I grab the walker and pull myself out of bed. I rub the six-inch surgery scar on my back and test my feet on the hardwood floors. They work today. The room is too quiet. The dog bed is empty. I walk to the living room and scan the back yard for Sheldon.

He is under a tree. Covered in dirt. Something slimy and horrific dangling from his mouth. I feel nauseous. I step outside, slowly approach. He stands firm. The thing looks like a long piece of skin ripped from the body of a hairless creature. His eyes go hard. He will fight for this skin.

I wanted a sweet girl dog that would cuddle in my lap all day.

“You won’t get that,” my momma said. “You’ll get the dog that’s coming to you. You’ll get the one that shows you yourself.”

I got a wild white dog with skin hanging from his teeth, a mask of dirt on his face, oil black socks of mud on his paws.

I grab the end of the skin with my fingertips. It falls from his mouth. A cow ear dug up from the dirt. No more ears. Sheldon tries to snatch it from me. I jerk it away like a matador’s cape. The end of the ear slaps my arm leaving a wet black smudge. Dog runs angry circles around the yard. Makes another pass for the ear, jumps and nips my butt.

“You get the dog you need.” My momma said.

I hobble into the house. Ear dripping drops of rain, dirt, dog, and ear juice on the floor. Dog nipping my heels, calves, tearing little holes in the back of my shirt. Herding me like sheep. I toss the ear in the trash. Dog shoots out the doggie door in a rage. Digs furiously in a corner. He comes up for air with a giant marrow bone. It’s worse than the cow ear. I’m done fighting. I’m too tired and sore to need this dog, this back, this life. I curl up on the couch without something to cuddle.


Something wild and feral wakes me from a dream. I open one eye. Sheldon is in my face. Pleading with me to get up. To love his wild.

“What you gone do?” I say. The left, deaf ear hangs floppy. The right blind eye blinks slow, lazy. Sheldon cocks his furry head. Thinking.

“C’mon now. What you gone do?” I say it southern like my buddy Van. The way Van used to talk to his old hound dog Jessie when Jessie would wake up, stretch, stare, and look at us blankly. “What you gone do, Jessie?” Jessie would wag tail, then forget how to dog.

Sheldon wants to dog. He’s got things happening. A purpose. Meaning.

I take stock of the living room carpet: 1 pig hoof, 4 bison bones, 1 gray ball, 1 stuffed dog (with a ripped off face), 1 stuffed pizza slice, 1 big purple stick, 1 stuffed white ghost.

“Get it!” I say. I point anywhere. Sheldon runs, attacks, shakes, kills. Squeakers wail. Stuffing flies.

I stare at the wall like old hound dog Jessie. The list on the table says:



Clean House

Finish article


“What you gone do?” I ask myself. What’s the purpose? The meaning. I forget how to human. Sheldon howls. I slide off the sofa. Crawl to his dog bed, lie on my back, press my scar to the soft cushion, and sigh. He runs in circles, grabs the stuffed dog, drops it on my stomach, then the big purple stick, the ghost, the pizza, the gray ball, the bones, the hoof. I am covered in all his dogging.

He pounces on my chest. White hair flying. Like silken angel hair. We wrassle. Piles of books fall. To do lists slide off tables. He grabs a list, torpedoes out the doggie door. Soggy torn paper, smeared ink, in his jowls. Leaves rustling. He’s kicking up dust. Dogging hard, raging on my list. Ripping. Tearing. Killing with a vengeance.

He torpedoes back in. Stops short. Stares me down. Dares me to live, to get up and human. He sits back on his haunches and cocks his head.

“What you gone do?” He seems to say.


Rachel Palmer was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She is currently an MFA candidate in Nonfiction Writing at Portland State University. She writes stories about the quirky situations that arise from living as a southerner in non-southern places. She currently resides in Oregon with her socially awkward dog, Sheldon.

Photo by Heather Kresge