Monomania (from “Specter”)

The thing about bruises is that they heal.

He beat the dog indiscriminately with the vacuum tube, and then dragged it by the collar, nearly choking the thing as it cowered close to the ground. It happened in a matter of two minutes, maybe three.

They married on leap year. The way he tells the story is that they eloped. He says he didn’t know that it was leap year and that this date would disappear for the next three years. His children teased him, “What a way to get away with not buying presents but every four years,” even though this same time every year he remembers. He remembers that she carried a rag doll and wore a yellow dress when he came for her and took her away.

Not knowing is not the same as not remembering.

Even if someone had taken photos of the battered dog, no one would have believed that this sweet, ordinary man could have done such a thing.

Even if someone had taken photos of the dog’s scars, who would match them to the hands of this ordinary man? These hands that caress the cat’s belly and slowly stir the contents of the soup can into the pan? No one remembers what started the heat of his anger that day he left battle marks on his dog’s bare legs.

No one who was there really knows.

He doesn’t remember exactly what kind of doll his young wife held as they held each other in the spare bedroom in the house of his navy mate, or what material the yellow dress was made of or if it was plain or decorated with checkers or flowers, or clasped closed or zipped.

Maybe when he slammed the vacuum tube against the dog’s body until it yelped and howled, he thought about the oil left sizzling in the pan, the boiling oil that popped and splattered on the skin of his arms and forehead.

It’s silly to say that one bruises easily. Bruises do not come easy.

When he was just a little boy, he sang little tunes for the American soldiers who handed him and the other hungry boys Hershey’s candy bars. He didn’t have a secret hiding place like other little boys. His cousin, the one with the mean streak, kept him safe from would-be-bullies and from the cruelty of the occupying Japanese soldiers.

He says that keeping pets is really a form of cruelty. That these animals were meant to run wild and free.

He swears he’s never laid a hand on any of his eight children. He must mean intentionally.

He swears he can’t remember such a thing. That even if you showed him photos, bruises don’t come easily.

His mean-streaked cousin, older than him by only four years, lived into his 40’s and not surprisingly, drank consistently.

At the time of the beating, Polaroid cameras were in fashion. But they were used (ordinarily) to record happy things – holiday celebrations, birthdays and costume parties.

A monkey that belonged to an army officer bit him in the leg when he was 11. He didn’t kill it or take it down or beat it over the head because he was still a little boy and the monkey wasn’t his pet.

He used to call the dog, when it was a puppy, Little Princess, before he gave it a real name. He doesn’t know that everyone remembers that.

When he was still a little boy, he called the occupying soldiers “Japs,” and those Japs – each one of them – were mean, through and through. Blew off the top of a woman’s head. Blew a man’s guts outs so that his little son tried for the longest time to hold them in.

Now that he’s an old man, he has a Japanese friend, an army vet, who never speaks of World War II, or any other war for that matter, but of more ordinary, mundane things.

After he beat the dog, he hid away in his office room – the one with the doorknob that doesn’t have a lock. He kept the door shut by inserting a little piece of cardboard between the door and the frame, so the dog couldn’t push it open. Even though the dog was too bruised to even try.

Now that he’s grown into an ordinary old man, no one dares to bring it up. He keeps the door of his office room open.

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