When I was younger, I always thought it was strange that a dog could be so loyal. Across the street from where I lived, there was an old drunk, about 35-ish in age, who had a Golden Retriever. When he first got the dog, his wife would always play with it, and he would too, I remember them being so nice together.
When the wife died in a car crash, the man took up his drinking habits. He became inexcusably violent to other people, and especially the dog, which he had bought for his wife. After his routine drinking each night, he would yell and throw stuff at the dog, I remember seeing him kick it on not too of a rare occasion. But each time the dog whimpered back to him, tail between the legs and head low to the ground. I never understood it.
Now I think I do.
The dog always came back because of love. It had never ceasing love for the man, though the man hated it, it was plain in his eyes. It took me a while; actually, it took me until I had met my match of the man. His name is Jackson.
Tonight he was out later than usual. I had fallen asleep on the couch about midday and was frantically cleaning up. Behind me, in the kitchen part of our apartment, the burner sizzled as the pot of stew boiled over the edge. I looked over my shoulder and cursed as the sizzling grew more intense and the smell of burnt food invaded the air.
I threw the clothes I was putting in the washer down, turned around and raced to the kitchen. I turned the burner off and picked up the pot and set it on the counter. The burner still hissed with the mess and I sighed with exasperation. Grabbing a damp tea towel, I tried my best to clean the stove top off. It was hard work because the burner was still hot, but if I didn’t clean it off now it’d be caked on later, and I’d have even more trouble.
Suddenly, I stopped. My gaze shifted from the stovetop to front door. I could faintly hear the rattling of a key being inserted into the lock, and I stood frozen as death while I waited for it to open. When it opened, he walked inside. He threw his stuff on the floor and looked around the apartment, a scowl forming on his face.
I watched him intently, and it wasn’t until his gaze finally looked on me that I moved. I jerked my hand away from the stove, hiding the tea towel. I bent my head to hide my eyes from his penetrating, accusing glare. From his stance I knew I had disappointed him.
“Madeline, why is this place a mess?” He demanded as he started walking over to me. I kept quiet and moved away from the stove. I looked on top of the counter, but there was nothing I could potentially grab in case I needed it. He spoke again, his words lacing in the air, poisoning my thoughts. “Madeline, what did you do all day?”
“I cleaned.” I said faintly, still avoiding his gaze. By this time he had stopped in front of me. He put his hand on my chin and guided my face so I would look at him. At first I resisted, I didn’t want to look at him. His hands felt like acid, scorching away my skin, and he had no idea. But when I looked up at him, it felt as if all my fear melted away. His eyes gave my stomach butterflies; the watery green color seemed so gentle and protective. My hands shook slightly and it felt like my heart skipped a beat when he whispered my name gently.
“Madeline,” he whispered, “Don’t lie to me please. What did you do today?” He asked again, this time less forceful, and he made sure I didn’t avert my gaze from his. I breathed only gently as I replied.
“I cleaned some in the morning, but I fell asleep about midday, I woke up not too long ago.” I replied to him hesitantly. He looked at me softly for a moment, his eyes darkening slightly. I could almost feel the anger flowing off of him in waves, and though all I wanted to do was lean closer to him, the waves seemed to push me back and bring back some of that fear that he had chased away.
It took him at least an entire minute to make his decision, an eternity in time that made my heart begin to ache in agony. He leaned forward to brush my lips with his softly, and I felt warmth flow through my body from my heart, where it collided with the coldness of fear that moved from my lips. As I was still registering his earlier movement, his left hand came up and slapped me across the right side of my face. There was such force in the blow that I stumbled backwards into the counter.
“You should know by now to do your work before you relax.”
“I-I’m sorry!” I stuttered feverantly, “It won’t happen again!” His eyes darkened and I put my hands on the countertop behind me. I felt around, hoping that when I had looked around earlier, that I had missed something. I found nothing and was left staring him in the face. He moved forward, his eyes dark and full of rage, and slapped me again, this time the force knocking me to my knees. A cry of pain escaped my lips as I heard my kneecap hit the hard floor.
“Don’t backtalk me!” He shouted as I caressed my injured leg. Pain rippled from my knee, and my face still stung. I nodded to show that I had heard, and bit my lip to keep it from trembling. Tears welled up behind my eyes, but I held them back as I knew by now that crying didn’t help at all.
“Good. Now get up and go to the bedroom.” He commanded and stepped back to give me room. I stood up slowly, and tested my leg. It hurt, and I’d have a limp, but I could still walk. I glanced at him as I passed, and I felt the distaste he got from looking at me. Why did he hate me? Didn’t he know that I would do anything to please him; I loved him as it was. Suddenly, I felt very much like that dog across the street.