portion of the artwork for Curtis Smith's fiction
The Pact
Curtis Smith

Kate took the dog, a terrier the size of a football. Little Banquo. That was the easy part. The leash, the bowl, the dog—she could carry them all at the same time if she had to. Harder was shaking the pills onto Jake’s palm. They’d made a pact when this mess started. At first the pact only concerned the dog, but then it grew into something more.

She lifted the glass to his lips. A skeleton in white sheets. Rot beneath his skin. She wiped water from his chin. In her recent dreams, he was made of ash. Ashman. She told him this because he loved words. “Ashman,” he repeated. An echo smile, a ripple of better times. She told him of Ashman’s Phenomena, a type of tachycardia. “Be still my beating heart,” he said. Later, she cried. In her dreams, the Ashman’s fate was never easy.

So much had been taken from him. So much dictated. Pincushion veins. A diaper. His taste reduced to textures and oddly disparate flavors. Ginger. Soy sauce. The final act would be his. Mozart on the stereo. Lilies in a vase. A favorite book of poems. “I’d say a little indulgence is in order.” A grin. Then another spasm, pain’s muting current. Kate fluffed the pillows in the way he liked best. The dog, of course, and the pills, too, if that’s what he wanted. Anything. Anything at all.

After the final pill, he asked for the bag. His voice dry. Promises had been made. He slipped the bag over his head. She remembered him on a snowy day, a wool cap he used to wear. “Thank you,” he said before the plastic eclipsed his mouth. The bag rose and fell. Its awful rustle mesmerizing. He spoke once: “I am weak. Forgive me.” She assured him he was not. He reached for her hand. She listened to traffic outside his window, a rattling window fan. Finally, stillness. The plastic clung to his parched lips.

She slipped the bag from his head. A dreamer’s sweet expression. She touched his cheek, the skin damp. Her hand lingered until he cooled. The things she took: the dog, the leash, the bowl, the pills and bag, a cardboard box filled with his unpublished works, the bottle of expensive whiskey she bought him last year. “We’ll drink this when you’ve shown this thing who’s boss.”

That evening, she swallowed a pill and cracked the bottle’s seal. The stars above, a summer’s long drought. Her yard’s brown grass rustled beneath her shoes. She set the box on the patio. She squeezed the lighter fluid. The scent of fuel, a dizziness in her head. The forgotten rhythm of rain. Banquo sniffed around the wilted rhododendrons, the sunflowers’ brown stalks. Kate struck a match and tossed it into the box.

The papers caught. A burst, the flames higher than she’d expected. A flush for her face, a heat deeper than summer. The flames settled. His words disappeared, the neatly typed and the ones penned in his tight scrawl. In the hiss and sizzle, she heard his voice, a remembered joke about Kafka’s estate. “I should be so talented,” he’d said. She dropped the plastic bag into the flames. The plastic billowed. A captured glow inside, an iridescent moment, then consumption.

Kate sat in a lawn chair. The whiskey bottle on her lap, her dangling fingers lost in the dog’s fur. The fire played in Banquo’s watery eyes. She closed her eyes and watched the afterimages of dancing sparks. She thought of the empty space she’d carved today. Heaviness in her bones, the pull of the things she’d ingested and done.

Banquo’s barking rousted her. The box now engulfed by flames. She hadn’t considered the cardboard, the vessel as sure to burn as its contents. Stirred by the heat, the burning pages scattered across the lawn. Kate ran for the garden hose. The papers snared in parched stalks. The flames multiplied. The light grew. Around her, a cathedral ablaze.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 36 | Spring 2012