The Writing Disorder



New Fiction


by Sarah Smith

      We dug Tilly’s grave while she peed.
      Mama told Kyle that he couldn’t go out with his girlfriend until he did. She looked like she was trying to squish the red towel to death so Kyle grunted and waved his hand for me to come. We went to the garage and got shovels. Mama yelled, “Could you put the dog out while you’re at it? She has to go.”
      Tilly sniffed around the lawn and found a spot to pee on. I told Kyle he should dig the grave under the oak tree Tilly always dug under. Daddy stopped planning flowers there because Tilly would dig them up and drag them around the yard. She ate the worms she found and got their guts stuck in her ears. If Mama noticed before Tilly could chew them out she scrubbed Tilly’s ears with dish soap. Sometimes Tilly’s ears’d be lighter red for a few days after. Daddy always said Mama should go get the doggy-shampoo that smelled like coconuts. Mama always said that Tilly rolled in so much that a little dish soap wouldn’t kill her.
      “Is Tilly sick?” I asked Kyle. I made sure the corners of the hole were nice and square. Daddy always told me to make my bed covers nice and square.
      “I dunno.”
      Tilly finished sniffing her pee and trotted over to help. She slipped down the sides of her grave and started digging with us and pulled worms out of the dirt for her afternoon snack.
      “Move the damn dog,” Kyle said. He shoved the shovel into the other half of my neat grave sides and ruined them too.
      “She can do whatever she wants with it,” I told him. “It’s her grave.”
      “Either move her or finish it yourself.”
      “It’s her grave! Not yours!”
      He groaned like Mama did. “Look … go get her a cookie and put her inside, OK? Then come back and help me.”
      I got Tilly her cookie and didn’t even make her sit for it. Mama got mad when I did that. I let her eat it on the nice white couch that Mama and Daddy spent forever picking out. Mama hated that too.
      “Mama?” I said when she was washing dishes like Daddy usually does. “Is Tilly sick?”
      Mama had a streak of white soap in her hair like one part of it decided to get old quicker than the rest. I want my hair to get gray in streaks that go across when I get old.
      “The vet said she was fine at her last checkup. Kyle, could you go get the vacuum?”
      “Why are we digging the grave if she’s not gonna die?” I asked.
      “My old dog died when she was nine-and-a-half,” Mama said. “I don’t want to dig in the winter when the ground’s frozen.”
      “That’s screwed up,” Kyle said. “Can’t we just take her to the friggin vet?”
      “How would you like to be buried behind the hospital?” Mama asked. “Tilly stays here.”
      Maybe if Tilly was buried here she’d haunt us. I knew she wouldn’t come to my room with red eyes and long fangs because I was her favorite. Maybe she’d do it to Kyle if I asked and I could get a tape of him screaming like a chicken girl.
      “OK, Mom. I’m gonna get Olivia.”
      Mama made the same face I got yelled at for making about dinner at other people’s houses. Mama didn’t like Olivia. She said Olivia was nice and had no spine. When I looked at Olivia she looked like she had a spine just like everyone else. Mama said it was an idiom so I guessed it meant only stupid people didn’t have spines. That means Olivia wasn’t stupid.
      “Go play with Tilly so I can vacuum in peace,” Mama told me. I did.

      “Mama,” I said, “Tilly doesn’t like her grave.”
      Mama didn’t stop buckling up her skyscraper shoes. “What do you mean?”
      “It makes her nervous,” I explained. “She goes and sniffs it when she’s going potty on the lawn and then she gets scared.”
      Mama stood up and kissed my head. “Tilly’s a dog, darling. She doesn’t know what it is.”
      “But she heard us!”
      “Sweetheart, she doesn’t speak English. I promise she doesn’t know.” Tilly barked. She was mad that Mama ignored her.
      When Mama was at work I filled in Tilly’s grave.
      When Mama came home she got mad.
      “What are you doing, Andrew?” she yelled. “It is a goddamn dog and doesn’t know that it has a goddamn grave. Unless you—”
      Mama looked at Daddy. He did that thing where he raised one eyebrow. I tried to do it by holding one eyebrow down with my hand but it kept trying to move.
      Mama knelt down so she could look at me. “Andrew, Tilly does not know that’s a grave for her. Tilly wouldn’t want you to get in trouble. Just think of it like a big hole and nothing more.”
      I nodded like I always do when I’m still mad but don’t want to say anything. Mama doesn’t usually notice. Daddy does.
      “C’mon, man,” said Kyle. “We’ll go redo it together.”
      “Let me put on my shoes,” said Mama, “and I’ll come help too.”
      Daddy stayed in the kitchen and talked to Olivia. I guess she missed Kyle since she was holding her own hands.

      “Tilly’s grave filled up.”
      Kyle and I looked at each other. “Yeah, Mom?” I said.
      She sat on the coffee table in front of half the football game. “You two haven’t cleaned that thing in years.”
      “Shouldn’t we just wait for the dog to die?” Kyle asked. I fed Tilly some popcorn. She always watched games with Kyle and me—Kyle said he wished he could find a human girl like that.
      “Clean it before you go to bed tonight.”
      “I’m going out, Ma,” Kyle said. Even when he got home from college, he never stayed home. He left to hang out with his friends ten minutes after he got home for the summer. Dad had his cheek caught in his teeth and told Kyle to have fun and say hi to his friends.
      “Now, Kyle. You too, Andrew.”
      “This is stupid.”
      “Sorry.” I ran after Kyle. “How come she lets you say bad stuff?”
      Kyle laughed. “Give it a few years, little brother.”
      “Where are you two going?” I didn’t know what Dad was cooking, but it smelled like something I had in some brown café with Mom when I was little.
      “Mom said we had to clean Tilly’s grave,” I explained.
      Dad stirred the pot. “Margaret?” he called. “Can you come give me a hand with something?”
      Leaves and dirt and sticks filled up Tilly’s grave. We pulled out a moldy bone and someone’s old sock. We found her red squeaky ball and the chew toy shaped like a vet that wasn’t vet-colored anymore.
      “Guess she’s Egyptian,” I commented.
      “How’s it going?” Mom shouted from the study window.
      “It’s fine,” Kyle told her, and made that face he used to make a lot, when he crossed both his eyes and rolled his tongue.
      “Don’t get all the gunk in Dad’s garden.”
      Kyle took all the dirt and stuff from Tilly’s grave and heaved it over the fence into the neighbor’s bushes. I wrote Tilly’s name on the bottom of the grave. The letters got smaller as they got closer to the end of her name.
      “Let’s go finish the game before I go get Rachel,” Kyle suggested.
      “OK,” I said. I watched the game with Tilly on my lap, and we fed her more popcorn than normal.
      “Stop doing that,” Mom scolded. “You’ll make her fat.”
      “We’ll make the grave bigger, Ma, don’t worry,” Kyle drawled. I laughed, but Mom didn’t say anything. Tilly huffed out a big breath of air through her nose, like she thought it was funny too. I wondered what happened if an Egyptian pharaoh got fat after they built his tomb. I bet the slaves got pretty mad.

      Tilly died when Dad and I were touring colleges and Kyle was on vacation with his latest girlfriend. Mom stayed home alone. She took Tilly to the vet when Tilly couldn’t breathe right, and they put her in an oxygen bubble for three days. Mom didn’t tell us until the vet called and said they couldn’t do anything else. We put her on speakerphone and sat on Dad’s side of the bed.
      “At least we’ll use the grave now,” I said. I tugged on the tassels on the pillow and traced Tilly’s name on the sheet.
      “We can go carve up a nice headstone for our girl,” Dad added.
      “Oh—we’re not using the grave,” Mom said. “The vet buried her there.”
      When we got home, Dad filled in the grave and planted flowers there. He said they were tiger lilies, and some of their petals had an orange like Tilly’s fur. Mom kept suggesting that we buy another dog, but Dad kept saying no. Once, just before I went out to chill with some friends, he yelled, “Goddamn it Margaret, we are not getting another dog!” I left, and she never brought it up after that.

Sarah Smith is a seventeen-year-old high school senior from Marblehead, MA. She has been published in 5x5 and Tryst. Sarah's been writing stories since age six, and wants to pursue writing in college.

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