Nick Almeida is an MFA candidate at the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, Texas. He holds an MA from Penn State University, and edits fiction for Bat City Review.
Our mother had a tattoo. A blue dog under her shoulder blade, no bigger than the pit of a plum. When she let us, we ran our fingers over it and howled.
She cooped herself in her bedroom for quiet, lights out, hours at a time. We were animals. When he got home from the job site, Pap told us, Shut up. You’re making her nuts. Most of the time she hid it, but in summer she let the dog out. We saw it sweat in the sunshine, bound to her back by a bright bra strap. Later, she left for Montana with Neal—the man from the computer, Pap called him—and the dog went too. In time, we left. Some of us for jobs, or school, or nothing at all. Some of us forgot about our mother and her dog.
Our sister had a tattoo but never showed us. She deployed and our brother forwarded us a video she’d made for Thanksgiving. Deek Roomy. Arabic for turkey. When she turned and laughed, there it was. A little dog behind her ear. I imagined that was where a helmet might rest. She turned up later, quieter than our mother had been.
My grandmother had a tattoo. Cleaning out my brother’s apartment, I found her photograph pressed in a stack of Motor Trends. In the picture, my grandmother has little charcoal eyes. A pinup queen. Shoulders back, a hand wrapped around her neck as if holding it up. The picture is old, but you can still see the little dog on her wrist. Everything else was sold or thrown away.
Some nights, as I lie in bed next to Gloria and feel her breath on my shoulder, I think of dogs. Our daughter sleeps in a crib against the wall. I stay awake for the two of them, listening to my wife sleep, counting our child’s breaths, praying everything is as it should be. I tense up at every car horn, every shuffle of feet on the sidewalk outside. Now and then, I look to the door. No one gets in, no one gets out. And in those dark hours between asleep and awake, I think, maybe I am one of those dogs. A dog perched on the slender shoulder of a woman I love. I am a watchdog watching skin, watching silence, watching the permanent ink, watching, so you can’t leave, you can’t take me away.