by David R. Bunch
Char was a big dog, black as a Tarbaby, but he seemed pleasant enough with a gay plaid pancake cap stitched to the fur of his head, and a bright chain tied to a red plastic band, and the long tongue of him, fuzzy and very scarlet, lolling down. He was the one thing among all of Daphalene’s toys that I had not tampered with, had not fixed for lessons. Daphalene? Daphalene was my daughter Daphalene, a cute baby-girl child with blond ringlets and a stomach ball-slight over the band of her training pants, and a dour sweet squint as she looked up at me with love, and her mother dead-to-me two years.
Yes, being her one parent left, mother-and-father now, staunch and adamant-true, I had fixed the other toys in the interest of Daphalene’s training — pins sticking out of the dollies, and fishhooks in the stuffed things to stick her, and a special strong spring on the jack-in-the-box to slap her head when she played. Also, over all toys was a syrupy stickum, light gum that would itch and burn slightly, and be on the hands black and adhesive, like handling the fresh-cut end of a Christmas tree. Yes, I wanted Daphalene to hurt early and well while playing, to learn that pain comes easily, flowing freely from Everything; she must form that hard crust NOW! Sometimes I thought of her as a fresh little wound in the world, so vulnerable to the harsh grains and grits, her freshness needing to be scabbed and grayed over. For her safety. Yes, I wanted her to be READY FOR THE WORLD.
But I wanted her to know love too. Within these baby shells that go across our times of horror must be the seed of love still. Else what? Inside the tended scars we rear to walk more confidently across our planned damnation must be the heart of love kept back, but kept like some deep-buried seedlet ready to sprout, the debris being cleared from the ground, and the sun and the rain coming right again.
So the black dog — I wanted her to love the black dog. “he is my best toy,” she would say, giving Char a joyful squeeze and lugging him about the dust-balled two-room apartment, where no woman was, where the poor-housekeeper wife had been briefly, briefly-and-long, to leave me with this challenge to the world, a wee thing to cherish and to train in my practical kindness. And my love. — She would carefully circle all the other toys while she hugged the huggable Char. She would laugh a gay chortle until I would glare at her from my dusty chair. She would know then that she had had her time with the easy dog. It was time to be going among harsh, useful toy lessons again.
It was a cold spring night. There was a Good Friday moon, full and pale, through the cracked pane of my high-up northwest window. I was alone. I had read some in some dull work of ancient charmless stories that should never have been told and had turned sleepy in my chair. Daphalene I could hear in the other room, tossing and turning in her high crib as she slept. So this young spring tosses and turns and waits, I thought, waits high up and restless to flower black ice-flowers into the iceberg world, when the frost comes out of its time. So oh-how-many-millions of girls babies wait fitfully in their strange chemistry, to flower ice-hearted ice babies into this glacial age, with ice hearts of men, until sometime that heart coldness must surely freeze along all the world’s gray tubes until all is white and proper and dead stone. Unless the debris is cleared, and cleared quickly, for the seedlets . . . of love. And the moon — a Good Friday full cold moon — aloof, maniacal orange-white eye . . . indifferent . . . meaning nothing . . . chill, dead . . . ball . . . of light . . .
I watched, hypnotized, and he moved! From where he lay on his side, just as Daphalene had piled him, with his read-felt tongue lolling at the foot of a doll with ice-blue eyes, Char stretched one black leg. Then carefully, ominously, he rolled to a sitting position and sat eyeing the toys and me, his red tongue streaming out. Like flame, that tongue — flame turned to stone, I thought, and melting and streaming I rubbed my eyes, and I shuddered at this black dog’s odd turn.
Carefully, as I watched and could not clear this watching from my head, he circled all the toy pile. Three times. Then he walked among them, slowly, on great fur feet, the big scarlet tongue unrolling out of the caverns of the mouth and the caverns behind the mouth and flowing over all the toys until all the itch and burn had been quite lapped from them. Then with a sweep of a massive foot he crushed the jack-in-the-box until the leering face of jack lay nose-up, frightening without a home. And all the pins and the fishhooks and keen bright nails were carefully pulled from the stuffed toys and the dolls, and the sharp points soon lay together in a little heap on the floor. And the black dog grinned, a strange grin in the moonlight, before he moved . . . on me . . .
Like a wrecking ball swung at a stubborn structure of brick and masonry stone the sound was. And the harsh noise of my falling among the toys was followed by a chortle of morning grayness. She stood there holding the big black Char clutched fondly in her arms and her baby-girl hands. The little stomach ball-slight over the band of her training pants, the sleep squint yet in her baby-girl blue eyes, she was asking Char if he had been a good doggie and had slept well all through the night.
The scream of winning was harsh and high when, the sleep squint gone, she saw that the box was broken. She was astonished at jack so strange and peeled looking outside his box and springs, and she must have known that he could not slap her now. She was concerned for the stuffed bears and cats and the dollies that I had fallen among. When I arose bleeding, I was surprised to leak two pins and a fishhook from my hands. The other sharp-pointed things from all the toys lay in a shiny small mound where I, standing or sitting or walking in a strange moonlit trance, had watched Char so carefully place them for the little girl who loved him . . . and whom he must have . . . greatly . . . loved . . .