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ADELAIDE Independent Monthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Mensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DOG EAT DOG
by Mario Perez

 

 

 

A bleak fog was fixed above the mountains outside Dishusan. It was a cold morning, causing Xu to tighten the neck of his army jacket. The road outside town resembled an empty conveyer belt. He kept close to the edge of the it, listening for the echoes of motorists who buzzed along the mountain. A club was tucked inside the jacket, still incrusted with bits of blood. Xu unsheathed the weapon as he got closer to the ditch that dipped below ground level. It was a prime spot for mangy mutts looking for trash. He got twenty-five per dog from Gao Xiao, the local gangster slash butcher who supplied all the meat to the top restaurants in town. He had to be discreet since people didn’t like to know they were eating dog, but didn’t mind not knowing they were eating dog. When Xu peeked in he saw a corgi with patches of fur missing, a bull dog with three legs, a greyhound with only one good eye, and a small girl in a dirty white t-shirt on all fours.

They didn’t stir as he slid in. A foul stench filled his nose as he crept over to them. He had a firm grip on the club in case one of the dogs attacked. The dogs whined and backed away a few paces, but the girl took advantage and chewed into a bag of chips. Rubbing his eyes and slapping his cheeks, he looked again, but she was still a girl, a human girl. She was about five years old. There were scrapes at her elbows and knees, dried blood near her lips, and greasy dirt stains all across her face. Her hair was damp and tangled, reaching the lower end of her back. He called out to her, Meimei Meimei, he whispered, but she didn’t respond, more interested in the food on the gravel floor. Her ribcage was visible and looked like a xylophone. The dogs were starting to trail off, seeking out more food elsewhere. She dragged her fat nose along his shoes, startling him. Hesitantly, he reached down to pet her. She snarled at him and snapped at his fingers. Half her teeth were missing while the other half were pitch black. Her eyes, brown with green leaves dusting the edges, glared at him with anger. He lifted the club above his shoulders but he didn’t want to use it, couldn’t. It was a girl, a scared little girl. She was someone’s daughter. There was a mother and father out there looking for her and there she was. She calmed a bit, slouching her shoulders and nudging his leg lovingly. Her stomach growled. Xu dropped to a knee,

“What’s your name?”

She licked his face.

“Where are you from?”

She lifted her leg and let out a fart.

There was a chance someone in town knew her parents. A car dashed by up on the road. An empty bottle crashed a few feet away. She cowered into his arms, shaking.

*

The men who really know Gao Xiao called him Big Chief, on account of how massive his body was. His saggy faceas flustered by the excess of liquor he drank with his clients. The restaurant was empty by the time Xu shambled in with Meimei. He had found a rope on the road and used it as a dog collar, tugging her along with him all the way to town. Meimei barked at strangers and passing cars every chance she got. Xu wrestled to keep her close, choking her with the rope accidently. He felt horrible dragging her like that, but she wouldn’t let him carry her, nor would she stand on two feet. It felt wrong for Meimei to crawl on all fours to town, but no one seemed to mind. Gao Xiao had two problems with Meimei: first was that she was all skin and bones, no meat to be seen, second, that Xu decided to name her which was a clear lack of professionalism on his part. Gao Xiao sat at a round glass table which had plates filled with bones, vegetables, noodles, and empty glasses tipped over and dripping. He lifted one of the plates of meat and gently placed it in front of Meimei’s wet nose. She dipped her head and viciously chewed at the food on the plate. This was his method. “That’s a nice one,” he conceded, “Maybe with time it will grow big and plump and be of use.” Gao Xiao fumbled into his pocket and pulled out a crisp one hundred RMB note. The waiters were smoking cigarettes in the back and playing cards. There was a pile of cash in the middle of the table. They shouted at one another and slammed the cards onto the damp table while letting out a thunderous shout. Gao Xiao was petting Meimei with his huge hand, shaking her wet hair lazily and saying sweet things to her. He did this with all the dogs Xu brought in before he skinned them. Xu had watched him prepare a dog for slaughter before. First, he’d offer it a plate of food, petting it lovingly, massaging its head. A dog had to be happy so the meat would be tender, he’d say. After petting it to calm its nerves, Gao Xiao would hook a collar to it, lift the plate that the animal was chomping on, and cradling it in his arms like a child. He gently placed it on a chopping board in the back. After nudging the dial of the old radio to play his favorite American pop songs, he’d begin: first draining the dog by poking it in the paw and letting the blood spill into a bowl which he used for another dish, pressing weight onto the dog’s back and caressing it, trying to quell its fear. The dog whimpered and moaned, but couldn’t move. Taking out a curved blade that was so sharp it could rupture skin the moment it touched, a Mongolian blade used for torture, he said, Gao Xiao would cut from head to tail one smooth slit, removing the skin as if he were taking a shirt off his son. The dog’s eyes bulged from their exposed sockets, meat and veins pulsing red. He then took time dicing up all the meat that was available on the dog, every inch, tossing each piece into a bin that contained other pieces of animals. All that was left was the skeleton when he was done. Xu imagined Meimei on that chopping board, still stained from the last dog. The shrill music being turned up and her naked body lying exposed while Gao brought his thick lips close to her ear telling her it’ll be okay as he lifted the jagged Mongolian blade behind his back where she couldn’t see. She’d stretch her limbs out and guard her eyes with her fingers trying to say something but nothing would come out. Xu yanked Meimei’s rope and dragged her out of the restaurant as quickly as possible, retreating from Gao’s booming voice.

*

His mother was preparing dinner when he walked in the house. She immediately shouted at him from the kitchen, asking why he wasn’t in school. Meimei dragged her nose throughout the room, bumping into chairs and boxes left exposed. The house was a modest cement building, one floor, with three walls blocking off three rooms. The curtains were drawn to let the grainy sun sprinkle onto the red rugs. His mother stomped into the room in an apron, sandals, and a green dress she had bought from a shop in Shanghai. She talked about Shanghai a lot, the style, the fast life, and the endless tall buildings. When she was young, the city was so vibrant, and she’d spend nights with her friends smoking cigarettes and listening to jazz music in bars. That was before his dad swooped her up thanks to her parents seeking single men for their aging daughter in the park. She couldn’t say no, she was getting old, 29 years old to be exact, and most Chinese men wouldn’t have bothered with her. She was tainted, used up. Xu’s father told her about this town, encompassed by mountains, and it sounded like a fairytale place, but when she got here she realized a place in the mountains means a place with nothing.

His mother was stunned, gripping the edges of the doorframe in fright. Meimei was chewing on a shirt that had been left on a chair, gnawing at it with the teeth she had. “Where? Why did you bring that home?” She finally said, an extended finger piercing Meimei, “Take it out now before it gets use to this place. This isn’t a home for pets. I have enough on my plate raising a rowdy son, I don’t need a mangy mutt pissing and shitting on my floors.” She wouldn’t step into the room with Meimei there. Her face was bleached white with fear. She hyperventilated, grasping her chest as if she just saw a ghost. Xu bent down and looked at Meimei again, really looked at her, and yes it was true, she was in fact a girl and not a dog. Why can’t they see her? Xu told his mother how he found her among a pack of dogs in a ditch, how it wasn’t right for a girl to walk on all fours and piss in the streets, how she was someone’s daughter, and there may be a family looking for her somewhere. His mother cleared her throat, “There isn’t anyone looking for…it,” she chose her words concisely, “take it back to where you found it. It doesn’t belong here.” The door closed which meant end of discussion. Meimei had found a rubber ball Xu had played with as a child behind the sofa. It was the size of an orange. She batted it with her palms, back and forth, smiling widely each time it rolled past her nose. The ball drifted in his direction. He dropped to the floor and volleyed it to Meimei who happily trapped it and pushed it back. Meimei eventually got bored, let the ball pass, and sniffed her way to the table to piss beneath it. The golden pool of urine grew to the size of a plate before ceasing. Xu chased her out of the house and cleaned it with a mop before leaving.

*

There were three men drinking beers outside the police station. They slumped into lawn chairs yelling at one another, shifting their seats each time the sun moved so they’d be consumed by its rays. The door to the station was closed. They wore regular clothes and didn’t notice Xu coming until he was at their backs with Meimei sniffing at their boots.

“You got a permit for that dog kid?” The cop with a baseball cap snorted as Meimei licked the sole of his shoe.

Xu shook his head. “You don’t need a permit to be a girl.”

“Girl?” Shouted the fat one whose shirt curled above his gut revealing a hairy belly button. “I don’t see a girl. I see a dog.”

“Just look at her,” Xu shouted, but just as he said this Meimei barked at a squirrel that darted up a tree. She orbited the trunk for a bit, gnawing on the bark. “I mean, look closely,” he reiterated.

“Sure acts like one…” baseball cap muttered.

“Smells like one too…” the fat one chuckled.

“But she has fingers, not paws. She has no fur, but skin. And look at the way her nose doesn’t jut out like other dogs’.”

“Look kid,” baseball cap said inching forward in his chair, “What is one big difference between us men and dogs? Think about it, yeah, speech. We talk with words, big words, and animals, all they got is that annoying bark that means nothing. So let’s see if your girl can understand what it all means.”

Baseball cap whistled to Meimei, calling her over. She shambled to his fingers, giving them a good sniff. “What’s your name girl? Where are you from?” Baseball cap was mocking Xu, “Is this bad kid bothering - ouch!” Meimei bit his hand hard sending him toppling off the lawn chair, hitting his face on the dirt floor. She let out a plethora of rapid barks. The others laughed so hard tears collected on their cheeks. Baseball cap erupted to his feet, reached into his jacket and pulled out a huge knife. It was thick with jagged edges. His eyes were bloodshot and his arm quivered. Xu grasped for Meimei and held her tight. He didn’t want to see her die. Xu could feel Meimei’s heartbeat and it was erratic. Baseball cap’s arm eventually went limp, he righted his lawn chair, and caved into it.

“Nothing but a mangy dog,” baseball cap muttered. “Better off letting it go into the wild where it belongs.”

The group grew quiet, slurping their beer bottles and scratching their chins. The sun kept ticking across the sky. The shadows spread like wings on the ground. There were a few peddlers selling fruit on the street. Their selection was covered in dust.

Xu felt rushed: “At least find out if there is a family looking for her. She must have come from someone, that’s how we are all brought into this place.”

They laughed again, much harder than before. “Sorry to break it to you kid, but parents toss out newborn girls as soon as they pop out, at least that’s what I hear,” baseball cap smirked.

The fat one nodded his bowling ball dome, “Yeah, men are the prize, just like when there used to be kings. Women just don’t offer the world nothing.”

“Except to become prostitutes maybe haha.”

Baseball cap finished his beer and rolled it on the cement floor. It landed in the gutter where there were more empty bottles clanking in the wind. A woman came over with a huge cloth sack, her back bent forward permanently like a sickle. The clothes she had on hung off her, tattered and rancid. She picked up the bottles with her hands and placed them in the sack. Xu watched until she packed each one inside and quietly shuffled off.

“Are you guys even police officers?” Xu said, exasperated.

“Who said anything about police officers?” baseball cap snorted. “As for her, she’s your problem now haha…”

They exploded in laughter. Shuffling in their chairs, but never rising to their feet. Xu took Meimei in his arms, she was crying, and he carried her away from their harsh cackling voices. The night was coming and she had no home. The mountains resembled the bottom part of a dirty jaw as the sun sank, creating canine shadows, shadows that were ready to devour them both whole.

*

Night swept into town like a procession. He felt each step. His head rolled along his shoulders. A group of men were squatting over a wooden table with cigarettes in their mouths watching them as they crept by. Xu thought about going back to the ditch where he found her and leaving the girl there, maybe that was best for her, best for him. He would go back to hunting dogs tomorrow. He’d get his club from the bush he threw it in and smash their skulls in, tossing them in a bag, and collecting the money from Gao Xiao. The image of Meimei sprawled out on the chopping board to be skinned alive blossomed like an old polaroid. Xu lunged for a cement stoop and let out an exhausted yawn. He stretched his legs and arms. He peered out into the expanding road. It looked like a vast black sea. He’s never seen a sea before. Meimei sniffed her way to his lap and settled comfortably within it, snoring almost immediately. Her bony back ululated beneath his palm. He got used to her smell, it was almost heavenly. It felt much warmer with her there. Her body quivered occasionally as she sank deeper into his legs. Xu felt sleep slipping beneath his eye lids too. His muscles relaxed, he settled against the doorframe, and just as he was about to doze he heard a whistle. It was faint, so faint Xu thought he dreamt it. But then it came again, a steady melody, gracefully lifting from the ambiance like a cloud of smoke. He blinked into the darkness, trying to discern where it was coming from. Gao was sitting on a lone table outside a restaurant smoking a cigarette. He was staring at Xu, puckering his lips, like he was calling a lover. Xu gently lifted Meimei in his arms and carried her to the chair across the table, setting her back on his lap calmly so she wouldn’t wake up. Gao took a second to settle the final taste of the cigarette, grinding it into the wood before flicking it off onto the street. Xu shifted in his seat. He noticed his fingers were grasping Meimei’s.

“Dogs are a burden boy,” Gao nodded to himself, rubbing his second chin. “They grow big, give you those adorable eyes, eat all your food, take all your love, and die.”

There was movement in the atmosphere, as if the night was collapsing onto him, about to choke him. He held her hand tighter.

“You must mold them the right way, to know their place, and then maybe they can be of use.”

Immense force pressed onto him. They buried their nails into his shoulders and pried his arms free. Xu let out a muted moan. One of the men wrapped Meimei in a blanket and lifted her, trying not to awake her. Xu tried to scream, but they stuck a sock in his mouth. The man had Meimei in his arms, carrying her into the night until she faded like a dying match.

“It’s a dog eat dog world boy,” Gao huffed, rising from the table. The men were still forcing him in his seat. Gao threw a stack of one hundred RMB notes on the table. “This is for good faith. If you find any more dogs, you know who to find.”

He spat out the sock when they let him go, but he didn’t move from the seat. The huge rectangular window from the restaurant had a warm honey glow. Inside were numerous wooden tables scattered like missing teeth. He noticed a woman with flecks of grey in her hair arched over a small girl with a book spread out on the table. They were reading the story together, he could tell by the movement of their lips. From time to time the little girl would peel back a page and they’d continue on. He shivered when the wind stirred, reminding him where he was. Eventually, his hand slapped the money on the table, he stuck it in his pocket, and found his way home.                                

End.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author:

Mario Trinidad Perez

Mario Trinidad Perez is a south side Chicago guy at heart, but he threw a dart at the world in his mid-twenties and ended up in the middle of China where he has been on and off ever since. He collects all the stories he hears and scribbles them on little notebooks he buys from different countries. Only a few of them are legible.

 

 

 

 

     
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