That’s how my memory starts.
Me, shivering and sitting on my hands, clenching my butt cheecks together, and staring past my grandma, who smiles at me, towards the window. There is a storm outside and I’m watching the dark clouds and the lightning and the rain hammering against the window and I would rather be outside.
Grandma smiles. She says „It’s okay, we can call the police soon.“ When she finishes speaking her lips are just flat, dry, gray pancakes pressed on one another and I look away from her, back down to the wet, black, moving mass on the ground.
A heap of dirty laundry, but moving every few seconds.
I was 3 when dad went to the shelter with me. Some of it I remember, some of it he told me afterwards. Dad tried to get me to pick a cat, but I walked right by the cats towards the dogs. Some were pushing against the metal bars, others just sat in the corners of their kennels and then there was that dog, some pitbull breed, and I put my hand through the metal bars and before dad could pull me away the dog had his head pressed against my hand and I must have giggled like rarely before or after.
So we got Vitaliy.
And Vitaliy was there for me, to protect me, and slept at my side even as my parents were suspicious, watchful, of the huge, muscular pet that could rip their child in half in less than a second. They got used to him. Took them half a year. They got to love him. And then Vitaliy started eating the furniture.
So Vitaliy went to grandma’s place, the big former farm with plenty of space and other things to chew on.
„You want to tell me how it happens?“ Grandma smiles again. „Please?“
I, 8 years old, shake my head.
Mr. Torre had a strange face. Round, like his whole body. And always smiling. Nowadays I would have recognised it, but back then he was just the round, rubicund, funny man.
He gave me lots of sweets, that man. He also liked to hug me. Grandma called him ‘deranged’ and ‘punished for his sins’, but he was so happy that I never thought he could be punished for something.
He also liked to take me to the woods. Grandma did not like that at all, when Torre and Vitaliy and I went to the woods. She said Mr. Torre once felled one of her trees. Then he broke her fence. Then he broke her grandchild, that day, when I came back from the forest with blood all over my trousers.
„It’s okay,“ grandma says. „He can’t hurt you anymore.“
The laundry on the floor moves, makes a gurgling sound, but fails to speak.
I, 8 years old, nod.
„It was really painful.“
„What was painful?“
„That time in the woods. I was on the floor and it was really really painful. Here.“
I point at my left knee.
Grandma presses her eyes shut and turns her head away.
„And you don’t need to say more, okay? You don’t need to say more.“
„I don’t tell them how Mr. Torre cired?“
„No,“ she says. „Don’t tell the police that.“
„Just don’t tell them.“
„Do they want to know about the scar on my knee? From the fall?“
„Tell them how he always gave you sweets and took you alone to his workshop.“
„Oh, yeah, he did.“
„What did Mr. Torre do?“
„Mr. Torre gave me sweets and then he took me alone to his workshop.“
„And what did he do in the workshop?“
„We carved wood. I sat on his lap and then we carved wood and he told me stories.“
„Okay,“ she says. „You can say that.“
In that moment, when grandma said „You can say that.“ the clouds behind her somehow were pulled down to the ground and there was movement, like a spintop, just longer and thinner, and really high and really fast, and it moved towards the trees.
Grandma turned and shivered.
„I guess that’s how god show us we did good. If we are lucky the storm will cut the telephone wires, then we don’t need an excuse.“
„But why can’t I tell them about my knee? And that there was really lots of blood when I cut my knee?“
„Tell them about the blood, okay? Just leave the knee out of the story.“
„But the blood was from the knee.“
„Sure it was, sweetie. Sure it was.“
„Yes it was.“
„I believe you sweetie. Just don’t tell that to the police, if they ask, okay?“
„You don’t want to confuse them. They don’t like confusing things.“
Confusing, like Vitaliy. One weekend he’s there, licking me goodbye, and the next, when dad drops me off, there’s a heap of soil in the garden.
Grandma said that twelve years is not an old age for a dog. And that even if mom says otherwise mom never had dogs and so she doesn’t know and it was Mr. Torre who poisoned Vitaliy.
Grandma said that don’t mind hacking down someone else’s trees don’t mind killing dogs either. Even if they liked those dogs, bad people just do bad things. And people that smile a lot lie a lot. And god makes sure that you can see who is right and who is not, just by looking at them. Those that look right are right, like the priest, he looks serious and trustworthy, and he doesn’t smile so much and he doesn’t just give sweets to children, but if he would then that would be okay, because he is a priest and he looks good and he is with god. The priest is with god, but deranged people, even if they are born deranged, they are not. Dad, too, even if he says he doesn’t believe in god, deep inside he does and that’s why he looks good and that’s why he is good.
In any case, Vitaliy, grandma said, was too young to die of old age. Someone poisoned him or suffocated him and the only one that could have a reason was Mr. Torre. And the reason was that he didn’t like Vitaliy, that he was scared of Vitaliy, except when I was there, of course.
A hand, crusted with red, comes out of the heap of laundry. It hits once, twice, on the floor, then grandma throws another blanket over it and the blanket nearly hides all the movement.
I pull my legs up on the sofa. My stomach hurts.
„I really need to go.“
„I really need to.“
„I said ‘No!’“
„But my butt hurts.“
„Don’t say dirty words.“
I sink my head into my knees. After all these hours my clothes are still wet, my hands pale and cold and stiff. All the blankets are on the floor. Hiding him.
I look out the window, towards the spintop that’s still spinning in the distance, moving closer again. Then I notice grandma is staring at me. I look at her.
„Okay sweetie, and today?“
„You told me to…“
„Just the other part.“
„The other part!“
I want to cry, but grandma doesn’t like when I cry and so I don’t.
„He hammered against the door. He was screaming your name and maybe also mine. And then he ran against the door and he ran against it a second time and when his shoulder hit the wood a third time he crashed through it and he fell and that you were scared and that’s why you shot, but you didn’t want to and you tried to help him afterwards.“
It sounds rehearsed, but that’s because it is.
„Good girl,“ she says.
„I don’t like this.“
„Not long anymore.“
I look towards the heap. No movement; no sound.
„He’s not moving.“
Grandma smiles for a moment, then she takes a log and throws it towards the heap. It hits right on top, but there’s only a hollow sound. Grandma throws another log and the result is the same.
Grandma gets up, slowly, and she kicks the heap. The heap is still.
When grandma finally allows me to the toilet, on the way up the stairs, I see his round face. It looks out of the back of the heap. There’s blood all over it. He still smiles with the big, round cheeks as he always does, but his eyes aren’t moving anymore and his eyes don’t look happy.
Grandma tells me to change into dry clothes.
The police, later, ask what happened and I tell them that he hammered against the door and then screamed our names and ran against it and then a second time and then the third time his shoulder hit the wood, he crashed through the door and fell and then there were shots and grandma didn’t want to shoot. And grandma adds that we were in shock, but that we then called the police and the ambulance as quick as we could.
Grandma tells them that Vitaliy is dead. And I tell them Mr. Torre was sometimes scared of Vitaliy, and the officers nod and thank me.
Grandma mentions that he took me to his workshop and I tell them about the times he gave me sweets and that he told me stories while I carved wood and sat in his lap and that I made loads of little animals with him. They ask me if he did anything else with me in there and I tell them that he showed me his wood tools and how to use them.
I also tell them about the many times in the forest and that once I cut my knee and it bled a lot and hurt very much, but I don’t tell them that it was my knee, and grandma shows them where there was blood on my trousers, but she shows it far too high and she doesn’t mention my knee. They talk about a medical test, but grandma says to discuss it later and that she doesn’t want it because I don’t remember.
One of the officers says to the other that he never trusts ‘down people’ and I’m confused what down people are and decide that they mean small people.
I want to mention how I cut my knee, when I fell on a glass bottle, and Mr. Torre tried to help me, but he was more scared than me and he started crying. But grandma said the police wouldn’t want to hear those things because it would make them confused.
I also don’t say that she sent me over there, to get him, to tell him that it was urgent, and that when we came back the door was shut and that that’s why he hammered and then ran against the door until his shoulder broke the wood.
My parents come and pick me up. They cry a lot. I cry too, because mom says that I will never have to see Mr. Torre again.