Leftovers – Sarah Broderick
In a small, ramshackle house on the edge of town, a cellar door opens. Harsh, unshaded light spills down the steps along with the thick almost-sour odor of stew that has simmered on a stovetop too long. A dog, a brown-and-white Brittany purebred, sits up. It focuses on the stairwell, a series of mismatched boards nailed crosswise onto two beams that run to the floor.
Two bare feet step down. Their talon-like toenails grip the dust-covered top stair, which creaks under the woman’s weight. Above her ankles, lace trims what once was a baby pink housecoat. She smells of unwashed skin and scalp encrusted with too much Aquanet.
The long hair on the dog’s tail swishes happily against the dirt. She has returned.
“I bet you’re hungry,” the woman says, rustling a plastic bag.
With a yip, the dog bolts toward the stairs.
“Don’t come any closer.” A curtain rod smacks against the wall, the rusted metal springs inside it vibrating. She points the baton at his nose. “I mean it.”
Quickly returning to its spot on the dirt, the dog sits on its rump and paws at the air.
A loaf of white bread tumbles down the steps, several loose pieces flying out and settling in the dirt with the loaf. He gobbles the free slices first, a crust of grey mold heavy on the side, then dives into the plastic, tearing and ripping to get at the remaining food.
Certain days, the meal—dried spider legs of leftover spaghetti noodles, a splat of green bean casserole against the wall, half-opened cans of spinach and beans with no meat, never any meat—isn’t so easy to gather. Some days, he sniffs for hours around the many boxes scattered about the room, the table covered with mason jars in the corner, the trash, and the grumbling furnace, coming up with nothing. Others, he licks the walls and metal well pump where the cool droplets of moisture gather.
The dog nuzzles and roots the plastic bits that he hasn’t eaten already, hacks up the plastic pieces that he has, and paces the floor for more scraps. Although he has no memory of days before, he once was familiar with every corner of the upstairs, had pranced proudly around the neighborhood led on his leash, and ate from shiny stainless steel dishes, which always housed clean water, crunchy gems of dog chow, and, sometimes, scraps of glistening, fatty meat set aside from the table just for him.
She enjoys watching his progress. “He’s not coming back for you or me, so you better get used to it,” she says, turning slowly away. A board groans as she pulls herself upward. “You’ll learn your place.”
The dog runs toward her, hurdling over several steps.
The door is shoved back into place and locked.
No longer daring to come any closer, he returns to his spot on the floor and stares at the space where she had stood. An abandoned mass of cobweb, gauzy and heavy with dirt, taunts him, wavering in the air from the crack above the door. He stares, listening to her sighs and the creak of the floor, until he falls asleep.