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Image by Hiroshi Tsubono
The greyhounds chased a fake rabbit around the track. They ran until they crashed into a net, often in a horrifying way. It was stupid and dangerous. I heard stories that I didn’t like about broken legs, wounds, and crippled dogs that were killed if they didn’t win. It always happened on Monday. Kill Mondays, they called it.
I worked here in West Virginia, one of the last states allowing greyhound racing, but I only knew one person. Alex. He seemed to like me, and I didn’t understand why.
We were both going to the greyhound stables. It was Kill Monday. The crematory van was parked outside the stables I cried when I thought of all the dogs I couldn’t help.
I confronted Alex.
“Why do you want to be with me? I have a bad heart and hardly any money.”
“What’s wrong with your heart?”
“It could stop at any time. One doctor in a clinic told me it was the result of living on the streets and malnutrition, and maybe drug use, among other things. It has stopped before, and I blackout. I was homeless before I got this job, and sometimes, I wish I hadn’t woken up.”
“I’m sorry, Ellie.”
“Why do you care?”
“I lost a sister a few years ago,” he said.
“I’m sorry. What happened?’
“Drunk driver.” He wiped his eyes. “She was tough, and you remind me of her. You’re tough.”
“Maybe just broken.”
“No. Everyone is broken. You’re tough.” I didn’t feel tough.
Earlier, I had threatened to expose a track security official’s gambling addiction, and how he sold illegal substances, if he didn’t let me keep a dog they planned to euthanize. So, today, he signed some papers, and Flying Rose was mine. I had seen her run and fall right before the finish. I’d had a friend in the streets named Rose. She’d overdosed. I needed that dog.
“Can the vets save her?” Alex asked.
“I hope so.”
“What about you?” He stopped.
“It’s too late for me.” I looked down.
“It’s never too late.”
Alex carried Flying Rose into the animal hospital. If she didn’t make it, I would be crushed. I wouldn’t recover from that. My chest burned, and I readied for an attack. I couldn’t stop it. It was a big one, and darkness overcame me.
* * *
The sound of beeping woke me up, and the pain in my arm made me moan, and I saw an IV in it.
“The dog?” I yelled out. Alex jumped up and hit a tray, sending water across the floor.
“Ellie. How do you feel?’
“How do you think? Terrible. Every time it happens, I feel terrible and alone when I wake up. Maybe because I woke up.” I looked around again. “Why am I here? How is Flying Rose?”
He grabbed my hand. Even through gloves, it sent electrical shocks through me, and I pulled my arm away. The IV beeped.
“Sorry. I told the nurses that I was your brother. They didn’t check.”
“She made it. She will be okay, but it will cost a lot for her to have surgery.”
“I don’t have the money,” I said.
“I can’t ask you to do that.”
“I want it too.”
He put his hand up. “I always wanted a dog. It will be ours.”
“Yours. I’m not able to care for anyone.” I looked away.
“The doctor said you’ll be okay if you take meds.”
“Oh, so you’re my parent now.” I laughed.
“No. A friend who cares.”
He reached out, and I let him hold my hand for a few minutes. He laughed. I tried to laugh too, but it came out like a snarl.
* * *
Now, I walk with a smile for a few minutes a day. It’s a start. It’s not as easy as I thought. Many things can make me sad and angry; animal cruelty, pandemics, bad drivers, racism, climate change, sickness, abuse of all kinds, lack of money, greed, people’s lack of empathy, intolerance, hypocritical religions, and politicians. I try to stay positive. It’s been hard, no, impossible, but I’m trying my hardest.
My heart hasn’t missed a beat, and I take all my meds. I avoid the crashes. My heart pounds whenever I think of the greyhounds crashing into the net. But it calms me whenever I visit Flying Rose and Alex. It’s always in that order since she always greets me at the door. Soon, I might move in, but I need time to heal before I enter a relationship. My heart isn’t crash-proof yet.
William Falo lives in New Jersey with his family including a papillon named Dax. His recent short stories can be found in Fragmented Voices, Dead Skunk Literary Magazine, Vamp Cat Magazine, and many other literary journals.