Sit and stay
Note: This is a first draft. I will continue to update the story on the site as I edit it!
Familiarity is a remarkable concept. Marcus Treller of Louisiana, Georgia, believed familiarity was the saving grace of all men. That it should be reveled in like a pig in shit from the moment work was done until the moment a man’s eyes shut. As Marcus hauled himself up the front steps of his cozy bungalow, a smile crept across his normally rigid face. He was about to flood his head with familiarity; the best part of the day.
Especially since God cast blistering heat upon the St. John’s Bridge construction site for the umpteenth time. It was bad enough that, as a foreman for Steelcon Inc., Marcus had to wear a a monkey suit in the first place. Now, on top of that, his pale, skinny body was covered in a thin layer of slippery sweat. It made the infernal clothes cling to him like they never wanted to come off. It sucked to work like that, but it made his return home even sweeter. He’d be able to crack open a beer and blast his brand-new Carrier air conditioner that cost and arm and a leg (but sure as hell was still worth it!) and his worries would float away.
Marcus opened the door and stepped into his home, hands on hips. He took a whiff of the air and marveled at how it still smelled a little like t-bone steak from the previous night. He kicked off his steel-toed shoes, unbuttoned his dress shirt, and strode over to the kitchen. He ignored the mountain of dirty dishes he knew he’d eventually have to take care of. Some day, but not today. There were only five beers left in the fridge, so Marcus grumbled about having to make a trip to the beer store. On a good night, he could crush eight or nine before bedtime, so he’d have to make these last if he wanted to avoid going today.
He grabbed one, lit up a Pall Mall, and headed over to the living room, stopping halfway to peer at himself in the mirror hung in the hallway. He saw that his long, bony face reverted to its gloomy resting position. His disheveled whiskers, chapped lips, and yellowed teeth made him look homeless. He didn’t care about that, though; he was fixed on the fact that the corners of his mouth weren’t up.
Smile, fella, he told himself, you’re home now.
Marcus finished his walk to the living room and set his beer down, trading it for the only other object on the cheap oak coffee table: a leather tool belt. Well, there was also an ashtray on the table, but Marcus saw that more as a fixture of the table itself. His cigarette wiggled in his mouth as he puffed away hands-free while donning the belt. He looked at the permanent indent in his red bridgewater sofa.
Very soon, I’ll be there. Just gotta get Coco.
Marcus went over to the basement door only a few feet from the living room and unhooked the keyring from the leather belt. His fingers were dry and stubby, so he cursed through his smoke as he fumbled around with the keys. Once he found them, he unlocked the padlock and deadbolt on the door and creaked it open.
The rickety stairs led down into an area of total darkness. Marcus couldn’t see more than halfway down, but he could hear shuffling on the cement floor below. He grinned. Coco knew he was home; she had heard him walking around the main floor. But like a good girl, she had waited in the basement for his call instead of scratching the shit out of the door like she sometimes did.
“Coco, here girl!” Marcus shouted into the darkness with a heavy southern drawl. He followed the beck with a shrill whistle.
The shuffling turned into scraping, which turned into pounding, and out of the darkness jumped Marcus’s pet, Coco. She rubbed up against Marcus’s thin legs and walked around in circles.
“Aw,” Marcus mused, “what a good girl!”
He reached a hand down and rubbed it in her brown coat. She looked up at him, tongue extended and panting. Marcus pointed over to the kitchen at two food and water bowls and Coco shifted her attention there. She was excited, but waited for her owner’s command.
Coco raced over to the bowls and began fervently lapping at the water, switching to the food once the other bowl was licked clean. Marcus shook his head, joining Coco in the kitchen and refilling her bowls as she ate and drank.
“Alright, I reckon that’s enough,” he said after a while. “Let’s go watch the TV.”
Coco obediently stopped eating and followed Marcus back to the living room. He plopped onto the couch and put his feet up on the table, closing his eyes and taking a second to enjoy the pure bliss. Coco settled on the floor underneath Marcus. After cracking open his beer, he grabbed the remote and leafed through channels.
“Oh boy, Coco. High Noon.” Marcus said, but Coco wasn’t really listening. She was curled up peacefully under Marcus’s legs. “What a classic! This one has Gary Cooper.”
Coco responded by shifting around into a new position. In doing so, she bumped the underside of Marcus’s legs.
“Hey!” he yelled. “Settle down.”
For the next half-hour, Marcus let his atmosphere steal his mind to a blissful place. Cool beer hugged his throat, nicotine warmed his lungs, and the comforting action of a classic Western filled his eyes and ears. The new air conditioner blew cool air into the room to combat the blazing southern sun. It would have been absolutely perfect, except that Coco wouldn’t sit still. Every time she moved, Marcus was hiked away from his inner piece by the noise or by his legs being nudged. Eventually, he’d had enough.
“God dammit girl, stop yer fuckin’ moving,” he yelled. Coco froze. “Go get your toy, huh?”
Coco just stared at her owner silently.
And she was off, down the hall to find a miniature rubber bone that Marcus prayed to Jesus would keep her busy, at least until supper time. A few seconds later, Coco found the toy underneath the dining table and brought it back to Marcus, dropping it on the floor beneath him. She then sat up, wanting to play. With his eyes still glued to the screen of his old television, he leafed around for the toy of the floor. Once he found it, he limply tossed it down the hall for Coco to retrieve. They repeated the fetching for a couple minutes until Marcus got bored of it, grabbed another beer, and hopped back into his movie.
But his problem persisted.
Marcus’s eye twitched and his grip strained around the remote as Coco lapped and gnawed away at her toy. The bitch wouldn’t sit still, then with a toy, she wouldn’t shut up! There was no winning.
She’s a good girl. Just ignore it, fella.
He took a deep breath and concentrated his attention to Thomas Miller’s character persuading Gary Cooper’s character in the church to leave town so that the bandits who are after Cooper don’t cause trouble. In the meantime, Marcus’s left hand instinctively moved to his hip to rest atop one of the features of his leather belt: a sheathe for a hunting knife. He felt the hilt within his grip and was simultaneously relaxed and empowered.
Marcus called it a tool belt because he saw the constituent objects as tools, but it was really a hunting belt. It was made of embossed leather that still, to this day, smelled tantalizing and was smooth and soft to the touch. Originally, it had been crafted to hold a few knives, but Marcus made some modifications. He removed two of the three knife sheathes but kept the one on the left hip. On the right hip, he added a holster.
Inside the holster, at all times, sat Marcus’s prized possession: a .44 magnum colt anaconda.
“So what’d you get up to all day while I was gone, huh girl?”
Marcus reached down and tapped Coco on the head a few times.
“Probably a whole load of trouble, I reckon.”
Coco looked up and tilted her head at Marcus. He wagged a finger in her face.
“I best not find any mess downstairs after, or you know what’s coming to ya!”
He struck her lightly over the nose and she whimpered in response. Her eyes were wide; she looked genuinely frightened. But Marcus knew he wouldn’t do anything more unless she misbehaved, so he laughed.
“Hey!” he obnoxiously yelled. “Go get me another beer, ya fuckin’ mutt!”
Coco just stared back at him from the floor, displaying a mix of confusion and fright.
“Ah, of course ya can’t. But I fuckin’ wish, huh!”
Marcus just chuckled and went back to watching the movie.
After his fourth beer, the wave of relaxing drunkenness began to sweep over him. He wasn’t worried that he was about to consume his last beer. He’d make the walk out to the beer store if he had to. The movie was about to end and it was time for the real party to begin.
He made his way over to the fridge, the old floor creaking beneath him as he stumbled along. He chugged the final beer on the spot and crushed the can in his hand. The long belch that followed satisfied him, and he grinned while wobbling and deciding what to do next. He looked back at Coco, who was still in the same spot between the couch and the coffee table, intently watching him.
Time for some fun, he resolved.
“Hey, bitch! I fuckin’ bet you made a mess downstairs, didn’t ya?” Marcus’s eyes locked onto his pet and his face morphed into a scowl. He paced back over to Coco and grabbed her by the throat where she lay. He brought his face inches away from hers and filled his voice with as much venom as he could muster.
“I know you fuckin’ did.”
Marcus then smacked her on the side of the head with unreasonable force. Coco lurched and fell to the ground, producing a hard thud when her head connected with the hardwood. She tried to scamper away, but Marcus caught her again and swung a fist at the top of her head. Coco yelped and fell flat to the floor once again. Marcus looked down upon his now injured, cowering pet and laughed. He let go of her and she ran down the hallway and skulked around the corner, keeping an eye on her owner.
With fresh beer coursing through his veins and the exertion of physical power that got him oh so excited, Marcus was on the edge of his seat, livelier than he’d been all day. He licked his lips enthusiastically and took a big breath of the familiar air that surrounded him. As before, it was filled with the faint scent of steak. But now, it buzzed with the electricity of dopamine mixed with fear. And that was the familiar combination that Marcus craved so direly.
Impulsively, Marcus started sliding the knife out of its sheath. He didn’t take his eyes off of Coco, who was still peering out at him around the corner of the kitchen. As Marcus removed his knife, the blade scraped soundlessly against its leather case, a spectacular feeling. Once it was out of the case, he admired its weight and shining splendor. He could see his reflection perfectly mirrored in the cheek of the steel blade. The wave pattern that had been etched along both sides of the spine was a comforting gift to his eyes.
Marcus thrust his arm forward and pointed the tip of the blade at his frightened pet.
“You behave you fuckin’ stupid bitch, or I swear to got I’ll cut you to pieces. You hear me?”
Marcus knew that he was petrifying Coco, and he loved it.
And around the corner of the kitchen, a terrified animal sat. Not a dog, but a human woman.
A woman who had a muzzle strapped tightly around her head, crying silently. She was curled up in a ball, staring down the tip of a blade held by her captor. Her body was covered in purple and brown bruises, but that wasn’t anywhere near the worst part. She was dreadfully skinny; clearly malnourished and suffering. The clothing she had on, which was scarce to begin with, was dirty and torn. The brown hair on her head was all clumped and patchy, and she smelled rancid; a smell that constantly repulsed herself almost to the point of vomiting. And Marcus, for some twisted reason, seemed impervious to it.
Her body was covered in cuts, running the entire spectrum from fresh to fully healed. In fact, Coco could no longer find any select patch of her skin that didn’t contain the abhorrent marking of Marcus’s blade. She had been stripped of her humanity long ago——for all intensive purposes, she was a dog. Not even a dog. She was waste. A toy used for the sickening amusement of an insane psychopath whose behaviour was miles above unpredictable. If he wanted to cut her, he cut her. If he wanted to rape her, he raped her. If he wanted to keep her locked in the basement for days at a time with no food and water, well, he did that too.
So, around that kitchen corner, she wept in unadulterated fear, but was careful not to make a sound. If she did, Marcus would surely add another few scars to her collection. The better she behaved as a dog, the fewer injuries she received. It was an easy enough connection to make. The rest of Coco’s mind was so far gone that she could barely hold a rational thought. But she could still feel emotions. Her entire existence was a messy amalgam of anger, hatred, terror, shock, helplessness, anxiety, to name a few. She couldn’t even conceive the idea that she had once been a woman, long ago.
Her name had been Francine Treller when she married Marcus fifteen years back. But now, she was simply known as Coco.