Everyone was worried about me being off in the woods by myself, but I told them I wasn’t alone; I had Baby.
We’d each come out of an unsatisfactory relationship and had no patience for another. The shelter people were a little anxious that she’d be too big for me to handle, but I said, no, she’d be fine with me. Tipper, they said her name was. I said she’d answer to Baby.
I picked up a big bag of dog food at Shaw’s on the way home, but we were going to celebrate that first evening with steak. You can make a nice meal of the tougher cuts if you know how to handle them; economy and denial needn’t be the same thing.
“You’ll like it here with me, Baby,” I told her as we clambered out of the car. She looked around and I could see she agreed with me. My own property is small but it lies up against a state preserve. Every direction I look in is woods; if you didn’t know the little turnoff to the house, you’d most likely miss it.
Friends in the city wondered how I stood all that silence and I said it wasn’t silent. I’d been a city girl myself, only recently transplanted, but I’d taken root quickly. The first, best thing you take pleasure in is the darkness. Night is what she’s meant to be.
The car was my one defeat — the only part of my new life that frightened me. I’d had to learn to drive. For most things, I’m just at the outer edge of walking distance; but for heavy loads or in rough weather I have to risk everyone else’s life by getting behind the wheel.
I told Baby she couldn’t wander off on her own but it was an unnecessary warning. She liked staying with me.
The big sloping yard gave plenty of running room and we played with the dry old sticks good for nothing more than kindling. Bit by bit she understood the kind of wood I liked.
It’s the ones with life in them I want. You can judge by the weight of them in your hand, or the pleasurable resinous scent some kinds have.
I don’t see myself as a sculptor, or an artist. I just like to get to the heart of things, to uncover what’s deep inside. To release their souls, you might say.
Baby mouthed them gently without being told. She never left a mark on anything that needed to be held tenderly.
When you live with someone of a different sensibility, you learn to meet each other halfway. I understood her preferences and she conceded their impracticality. Once a week we had that shared treat, charred and fragrant and making both our mouths water as it cooked. I wasn’t any less a carnivore than she; I just let others do my killing for me, as she was compelled to do.
Sometimes we found things in the woods that hadn’t fared well; she understood pity, too, and then we’d have to get in the car and take them to the local wildlife center for help. You always feel sorry, seeing a little life denied even its brief span of happiness.
We were back from town and we both knew something was wrong even before we saw the old sedan half-hidden off the curve of the road. I’ve good hearing but hers is better. Her way of alerting me to something was an intensening of concentration and a growl that was more communication than menace. Baby was civilized but she knew where her ancestors came from and she’d kept all of their gifts.
There’s a “no trespassing” sign tacked to a tree alongside my driveway and another warning “beware of the dog,” but people in the mind to trespass will hardly care about that.
I was going to back up and leave when the guy came out behind me, smiling, the little shrug that tries to say “no bad intentions here” and lies.
Not everyone would know the place was occupied again. The signs on the tree were here long before I was.
A certain kind of man thinks all women are fools. I hit reverse hard and knocked him down and backed over him a little to be sure.
You never forget the feeling of crunching over bone. I was glad of the car, for once.
We got out and looked at him. Neither of us liked his smell. He was screaming in the high thin way of bullies and cowards — incredulous and shocked that anyone like me could do something like that to him.
He was pinned under the left wheel. He could move his hands, his arms; I couldn’t risk getting near enough to check if he was armed. Baby and I went into the house, to call the state police.
No one thought I’d done wrong. He was wanted enough, and dangerous enough; they found a commando knife in his pocket and a shotgun in his car. And I’d called the authorities without delay; he was pinned for no longer than fifteen minutes.
They say people always forget pain but remember pleasure. I hope it’s not true for him, wherever he is.
But it was true for us. Baby and I remember it, each time we have our steak. That gene for hunting, it’s bred in the bone.
Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable — the best of all possible worlds.