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  • Dirty White Dogs
  • Alice Hoffman (bio)

Shelby Richmond remembered dates. Not birthdays or anniversaries; the good and the celebratory did not interest her. She went in for dates of despair. February 15—the day her best friend slipped into a coma six years earlier. March 10 of the same year—the day Shelby was signed into a psych ward because she had stopped talking. And June 2, the day she made herself speak again in order to escape all of that poking around in her head. After a great wide expanse of nothingness there came May 17 of this year—the day Shelby and Ben Mink moved to Chelsea together. Ben dropped a book case on his foot and broke three bones and they wound up sitting at St. Vincent's ER for so long someone came into their apartment and stole their TV—actually Ben's TV, as Shelby owns nothing. Naturally, it was Shelby who forgot to lock the door.

And of course, July 22—yesterday—the day she saw the white dogs in Union Square.

Shelby was easily haunted—after she saw things they often kept repeating behind her eyelids as if she was an emotional movie projector with the play button permanently switched on. That was probably why she was living in New York City with Ben Mink. She'd been haunted in their hometown, and although she figured she was a victim of space and location and time, it was pretty much the same thing here in the city. She'd walk around the streets being haunted by the smallest thing—some child would peer up at her from its stroller; some old woman wouldn't be able to step up on a curb. Shelby came home to their apartment on Nineteenth Street just as rattled as she'd been when she was living in her parents' basement. Sometimes she just took Ativan and went to bed. On good days, Ben would come back from pharmaceutical school and they'd smoke dope and order Chinese food delivered; if Shelby didn't look into the eyes of the delivery man, who seemed in some great and quiet pain, she'd be fine for the rest of the night. [End Page 11]

"Who made it your job to rescue the world?" Ben Mink said fondly once they'd moved into their apartment. Ben was the boy Shelby wouldn't have looked at twice in high school, but he was a nice man. He'd bought five white shirts at an Army Navy store so he would look professional in his classes without thinking that someone would have to iron them. That someone was clearly never going to be Shelby.

They were sitting on the fire escape, stoned enough not to be overwhelmed by the heat. It was the kind of night when people shot each other for no good reason. Shelby had wrapped herself in a wet sheet. Wet sheets were a great discovery. The desire to own an air-conditioner had recently led Shelby to get a job at a pet store on Broadway. It was disgusting and boring, but it was air-conditioned. This was her first job ever. She'd been living off her parents, and now she was living off Ben Mink. Her parents thought getting the job was some kind of breakthrough, but it wasn't. Shelby had been driving the car on the night of the accident when her best friend was injured, so now the world was her problem. The way she saw it, she was probably responsible for everything bad that had ever happened in the world, including the time periods before she was born. She had bad karma. Unfortunately, Shelby was fairly certain that bad karma was something you were born with and couldn't ever change.

"Maybe you should go to medical school," Ben said. He had a long skinny body and a patchy beard and even though he'd been a screw-up he was surprisingly serious about his studies.

"I'd have to go to college first," Shelby said. She'd slept through the years when she should have been doing that. Now it seemed...


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pp. 11-19
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