened. It’s not like a light switch, not that quick. It drips in over time. A cold shoulder turned your way, a cross word or two thrown into the air. And then before you know it, you’re backed into a corner while he spits venom at you and raises the fist. He’s not evil, my man. I love him very much. If I told you what he’d been through, you’d understand. You wouldn’t hold any of it against him. But I won’t. He’s very private; doesn’t like other people knowing his business. You’ve got to respect that. He tells me I’ve no respect so I’m trying to be better. There’s a lot to be working on, in his eyes. I’ve a lot to be doing to be good enough for him. I don’t mind. I’m all for self-improvement, me. It’s my purpose, being with him. Meant to be together, us two, that’s what he’s always telling me.

When he lost the job. I suppose you could say things got worse around then. Wasn’t his fault, of course. His manager is a bastard. Never met him myself but I’ve heard enough to know. My man’s wasted in that place anyway. Overqualified and more talent in him than the whole lot put together. I was happy, I’ll admit. Selfish really, but it meant we could spend more time together. I thought we could go out, take a trip or two. It wasn’t like that. The first few days we went for a morning walk. Short enough they were and always ending up at the offo. Then back to the flat where we’d sit on the couch in front of Maury. After him it was Bondi Rescue, followed by Countdown with a finish of Come Dine With Me, in four parts. The full catalogue of daytime television reeling before us, and him crushing cans between his fingers. The pile growing high by evening but not a word from me.

At about six, the air would grow thick and heavy. My man, he’d start muttering to himself. Throw me sharp looks. Blamed me, he did, for the redundancy. Said I put too much pressure on him. My very existence. Nothing I could say to that. I’d try and take myself away, off the couch and into the other room. He’d always catch me. The punches I can take. Learned to measure against them with deep breaths. The pain still comes, of course. That burning sting running under my skin, banging every nerve. I find a kind of comfort in it, if I’m honest. Makes me sound strange but it’s true. The kicking always takes me to another place. Could never learn to channel them into anything other than black agony. He can always find my soft spot. Sometimes it’s as if he knows exactly where to land the heavy boot. Send me reeling, spluttering, puking. No dignity left when the kicks fly in.

He’d leave me then. Off to the pub maybe, I wouldn’t know. Couldn’t tell which way was up, a heap in the corner like I’d be. He’d come back in the early hours, all delicacy and love, picking me up off the floor like I was some kind of princess. Sour breath on him as he purred away all the sins of the day. And I’d forgive him of course. Always and without question. It’s my purpose, you see, and what are we without a purpose in life? Nothing. And the heaviness in the air would break and I’d bask in the warmth of his love and softness. Usually he’d pull out the bottle of whiskey. Kiss it until he folded into himself. And with the rumble of his snores vibrating through my bones, I’d sleep.

Last week he brought a woman home. What could I do? I know my place. She was rough looking and smelled like a blocked drain. When she saw me she laughed a little, then asked if they could go into another room maybe? My man told her to get on her knees. I put my head down and closed my eyes. Pretended to be somewhere else. I always try that but it never works. I can never be anywhere but here. After the woman left, my man sat down beside me. Bared a toothy grin and nudged me gently. Pointed to the tattoo of my name on his arm. Reminded me how much he loved me and wasn’t I his special girl? And that was it, only that evening he cooked us steak for dinner. If you know my man, you’d know that meant that he was having a great day.

I don’t mind visitors don’t get me wrong. Not that we get many, only Barry. Barry’s his best friend, apart from me. Brothers they are, not by blood, but that’s what makes it stronger. Barry’s alright. He’s got thick black hair that sticks out of his ears and he’s missing all his bottom teeth. Lost them at the bookies. I like Barry because he’d always throw me a gummy smile and toss a kind word my way. He’d never look at me much or ever touch me because my man doesn’t like anyone touching me. Once or twice a week, Barry and him would settle on the couch and watch the races. Not much said only one or two words, and depending on the take for the night, a laugh between them. I’d like it when Barry came over because it meant my man was in a good mood. No kicks or punches, maybe just a light slap if anything. Unless he was on a losing streak. Then I’d be hiding under the table in the other room.

Barry was good to us after my man got let go. When he came over he’d always bring a few tins for him and a bag of chips or a couple of battered sausages for us both. Go for a walk, he’d say, do the both of you some good. My man stopped leaving the flat. And me of course, but sure I’d never be going anywhere without him. He always kept me close when we went out. Didn’t like me walking anywhere but by his side. We’d match each other’s stride, me and him. Find our own rhythm and let it fall into place. I didn’t mind him keeping me close. Made me feel safe. Back in the day we used to go running together. Those were the best times. Feels like a dream that, another time and place. We stopped doing that a long time ago. Think the idea started scaring him. Like he was afraid if we did, I’d go too far. Get lost from him.

A few nights ago, things got really bad. I blame the Grand National. Never liked horses, me. Himself and Barry glued to the couch all weekend and me in the corner watching the dust billow by. It would’ve been alright except Barry won. He was jumping up and down like a fool when his horse came in. Like a little boy he was and I would’ve been enjoying the sight of it if not for my man’s face. His teeth clenched and cheeks inflated with huffs and sighs. And Barry there, singing and yipping. Had a feed of cans in him but should’ve known better, in my opinion. You shudda listened boyo, he was saying to my man between cheers, shudda come in with me, we’d be rich together. I watched as my man’s fists made knots of his fingers. Barry’s chuckles slowed and fell away in his throat. My man looked on in heavy silence and Barry knew then what he’d done. Glanced my way, he did. Didn’t look directly at me but focused his gaze somewhere behind my shoulder. A hint of darkness on his cheeks as he collected his paper and his John Players. Mumbled a goodbye and then left us. Just me and my man.

It started like it always starts. Him telling me how worthless I am. A rotten piece of shit. Would be on the streets if not for him. Do I know how lucky I am? It was Barry’s fault, not mine. All I did was sit there. All weekend they drank and filled the room with farts and sweat. I didn’t say anything of course. Maybe it was the way I turned my nose up at him. The little huff of air that escaped from me. Doesn’t like any cheek, my man. I made moves to leave and that’s when I knocked over his drink.

Whiskey and glass rolling across the floor as cold fear rushed through my veins. There was a snarl from him. A kind of crackling in his throat and he was up off the couch and on top of me.

He’s my leg pinned under his hip and that’s enough to bring a howl of pain out from me, only my face is pressed against the floor by his hand so the sound muffles and falls away into the cracks of the lino. His breath is hot and the smell so rotten my stomach turns. That might be the worse thing of it all, if I’m honest. His foul breath sliding up my nostrils and settling into the back of my throat. Cigarettes, whiskey, onion and garlic from his evening kebab. It’s hot and heavy and it’s spreading rot inside of me. Wafting over me in putrid waves, making my eyes water. He punches my side, catching a rib with his knuckles, sending me kicking and scraping away from him. I get back on my feet but so does he and it’s a stand off now between us. Doesn’t happen often this, usually I take it and then he leaves me be. But I can’t have that hot breath in my lungs anymore. We’ve eyes locked and I’m breathing heavy and so is he. Panting, the two of us. Waiting.

A warm sting flashes through me, a kind of anger bristling my bones and heating my blood. Makes me feel bigger somehow. I feel brave. And I’m looking into those grey eyes and seeing nothing of my man. He’s gone from me now. Been gone for a long time, I reckon. And I decide. The thought springs into my brain and makes that rage in me flare up brighter than ever. I don’t like it when he puts his hands on me. I remember, then. I have teeth. It was love that held me back before but there’s not a whiff of it left in this room. All that’s kept between these four walls is the stale air of pain and sadness. So when he charges at me it’s not the door I turn to but his barrelling body. He goes to clip me over the head and I don’t think anymore. I sink my teeth into his arm, just above the tattoo of my name.

A high-pitched yelp from him and I should let go but I only bite down harder. It’s him feeling the pain now. It’s him breathing through. He’s shaking the arm and I’m holding tight but my jaw’s burning with the strain of it and the strength’s leaving me. Another shake from him and we disconnect. I’m thrown backwards from the force of it, bang against the couch. He’s stumbling back, blood dripping down his elbow and a look across his face. Surprise, pain, anger. All mixed together with creased brow and slanted mouth. The heel of his boot tries to land on a pile of crumpled cans. He’s losing the footing, sliding from under himself. When he falls back, we get stuck in time, him and me. Frozen in our own rhythm. It’s like he’s floating. The hard crack of his skull against the edge of the coffee table breaks our spell. A low kind of huff from him then and a deep sigh. Wide eyes looking at me, searching for something as gurgles bubble between his lips. His hand reaching out, catching air between fingers. The thick velvet snakes under his ear and down his throat. I can smell it. The hint of metal landing against my tongue. It tastes bitter and sweet all at once.

It was quiet then between us. I felt so tired, felt it down to the root of my bones. Might have dozed off for a while, I’m not sure. The thunder of the rain on the window had me up with a jump. Forgot where I was for a second. Then I saw my man and it all came back. He was stiff and grey. The hand still outstretched and reaching. His eyes staring at me, glistening with a black shine. Follow me around the room they would and give me the shivers. I sat by the window. Perched there for a long time, watching the rain dribble down the frosted glass. Following the drops as they slid downwards, slow at first, then fast, too fast, racing by before disappearing completely. Bursting into nothing to join the puddle at the bottom of the pane. Time never meant much but looking out that window took it away from me completely. Minutes, hours, days passed me by as I watched the outside world move beyond. I thought about running. What it would feel like to run in the rain. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine.

When Barry came bustling in with a bag of cans I didn’t make a sound. I watched as he banged against the door and lit up a cigarette. He took the smoke out of his mouth and brought a closed fist up to his face. Coughed and hacked and made some noise about the smell in here. When he saw my man he stood still for a very long time. Looked at him, then around the room. Let out a strange kind of laugh. Sounded like half of it got trapped in his throat on the way out. He bent down so quickly he dropped the bag. A can burst open and rolled under the couch. Barry was shaking my man, grabbing him by the shoulder. He was muttering to himself. A sharp step back from him. A look of fear on his face. He felt the coldness of my man. Could see his stiff limbs and blood caked dry against his neck. Barry ran out of the room. Came back a few seconds later with an old towel. Kneeled down and tried cleaning the blood off his skin. His mutters became shouts as the cloth turned rusty. He threw it down. Started shaking my man again. Rocking on his heels. Nonononononono. The word tumbled out all at once. Then silence. It dripped into the air and settled over the room, drowning us.

Barry let himself down on the couch, heavy and precious in his movements. He put his head in his hands and he was crying into his fingers. Something in the hunch of him reminded me of my man. It moved me to my feet, up and next to him on the couch. He looked at me through a bloodshot haze. Reached over and put a hand out. I flinched a bit but Barry just patted me gently and took his hand away. There’s people I should be calling, I suppose, he said into the room. His voice was cracked and heavy. He pulled out his phone and I looked at my man. He didn’t scare me anymore. I leaned over just close enough to get one last sniff. Take him in one last time.

Barry started telling me about myself as we waited. He took me away from my man. The smell was too much, I think. Him retching into his collar and so it was outside on the front steps where we sat. Barry had looked at me through his tears. Met you when you were just a pup, he told me. You were born for greatness. A smile from him and a tickle under my chin. You’re a pedigree, just like your Da. He was a fine racer, lucky for me many times. Shudda had you out there just the same. Barry shook his head. I told your man, told him to train you up, get you running. Sure that’s what you were born to do. What’s a greyhound’s purpose only to run? Barry shrugged then and crumpled into a long sigh. Shudda done more, he said with a thickness in his voice. It’s no life, this. He was silent after that, his words hanging in the air and floating towards the clouds. Maybe he would take me running. The grass was just there, ahead of me. I could see it. Smell the sweetness of it, fresh from the rain. I got up on my feet, my breath catching from the thought. Then a van pulled up and Barry had me by the neck.

They have me in a cage now. Put me in there after they saw my man inside. What happens now? Barry asked and when they answered his shoulders dropped. His head shaking and his eyes closed tight. He’s bending down to the cage now, telling me goodbye, I suppose. I wish he’d taken me running. Before this part, I wish he could’ve given me that. With water brimming his eyelids, he manages a shaky smile. I look into the empty grey space where his teeth should be. And there’s nothing I can do only be here. Exist in this small space as the walls squeeze against me. Maybe they’ll take me running. The thought brings me down to the floor of the cage. Puts my head to rest against my paws. I think about what it would feel like to sprint. To have the ground move beneath me. That fresh air blowing my ears back. I can almost feel it. I close my eyes.

Sam Agar is an Irish writer who has been writing for many years, enjoying a passion for fiction from a young age. Having recently completed a Masters in Creative Writing in the University of Limerick, Sam is currently working on a collection of short stories.

Image via Pixabay

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