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  • Dogs of Silver Sands
  • John Mancini (bio)

Carmen Murphy wasn’t the only girl in Sister Janet’s class who felt a sense of relief when Dirty Dotty stopped coming to school. The fifth-grade homeroom smelled much better without her. Everyone had heard a different story about what had happened to Dotty—all agreed it must have been something bad. Some said she fell into Stoney Creek just before it froze, and others said she accepted a ride from a stranger while walking alone on Solley Road, or that she ran away from home because her father, Mr. Peterson, had “done things” to her. There were so many children in Silver Sands that one or two always seemed to go missing, but Dotty hadn’t been seen for several weeks now, and even the local newspaper had reported on her disappearance.

The Peterson house was one of the oldest in Silver Sands—a clapboard shack that sat all by itself at the bottom of the hill where the creek dead-ended and was still. In the summer, algae covered the surface in the shallows like a green furry blanket, and in the winter the water froze straight through. In the backyard, near the woods, was a small family grave boxed in by a low chainlink fence where all the other Petersons had been buried going back more than a hundred years. In the front yard were the dogs.

Most of the children in Silver Sands were afraid of the Peterson dogs—a shepherd and two boxer mixes—but Carmen, who felt a special connection with animals, knew there was something different about these dogs, who seemed to bark at everyone except for her. She was sure they felt the connection too. If it weren’t for Mr. Peterson she would have visited them more often, but she knew to stay away from the house when she saw Dotty’s father sitting on the porch with his head in his hands, sleeping off the afternoon with an empty bottle in his lap.

There was no Mrs. Peterson—as far as Carmen knew—but there were plenty of stories about Dotty’s father, about his drinking and how he had once bruised Dotty’s arm while attempting to pry her loose from the swing set at the tot lot. And how he had once gone to sleep on the broad hood of Carmen’s father’s brand new Buick Riviera, and Carmen could still remember waking in the middle of the night and seeing the strange man staggering out on the lawn, her father yelling at him, trying desperately to point him toward the other end of Solley Road.

Carmen’s father said that people in Silver Sands had nothing better to do than tell stories about one another and that she ought to know better than to believe them. He stood at the window counting the blackbirds gathered on [End Page 109] the lawn and said it meant there was going to be a long winter. Already they’d seen the third snow of the year, and again schools had been canceled because the buses couldn’t make it up the hill. If the snow held through the weekend, schools would be closed again Monday. Carmen hoped it would. She loved the snow and hated the fifth grade.

She was pulling on her boots and buttoning her green wool coat and matching mittens when her father turned from the window and announced that she could do him a favor and walk a notarized document down to the Peterson house. Carmen’s father was the only Notary Public in Silver Sands, and he was always offering his services to neighbors, for a fee, and it wouldn’t be the first time he’d asked Carmen to deliver a letter. Carmen’s mother did not approve of her walking the neighborhood alone, but her father always said, “What’s the point of having daughters if you can’t put them to work?” Carmen hadn’t been to the Peterson house since the day Mr. Peterson had drummed his fingers on the neck of his bottle and warned her...


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pp. 109-113
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