Neck and Neck – by SHEREE SHATSKY

Neck and Neck

The dog clears six feet of cedar fence and hits the ground moving. I bolt toward the trampoline with the rest of the neighborhood kids and yell at my brother to run.

Grabbing hold of the coiled steel springs, I hurl myself onto the mat, the trampoline dipping and bobbing, alive with the weight of each kid reaching safety. The dog is frenzied, pacing the fence, snarling and snapping. I search out my brother. He’s close, running with two boys from his second grade class. I reach out to help pull him up on the waving tramp when he stumbles over the air gun tossed aside in the panic. He falls and the dog is on him.

He shrieks and thrashes, covering his head with his hands as the dog bites his neck. I jump down to do something, anything, but the dog darts at me, frightening me back. The kids are huddled together in the center of the trampoline, yelling for help. My best friend sits beside me, pulling at her hair and sobbing like the teen girls did when The Beatles sang last week on the Ed Sullivan Show. We had laughed at those girls and swore never to hold any boy’s hand until we turned thirteen in a couple of years. All I want to do now is grab my brother by his hands, his feet, his clothes, anything, anything at all to save him, but I am so afraid all I can think to do is take off my sneakers and throw both at the dog.

A neighbor hears the commotion and comes running out of his garage. He takes one look at what is happening and charges straight at the mad dog, waving his arms and shouting go home, go home, driving the animal off into the street.

“What the hell happened!” he yells.  

Fingers point at the boy who leveled the air gun into the slats of the fence and took aim with what he swore was only air, no BBS, no pellets, only air– pop, pop, pop—over and over and over, whipping the dog into crazed, panicked flight.

I scramble off the trampoline and run to my brother as he struggles to stand. Blood trails down his side from two puncture wounds piercing his neck. Get him home, the neighbor says, he needs a doctor.

My brother is crying it hurts, it hurts and I half drag, half carry him to our house across the street. Banging through the front door, we scream inside to my mother screaming towards us from the kitchen, the Harvest Gold telephone receiver dangling off the hook by its twisty cord.

She falls to her knees, puffing up a bit of dust from off the royal blue carpet. My brother falls into her, wailing. Tearing off her apron, she presses the soft cotton fabric to the wound, the image of an embroidered dancing hot dog wielding a barbeque skewer peeking out behind her open palm, the sash of the apron twirling casually around her raised arm. The streams of blood merge, snaking from beneath my brother’s shorts and down his leg to tinge the top of his sock magenta. His cries subside into gasps, his close-cropped blonde crew cut accentuating the largeness of the pain stricken across his face. He fell and the dog bit him, I say, my voice sounding far away. Holding him, rocking him, she yells for our father. Frank! Hurry!

He sprints the short hallway in two determined strides and descends on my brother, scooping him high in the air, cradling him close in the way children with a propensity toward falling find themselves more often than not. My father yanks a quilt off the couch, cocooning the limp dragonfly of the boy who woke this morning excited for the weekend. My brother shudders calm in his strong arms. I think he’s going into shock, my father tells my mother. Call an ambulance.

The front door stands wide open with the kids cramming the doorway, stunned by the backyard events, yet innately drawn to the gross curiosities lying beneath the skin that sometimes through rare happenstance are exposed in full glory to the sunlight of a Florida afternoon. My father pushes past, tucking my brother close, neck and neck. The neighbor who chased off the dog waits on the sidewalk in front of our house, holding the air gun. It was his son who shot at the dog. I’m sorry, Frank, he says. I’m so sorry, my boy will be punished, but tell me, please, tell me what can I do, how can I help?

The ambulance screeches into the driveway, all shrieks and lights and my father tosses him the car keys to our station wagon. Get my wife and drive her to the hospital, he says, handing my blanketed brother to the paramedics. And on the way over, he yells, stepping into the emergency vehicle, throw that goddamn gun in the goddamn river.

The doors slam shut and I can see the back of my father’s head ghastly lit through the rear window as the ambulance pulls away. I get in the car with my distraught mother and stare at my bare feet. Our neighbor tells us to hold on and floors the accelerator, speeding us towards the hospital where late in the evening I would learn how close the dog’s teeth came to puncturing my brother’s carotid artery, how he came within one inch of losing his life. The air gun clatters to the floorboard off the way back, the third seat of the station wagon that faces the rear window, a lookout of sorts for whatever follows.

***

sheree-shatsky-head-shot

Sheree Shatsky writes short fiction believing much can be conveyed with a few simple words. Her work as an opinion writer has appeared in print and online. Recent publication credits include Litro, Pif Magazine, The Rain, Party, and Disaster Society, Sleet Magazine, Wordrunner eChapbooks, Sassafras Literary Magazine and the Journal of Microliterature.  Her poetry has appeared in Dirty Chai, Three Line Poetry and Quatrain.fish.

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