How would you do it?
I don’t know, I said.
We were in the park with the dog: me and Mateo. We were in the fenced off section where dogs could run off the lead. Cleo was having a little run around, sprinting and stopping and doing whiplash turns in the dusty Spanish soil, whippet-nimble on her three legs. The first five years of her life she had been kept locked in the dark for months of the year, let out only to hunt, just enough food to survive, yet here she was now running in the winter sun just for herself, her eyes bright. Her long legs could still reach out ahead of her. When I watched her running I could imagine her heart unfolding—beating like the wings of a bird in take off, not skittering like something caged and frightened the way it sometimes seemed when I took her out. She didn’t always play or run around like this: she had to forget herself to relax enough to do it. I didn’t mind her delicate heart and the coaxing it took. Petals unpacking from a tight bud, I knew how long it could take, how it could feel.
I think— I said, and then I broke off as we watched Cleo, buoyed on her own steam, slinking hopefully up to another hound, tongue happily lolling from the side of her mouth. The other hound was a Podenco. It was a sleeker looking dog than Cleo, with all four legs still in perfect order: a good looking dog that looked to have had a good life, holding itself proud. No visible scars. The Podenco’s owner was sitting on the park bench, one arm on the backrest: a chic young Spanish woman in a black leather jacket and tight black jeans and tan ankle boots, scrolling on her phone, the dog lead at the side of her.
How would I do it? I think I’d want to just sit down on the sofa with a good glass of wine or a whisky and just— sort of slowly dissolve, I said. I stopped to think about it. I quite liked the image: disappearing pixel by pixel.
That’s not possible, he said. What do you even mean by that? You can’t do that. You have to pick a method.
How would you do it, then? I said.
I dunno. Maybe I’d crash my car into a wall or something, then people would never really know whether I’d meant it.
Christ, I wouldn’t want that, I said. All that destruction and noise.
A Swiss clinic then? he said.
Maybe if there’s a poison that just makes your heart slow and slow until it comes to rest, I’d just buy that on the dark web and slip it in a drink, something like that.
I looked at Cleo. She made a play attack at the sleek, good-life Podenco and then retreated and paused eagerly, head bowed a little, waiting for reciprocation.
Oh, please, I said, under my breath. Please, please play with my dog.
The Podenco seemed to be sizing Cleo up: her three legs, the scar across her face near her eye, rough looking fur. She took a step and sniffed uncertainly, then sloped away from Cleo and began galloping in front of a smaller dog— some kind of terrier— who joined in the game immediately, play-snapping at the Podenco’s long legs. It was a two dog game. Cleo watched them playing for a while, then sniffed the air and lowered her tail. She walked back to me lopsided and I gave her a reassuring pat. If I could have gathered her up to me like a baby I would have done.
Maybe the other dogs can sense the weakness, her nerves and all of that, Mateo said. She probably smells desperate.
These dogs are bullshit. Someone should tell them about trauma, that it doesn’t mean you’re not worth anything.
They’re dogs, Mateo said.
Why do you always talk to me about these horrible things, anyway? The kind of stuff angsty teenagers talk about. Where do you get off on it? I said. My voice sounded strange, a bit too high.
I don’t know why you’re getting so upset, he said.
Life is all about slowly dissolving, anyway, I thought, though not in a bad way. You leave little pieces of yourself scattered all over the place, they peel away whenever these crystalline moments happen. There would always be a little peeling of me trapped forever here in the dog park, wishing to god that a good-luck Podenco would play with a bad-luck Ibizan hound. Perhaps my structural integrity would stay more or less the same but my mind would snag here. There were peelings of me in other people’s worlds as well, and of them in mine. We’re all so much confetti.
It was late November, the air was still and the sky was a bright blue, and I was crouching in the dusty soil of the dog park reattaching Cleo’s lead and patting her side, telling her she was a good dog, she was fine, she’d be okay. I bent to rest my forehead on her side for a few seconds and ran my hand over her ribs, felt the changing rhythm of her settling heart.
Lisa Phillips is a graduate of the University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing Masters programme, after which she was awarded the Mulcahy Conway agency prize for her dissertation. The first chapter of her novel in progress is published in the ‘Pulp Idol’ 2018 anthology, she has performed her work at Liverpool’s ‘Writing on the Wall’ festival, and she was recently nominated for a Pushcart prize by Constellate Literary Journal. She lives in Manchester.@lisacphillips