A blue door in a brown cabin, partially opening, revealing the silhouette of a woman inside.

Pine and sweet gum pressed close to the porch that wrapped around the cabin like one long arm. The trees rattled with cicadas and the hissing highway, only sometimes crackling with gunfire from the range down the river. It was what you’d call a quiet place. 

The driveway cut a fishhook through the woods: straight away from the two-lane for a third of a mile before bending back toward the cabin so that the man and woman could hear crunching gravel long before anyone reached them. But almost no one came.

They hung the man’s crossbows and machete on the log walls. He kept his long gun under the sofa and a handgun on his hip. He taught the woman to hold the pistol and zigzag across the plank floors, her belly like risen dough, sight fixed on a knot on the opposite wall. He wanted her to feel safe.

She’d started eating meat again, but she still didn’t like the sausages the man cooked, the way they soaked the raw timber walls with the smells of smoke and burning flesh. She barely slept, filled with liquids and organs that didn’t belong to her. 

She didn’t want the new dog he brought home. They already had two, and this new one was young, male, nearly a hundred pounds, and already twice abandoned. It had huge raccoon eyes full of worry, and it shat everywhere, in every room, so that the cabin also smelled like the feces stuck between the floorboards and the bleach they doused it with. 

There is no sound at all in her memory of the man standing inside the front door waving the pistol at his own skull. She can’t remember anything he said then, just like she can’t remember who described to her, when she was seven, the way her grandmother had lain in bed before placing the muzzle of a handgun into her own mouth. 

The woman tried to remember if the man was right when he said that the woman started the fight that ended with the woman and baby shimmering in shattered glass. She grew accustomed to leaving, propelled each time by a fear she wouldn’t name. The long sound of her tires on gravel deferred her separation until she reached the asphalt, buckled the car seat, and faded into the highway’s hiss.

They made a garden the spring after the baby was born, but the woman left so often that it became the man’s garden, and he tended it. How could she have robbed him of his child and left him to raise tomatoes instead? She went back each time to find the cabin in incremental decay. The dirty dishes she expected, but there was also the dustpan of broken light bulbs, the pistol on the floor by the bed.

On the day of the eclipse, the woman heard screaming from the porch and found the new male dog adhered end to end with the female dog that had been with her since before the man. The female’s eyes were wide and searching. The man said the dogs were tied, and there was no way to separate them without hurting the bitch. Besides, he said, she wouldn’t have let him mount her if she hadn’t wanted it.

Maybe that day, as the one-year-old napped, was also the last time the man and woman tied themselves together. She remembers how quickly he left her body to empty himself into the toilet. 

By the time the puppies were born, the woman knew she was pregnant again too. She’d left the cabin and brought the female dog with her, who burrowed under the woman’s mother’s house and gave birth in the night. The next morning, the woman slid the small fresh mound of her own belly along the cool dirt, the floor only inches overhead. The puppies were already dying. They went motionless one by one, and the mother dog ate each, swallowing her grief to protect the living. Only one kept breathing. 

The neighbor who took it named it Lolita, which means sorrow.

Photo by Tomas Martinez, used and adapted under CC.