Helen Chen

Death Comes Swift

"Mom, we've been gone for three hours, I'm worried about Heather," I whine as we stroll through yet another aisle of Costco.

Clutching my newly bought copy of The Goblet of Fire, I follow my mother through the meat section with its packages of bloody, masticated flesh pressing up against their plastic wrappings.  It had been an exhausting day, as I accompanied my mother as she did every errand imaginable, from shopping to cashing checks at the bank.  Outside the world of the bustling Costco it is a scorching 104 degrees in San Antonio, Texas.  My ten year-old mind begins wandering restlessly with anxieties of my dog who is tied out in the backyard with no shade and only a bucket of water for relief from the cruel summer sun. 

Yesterday an unexpected but pleasant, cool rain had fallen, turning the brown, heatstruck grass of our backyard into a giant pool of mud, much to the glee of my excitable golden retriever Heather.  We’d all come home to find a mud-splattered doghouse from which the glowing pair of eyes of an unknown "thing" peered out.  The entirety of the dog suite looked as if someone had taken it and dipped it into a big bubbly pot of mud fondue, dog and all.  Within the next second my parents and I were nearly flattened by 80 lbs of muddy, euphoric, mutt.  She’d even gone so far as to attempt to give my angered, grimacing mother a sloppy welcome kiss.  Unfortunately for her, little did she know that mud hardens, and within hours the sun had baked her little mud mask into a hard full body cast.  The next day, the dog suite and the mud encrusted Heather, much to her relief, were promptly scrubbed and hosed down.  The dog suite was wet and in need of drying as was Heather.  Thinking the sun would substitute as a giant blowdryer, we tied her up and my mother, father, and I went our separate ways for the day with the expectation that one of us would return within a couple of hours.

Finally, as the seemingly eternal minutes tick by and the irritatingly slow bagboy puts the last of the bags into our trunk, we start home.  Staring out the window at the scenery, which appears shimmery, sizzling, and distorted in the heat, a cold spear of dread races up my spine and through my neck.  I look at the clock on the car...2:45, it had been a good three and a half-hours since we left.  As we pull up the driveway the unexplainable feelings of worry and dread do not cease.  As the garage door opens, I am surprised to see my dad standing to the side of the garage, waiting for us.  The look on his face is unreadable, unforgettable.  He looks a good ten years older, with his slouching posture, pasty complexion, and tired, empty eyes.  It is a look I’ve never seen in my life, yet I somehow immediately speculate the reason.

My heart stops cold as I feel the ice run through my veins.  It’s his eyes that tell me something has gone wrong. As we pull up closer, I see they are filled with a deep sadness that scares me.  The garage door screeches to a close with a bang more sudden and loud than I remember it to ever have been.  The resounding crash leads into a silence that seems to span hours rather than the few seconds it takes for me to turn the handle of the car door.  I don’t want him to say it, don’t want to hear it.  Before he can open his mouth I find myself running down the blindingly white driveway, past the yellowing grass, and up the porch.  My knees give way and I collapse on the hard wooden bench, all my heightened senses bombarding me.  I am vaguely aware of where I am; the book is still clutched in my death grip.  But it was as if those cruel words have tailgated closely behind me the whole way:  "I'm sorry, Heather's dead."


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