A Small White Dog by Grace Andreacchi
I wasn't always an only child. I was born the older of twin sisters, identical in every way. But when we were twelve years old my sister died of meningitis, and I didn't. For a long time I couldn't get used to the absence of my sister. I'd wake up every day, expecting to find her there beside me in the bed, and her absence would cause me a confusion that lasted all morning. At school I was always looking for her, thinking that she'd just gone out to use the bathroom, or been sent by the teacher on some errand. At night I'd set a place for her at the dinner table. My mother would take it away again, without a word. I've heard people say that when somebody loses a limb he often continues to have sensations in the missing part. It was exactly like that with my sister. I didn't miss her, I continued to feel that she was simply there.
I've said that we were identical in every way but that was true only of our outward appearance. Nobody could tell us apart, not even our mother. But we had our differences. Monica and Melissa, these are our names, and Melissa was the sweet one. If it's true that I sometimes tyrannised over her, it can be said in my defence that she never objected. We live on a farm without any near neighbours, our father grows potatoes for the big potato chip factory on the outskirts of town. Once our class visited the factory and we were all given potato chips hot off the machine to eat. They were the best potato chips I've ever tasted. 'Give me yours,' I said to Melissa, and she did. She was in the habit of obeying me. I crammed them into my mouth, delighting in the way the crisp edges cut into the soft lining of my cheeks. Melissa watched me, big tears standing in her soft, liquid black eyes. Since we lived so far from the townie kids we never had any friends but each other. We didn't even want any.
Melissa had been dead a year to the day when the little white dog showed up. It was a windy afternoon in March, the twenty-third to be exact, and I was out in the yard hanging up some bed sheets to dry when she came round the corner of the barn, wagging her tail, her head held high, muzzle open as if she meant to smile. She came right up to me and gave two short, sharp barks, then whined and licked my hand. 'Hello, puppy,' I said, patting her soft head and running my fingers over her short, sharp ears. She was like a husky dog only smaller, with a thick coat of pure white, a bushy tail that curled behind her like a cavalier's plume, and liquid black eyes. She hung around all afternoon, and when I told her to 'Go home!' just lay down and looked at me. We already had a dog, a German shepherd called Max, but he was a trained guard dog, and not kept as a pet. My father said a pretty dog like that must belong to somebody, but although we advertised in the papers and in the church bulletin nobody ever came forward to claim her. I was allowed to keep the little white dog, and I called her Melissa.
Now I went to sleep every night with Melissa curled up in the bed beside me, right there where my sister used to sleep. In the morning she'd lick my face to wake me, whine and wag that big showy tail of hers. When I got home from school she'd be waiting for me at the bottom of the drive, and I'd get down and let her lick me all over my face and hands while I rubbed my cheeks in her soft, fluffy coat. She was so mild-mannered and sweet, just like my sister had been, that I sometimes thought she really was my sister. But I never told anybody because I knew it was a crazy thing to think, that a girl could become a dog.
The first time she told me what I had to do it was just a little thing. I was in the Kmart looking at the lipsticks and she said Take it, so I did, stuck it inside my underpants and walked out. Red-red. When I put it on later at home it made me look like a gorgeous model in a magazine, and Melissa smiled at me. Good girl, she said, licking my face. Pretty soon she was giving me orders all the time. She didn't have to be there with me, she'd talk to me anytime she wanted to, inside my head. Pretty soon it wasn't just stuff but money too. I kept all the stuff in a secret stash so my mother wouldn't find it, and when there was too much of it to fit in there anymore I buried it in a box behind the barn. Pretty soon it wasn't just my face she was licking, she'd get right down between my legs and lick like crazy till I went completely crazy just hanging onto the bedpost for dear life while Melissa licked and licked and licked. The soft white fur tickling the insides of my thighs. I'd stick the pillow in my mouth to stop myself from screaming. Pretty soon Melissa told me to start killing things. At first just little things. A fly. Smack! Nothing wrong with that, is there? A frog, taken apart slowly it writhes, beautiful shiny blue insides out. A rat that I smashed open with a shovel. A stupid old cat that tried to scratch me when I was only trying to be nice. Melissa told me how to do it without getting hurt. Put the gardening gloves on first so she can't scratch you, she said. That worked fine.
When my baby brother was born nobody had any time for Melissa and me. It was Jason this and Jason that, the baby this and the baby that. He made a noise like a cat that kept me awake at night. He's got to go, Melissa decided. We had to wait till he was nearly three months old. Finally my mother decides she wants to go to some church thing on a Saturday night. Monica can babysit, she's old enough, my father says. Aren't you, Monica? When I pick him up he's smaller than I thought he'd be. He makes those cat noises and has snot on his face. Put him in the hole, Melissa says, so I do. I bury him out behind the barn with all the other stuff I've taken. Now everybody's looking for him. I don't know what happened, I say when they ask me.