Crisp ran before I could put his lead on, his fur slick against my fingers, sprinting towards the back fence we never repaired. Its coarse, treated texture now looked like something infected. With his canine instinct for causing me upset, he went through the gap and out onto the field.
Leo had not wanted him neutered, and when he left, Crisp stayed with us. I cursed him when I had to drag him away from mounting the nearest bitch, including a traumatised Boston Terrier, all to a soundtrack of threats to call the police and aspersions on my character.
I would avert my eyes, mumble an apology and drag Crisp back inside, my face burning with shame and my hands slick with his drool. Mum called from upstairs, voice slurred from sleep and medication and I would tell her everything was fine.
No matter what she said.
Crisp would stare at me, panting until he had deposited a good puddle of drool on the uneven laminate flooring. He gazed at me with the adoration that my mum had spent her whole life chasing, giving more and getting less. Leo had broken her with a callous indifference which her in bed for days. The house held the echoes of raised voices, drunken giggles and fragile chirps of joy which made me feel sick to listen to. It was a horrible, valuable lesson to learn so young. Someone you love can break you by leaving.
I took care of her as best I could. I guessed she was asleep and it was a beautiful day. It was a dream of mine, one good, selfless act plucked from all the others which would make my mum recover from her bleakness and just be my mum.
Crisp knew. He loved us without guile or reserve but Mum pushed him away. She hated messes even when she became one.
I ran after him, my vision blurring at the edges as I flung open the gate with enough force to make it rattle on its rusted hinges. Bolting after him onto the fields behind our house.
The land was unused, scarred by the seasons. In winter, the soil would crack and harden like the broken scales of an ancient, giant lizard. This time of year, the poppies grew tall, tangled and twisted together. Crisp charged through them, making the heads lilt and sway.
I breathed rather than call him. He would stop when he found something interesting. Mum said I took after her, built for pleasure not speed and gave me a knowing wink. Those were glimpses of a womanhood irresistible to men but never enough to make them stay.
This was my world, much like hers, helpless and desperate to catch up with someone who would have been easier to manage without testicles.
Crisp yelped. It was a sharp, ugly sound which punched a bolt of nausea into the back of my throat.
A deep, chilling growl.
A shout of surprise then a cry of pain.
I parted the poppies, breathed in the smell of recent sex and spilled blood.
‘Mum?’ I said.