By Cathy Spencer

Rosie lies upon the bed inside a nest of sheets and blankets with her white hair tumbling across the double pillow set. Her breath sighs in and out, four fingers splayed over the hem of the nubby sheet. Window sheers flutter in the current that swirls through the shadowy room, moonlight dancing on the wall as branches toss outside the window.

The ghost of her husband slips into her dreams. They are newlyweds again, she and Kyle, chasing each other through the chilly water, laughing and splashing, crystal droplets flying in glittering arcs. They stumble out of the surf and stagger up the beach, legs no longer buoyant, arms entwined around waists and shoulders, supporting each other. They collapse onto towels and lay panting and laughing, tangled hair dripping on faces and shoulders. The hot sun bakes their skin and the water droplets evaporate, but the breeze is cool and has that wonderful smell of suntan lotion, seaweed, and lake. Kyle's fingers brush against hers and they hold hands upon the firm sand between their beach towels, exhausted, boneless, and happy.

On the concrete balcony of his apartment, Raymond balances on the back legs of his cheap aluminum deck chair, his feet propped on the rusty ledge as he gulps down his first beer of the morning. Even four floors up there isn't much of a breeze and his t-shirt is already sticking to his back. He sets the bottle down on the floor and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. His stomach is queasy and he's starting to feel shaky. There's no food in the apartment; there never is now that his girlfriend is gone. "Stupid bitch, stole forty-two dollars out of my wallet," he thinks. "If I ever catch up with her, she'll be fucking sorry."

"There goes that old bag walking down the street with her shitty little dog. Look at her, it's fucking hot outside and she has a coat on. It's summer, you stupid old woman!"

A drop of sweat drips into his eye and blurs his vision. He wipes his eye with his thumb; his hands are shaking. "Where's she going so fucking early? Buying groceries, or maybe to the bank? I've seen her before — she lives two blocks away in that shitty little blue bungalow with the siding hanging off it. Geez, she's so fucking slow. She's gone around the corner — I bet she's going to the bank."

"I feel really lousy — maybe I should go inside and lie down? There's no more beer. Stupid bitch, stealing my money. What am I gonna do?"

Rosie unlocks the front door and Sophie, her terrier, strains to get down the hallway. It's cool and dark inside; the front hall smells of furniture wax and moth balls.

"Just a minute, just a minute Sophie," Rosie says, carefully locking the door behind her. "You gotta be thirsty." She bends down to unfasten the leash, and the little brown dog skitters down the hallway in front of her. Rosie drops her purse and keys on the front hall table and follows Sophie to the kitchen door.

The dog growls and scratches at the wooden door. "What's the matter, Soph?" Rosie asks, opening it. Sophie barks and darts into the kitchen. Raymond is sitting at the wooden table; he climbs to his feet. Greasy hair hangs in his eyes as he stares at Rosie. She shrinks back while he looks down at the terrier yapping at his feet.

"Shut up, you shitty little rat," he mutters, kicking it hard with his boot. The dog soars through the air and smashes against the fridge.

"Sophie!" Rosie shouts, limping quickly to the animal. "Sophie," she says again, staring down at the still little body. Raymond grabs her by the arm; Rosie screams and pulls away from him.

"Shut up," he yells, shaking the crying woman by both arms. "Where's your money?" Rosie cries harder, her breath coming in little shrieks. "Where is it?" he shouts again, slapping her across the face. The slap knocks Rosie into the counter; she grabs it and raises a defensive arm. Raymond's eyes swivel around the kitchen, looking for a likely hiding place, until he glances down the hallway. Her purse is on the hall table. He shoves Rosie out of the way and lumbers out of the kitchen as she falls to the floor.

The kitchen door slams shut. Rosie crawls across the linoleum to Sophie, picking her up and cradling the warm little body in her arms. There's an odd sound, a rumbling, menacing growl, followed by a shout. Something bangs into the wall. "Get off me!" she hears the man shout, and "Get away from me." There's a crash and a splintering noise, and the sound of feet scrabbling against the wall. "Help me, for God's sake, somebody help me!" he screams; then more banging and crashing. Rosie shrinks into a protective ball, clutching the dog to her chest.

Suddenly everything is quiet and the only sounds are Rosie's panting sobs. The dog stirs in her arms and licks her face. "Oh, Sophie," she says, as it squirms and jumps down to the floor.

Someone is pounding on the front door. "Mrs. Sherman, Mrs. Sherman, are you alright?" a man's voice shouts.

Three hours later, Rosie is propped up in bed sipping a mug of chicken broth. A young woman, the wife of the man who broke down the front door and called the police, sits on the chair beside her. The young man walks into the room with Sophie in his arms, and Rosie's face creases into a gigantic smile. "Sophie!" She puts down the mug and holds out her arms for the dog.

"The vet says she's just fine, Mrs. Sherman," he says as Sophie jumps onto the bed and snuggles against her.

"Thank you — thanks so much, both of you — I don't know what I would have done without you," Rosie says.

"No problem, Mrs. Sherman," the woman says, patting her arm. "We're just so sorry you had to go through all this. It's terrible — he must have been strung out on drugs and had some kind of fit."

"Yeah, the ambulance guys said he was scared to death — said some big animal attacked him," the man says. They all stare at Sophie, who wags her tail.

"Not you, my sweet little baby," Rosie says, rubbing her head.

Rosie takes the emergency room tranquillizer and falls into a peaceful sleep. She's dreaming about her husband, as usual; this time, they're rocking together on the porch swing while "Wolf," Kyle's old German shepherd, snores at their feet.

"Some protector he is," Rosie laughs, nudging him affectionately with her toe.

Kyle laughs, too. "Never you mind, Rosie my girl. That dog would never let anybody hurt you." The animal lifts his head and stares at Rosie. "Would you, Wolf?"

Cathy Spencer is currently working on her fourth novel and is also publishing short fiction with The Foliate Oak Literary Journal and Boston Literary Magazine.

Copyright 2011 Cathy Spencer. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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