Sharptooth: 6

Repeat: If this isn’t your thing, please come back on 12/1.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Bang out a 50,000 word (shitty) first draft in a month. It’s my 4th attempt. This time I’m free-writing in Word, copying and pasting here when I get a chunk finished, to put some pressure on myself to get this thing done. There will be typos and inconsistencies. Aiming for young adult genre, with my 18-year-old daughter as my test reader.

I’ll add some version of this intro to the top of each post, and I’ll try to keep up with the total word count, for anyone who’s counting (that would be me). And this probably won’t be a daily thing.

Why am I doing this? To see if I can, silly. Why else would I do any of the crazy things I do?

Need to get caught up? Here are the previous entries:


6

He is at the sink, watching dusk fall, washing lettuce he has picked from the garden house, and wondering if he and Helen should have agreed on a code or hand signal that they could use during dinner to cut off any risky turns in the conversation. The kitchen is warm from the oven, where the potatoes and parsnips are roasting. He shakes the lettuce leaves, sets them one by one on the towel he laid on the counter, and lets them dry while he sets three places at the kitchen table.

Elizabeth, he knows, will want to sit at the head, though he isn’t quite sure whether that’s the end that faces the door or the one facing the window above the sink. He tries to remember the last time she joined them for dinner.

He hears a knock, quickly decides where to place the silverware, pulls the pan from the oven and sets it on a trivet on the table, knowing that Helen has beaten him to the door anyway.

“I’ve brought you a present!” he hears Elizabeth exclaim, before Helen has even said, “Hello,” or “Please come in.”

In the commotion that follows, he can’t quite make out what is happening. He lays his apron on a chair and walks into the main room, where he is greeted with a scene he doesn’t immediately understand.

Helen is holding a puppy.

“I thought you both could use some cheering up,” Elizabeth says, looking at him with an expression he has learned to distrust. “And besides, this is a big month for Helen.  She needs a boost of encouragement. What’s more encouraging than a puppy?”

The dog, a ball of soft brown fluff, is licking Helen’s face and wriggling with excitement.

“You can take it to school with you during the day,” Elizabeth continues, “and the children can learn about taking care of things.”

“As you well know,” he says very calmly, eyes locked on hers, “care for domesticated animals isn’t part of our year two curriculum.”

Helen, who has started giggling as the puppy’s big, pink tongue tickles her neck, looks at her father and is suddenly unsure how she should behave. He walks over, reaches out to rub the dog’s oversized ears. “What do you think, H? Should we?”

“Can we?” she says, very quietly. “Can we keep it?”

He lifts the dog from her hands, holds it up for inspection. “’Can we keep HIM you mean?” He cradles the dog in his arm and lets it play with his fingers while he rubs the soft fur of its muzzle.

There is a trick in this gift, he knows.

“Why don’t you take him out back and see how he feels about the garden,” he says to Helen. “He looks like he’ll be more than warm enough for a little romp.” He is smiling, a little, Helen notices as she pulls on her coat and boots.

She takes the puppy back from him and imagines the conversation that will start as soon as she is out of earshot.

He listens for the sound of the latch closing and says, in a low voice, “It seems to me we could have talked about this “little surprise” before you came tonight. I can also think of a dozen other bribes you might have tried first, before deciding on this particular one.”

“I heard from one of your neighbors last week,” Elizabeth says, “that Helen is fond of wandering outside in the middle of the night. Did you know that?”

He does not answer.

“Did you know,” Elizabeth continues, “that one night she ventured all the way to the water.”

“And you think a dog will somehow magically stop her from sleepwalking?”

“What I think,” she says, “is that you’ve both lost quite enough already. What I think, is that Helen needs some work to focus her attention on. Work that might help keep her from making a mistake.”

“And what I think,” he starts to say – but before he can say it, he hears the door.

“Not everyone is allowed to have a dog, you know.” Elizabeth says, loudly, intending Helen to hear. “I had to get permission since you haven’t been through the application process. But I assured them it would be fine, and now that you’ll be teaching fifth year, it will fall right in line with your day.”

He stares at her, unable to speak.

“Oh,” she says, with an insidious shrug, “in all the excitement I completely forgot to tell you, didn’t I. You’ve been reassigned. The Council thought you’d done your duty long enough with those wild young children. We’re putting you all the way at the top of the curriculum, ‘The Early Herdsmen.’ It was completely revised recently, so you’ll have to retrain, of course, but we all know you’ll be wonderful.”

In his mind he sees the faces, one by one, of the children he has been getting to know since summer. He thinks of the girl who is always reminding her peers of the rules and agreements, the one who reminds him so much of this woman who is so entirely unlike her sister.

“He ran around in circles,” Helen says, in a kind of soft staccato, trying to break the tension, “and then it started raining just a little, and he tried to catch the raindrops, nipping up in the air with his mouth.”

Her father looks at her holding the puppy, the two of them covered in a glistening coat of mist. He will deal with this other matter later. “What in the world will we call this rain-eating creature?” he teases, putting his index finger under the dog’s chin to lift its head.

“We could name him Rainer,” Helen says.

“We’re not giving the dog my name, H.” he says. “No chance.”

He looks at the dog’s dark eyes and strong face and, not thinking, says, “Zeus.”

“What’s Zeus?” Helen asks, and his mind races to find something that will correct his mistake.

“It’s a name I heard a long time ago, on the river,” he says, trying to sound casual. “I probably mis-heard it, but I remember the sound.” He does not dare look at Elizabeth. “Maybe we’ll just call him ‘Brown Dog.’ Wouldn’t that be easy enough? Brown Dog,” he says, is a dramatic voice, ruffling the dog’s fuzzy head. “We should eat, before dinner gets cold, shouldn’t we?” He takes the dog from his daughter. “Come on, Brown Dog, let’s see if you like parsnips.”

He leads the way into the kitchen, knowing this isn’t the last of the conversation but hoping it is suspended for the night.


Total word count as of 11/10/21: 7171/50,000 (Oy… so far behind….)

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