from Dog Stories (1991)


      "I'm a monster," Jenny said cheekily. Her sister shook her head, "you and your games."

      Her sister turned off the television set and went into the bathroom, locking the door. There, she rummaged through a pile of magazines as she sat attending to her needs.  Jenny could hear her going through the issues, hear some of them sliding off the wicker rack onto the tile floor.  She knocked loudly on the door.

      "Go away," her sister shouted. "I'm sick of you and your games."

      Jenny started growling outside the door. Low, menacing sounds like a lion about to pounce. Deep, throaty; masculine sounds. Loud, violently angry sounds. Her sister flushed and swung open the dividing door. "That's it," she said to Jenny, crouched at the jamb like a small dog. Taking her by the elbow, she marched her to the top of the stairwell. "What are you?"

      "A monster."

      "No you're not. You're a girl. You're a silly, silly, awful girl."

      Jenny growled even louder and tried to scratch her sister, but the bigger girl thrust at her with all her might and sent her sprawling down the stairwell. Jenny braced her fall with her arms, rolling on her elbows raised high over her head as she tumbled downward like a bowling ball. With a thud, she hit the wall, then lay still.

      Her sister stood over her like a croquet mallet. "Well, get up," she said after awhile as Jenny lay inert. Taking a fistful of her hair, she tugged the child up and Jenny screamed. "There's no one to hear you," her sister laughed. Then she let go and walked away.

      Jenny crawled into a comer and crouched there, whimpering. Her sister went into the study and slammed the door behind her. Jenny went to the door and started scratching at it as she'd seen puppies do. "Go away, brat," her sister's voice came faintly from behind the door. "Go away or I'll come out and push you down the stairs again."

      Immediately, Jenny fell silent. Soon, her sister emerged and brushed past her to the telephone. Curling her feet under her thighs on the couch, she spoke long and arduously into the machine. "Oh, she's being a brat again," she said. "She's impossible.  I pushed her down the stairs. Yes, I pushed her down the stairs. She deserves it. She's awful, she's ugly. She has no forehead. How can I love a silly creature like that? The party on Saturday? Where? I can't go you see, I'm studying. I've been up three nights trying to get my CS 132 project done--software engineering, what else? Aren't you doing yours? Don't you want to graduate? I care about my future, unlike you. You're going to be out on the street peddling little homemade items and I'll have my own office. I know. Isn't he dishy'? Is he after you? Don't tell me how to treat my sister. I'll push her down the stairwell again if she acts up. She's behaving herself now," her sister gave her a smug glare, "she's quiet, finally. Sometimes I think she's retarded. You know, she doesn't look at all like me. She has no forehead, for instance. What do I mean? She's just like a monkey. That's what you are, Jenny, you're not a monster, you're a monkey. Look, if I finish my project, I'll have time for things like that. I'm not going to run after a boy. They run after me, for heaven's sake. I told them we're going to the nun's bungalow. Oh, they don't know a thing. I'm a terrific liar. I work at it. Unlike you, I work at everything. I'm keeping him guessing. I know. It's such fun. (etc.)"

      She hung up and stepped over to the cowering little child. "If you open your mouth--down the stairs."

      She went back into the study and shut the door firmly. Jenny sat contemplating the nails of her hands and feet. At length, she stood up and strolled over to the top of the stairwell. Soon, there came the sound of heavy thuds. The study door flew open and her sister ran out to find the child picking herself up from the mezzanine landing. Jenny crawled up the stairs and rested on the top step beneath her sister's feet. "Did you fall?" her sister said, worried. Jenny reached the floor and stood up, turned, then hurled herself down, not bothering even to put up her arms. With a loud bang, her little body hit the wall and she lay there, breathing heavily trying with difficulty to lift herself up. Her sister ran to her and took her by the shoulders. "What are you trying to do?" she cried. The child shook herself free and began crawling upstairs again on her hands and feet. On the top step, she rested again, smiling faintly. Her sister remained on the landing, waiting. "Are you insane?" she said, then shrieked as the child's body plummeted down the stairwell, this time thumping heavily along, finally ramming against the wall like a felled tree.

      Her sister turned the child over. Jenny lay there, too weak to move, a trickle of blood coming from the side of her mouth. "You little creep," her sister whispered, hysterical, then jumped up to get at the telephone.

      Jenny swallowed the salty moisture of her blood, feeling very tired. Soon, her sister returned with a small pillow for her head. She stroked Jenny's hair, her expression careworn. "Why are you so crazy? Don't you want to grow up?" she said. Jenny thought of pushing her sister's hand away but was too tired to move. Her sister lay down next to her and continued to stroke her hair, her ample breasts pressed to Jenny's thin arm. Jenny closed her eyes.

      She was a porpoise floating on a steady sea. Her sister was a jagged rock on which she was momentarily run aground. Or was she the jagged rock and her sister the porpoise? She would cut into the animal, cut and cut and cut all kinds of marks in its skin until it was all bleeding. Then it would fall into the depths of the water like dirty dishes do in a sink.

      After awhile she felt less tired and tried to stand. Her sister watched, motionless.  Jenny stood up, holding onto the stair rail for support. Meanwhile, her sister sat up. "How do you feel?"

      Jenny, retreating up the stairs and starting to growl, looked at her warily. Her sister's head hovered very close. Suddenly, Jenny pounced, sinking her teeth into a puffy cheek.

      Her sister screamed and pushed at her. The child tumbled further down the rest of the stairwell, down to the bottom floor, hitting the parquet with a loud and terrible splat.