“Tomorrow We Release the Dogs” by Rich Mallery

06Jul09

If I had to stand in front of the class and do an oral on my childhood, I could easily rattle off several key memories that stand out in my mind. Some of them are nothing special, like the first time my friends and I snuck into one of the peep show booths on 8th Avenue, or the time I convinced Debby Glazer to let me pull out her loose tooth with a pair of pliers.  Of course, there is also the first time I met Nora, but besides that, if I had to narrow the list down to one specific instance that still drives me today, it wouldn’t be the time I caught my first glimpse of a live pair of breasts.

When I was eight, I saw a plane explode in midair.  It was ten days into June and while most kids my age were baking in cramped desks in some sweaty elementary school classroom, I was crouching on a milk crate outside the bodega across the street from my house.  In order to spite my teacher for insinuating she was a bad parent, my mother pulled me out of school and refused to let me go back until the next year.  Since her current boyfriend was always on our couch sweating out a hangover, I’d spent the past two months following my mom around our neighborhood in Astoria.

On that particular day, she was inside the Yankee Deli buying Winstons and flirting with the hairy-chested Arab working the counter.  It was the third day in a row of hundred degree weather and even though I begged her all afternoon to buy me an ice pop, experience dictated she’d come out empty handed.

Like always, I was ordered to wait outside in the blazing sun.  So instead of trying to sneak a glance at some of the racy covers of the adult magazines in a semi-air conditioned shop, I was busy keeping the backs of my knees from sizzling into the melting plastic of a milk crate.

I wasn’t allowed to carry anything with me on our shopping trips, so I had nothing to kill time with other than the bottle caps I scraped off the sidewalk.  This wasn’t an issue for me.  I was used to being alone and had invented all kinds of games and fantasies I could play in my head.  Sometimes I went so far as to draw a checkerboard on a piece of loose-leaf paper and then challenge myself to an imaginary game of Checkers.  I might’ve had issues, but at least I had imagination: the only thing keeping me from swallowing the prescription jars lined up like orange soldiers on my mom’s dresser.

Up the block, NWA blared on someone’s car stereo.  The aggressive raps of Eazy E and Ice Cube blended with the Spanish mother jokes the boys working in the body shop across the street were slinging at each other.  A handful of flies were sucking at a puddle of melted ice cream on the sidewalk.  Jealousy spiked my stomach when I imagined someone else’s mother buying them an ice cream cone while mine would rather throw loose change in the street than surprise me with one.  That’s when it happened.

We lived two subway stops from the airport, so low flying planes were nothing new.  To me their roar was always soothing.  It covered up every voice, every sound and every argument.  It temporarily blocked out the game shows that the deaf lady above us always watched.  For a few seconds it even blocked out our neighbors when they aggressively humped during their frequent sessions of makeup sex.  When my mom and one of her boyfriends would fight, I’d fold my hands and pray the noise would override them long enough for me to fall asleep.  On that obnoxiously hot day, I prayed for something different.

I shielded my eyes from the sun and followed the plane as it soared overhead.  It was a 767, one of those dinosaurs with three columns of passengers separated by two narrow aisles.  I’d never been on a plane, but I’d seen enough on television to visualize the layout.  Then without pause, it burst into a giant ball of flaming death.

The boom shook the ground and if I hadn’t jumped to my feet I would’ve been knocked off the milk crate.  Black clouds of smoke trailed behind the falling flames.

At that moment, an airport was descending into chaos.  Hundreds of people were suckerpunched in the gut after hearing the news that the loved one they were waiting to pick up wouldn’t be arriving safely.  But where I stood, it was as if nothing had happened.  NWA was still playing on the stereo.  Some boys were still arguing in Spanish.  The flies were still sucking at an ice cream puddle.  My mom was still inside the Yankee Deli not buying me an ice pop.

Ever since then, every time I heard the roar of an engine I’d look up.  I’d follow passing planes until they disappeared into the clouds.  I crossed my fingers.  I said silent prayers.  I knocked on wood.  I sold my soul to an imaginary devil.  Anything to make that happen again.

 

When we were bored, sometimes Nora and I would lie on the roof of a random car and watch the planes, hoping to catch a similar tragedy. She harbored a subtle jealousy that I witnessed something so horrific. She thought some higher power had chosen me. The same higher power that invented the iron maiden and the judas cradle. The muse that sparked ideas of genocide in the minds of psychopaths. The force that gave birth to the atomic bomb and the gas chamber.

“If there were such thing as God,” Nora said. “He was a vengeful Old Testament type bastard.” She’d exhale smoke and pause for dramatic effect. “And he wanted his work to be witnessed.”

Imagine three hundred lives snuffed out in a second. Three hundred families whose lives would be changed forever. Thousands of people who’d wake up tomorrow in a different reality.

Businessmen sneaking their secretaries on a weekend getaway, newlyweds on their way to their honeymoons, mothers taking their children to see grandma. Saints and sinners all morphed into martyrs in the blink of an eye.

When you die in a tragedy, you earn the world’s sympathy. Even if you lived your whole life as a pedophile, a helpless addict or a sociopathic monster, for a brief instant, you held everyone’s undivided attention.

Nora sniffed a bump off her knuckles and laid back into the crook between my arm and chest. The tin roof of a Chrysler held firm underneath us. The windshield was gone, so our legs dangled inside the car. Every now and then my feet would kick a small piece of glass that was left in the frame. It would fall inside the car with a soft plink.

Overhead a 747 soared. It was cloudy, but we could easily make out the red and white lights blinking; blurry trails sprinted above us. The sound alone was enough to give me a semi-erection.

We followed the blinking lights until they were gone, wishing for an explosion. A sharp October wind rattled a loose flap of leather on the driver’s seat underneath us. The night was cold, and we held each other tight for warmth. In between gusts of wind, I could hear the faint patter of her heartbeat. Neither of us said a word until the passing plane safely vanished.

Nora rubbed her runny nose on her sleeve and sniffled. Her face was shadowed by the red hood pulled over her head. All I could see were the speckled whites of her eyes. She tucked her hands into her sleeves and curled them to her chest.

“Did you ever play that game Mousetrap when you were a kid?”

“I don’t think so,” I answered.

“I used to play it all the time with my shrink.”

“I played scrabble with mine.”

“Really?”

“No, I never went to a shrink. You know my mom would never pay for that even if she had the money.”

Nora sniffed again. She craned her neck and the hood fell behind her. Tonight she was wearing a short, silver wig. Most of her hair had fallen out from lack of vitamins and over-bleaching. She didn’t care though. “I always get bored with my hair color anyway,” she had said. “If I stay bald and invest in some wigs, I can be a blond, a redhead, and a brunette all in the same day.”

Nora tugged the hood back over her head and clicked her tongue against the back of her teeth. She pointed to the sky and traced imaginary lines between the stars. There weren’t that many visible so Nora drew her own constellations. Sometimes she’d even make up stories about them. My favorite was the one about Sivia. She was a blind woman who fell in love with a giant spider. Together they bore a whole race of half spider/half human children.

“I always played board games with mine. It was his way of getting me to open up. Kind of like an ice breaker.” Nora reached into the front pocket of her sweatshirt and pulled out a stick of gum. She split it in half and shared it with me. At first it tasted like cinnamon. After a minute it tasted like cardboard.

Mousetrap was my favorite because there was more to it than just throwing dice and moving a thimble. In Mousetrap you still do all of that, only throughout the game you’re putting together this elaborate mousetrap. There are all these plastic pieces that you interlock to catch this mouse that’s chilling on the other side of the board. When you’re done, you drop a ball down a chute and then that triggers something, which triggers something and so on until the trap drops on the mouse.

“Anyway, you spend the whole time making this trap and then the game’s over. You break down the trap, throw the pieces back in the box and then bury it in your closet somewhere. Do you have a cigarette?”

“Here,” I said, handing her my last one. I dropped the empty pack inside the Chrysler.

“Thanks,” she inhaled. “Anyway, you do all this nonsense. You build this crazy, elaborate trap, you catch the mouse and then it’s back to your bullshit life. The whole thing is pointless.”

“It’s a game. It kills time. That’s why you play. It’s entertainment.”

“Whatever,” she huffed. Nora cupped her hands in front of her mouth and lit the stick between her lips. She sucked in and exhaled a defeated breath. “Lately all I do is build bigger and bigger mousetraps.”

Another 747 roared overhead. The clouds broke away and we could see the landing equipment drop down. It passed us by without tragedy.

“What would you rather be doing?” I asked. The gum hardened and stuck to the back of my bottom front teeth. I spread it out across my gums with my tongue. A security car pulled into the parking lot and flashed its headlights at us.

“Anything,” she sniffled, burrowing closer into my chest. “Tossing bibles into paper shredders or setting fire to yellow brick roads. I’m wasting my time on nonsense. I should be storming castles or raising an army. There has to be more to life than catching mice.”

“That’s a little extreme, don’t you think?”

“Not really. The other day a john confessed to me that he left his wife so he could run away with me to South America. Now my voicemail is full of him in hysterics, begging me to return his calls.” Nora spit out her gum and slapped it away with her hand in one motion. She flipped the tie-string from her sweatshirt into her mouth and chewed on the plastic tip. “I figure since I always end up hurting people anyway, I might as well go for the gold. The more breaths I take, the more I realize I wasn’t designed to break hearts. I was built to cause devastation on a massive scale.”

The security car crept next to us. The driver rolled down his window and tried his best to stare us down. From ten feet away, I could smell seafood on his breath.

“Is there a problem?” I asked, masking enough of my contempt to show I wasn’t being confrontational, yet revealing enough to let him know I was unimpressed.

“You tell me,” he snorted. An orange moustache covered his upper lip. I couldn’t tell if the white flakes cascaded in it were dandruff or powdered sugar. “This is private property. Do you know what that means?”

Nora bit down on the inside of her cheek. The security guard had a puffy face, similar to her father’s. He also spoke with the same, exaggerated Brooklyn accent. It was only a matter of time before she lost her temper and lashed out. I could already sense the anger boiling in her stomach as her body stiffened.

“It means,” he grunted, heavily breathing between each syllable, “you little faggots are trespassing. Now hurry it on out of here before I bust the two of you.”

“Yes, sir,” Nora spit sarcastically. She leapt off the hood of the car and started towards the fence at the end of the lot. I knew her well enough to know that although she was acquiescing, inside she was seething; inside she was a swirling ball of rage that was one comment away from bursting. I didn’t have to wait long for that comment.

“Damn, that’s a mighty fine ass you got there. Why don’t you come back here and let me throw my cuffs on you.”

Nora stopped abruptly, a cloud of dust kicking up from her sneakers. I was a few feet behind her, but my reflexes were too dull to stop her. Although I have to admit, a dark part of me was curious to see how far she would go.

“What’s the matter, sweetie? Don’t you know how to take a compliment?”

“Oh I do. In fact, I thought I’d hook you up with a better look.”

Nora bent over and seductively waved her ass at the security guard. He pounded on the outside of the car door and whistled.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” he yelled. “Come on, you little slut. Bring that over here for daddy.”

Nora glanced over at me. I shook my head disapprovingly, but a wicked smile slithered across her face. She clutched a rock with each of her hands. Slowly, she straightened back to a standing position.

“Come on, you tease. Let me see that again. I’m halfway there.”

“Then let me finish you off,” she growled. Nora wound up and fired the two rocks at the car. The first one shattered the backseat window. The second shattered the security guard’s nose. His face erupted a geyser of blood before he even realized what happened.

“You like?” she screamed. “You want more?”

Nora picked up more rocks and flung them at his car. They pounded the side of his door leaving shallow dents. I joined her and picked up a brick-sized rock and tossed it through the back windshield. The security guard stumbled out of the car gripping his face.

“How’s that?” she exploded, side-arming another rock at the guard’s doughy chest. He fell backwards and clocked his head on the open passenger door of his cruiser. “Me love you long time.”

“You’re dead,” he threatened. “You whore. If I ever see you again, you’re dead. You hear me?”

“Death is a promise,” she snapped. “Enjoy the emergency room.”

Nora grabbed my hand and led me towards the fence. Behind us, the guard stuttered curses and threats. When we got to the exit the wind completely covered his cracking voice.

“After you,” she said, lifting the chain link fence so I could crawl underneath. The gap between the fence and the dirt was small, but I was able to squirm underneath easily. I stood and swatted the dirt from my jeans.

The wind stopped and I heard the faint roar of an approaching plane. Nora paused to stare up at the sky until the plane passed by safely, its roar fading to a murmur. Still on the other side, Nora grabbed the fence and shook it wildly.

“Sometimes the mice make it too easy,” she snarled, baring her incisors. Her eyes glowed red under the buzzing streetlamps. She looked like a caged animal, which is exactly what she was.

Rich Mallery stays pale in the summer, prefers pencils to pens and is easily distracted by ice storms. He refuses to look both ways before he crosses the street, colors outside the lines and dreams about living in a post-apocalyptic world. He writes every free second he has. He writes on walls, the stack of bills on his dresser, his arms—anything that has room for words. Although he deeply loves the city of New York where he’s from, if the boroughs started burning, he wouldn’t stop dancing.

To read Rich Mallery’s comments on Joe Quigley’s “Heroine,” click here.

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Notes from Chad Peterson, Associate Editor
What I found most striking about “Tomorrow We Release the Dogs” was the author’s knack for imagery. Throughout this story, Mallery is showering us with visuals, often simple, ordinary things and events (as well as a couple of rather disturbing and horrific ones), but laid out precisely and deliberately, to great effect. These details provide an ideal set for the main scene of this piece to play upon, which made it all the more effective and captivating to me.

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Comments on this story by Ellen Reeder, author of “Gracie In Pink”
When I was a kid, I was bitten by a brown recluse spider. When the doctor told my mother that its venom was 30 times more poisonous than a rattlesnake’s, she couldn’t hide her fear. But I only felt elation. At last, something special had happened to me.  “Tomorrow We Release the Dogs” perfectly captures this personal delight in the horrific. The story is impressive in its depiction of a sensitive protagonist who finds a way to survive a life of abuse and neglect through his imagination. Mallery expertly draws the reader into the story by using provocative, snapshot details and a directness that is conversational yet shocking. Through richly painted emotions revealed in a stark and tragic setting, the author manages to create main characters who are heroic in their desires to witness devastation, and yet also tenderly care for each other. Nora is the narrator’s dream come true, a wreck of magnificent proportions brought to life.




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