Preston rolled his shoulders back, stuck his chest out as he looked at the crowd. When the mayor handed him the key to the city, there were a few boos from people but nothing more. Preston’s security flanked him either side like pillars but these were events where he felt fragile. Hundreds of people still offering him their shame, and how he writhed against the offer.
Fucking dogs, he thought.
The starched collar of his shirt rubbed against the back of his neck as he squinted against the flashes until something etched the strain into his skull. He agreed he wouldn’t drink at these events and so Preston was already contemplating the first smooth burn of brandy when he got home.
He posed for photographs, noting there were fewer people eager to have their photograph with him. Still, it had been a tough road to get this far. Preston had a career, and he played the role of regret with a stoic enthusiasm but there was an ugliness to things which exhausted him. It was an endless drill under Georgia sun all the time. Preston’s soul begged for water, but what relief there was, came in small public sips and gluttonous private feeding.
When his assistant, Keiko came over to tell him his car was ready and he looked at her with gratitude. She was reporting back to Sharon, but she made herself scarce when it benefited her.
The bark wasn’t close but the hackles on the back of his neck rose, stinging where the collar burned into the skin as he looked up. Keiko was ushering him out to the car, and he convinced himself he imagined it as he got into the back of the car.
His hands shook when he reached for the vape pen and pressed the ignition button as he sucked down the smoke. The CBD kept his head straight and his knees from killing him every day. As the smoke settled into his synapses, he sank into the seat and looked out of the tinted window at the sun flashing off the windows.
Something caught his eye. Spry and aggressive as it leapt from the sidewalk, a loping shadow but he couldn’t make out the point of origin. His eyes burned as he pressed his fingers against the bridge of his nose.
Keiko woke him by saying his name. His chin was damp and his head hurt, but he staggered out of the car with gratitude to be home. Preston was relieved of the burden of performance.
Well, one kind, anyway.
Sharon was in the living room, feet up on the couch as she typed into her tablet.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ she said.
He grimaced and shook his head.
Her nose wrinkled with disappointment as she sniffed.
‘Stoned too. Shit, you got one hundred and thirty million dollars to burn, motherfucker?’
Preston swatted the air with one thick hand as he loosened his tie and staggered through to the master bedroom. He waved the air conditioning on and kicked his shoes off as he crawled onto the bed before he clapped his hands and switched the lights off.
In the cold dark, he laid there and breathed in, tried to let the tension which clung to his skin like second hand smoke.
The growl was soft. He sat up, clapped the lights on and found it stopped. Preston swore under his breath as he looked around him. No one heard him, and he sat there, heart thumping hard against his ribs as he wiped chill sweat from his forehead.
Preston checked under the bed and found there was nothing waiting for him. He laid back down, clapped the lights out but sleep was a long time coming.
Preston had gone to church, grew up with the Bible stories.
His fear of dogs came from there, but he lacked the means to reach far enough inside himself to grasp it.
“For without [are] dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.”
“And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.”
It was close to whore in the amount of insults. His issues with women came later, but it was dogs which betrayed them.
Then, it was his brother.
The irony, like his sense of self-preservation, escaped him. His viciousness grew florid in line with his success. His status armoured him against any moral considerations.
No became why not?
Why not became
His brother Stanfield got picked up on a possession charge and gave them Preston’s house as his place of residence. The sheriff’s department sent a team out to search the house and grounds.
They found the kennels.
Truck axles dug into the ground with thick lengths of chain welded onto them.
The pit, laced with lime which grew so full they were debating another one before the police came.
Forensics found thirty dogs buried in the pit, but the process of decomposition made it difficult. Preston was unsure himself. People bought their dogs from all over, and some of them were left there. He enjoyed watching the dogs fight, and the money wasn’t even the point, just an excuse because everything he needed was in watching two animals fight until one of them was dead.
It was the same on the field, and it was something no one ever asked about.
Money made most of it go away. The shame was something he pretended to accept, and after some court-mandated therapy and the promise of season tickets, his agents returned his calls again.
When he walked into the kitchen for some water, he heard the clatter of claws on the kitchen tiles. A rapid tattoo played on his nerves as he turned away, crawling with unease. He opened the bottle and drank in a deep gulp as something moved in his peripheral vision. A blur of motion registered but when he looked in that direction, there was nothing.
Preston shook his head and whistled under his breath as he put the cap back on the bottle and replaced it in the fridge. He chuckled to himself as he walked out of the kitchen.
He heard the wet rasp of a dog panting.
Handsome Jimmy had been the only dog allowed in the house. His daughter and worse, his wife had taken to it and despite his protestations, it slept inside.
It meant Jimmy was never getting in the pit but Preston saw the utility in it.
It was his breathing Preston heard.
He ignored it, walking to the living room and sinking into the custom recliner, found the remote and switched the television on.
Sharon hadn’t left him. She wasn’t a ride or die bitch, but the prenuptial agreement would have put her out on her ass without a penny to her name. His daughter got everything and she got an allowance. Preston’s name meant something and Sharon swallowed her disgust before things went back to normal again.
His daughter knew better than to ask about Jimmy.
Preston swallowed and his head throbbed. He had some pills in the bathroom and he went upstairs to get them. His heart was thumping like he had been doing wind sprints but he figured it was just stress. He wanted to be out on the field where none of this shit could touch him.
A wave of sadness overwhelmed him and he sat on the stairs, fighting a thick, ugly impulse to cry and when he heard Jimmy’s panting as it came up the stairs, he gave in and wept.
He wondered if he would ever stop.
Sharon pulled up at her sister’s house and turned to her daughter who sat in the back seat.
‘If she asks about your dad, he’s fine.’ she said.
Tanisha sneered without looking up from her phone.
‘She ain’t going to ask, momma.’ she said.
Sharon pouted and clicked her fingers at her daughter.
‘Bitch will eat out for a month on the news her brother-in-law’s a vegetable.’ she said.
Tanisha looked up, wounded and appalled but not surprised by her mother’s assessment.
She had found him on the stairs, weeping and inconsolable. He was three hundred pounds of breakdown. Keiko arranged for Preston to visit the hospital. Sharon had said the scans showed evidence of too many blows to the head, trauma which left scars on his brain which would never heal.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
As they got out of the car, Tanisha agreed not to say anything and Sharon adjusted her hair one last time as she tried not to think about how the trauma in her husband’s brain had looked.
Like dog bites, she thought.
They looked like dog bites.