Red Dog

I am Queen of the Hill. I posture on the bed, one foot resting on the footboard, Captain Morgan-style. Red looks up at me, wagging her tail. Next move. I jump from the bed and turn the music up. Louder. Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger. All the way, so I can be riding with that surfboart. Flip to a new song. She shakes. I rattle. I’m rolling. We get jiggy with it. No metallic blue track suit for me, instead I sweat in only my JOSEPH jersey. Number 31. It’s red, like my dog.

By Justin Veenema

By Justin Veenema

She pants and lies on the floor, tits up. All nine of them – yes, I’ve searched for the tenth and it’s not there. Maybe she dropped it in a Montreal gutter before I found her. Maybe it’s still out there. She kicks her legs into the air, but not to the beat. Red has the worst sense of rhythm. I stand above her.

“Like this, Red.” I have to yell over the music. I’m trying to keep up with Shaggy, but ol’ Mr. Bombastic is going too fast. The singing and beats are mixing up too much. Rum and cokes, and coke, and rums and coke, and coke, and coke.

I jump around excited and her paws bump against my bare legs.


Hands between my legs, I fold onto the floor. “Right in the fucking cunt.”

Red watches, a cold nose against my skin. Everything about her droopy face says “wasn’t me,” but I know better. Pushing textbooks aside, I flop onto the bed, pulse still bumping, a little sweaty. The pain fades. Red sits beside the bed with a shit-eating grin. Literally. She eats shit.

Her hot breath stinks. She wags her tail. I still want to die.

“Go fuck yourself, Red.”

I swing my legs down and tap bare feet against the wood floor. The skin around Red’s neck is loose. I pull at it, squish it together, scratch under her chain collar.

In the bathroom, I have a small basket. There is nail polish and dental floss I never use. I pick a red polish. Red for Red. Let’s get pretty. Red sits beside me. Shaking the polish, I take a paw in my hand. The polish goes on smoothly. Shiny and stinking until it dries on long claws.

My cell phone buzzes in the desk drawer. Shit, I’m on call tonight.

“Yeah? – Okay, 4145 Parthenais. – No, no. I can do it. It’s right around the corner. – I’ll be there in a quick fifteen.” They don’t sound too blasted, at least not as much as I do. I hang up. “Come on Red, let’s go show a couple of shitheads how pretty you are.”  


Deux petites minutes!” There is commotion behind the door. After a minute of waiting, and then another one, I tighten my grip on Red’s leash and push open the door. The man I came to see holds two handfuls of red-eyed, white mice by their tails. I hold fast to the leash. I only have a hundred pounds to Red’s seventy-five.

 Ferme la porte.

I know his face from the neighbourhood. A sunken-in face, a tied back grease-mullet, and always on rollerblades. At least when he’s out. In his own apartment, dropping mice into a wired cage, he is barefoot. I call him Rollerblading Keith Richards. Just not out loud.        

The living room of the apartment is overflowing with terrariums. The tables, counters, and floors groan beneath glass containers lit by individual bulbs. Reptilian life breathes behind unblinking eyes, sometimes too much like a rock or a shadow or a leaf to be seen.

Sleepy weed. Deals 20 damage, discard one energy card.

“Okay, now.” I pull a binder from my bag. In grade school, I used the binder for organizing a collection of Pokémon cards, sheets of cards divided by neat plastic pockets. Now the pockets are stuffed with weed, mushrooms, and on the back couple of sheets, once reserved for holographic Charzards and Lapras, are small pills and white powders.

A green queen lays on the table. Keith Richards thumbs her towards the binder.

“Strong.” I point to one of the bags. I flip to another page. “Sleepy.”

Celui-ci. That is good.” He interrupts.

I collect the bags that aren’t “strong.” I lay the Pokémon binder out on the table and wiggle out enough. Sleepy weed. Deals 20 damage, discard one energy card.

I am about to speak, but there is a flash of white along the floorboards and Red lunges. The leash burns through my fingers. Across the floor, the white blur races. Red leaps over the table, and the mouse dives for protection behind one of the glass terrariums. I try again for the leash, but the glass crashes and shatters on the floor, its content released.

“Red! RED!” I’m yelling. She’s barking. I’m panicking. We both are. Keith Richards is standing on the couch and I can’t understand his French anymore. One of the yellow snakes slithers over carpet. It’s as thick as my arm and twice as long. There is more crashing, more shattering and releasing. I see a hairy spider arc through the air.

There is a piercing yelp. The yellow snake is reared up, tense. Red is no longer chasing, but running with a tail between her legs. She’s off again, this time crashing, jumping through the screened window and onto the front lawn. I grab my binder and bag, and run out of the apartment. Keith Richards shouts down the hallway, but I’m gone.


I sit down on the front porch of my apartment building as the sun begins to bleed through to light the sky. Since living in the city, I forgot that birds wake up before the sun does. By almost half an hour. I go into my apartment defeated. When I finally do sleep, it’s with the glow of the computer lighting my face. The last google search: How to find lost dog.


I tape posters of Red all over, at the grocery store, where I skillfully avoid eye contact from the rainbow dreaded girl and her brown dog begging outside, at the dog park, where Red had dog friends and I pretend to not speak English or French well, at the pet store, where the owner, who doesn’t speak any English, once gave Red a rawhide bone, repeating “cadeau, cadeau, cadeau” until I just accepted because it was easier than explaining that rawhide would give Red diarrhoea. On every lamppost in Parc LaFontaine and Parc Baldwin is Red’s shit-eating grin. As I flatten tape onto posts, I keep hearing the suggestion of roller blades. I dive into alleyways to hide. I post on Kijiji and call the SPCA daily. There is no response. Google tells me to leave a piece of clothing on the porch, so I do. An old sweater I like to wear. I remember to fill her water bowl. July has been hot and she’s probably thirsty.


It’s a time of night that I should be sleeping. Instead I lay in the dark, watching a kaleidoscopic projection on the back of my eyelids. I hear a noise on the front porch and move to crouch below the window. I keep my eyes closed because I don’t need them open to see my apartment at night. I see with memory and fingertips and the bare soles of my feet. Boots sound on the steps. Eyes open. Not Red. Not a raccoon. I can feel the face pressed up against the other side of the window pane. I try to be invisible and close my eyes again, but I know his breath fogs a spot of the glass. I wait ten breaths after silence. And then ten more. And ten more. And again. Outside, the sweater now smells like cat piss instead of me. I will throw it out later.


More than a week passes and nobody has responded to the posters. I sit on my bed a lot, regretting not getting her chipped. I was failing my summer courses before I even started. Now, I’m unemployed. Or at least unable to work without my security detail, not that my dealer wants me to. The voicemails he leaves are friendly enough, but I know the unspoken threat. So I sit on my bed, in my PJ’s, eating tunafish from the can. Again. This can is my last. I haven’t left my apartment in five days. Re-watching the Godfather trilogy and binge watching Youtube videos consumes my days. Craig Ferguson interviews slim legs and big titties, Amy Winehouse performs sideways at festivals, and Gordon Ramsay makes the Ultimate Steak Sandwiches, so beautiful I don’t need to eat.


Yesterday, I think. Through the walls of my apartment, I heard the clatter of my neighbours’ pots. Around suppertime. Empty stomach in my empty apartment. In the cutlery drawer, only two of my kitchen knives were not serrated. I opened the drawer and picked up the larger, the sharper of the two, and brought it to bed with me.

I pressed the metal tip into my arm and drew across slowly, just about the elbow and careful to keep it straight. A burning line followed, blood spilling brilliantly over the surface. It fucking hurt.

Apparently, ODing is unreliable.

After the initial fire calmed and the shock of adrenaline slowed, I returned the knife to the kitchen. I went to the bathroom. With a tissue, I collected running blood. With a damp tissue, I cleared the dried streaks. Into the garbage so I could grab a new handful. Hands full and hard pressed to the leaking line, I sat on the toilet and waited for the bleeding to stop. Empty again, I threw the tissue away. A dull throbbing replaced the first rush of pain. I looked at the mess in the garbage can before lifting the lid of the toilet and dropping each tissue into the bowl. Within seconds, the red diluted to a blushing shade of pink. I flushed them all away. Returning to my bed, I burrowed under my quilt. My next-door neighbours turned on their television and walked back and forth from their kitchen to the living room. The woman who lives above me vacuumed like she does every night. I lay awake in my dark room for a long-ass time.


I check my voicemail for the second time today. Maybe. The days slip through my mind easily now. Still nothing on Red. It’s hard to sit on a bed with only your own thoughts and empty cans of tunafish. Google says there are a lot of popular ways of committing suicide. 53.7% of American suicides are by gunshot. No thanks. Apparently, ODing is unreliable. Drinking bleach is popular, and the most painful. Carbon monoxide. Suffocation. Jumping. Exsanguination. Electrocution. Drowning. Options.


My chin rests on the window sill. I lean against the wall, it’s cooler than the midday air. Head and limbs feel heavy, although I can see my body shrinking as the days pass.

The unexpected catches my eye. A large man is leading a dog that looks like Red down the street. The sight of her blasts through every fibre of my body. I throw open doors to stand on the front porch, panting. The large man wears cargo shorts. She looks small walking next to him. Size appropriate. I imagine him drinking beers while staring at a television. I imagine him training Red to open fridge doors and fetch those beers, rewarded with a corner of a bologna sandwich, or maybe some sausage. I want to give chase, but my feet remain rooted, my throat tight. Instead, I let her walk away. I watch her feathered tail swish with each step until they turn around the corner of Rachel and disappear.


I hope it works. I’m beyond tired. I’m beyond exhausted. I feel heavy under the rum, but I get to the kitchen. Pills. I’ve been saving them for awhile. I cocoon in bed. Every blanket I have. It’s hot, but comforting. My body is heavy, and yet I’m a little worried I might float away. So blankets. From beneath the blankets and the booze, I hear a far away buzzing. My phone. Maybe it’s Red.

LJ Lawlor grew up in Wilton, Ontario and is currently living in Montreal while studying at Concordia University.