Somewhere Outside There is a Dog on Fire
Somewhere Outside There is a Dog on Fire
A Short Story by Grant Law
The midday moon was a sliver of sterile chalk hanging over some shitty gas station watching customers filter in and out of the store in a clockwork fashion. Some were pumping gas outside while a few were grouped around a food truck drinking and eating in celebration for the end of the workday.
Ayanna Stewart was walking towards the store mildly indifferent to the tediousness of her day when she noticed an elderly woman pumping gas beginning to echo tremors throughout her body. At first, it seemed as if the woman had gone mad and was shimmying to the royalty free music blaring through the outside speakers of the station. However, that was not the case, and a scene ensued. Many ran to her aid as the convulsions grew worse and she fell to the ground being bathed by gasoline spewing from the phallic nozzle. A small mass of people surrounded the woman, one a nurse trying her best to help the old lady endure what was assumed to be a seizure. Someone call an ambulance, cried the food truck manager as he shifted the elderly lady’s body to the side for better airflow per the instructions of the nurse. Back up, said the nurse to the crowd of concerned citizens, she needs space, and please someone stop that gas pump! The group did as instructed. Oh, dear, I hope this poor lady will be alright, said a woman clutching a baby, It would be mighty awful for her to pass, I mean did you hear what happened this morning? The man in the receiving end of the conversation looked at her, brushing off the burrito scraps that were captured by the tangles of his beard, By golly no I didn’t hear what happened this morning! What was it? Another onlooker entered the conversation, This damned lunatic ran over some poor kid just across this street. All three individuals looked over at the street where a child earlier that morning had been mauled by the automotive kiss of a pickup truck. Poor soul, said the bearded man as they all three returned their gaze to the woman still shaking on the ground, her varicose veins pulsing acrylic blue rivulets of pain throughout her body.
While the events were unfolding outside, Ayanna had made her way into the gas station picking up the few items she needed on her commute home. The checkout line had halted to a slow standstill as everyone was watching the events outside transpire half out of concern and the other half out of boredom. Ayanna gave in and looked for a brief second at the incident, but it only upset her more that this sideshow had caused her a delay in what was already a stressful day. Inside the gas station, designed to create some ambient distraction for the customers, was a T.V. stationed to the local news running a segment about world events, Officials are estimating that more than 680 people are stranded on Mount Rinjani, but they remain hopeful that the current rescue attempts will provide results. Unfortunately, other than that, no other news is available about the earthquake that has killed sixteen people in Indonesia. The voice from the T.V. came from a white newscaster who wore an uncomfortably staged look of concern on his face and a polyester cotton suit that was just slimming enough he’d be the appropriate and trustful amount of attractiveness for the general audience. Sad, sad. Well, KBRT’s thoughts are with them, spoke the bleach blonde co-anchor whose actual concerns were whether her co-host, who was her husband, was cheating on her with the new assistant. When Ayanna got to the front of the line the cashier at the counter tried an attempt at small talk, It’s just messed up. Outside with what's going on with that poor old lady and around the world. It’s all messed up.
Just the milk and cat food, please. said Ayana.
By the time Ayanna got back to her car, the ambulance had arrived, and the elderly woman was on her way to the hospital. The group of people stood around for a few moments feeling proud and rewarded that they had helped a person in need. However, the sensation was only fleeting, and everybody returned to their cars or previous commitments and went on with their day.
The rearview mirror of Ayanna’s car caught the reflection of the moon stuck in between the temporal boundaries of the late afternoon and the early evening sun. As she drove home, she noticed in a quick transient blur a large sum of people along the side of the road placing flowers and candles next to a picture of a young child. She thought very little of it and turned on her radio. The station was tuned to NPR wherein a soft, agreeable voice the reporter spoke about the current presidency, Yet again another scandal occurred involving our president. Along with Russia, pornstars, and the caging of children the president has now found himself in… Ayanna, tired of hearing the cyclical storyline of US politics and their leaders, turns off the radio and presses play on her cell phone of an audio recording of a self-help book by Satomi Yoshimoto called Bridging the Gulf Between Universal Misery. The author had been a popular psychologist in her day that promoted self-help amidst overwhelming societal grief. As she continued down the road, Ayanna drifted into the words that lingered through the speakers.
An individual can only bear so much until they break, and that’s okay. It’s okay to break. It’s okay to admit faults and say that you are weak. It’s what must be done so one can move towards a better life. It’s no surprise I find so many patients involved with external problems that are extraneous from their own. They saw the Gulf War, The Rodney King Riots, Waco, Oklahoma City, Columbine, 9/11, The Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the House Market Crash of 2008, the Earthquake in Haiti leaving 300,000 dead, and, most recently, Sandy Hook. Many of my patients feel guilty and lament over the fact that so many people with actual problems, with real traumas weighing in on their psychological debt, exist outside their own, much smaller, mundane misery. I must remind them, you, the listener, everyone: pain is relative, and it’s okay to suffer from your own personal traumas no matter how large, or small they are compared to others. With blank, brown eyes Ayanna nods her head as Satomi Yoshimoto’s words continue, This doesn’t mean you are ignoring others. That you are turning a blind eye to the world and its problems. It just means it’s okay to take care of yourself and not let the sadness of the world’s catastrophes sweep over you. You are allowed to be upset that you had a bad day at work. You are allowed to be upset that your kids aren’t listening to you. It’s okay to be angry that your car just won’t start or that you are feeling particularly sad one day for no good reason. You are allowed all these things because they are a part of you and a part that must be acknowledged and processed so you can become a better, healthier person. You won’t be any use to the world and its problems if you can’t take care of yourself. For that reason alone, as ordinary and simple as it may sound, I say that it is okay to feel your own pain while the world is hurting.
Ayanna reaches her house and parks her car but allows the audio-book to continue so she might cling to the words spoken by the author. She channels each word through the recording through her ear as it travels down south towards her mouth relishing the sweet, familiar taste of the sound and warmth of the words emitted from the audio-book, You must survive your own personal earthquakes, tsunamis, shootings, and wars so you can help rebuild the ones that take place outside of you, in the universal gulf of grief.
The inside of Ayanna’s house is minimal. Very little decorations accent the walls. The furniture is a drab grey, and there is only one small T.V. She has no internet connectivity. She still uses a landline phone for the little calls she must make, and she delegates her work emails through her company-issued cell phone. At first glance, one might assume her living is out of a modest manner of only having the bare minimum to survive in the modern world. However, with an in-depth look into her past and an understanding of the trauma that had calloused Ayanna to the point that extraneous materials became a burden rather than a luxury one would immediately understand her personal, hermit-like minimalism.
She puts up the items she purchased from the gas station and turns on the T.V. as she goes about her daily routine of returning home: feeding her cats, making a cocktail, checking her mail, cleaning any mess, and, lastly, drifting over a series of photos, the only decorative pieces that align her wall.
Her photos are a collection of family pictures spanning a few decades. Each depicts the same, happy family. There is a white man with a broad smile, her father, Timothy Stewart. Next to her father is a small Japanese woman formerly known as Satomi Yoshimoto but to Ayanna, she was Satomi Stewart, her mother. Underneath the towering figure of her father and bright beaming face of her mother was a young Ayanna and a butterball of a boy Sean Stewart, her little brother. All together they look picturesque, a pristine example of the American melting pot dream. In other words, they were happy.
Every time she looks at these pictures she feels an utter emptiness. Yet, despite that feeling, she continues, every day, to look at the snapshots captured in time in fear she might forget their faces, their small details that outlined their bodies. Even though the frames holding the photos capture the essence of loss and death, she looms over them in mechanical mess day after day after day.
The first of her family to die was her father. He was a lawyer and worked for a small firm in the late 90s and early 2000s. He was a kind man who never raised his voice and held the family together with sheer compassion and love. He called Ayanna his little angel. It was in 2007 when he was killed. He was a victim of a mass shooting that took place in his office building by a lone gunman. His body was riddled with bullets, and no trace of him was left behind, only a bloody mess and a hole-punched carcass that augmented his loving demeanor.
Years later her mother was the next to pass. She had been dealing with the loss of her husband in her own way. She published books detailing her grieving process and hoped that her experience and background in psychology would help others. Despite that, she still maintained the balance from her workload as a renowned self-help author and mother, never letting her kid's needs fall secondhand. She passed in 2014 in a parking garage, faced flushed white gasping for air. She fell victim to a group of skinheads looking to make a statement through a violent hate crime. They followed her out of the building in the shadow of her walk and as she opened her car door the three men gagged and bound her taking turns filling her with their erected hate. When found she had already been dead for two hours, pale in a pool of her own liquids. Ayanna had to identify her body.
Her brother was the last to go. He took the death of their mother the hardest. Isolating himself in his room, refusing to seek any help, only listening to audiobooks so he may hear his mother’s voice again, he fell into an inconsolable depression. Ayanna feels his death is entirely her fault because she believed she could have done something, stopped him. Like all survivors do when faced with such a loss. His body was found in a closet.
After staring at the pictures of her once whole family, Ayanna, broken and still trying to figure out the mechanism of healing, sits on her couch basking in the campfire of light poured out by the T.V. The child was dead on impact, and the driver was nowhere to be seen. The family has issued a statement for anyone who has clues or details of the driver to step forward, the nightly reporter recapped the details of the events that occurred earlier this morning. As they were speaking a collection of photos of the child played over the broadcast. Small, tender, innocent and eager, the child looked like a vessel of possible futures, a hopeful bundle of chance, but, when they clip of the parent’s statement played reality sunk its teeth into all the viewers of the local news. The child’s mother wailed in the background with a gaping black hole of a mouth and the father, stuttered by tears, pleaded for the driver to come forward. They wanted closure, but Ayanna, absently watching, longing for the same thing, knew it would never come.
For the remainder of her life, Ayanna’s mother had focused on solving the all too human problem of grieving, and through her death transferred that search to her daughter in the form of her journey towards understanding loss of her family members. Ayanna often thinks of what her mother once famously said, The term that grief consumes you is true. However, I’d like to add that you can consume grief as well. That instead of remaining passive to it your whole life you can conquer it, manifest it into something new. You create, through your own grief, in any medium of your choice, a force that doesn’t mourn loss but affirms the existence of those who are gone. You remember not what could have been, but what had been. In fact, the best way to deal with your grief is that you just remember what was lost. Despite the waxing poetic nature of her mother’s language, Ayanna knew this as the only thing closest to the truth, the only thing she can cling to.
The moon now sits in the darkness of the sky shining in its scheduled appearance over the people of the world. Every night, it looks at the Earth in its 420,464,000-yard stare dangling its phantom limbs in the distance. It remembers the contours and crevices it once occupied before the trauma of impact dislocated it into the emptiness of space. But it still clings to what it lost. It centers its gaze through Ayanna’s window and watches with her the final segment of the news about a cat fashion show. They both smile and laugh.