Lisa Foad

Lost Dogs

Take me with you. I didn’t say it. The television did. Just before we fell asleep.

You always have the TV on. You like the way its murmurs feel. Low hums that hug. Churn the air. Mark it with matter. Make it matter. There are words everywhere. They swirl and stick. Between your fingers, the clamp of your jaw, you feel letters like i and d slither and squish. Scream. You say sometimes it makes you dizzy. Sometimes it makes me dizzy.

When we wake, it’s to the sound of breaking news, children gone missing.

From the knot that’s our legs and arms, you disentangle. Rub at the sleep in your eyes. Prop yourself up on an elbow. Yawn.

Behind you, Mindy Lynn is missing. Seventeen hours. Last seen leaving school (gold-starred spelling test, Velcro sneakers that light up, bouncing red bursts). A blue Ford Taurus. Or was it a Toyota Corolla? It might have been a wagon. Witness this: Amber Alert. Medicine Hat, Alberta, with its cliffs and coulees.

Eleven is an average age.

Strewn beneath us, the deck of cards. In particular, we’ve been sleeping on the suit of spades.

You stretch out one leg taut, then the other. An inadvertent scissor kick.

On the television, a fifth grade Picture Day photo. Ringlets and red bows. Eyes, typically blue. Flush-cheeked, beaming. Cheese.

You fix two mossy green eyes upon me. Kohl-smoked. Real shiners.

Parents are pleading (a loose french braid, a purple hoodie, sequined blue jeans). I can hardly breathe. I can hardly see.

And you tell me that you are a missing child.

I find the seven of spades, use it as a visor.

Your hair is a waist-length swarm of long-legged spiders. Your t-shirt is thin and your throat is a runway.

I laugh.

You laugh.

I laugh again.

You arch your feet. “Well.” Point your toes. “I was a missing child.” Smile.

“What were you missing?”

You shoot me a wry look. Collect the strewn deck. Palm out for the seven of spades.

I surrender. 

You shuffle slowly. Suggest, business.

I follow suit. “You’re not missing anymore?”

You abandon the deck. Sit up and tail your hair to the side, drag your fingers through the knots. Say, “I’m 26. I pay my rent. I have a Visa. A Bay card. I frequent bars and movie theatres, sign up for special deals. I exist above board. I’m evident. Evidence, in fact. When you’re that visible, you can’t still be missing, can you? At any rate, I still feel missing. And I’ve tried to recover. The things I missed out on, the things I miss. It’s just not the same.”

You were in search of your mother.

“Isn’t everyone?”


Your mother left you. She left you at the grocery store, in aisle seven, canned fruit to your left, marmalades and jams and jellies to your right.

When you were discovered some time later, you were pale and fantastically silent, a cliff. Green eyes slush grey, cheeks icy. You clutched the handlebar of the shopping cart, two tiny pink knots. Your heels, wrapped in purple velveteen booties, knocked rhythmically at the cart’s steel spine. Your lips trussed, a crimson bow. Inside the cart were Ritz crackers, two tins of tuna, diapers, Cream of Wheat. She never bought Cream of Wheat. You let out your first wail only after the woman with the red florets of hair, blue checkered vest, pin that promised, firmly, in ticker tape, MANAGER, pushed you past the instant potatoes, the soups that eat like a meal, to the Courtesy Desk.

You tell me this in a voice that churns. Your mouth’s a tilt drum mixer. Slabs of sentence, sentencing. It’s a matter of fact.

The day she left you, your mother wore the smart burgundy heels with the skinny spines, sharp toes. Matching leather purse, slender shoulder strap. The burgundy blouse with the classic high neck (wrap tie, collar knot), glossy buttons. Tight designer jeans, creative back pocket stitch. Her hair fanned her face in soft, dusty waves.

“You remember all this?”

“It was in the police report.”

Your father found you on the news. You were a purple velveteen ward of the Crown. In fluorescent-lit rooms with ecru-coloured walls, you’d been passed around. Fed strawberry puree. Offered apple juice, a sippy cup. At six o’clock, you were held tightly in the arms of a stranger. While you knocked your booties and gnawed on your fist, a man with a microphone pointed and tsked, pointed and tsked. The camera panned, zoomed. You buried your head in yellow silk, choked on the woody bouquet of Halston, and threw up a little. The camera tilted, zoomed. Caught the white-pink pulp as it dribbled down your chin, mashed against yellow silk, a wet scar.

The next day, the newspaper headlines boasted, MISSING CHILD, FOUND.

“So you weren’t missing. You were left. Missing by default, maybe. More like misplaced.”

“No.” You flex your palms. Rattle your wrist, let your watch slip back into place. “I’m not done.”

Your father picked you up immediately. Predictably, he couldn’t even look at you. He began watching the news obsessively. Weather, especially. One night, he smashed the TV and never replaced it.

Before long, a busty woman named Marilyn with mudslide eyes was sitting at the kitchen table. Cloudy liquid wrestling with lemon slices, clunking cubes of ice. Skinny pastel cigarettes, lush strands of smoke streaming and pluming. Mounted under the corner cabinet, the mini black-and-white television (Like sands through the hourglass…so are the Days of Our Lives). Non-negotiable, she’d insisted. From the bedroom, soft murmurs. Low hums that hug, they fit together like spoons. He’d acquiesced.

She’d mix you fake drinks – oranges, reds, finger-swirl – and talk about art. Rubens, Kahlo, The Garden of Earthly Delights. One day, just drunk enough, she told you that your mother was either dead or in a big city with tall buildings and insufficient park space. Maybe somewhere on a television. She slid a shoebox across the table. Inside were old snapshots (honeymooning in Niagara, Happy Birthday from a mix), news clippings (bold headlines, MOTHER ABANDONS, and such), a wedding band, an engagement ring (pear-shaped solitaire, vena amoris). A letter. From a television station. Noting, We were very impressed with your reel. The location of the audition – weekend weathergirl – was blacked out. She left two days later. Whispered in your ear, on her way, Today, the sun will suffocate beneath cloudy drifts, barely evade the drench, glassy shards of riling rain. Beam, some time later. I love you.

“You remember this? That wasn’t in the police report.”

You left shortly thereafter. Eleven, average. Thumbed your way to a motel called MOTEL with a restaurant called RESTAURANT, a low-slung, brown-bricked, highway-side affair, fluorescents sizzling. You stood in the parking lot for a minute, mesmerized by the paved arteries, the barrelling headlights. Felt you’d fallen off the edge of something. You groped wildly, arms flailing. And fell. A man caught you. He was smoking a Dunhill. He told you his name was Dad and that your real name was Darling.

He took you to his room and fixed you a whisky and Coke. Threw on a motel porno. Smoked a cigarette. Took a swig of Jack. Said, You’re a real knockout. And asked you to sit on his lap. He felt your nipples through your shirt and asked to see them. With his hands on your hips, he jiggled you about. He felt hard and it felt good. He asked if you’d ever seen a penis and you said, Yes, the neighbour’s. He took out his penis and began to stroke it. Asked you to give it a whirl. When you touched it, you felt fiery and strong.

You repeated everything he asked. Dad, can I go out? Dad, can I have some money? Dad, when a boy wants head, should I give it to him? Dad, what’s head? You knew he wasn’t really your father. Because your real father didn’t feel this good.

He let you suck on his penis and taught you how to take it all the way down your throat. He spread your legs and, with his penis in his hand, helped you find your clit. When he finally got his cock in you, it burned so bad and you felt so good. You fell asleep in a heap. Woke once with him inside you. Woke later and went for his penis. Sucked it every chance he’d let you. Later, much later, he began to cry. You asked for a dollar for the pop machine in the hall. Bought a Pepsi. Felt your thighs twitch. And never went back.

It was in the parking lot that you met Doe.

You heard her before you saw her. Laughing. It sounded like a song you’d heard somewhere before. It made your stomach hurt. You reeled. You reached. You found her. Standing in front of the restaurant, smoking a cigarette with one of the waitresses. She was the blonde in the tight stonewashed jeans, red scoop neck t-shirt, a can of Tab and a pack of Players in hand. You tucked yourself in behind the jutting front wheel of a big rig and tried to remember the words.

Hers found you first. Shit! Eyes wide, sparkling green shadow. Shit. She picked at her cola-spattered t-shirt, dabbed at the droplets that glistened from the fleshy curves of her cleavage. She began to laugh. You scared the shit out of me. Her gold hoop earrings grazed her shoulders. Excuse me, darling. She nodded at the driver’s door, turquoise rabbit’s foot dangling from her key ring. I’ve got to get going.

You stuck out your thumb.

She studied you for a minute, and asked what kind of trouble you were in.

You told her you weren’t in any, but that your mother might be. That she’d left you with your father who was not one. That you needed to get to a big city with insufficient park space, that you needed to find and be found.

She considered the pale yellow bruises that blotted your wrists, the whisky blear in your eyes. She said, Hop in. Bundled you in blue flannel and asked if you were hungry.

You were already asleep.

You rode with Doe for days. You rode with Doe for weeks. Derby City, Bull City, Motor City, The Swamp. Cigar City, Cow Town, The Nickel. You’d never have guessed there was so much to see. For a time, you forgot that you were looking for your mother. Doe fed you fruit pie and cherry soda at every stop. She let you use the CB and blast the air horn. She told you that hammer down meant go faster and that clean shot meant no cops. Sky everywhere, you’d never felt such boundlessness.

One day, over blueberry pie at a greying rest stop, you told Doe about the man in the motel. She got so angry that you started to cry. You wondered what you’d done wrong. She squeezed into your booth seat and held you so tightly you thought you might die. It felt almost as good as the motel bed. You would have been happy to die.

She said, We’ve got to go to the cops.

You bristled. You panicked. You said, Please, Doe. You said, I’m sorry, Doe. You gripped her arms and begged. Clean shot. Clean shot.

She said, You’re not in trouble, darling. She brushed your bangs out of your eyes. She nuzzled your ear. She kissed your forehead.

You never saw Doe again.

While she was in the bathroom, you bolted out the door. Mudstone sky. You never looked back.

You thumbed your way through miles and miles. This car. That car. The men who picked you up gave you hits off their joints, sips of their king cans. Do you like ZZ Top? they’d ask. And turn up the volume. Push your head down between their legs. How about Zeppelin? they’d ask. And pull over. And pull you on top of them. Oh, that’s so good, they’d say. And thrust faster and faster, harder and harder, while your tits bobbed at their hungry mouths.

When you finally saw the skyscrapers, your eyes lit up. He leaned past you, popped open the passenger side door. Put twenty bucks in your hand and told you to take care. Sped off, just as you were swinging the door shut.

You blinked. Disoriented.

The city was dark and ridden with reeds. Cobwebs stretched from spire to spire. Gun shots. Car alarms. Burglar alarms. The hookers yelled at you to get off their fucking corner. You got off the corner. Cars careening, you nearly got hit. Billboards. Flashing neon lights. People throwing bricks and the bones they’d broken through shop windows. There was shattered glass everywhere. Music pulsing. Women screaming. Rape. Fire. Then not screaming at all. The sidewalk spit up on your shoes. Teenage boys with black eyes and knife-scarred jaws leaned into you, said, Hydro. Crystal. Ice. Men grabbed at your ass, tugged at your tits and your hair, tried to shove you down alleys. Lead pipes. People bleeding. Begging. Shivering. A car slowed down. Get the fuck in.

You flattened yourself against the crumbling bricks of a building, covered your ears. And began to cry.

Someone snatched you.

You opened your eyes. The brightness burned, blinded you briefly. You blinked. She had thick chin-length curls, hot pink lips. And her nametag said Bev. She pulled you. Down the length of the diner with its black and white checked floor, its red vinyl counter stools. Past the men licking gravy off their fingers, shovelling forkfuls of lemon meringue pie into their mouths. And pushed hard at the door to the Ladies’.

Your t-shirt was stained. Your eyes were bloodshot. You stank of Budweiser. And your hair was tangled, sticky with come. She said, I’ve been where you’ve been. And amid the fizzle of the fluorescents and the ceaseless flush of a weepy toilet, she gently leaned you over the sink. She washed your face. She rinsed your hair. She ran hand lotion through its wet tips. She gave you leggings and a leotard, an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt. She said, I’m sorry. It’s all I’ve got.

When you came out of the bathroom, Bev sat you down in a shiny red booth and gave you a plate of fries. You told her your name was Darling and that you were looking for your mother. You pulled out the tattered picture you’d been carrying and slid it across the table. Have you seen this woman? Maybe on a television? Forecasting the weather? She hadn’t. But the diner had a satellite dish. Bev gave you the remote control and let you look for your mother for days.

You channel-surfed. You canvassed the customers. You played checkers with the waitresses – Annie and Della and Guinevere. You played cards with the cook, Vance. You modeled the sparkly boa Bev gave you. You ate peach pie and key lime pie, cherry pie. You got comfortable.

One day, the cops came looking. You spied them just as you were coming out of the restroom. Stroking their nightsticks. You dropped to your knees and hid behind the cigarette machine. Watched Bev hesitate, bite her lip. And point. To the booth in which you’d been sitting, the television you’d been watching.

You slipped quietly out the back door. And ran. Past the broken glass of bus shelters, the wild spurt of unruly fire hydrants, the televisions and toasters that had been hurled off balconies, the faded posters looking for lost dogs. You ran through alleys and backyards and junkyards, up and down skinny side streets, past thin houses with bed sheets for curtains, yellowed yards, spindly trees trimmed with toilet paper and underwear, faded holiday decorations. You ran until you couldn’t run anymore and curbside, you doubled over, heaving.

Dizzy, you crawled through the grass towards chimes that tinkled. Marigolds stirred. You closed your eyes. You rang the bell.

She had long honey-coloured hair and the softest voice you’d ever heard. Tears welled in your eyes. She bent. The thick gold cross that hung from her neck stung your breast. She reached. You vaulted yourself into her arms and she carried you inside, her hands stroking your hair.

Inside, everything was plush. And gold. The couch. The drapes. The flocked wallpaper. The air smelled like lemons. And everywhere you turned, tiny crystal animals – swans and seahorses, tigers and unicorns – twinkled. She said, In the paradise, you will have one of each for your very own. You didn’t know what she meant.

You crawled up through the soft spot between her thighs. She held you. You cried and cried. She rubbed your earlobes and told you that it was okay. She braided your hair and told you that it was okay.

She said that her name was Gail and that she loved you.

She kept you. You wanted to be kept.

She poured you a glass of flat ginger ale. She ladled you a bowl of chicken soup. It made you feel like you had the flu. You snuggled into her arms. And told her you were looking for your mother. You pulled out the photograph. She said, Let me put this somewhere safe. She gave you a book of bible stories. Closed the gold drapes. And said, Don’t answer the door for anyone.

You didn’t.

One day, you got a horrible cramping.

Gail stuck her fingers deep inside of you and pulled out a baby. The baby was you. The baby was yours.

“So you’re missing a child?”

“The cycle is like any other,” you declare. “Vicious.”

There was blood everywhere. She gave the baby to you to hold. You didn’t know how to love. You passed out.

When you woke, you were lying on the bathroom floor. Naked. Sunlight streamed through the skylight. You squinted. And saw Gail, her bare body pale and doughy. Cross gleaming. She bent over you, hoisted your limp body to hers. And plunged you both into the icy waters of the yellow bathtub. You screamed. She said, I’m sorry. And, palm to sternum, she pushed you underwater. You flailed and railed against her, came up gasping and crying. She slapped you hard. Your head spun. She said, I’m so sorry. And held you down until there was no more fight left in you. Lifted free of the water, your lips were blue. Your head lolled. In the distance, you heard her voice, soft and pale. She said, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. It had to be done. You passed out.

When you woke, your tits were swollen, leaking milk. And your whole body ached. In your abdomen, a horrible cramping. The ballerina that sat atop the toilet tank stared. Arms reaching. Her gold tulle skirt concealed the extra roll of toilet paper.

Gail eyed your weeping breasts. She said, Don’t worry. They’ll dry out in no time.

The baby was gone.

Gail told you that it would be best if you didn’t leave the house. That strangers would climb inside of you and lay eggs. That the eggs would hatch snakes, and that the snakes would writhe. And eat you from the inside out.

You were terrified.

Days passed. Weeks passed.

You grew restless and bored. There was no television. There was nothing in her cupboards and drawers but unsharpened pencils and rosary beads. There was nothing to read but your book of bible stories. You couldn’t find yourself anywhere but right where you were standing.

One day, you asked Gail for the picture of your mother. She said, I’m your mother now.

Days passed. Weeks passed.

You thought about your father. You wondered if your mother missed being a mother.

Mostly, you missed Dad. You missed being Darling.

You began to stick things inside yourself. The thick handles of knives and hairbrushes and serving spoons. Mop handles and shampoo bottles. Eggplants. You reached for whatever you could fit. And with your hands at your clit, you came and came and came.

One day, Gail, home from work early, found you fucking yourself with jars from the spice rack. She tore the bottle of paprika from your pussy and threw it across the kitchen floor. She ripped the cross from her neck. And rammed it up inside of you, smacked you so hard across the face that you came. Enraged, she hit you harder. You passed out.

When you woke, you were in the basement. Gail was crying. Chanting. Ab omni hoste visibili et invisibili et ubíque in hoc sáeculo liberetur. From every enemy both visible and invisible and everywhere in this lifetime be freed. One hand on a bible, the other worrying her rosary beads. Your eyes burned and your skin crawled. Her voice got louder. Ut quóties triúmphum divínae humnilitátis, quae supérbiam nostri hostis dejecit. How often the divine humility has triumphed casting out the pride of our enemy. You began to gag. You gave up. You gave in. She said, Good girl.

She bound your breasts. She cut off your hair. She stuffed stale wafers into your mouth. She said, I’m so sorry. It had to be done. And then she locked the door.

Days passed. Weeks passed.

Every morning after Gail left for work, you tried the door. Defeated, you hauled yourself down the stairs, back into the blackness of the basement. One night, however, after she brought you your dinner, Gail forgot to turn the key. In the morning, the knob gave to your twist. You tiptoed through the house. In the bathroom, you looked in the mirror. You had no idea who was staring back at you. You pushed hard at the front door. Sky everywhere, your knees buckled. You remembered that you’d felt this feeling of boundlessness before.

You stole a pack of Dunhills. And walked for blocks and blocks.

Somehow, you wound up in front of the diner. Vance gave you a hug and told you that Bev was long gone. Something inside of you sank. He slid you a piece of pie and asked if you wanted a job. He said you could live at the diner. Your nametag said Darling. One day, Vance pulled you aside and said, There’s a way for you to make more money. You already knew how to make more money. You did it on your breaks out back with the customers. Vance called you a slut. Hauled off and hit you. He said, Some girls are just made for this. And hit you again. He said that he deserved a cut. And left you bleeding on the floor.

You picked yourself up and you ran.

You slept on street corners and in bank machine vestibules. And with men who had daughters, men who had wives, men who had money. You slept with women who reminded you of your mother. You slept with women who reminded you of yourself. You spent holidays at the discount cinema watching second-run movies.

You phoned your father once. You could feel him groping for hope and his glasses. You didn’t say a word. You held your breath and listened. Marilyn had left him. You could feel it. The empty space in which he was sitting was so loud. He said, Diana? Is that you? You were looking for her, too. You had nearly forgotten her name. You hung up. Hammered the receiver against the payphone. And turned on your heel.

You walked right into Bev. She had a black eye and was digging through a dumpster. She didn’t recognize you. You were sure she was Bev. You couldn’t be sure. You gave her a smoke and lit one for yourself.

You aged. One year. Two years. Three.

This is how you learned to love: It will be over soon. This is how you learned to love: under assumed names in small rooms with bad lighting; on street corners and in alleyways, on cat-pissed couches and in bathroom stalls; the word sorry in your ear, over and over, It’s over. With a wooden spoon up your pussy, slick fingers that smelled like roses. Weather poetry. A hand around your neck, sticks in your ass. This is how you learned love.

You have never found your mother. Your father found you once.

You were working at a bar called BAR. It was small and dark and it smelled like sorrow. The tap beer was warm and pale. The hard liquors were fluorescent, blue and green. All along the walls, wildlife heads, mounted: moose and bison, elk and grizzly, bobcats and cougars. Your customers were named Clyde and Moe and Cheetah. You flashed your tits often and they tipped real well. Sometimes, you’d grind hard against the bar stool till you came. You didn’t ever worry about the men getting out of line. A trio of wolf dogs with yellow eyes roamed the bar, guarded things.

One day, a man wearing a ragged overcoat came in. You knew he was your father. You could see it in his grey-green eyes, the dark circles that rimmed his sockets. You could see it in the wrinkles that creased his forehead, in the downturn curl of his lips, the way he took his glasses on and off.

You poured him a pint. You slid him a shot.

He said, I used to love a lot of things. And I used to understand. But I’ve lost a lot of things. And nothing looks the same. I used to have a daughter. I used to have a wife. Now, I don’t recognize myself. And I’m sorry for everything. He swirled the beer in his glass, his eyes shiny and wet. He said, I dream of paradise often, but when I wake, I can never remember what it looks like.

Everything inside of you came crashing down.

At the end of the night, you locked him in and you fucked him hard up against the bar. The glasses rattled. The liquor bottles smashed. The wolf dogs howled. And in his ear, you came hard again and again and again. Darling. You knew he would come back, the next night and the night after that. You never went back. It satisfied you greatly to know that he would spend the rest of his life looking.

“Then what?”

“Then nothing.”

You stopped looking for your mother. And you stopped looking for yourself. There was nothing to find. Things get boarded up and go black. There’s nothing but weeds.

You look to me, your eyes narrowed, wet. And you reach.

This is called home. Love fuck. You say, “If I don’t know any better, I can’t do any better.” I dry your eyes. I begin to cry. We are wet and dry. We fuck through it. You say that you want to protect me, me to protect you. From wind and yourself.

Blue-white, the television glows. Low hums that hug. Take me with you. We do it again.