I live in a good house now, with an attic where the roof makes a triangle and the heat collects. You can stand up there and see out back to the barbed wire where our property meets the neighbor’s, and past that the highway. The neighbor still farms, soy planted right up against the fence. We haven’t planted anything, unless you count the animals. That’s what Leo does, what he grows. From the attic you can see the kennels, laid out in a half circle in the backyard, all figured so the mean ones don’t fight, the sweet ones calm the fussy ones down, and the bitches can’t get puppies. Leo can hold them all in his head, who needs what and eats what and is looking sick and should probably be sold on before it looks any sicker. He’s got a good mind for organization. I’ve got a good mind for keeping stuff tidy, which is important in a house like this, which is big and decent and full of what a person needs but has fifteen dogs caged up in the back. Fifteen give or take. In a good month, take.
Leo got a real nasty scratch about a month ago, spiraling from the back of his hand down the inside of his arm. I had him sit on the bathroom counter while I got alcohol and cotton balls out of the cupboard. I dabbed my way down his arm. “Second time this week,” I said. “You should watch yourself better.”
“It wasn’t the Rottie,” he said, looking up, and I couldn’t tell whether or not he liked what I’d done to the ceiling. It’s light blue now, with clouds. I did the clouds with a can of white paint and more cotton balls, more dabbing.
“If it wasn’t the Rottie—”
“One of the cage doors. I need to go back out with the wire cutters.”
“You need one of those shots?”
“Tetanus? I’m fine,” he said, but there’s no way of knowing with Leo if he meant fine because he’d had one or fine because fine’s what you are when you don’t think too much about yourself, [End Page 67] about how you’re really doing and what you really need. We’re both of us fine most of the time.
I was long done with the alcohol but I was standing between Leo’s legs and he’d put his feet together behind me, up against the backs of my thighs. I still had his left hand in mine. I brushed the backs of his knuckles. “The gangrene’s back,” he said, which it was, but he doesn’t need to warn me like he thinks he does. He doesn’t really have gangrene, just some weird skin thing that makes him itch so bad he scratches even in his sleep, until the skin breaks open and starts oozing, sometimes blood and sometimes something clear and sometimes both together, so his skin shines in the light like a pink glaze, like glass or pastry. He always warns me, before I uncover an elbow, or the back of a knee, or lift his shirt to find a patch on his belly. I kissed the back of his hand, a clear part, close to his wrist. His legs dropped down and he let me go, his heels kicking the cupboard doors.
“I’ll go start dinner,” I said.
“I’ll be back in soon,” he said, and hopped down off the counter. He’s much taller than me, long like a noodle and skinny in his jeans. His hair’s long but not too long, tied back and never greasy. He’s got a Cheshire cat inked on his left front forearm. The tattoo seems to keep away the gangrene, and he jokes that he’s going to save up, become the Illustrated Man, stop selling dogs at the Pick n’ Trades and just sell tickets for people to see him in his shorts.
For dinner I broiled some frozen fish, microwaved some frozen peas, baked...