I had no name till Dad took me home. Now I answer to Lickrish, Buddy, and Son—when I feel like it. I gave up chasing lizards, squirrels, and birds, and climbing trees, for Dad. None of it was as good as his fingers behind my ears, his soft belly-lap, and the tang of his silky armpit slung across our bedsheets where I curl. I am a good boy till I start trouble.
Dad is on the couch and I am in his lap, as we are supposed to be at night. He turns my head toward his snout. “Son,” he says, his fingers massaging the tingly spot above my tail, “You’re the only one Dad needs.” I stretch forward, head down, butt up. I hunker into a cuddly lump and purr, keeping my eyes cracked on a swaying palm frond outside the window. I’m lulled by the movement—happy—as Dad calls it. He rests his hand on my back and watches the picture-screen.
After a while he says, “Buddy, let’s take a drive to my Ami. Wanna?” It is a place with windows in the sky, a world of sand, and salty waves that try to drown you if you stop to dig a hole. I leap to his shoulder and tuck my forepaws into the dark stubble on his neck, scouring the side of his face with my tongue till he pulls me off. He does not understand what I am telling him, that we are happy on the couch. I do not want to go to his Ami, or anywhere, but I do not want to stay home all by myself.
He brings my hard cave from the closet, and I dart inside, bracing, so not to be flung against the metal bars as he carries me to the engine-car. When I am beside him on the seat, he pokes a finger through the bars. “Son, we got us a sweet one tonight. I been watching her and waiting a long time. Hell . . . they’re all sweet.”
I was small, weak, and hungry when I found Dad. I had a sore haunch, bit by a nasty raccoon that wanted to fight over a greasy Mac wrapper. I fed on dry lizards and rancid Mac scraps—a juicy mouse, almost never. I got drenched in storms and would have been flattened by engine-cars if I was not so smart.
I did not know any other place, just the building with metal tables outside, grass, concrete, and hot salty wind. Mamma hid me under bushes till she went away. I kept my distance from people, but Dad lured me with crumbles of fresh Mac. I rubbed my bony raised-back against his lower hind leg to ask for more, and he scooped me up. Now I sleep safe on the couch during daylight. When my stomach starts to grind, Dad comes home for feeding-time. I get pâté or morsels in rich gravy.
One night when I was new, Dad loaded his backpack and went off without me. I hiked a pee on the door. I am a silent kitty, except for a tiny squeak, so it was my only way to show hurt feelings. The next time he left at night, he locked me in my cave. I made sick all over and licked it off my fur and brought it up again. When Dad got home, I was foul.
“You’re breaking my heart, Son.” He put me into the sink with soap like I was a dirty pan, but the water was warm, and afterwards he rubbed me dry. I looked into his eyes and squeaked. He knew I wanted to go with him and I would be his good boy.
The engine-car stops and my cave is lifted out under a low tree. I am bumped side to side through darkness, following a light dot with Dad. My cave is set solid while Dad digs into his pack and clanks tools above me. I hear snapping and smell rubber hand covers that I have seen Dad bring home. Powder drifts into my cage and I sneeze.
I sniff sand and grass, and close by . . . pee. This pee is ripe with female. It tugs at my belly, a feeling of want. The sweet one? Is she for me?
I tunnel at the corner of my cave, but my claws click without traction. I am tilted upward near the face of Dad and slide back, hitting the wall. He has a white cover over his snout and colorful cloth down to his brows. I would not know him except for his scent. He looks into my eyes and shushes me. I fly against the grate as he dips me down again near the pee perfume. I tunnel wildly with no progress.
Something clicks and slides above me. Cool, dry air drops human female scent inside my cave. I am lifted indoors. My eyes can see everything, but Dad follows the light dot into a room with a couch and sets my cave on the floor. He has brought my favorite, rabbit pâté, and lets me out to feed. I lick it to be nice until he moves away. This is all new territory that I need to explore. My nose untangles waves of human and sharp soap scent, like the smell of Dad when he comes home at feeding-time. It fades. Dad has closed off the smell without making a sound.
Under the table, I nose a few hard crumbs and a fragment of cheese. I lick it up. I circle the room and sniff all the corners and under the couch. Just dust, no threats. Pee scent creeps out from under the shut door where Dad has gone. It is human female pee. Dad must have that feeling of want.
I follow a scent of grease to the kitchen, but there is no food I can find. I go to my rabbit pâté, finish, and take a quick bath. Time for a nap. I leap to a chair with a soft pillow and knead it into shape. Not cuddly like the lap of Dad.
Whining comes from the other room. I slink close. I listen. It is human noise. I sniff fear. Dad opens up. There is a face in the dark, white stuffing sticking from her mouth. Dad rolls out a chair on wheels and shuts the door. I hop on for the ride.
At home, I leap to the kitchen table and nudge his snout with my head. He pushes me away to dig into his backpack. He takes out a plastic bag, opens it, and whiffs. I smelled it in the engine-car. It is pee from the female, in a soft white pouch. His nostrils flare and the edge of his mouth quivers, as if he is stalking a squirrel. He wrings the juice into a snap-lid dish and stacks it with others in the frosty box.
The sun is up when my eyes open. I stretch. Dad is still in the bed. This means he will not leave me for the day. Breakfast! I lick his eyelid. Breakfast!
“Yow!” He blinks at me.
We head to the kitchen. I weave in front of him, rubbing. Yes! Yes! Breakfast, Dad! Yes! His walking slows, and two times I get caught between his ankles. I am too excited to stop. “Watch it!” He catches himself against the wall. I rub again to make nice, to stay his good boy.
I feed on pork morsels in gravy. Dad feeds on a flat crunchy square with butter. He plays with his little talking box. “Hi, Sis. Me and Lickrish want you to come over for dinner.”
That night Dad rolls Sis through the door. He brings a warm, fat chicken, and beer. They drink and chatter, happy as crows snitching French fries. I lick my lips and wait, a good boy. Sis cannot reach my bowl, so Dad fills it with tasty shreds of meat and gravy she saved on her plate. I gorge. Afterwards, Dad parks Sis near the couch, and they feed on frosty cream in front of the picture-screen. I curl on the lap of Sis and knead her small belly. She is softer than Dad. She strokes my chin when I tilt up my face. “Sweet Licorice, you have the most beautiful eyes.”
She strokes down my back. “You need a girlfriend,” Sis tells Dad.
“Me and Lickrish are fine.”
“You have no social life.”
“He’s social enough.” Dad shakes his head. “I have girlfriends.”
“More than one? You mean for sex?” She leans toward Dad. “Who? PTs at the rehab?”
He hisses. “Nah, they’re all . . . crazy.”
“Not. I still have friends there.”
Dad reaches over and scratches the spot above my tail. “They don’t date Maintenance.”
“Ever give it a try? You’re good-looking—and sweet.”
“You would say so.”
“Yes, I would.” Sis taps his forepaw and smiles. “Who then? I hear you’re chummy with a cute brunette, a new patient.”
“Chummy? I wish. She thinks I’m weird.” He slugs from his beer. “Don’t worry about me.” He points to the rolling chair. “I’d just like to nail that mother-fucker! Too bad he’s dead.” His paw forms a knot.
“Do we still have to talk about that?”
“That fucking drunk! You’ll never even know what sex feels like.”
Sis kisses my head. “You think I was a virgin?”
“C’mon. You were the most innocent sixteen-year-old on the planet—now you’re the most innocent twenty-four-year-old.”
Sis looks down at me on her lap and cuddles my head. “I fantasize how it would feel with a man . . . like in romance novels. But what I don’t know I can’t miss, right?”
“Not right. You can’t hide it from your twin.”
“I just haven’t found the right guy.” She swats at his head. “You’re the one that gets upset, Rick. Mom gives me a pill.”
“Yeah, great.” He scoops me up.
“Time to go home, sis. Mom’ll be waiting to get you ready for bed.”
“Yep—and my Depends can only hold one beer.”
“Funny.” Dad says it with a tone that does not belong to the word. “Let me stick this guy in his crate and we can all get going.”
The next night, we go to his Ami again. This time we stop, get out, walk, get back into the engine-car and roll some more. I want to go home to the bed. Dad crinkles a piece of paper and we stop again. My legs are tired from bracing in my cave.
Angry water grumbles in the distance. We walk. Salt mist is thick. We trot around a building, and Dad finds glass doors. He slides them open without using his tools. Inside is silence and dark. Dad puts on his coverings, opens my cave, and follows his light dot toward a room that smells female. There is no rabbit pâté!
I sprint next to Dad before he closes the door, but he does not see me. His light flows up the side of a bed. I want to pounce on the dot, but I have learned that it is really nothing, and Dad might not like me in the room. I stay back so he will not step on my tail.
Through the dark, I see a human on her back, eyes closed, short ginger fur on her head, cloth up to her neck. The light dot slides over the hump of her chest. It jumps to the bedside tray and finds a talking box. Dad picks up the box and sets it on a rolling chair nearby.
He climbs up the end of the bed, soft and quiet as a kitten, and loosens the sheet. He uncovers bare legs, slides off her pee pouch, pulls a plastic bag from his pocket, seals the pouch inside. He pushes his snout cover up and nuzzles into her underparts. The bed squeaks, and her eyes open. She gasps. I hop to the rolling chair to watch. Her arms flail toward Dad, but he is too far to reach. She yowls. Dad pounces.
Wow! Dad is a good pouncer for his size. He flattens across her forelegs and chest, cupping a front paw over her mouth, poking cloth into the opening. He squirms to pull long wraps from his pockets and ties her forelegs, one by one, to the bed rails.
Her chest and head jerk, but her belly and hind legs stay still. Dad moves back down. He licks without tiring, just like Mama when she scrubbed my underparts. I am lulled, knowing that Dad is taking good care of this female. But her eyes do not go calm. They dart from one side of the room to the other. Her forepaws yank at the wrappings. She does not like this kind of cleaning. Fear forms a cloud, but Dad does not smell it, and he cannot see the water of hurt from her eyes. He works hard, getting into her soft folds with his tongue, trying to make her fresh and tingly.
I hop to the side of the bed and creep toward her snout. I want to lap the water that runs down her chin, show her that cleaning is nice. I stop. Dad will see me, and I will not be his good boy.
He fixes his snout cover and climbs close to her face. Her head and forelegs go wild, like a butterfly under a paw. Dad covers her with his body. He pumps his haunches in soft movement and leaves his scent. He wipes her snout with his hand, like he does when he cleans my eyes. “I love you, beautiful,” Dad whispers. She will not be lulled. I slink under the bed.
When he rolls the chair from the room, I run in front of it, happy to go. I leap into my cave and wait for him to take me.
At home in the kitchen he pulls out the pee pouch, like before. I sit on the table as he drains the pee into its dish. The smell brings her hurt close. I go to bed and curl up. I tongue a spot above my tail. The patch is not dirty, but licking tingles and soothes me. I swallow fur and keep tonguing.
After that, I groom the spot whenever I am alone. The bare patch goes pink, and my prickly tongue rasps skin. I can taste my raw gravy.
On another night, I am lounging on the lap of Dad, and he is watching the picture-screen, eating Mac. I am full of duck pâté, but waiting for my morsel of Mac. My scabby spot needs licking. I make a few quick swipes. Dad does not like when I touch it.
“What’s the matter with you?” He tilts my face toward his snout and talks soft. “OCD kitty. What am I gonna do with you?”
I am not his good boy.
He plays with the buttons on the small gray box. “In Miami, a report of a man breaking into a house and raping a paraplegic woman in her twenties.”
The belly of Dad knocks me to the floor. He sits straight.
“The victim is paralyzed from the waist down and says that she woke up while the intruder was performing oral sex. She was then raped and tied up. Her nurse found her this morning. According to Metro Police, there was no sign of forced entry. They strongly urge all women in the Miami area, especially those with disabilities, to keep their doors and windows locked. This is the second disabled woman to come forward this month. There are believed to be others. Police will not comment on whether they have a suspect.”
The eyebrows of Dad pinch together. His mouth lets out air like when he is tired of me kneading his belly. The picture goes off. Time for the bed.
No. He goes to the kitchen, leaving a big chunk of Mac for me. I leap to it and pull it off the bun. Mac is salty and greasy, but I am not happy without Dad. I feed fast and go to the kitchen. Dad is taking his pee dishes from the heating box to the table. I hop next to them.
Some pees are light and some dark yellow, faint scents and strong ones. Dad likes all kinds. He sits down and bends forward, stiff and focused, sucking in smells, like he is watching a bird he cannot reach.
My nose matches scents with the females I saw. I smell their fear and drop to groom the spot above my tail. The table wobbles and waves of pee spill over the dishes.
“Fuck!” Dad swats at me, and I dodge. I am off balance and hit my side on a chair on my way to the floor. I shake off the pain and leap to his lap to make nice, but land on a hard part I never felt before. Dad yowls and knocks me off. His face shows pain. I am bad! I hurt him. He hurt me. He hurt the female.
I go to the bed and squirm under it to groom. I cannot lull myself. I go to the kitchen to see if Dad will be nice. He is rubbing his lap to stop the pain. I slink back under the bed and lick.
The next morning, I stay hidden till I hear Dad in the kitchen. I go to my dish and feed on beef morsels and gravy. I am his good boy.
I hop to a chair to clean. I watch the butter on the plate in the middle of the table. Is it there for me? The talking box makes noise and Dad picks it up. I lean against it and hear Sis inside. “Have you read The Herald?”
I rub my snout on the box. I want sis.
“Stop it.” Dad pushes me away, but not hard. I go back and nuzzle.
“Are you listening? Lena got raped! My Cuban friend in rehab—a patient.”
“She’s the first one with enough guts to tell the police. The story’s in the paper.”
“Was she hurt?”
“Yes! She was raped! . . . He had his mouth all over her.”
Sis feels bad. I want to rub on Sis, but Dad blocks the talking box with his paw. “That’s terrible.”
“Lena said Marcia—from our same rehab—had an incident last month. Her wheelchair and phone were in the living room when she woke up in the morning, and her Depends was dry—like he changed her! She had taken a sleeping pill and didn’t know what happened.”
“I’m glad you’re home with Mom.”
“I bet there are other gals too embarrassed to call the police—I would be. Lena says they got DNA. And get this—her Depends was gone, probably a wet one!”
“Do they have a description of the guy?”
“I don’t think so. It was probably too dark.”
After that day, we are home many nights, cuddling in front of the picture-screen. Fur has grown in above my tail. I do not jump up on the table when Dad sniffs pee.
I have almost forgotten the hard walls of my cave till he pushes me inside. Sticking out all my legs only helps for a short time. I settle down and be his good boy.
We do not ride around long. We go inside and up many hard stairs. Dad stops at a flat space and sets down my cave. I want to wait here, but he does not know. He picks me up and climbs more stairs. He opens a door and sets me on carpet. I smell his hand covers and listen to the clink of his tools. There’s a tap and a click and we are inside a dark room.
He opens my cave, but I do not move. I know what comes next. His light dot slips away. I do not want to see, but I cannot hold back. I race down the hall behind Dad and leap past him as the door closes. There she is, long brown fur spread over a white pillow. A rolling chair next to the bed. The light dot crosses the nightstand. No talking box. Dad works his way to her haunches and slides off the pee pouch. He bends to her underparts.
I am bad, so bad. I slink to the pillow and nuzzle her ear. Her eyes fly open. Her jaw moves, but no yowl comes out. Fear billows. Her paw moves under me, like she wants to rub my belly. I lean in. She pulls up a chain holding a tiny white box with a dark button. “Help! Help!” She yowls. “Police! Po—”
Dad is up! His snout cover around his neck. He grabs the talking box and breaks it from the chain. There is a human inside, but it is not Sis. “Is this an emergency? State your passcode now if this is not an emergency.”
Dad stares at the box. The female lets out a yowl.
Dad tosses the box and runs, slamming back the door and taking huge steps down the hall. I dash to my cave. Dad keeps going. No cave! Run with Dad! I dart ahead and wait for him to open doors. I sprint down the stairs. I run with Dad! Yes, yes! Happy, happy! I dash back and forth to catch his eye. Yes! We are out of there!
My neck is caught between his ankles.
I stop and shake off the pain. Dad dives head first, bumping down stairs, like I flop on the floor when it is good to see him and I want my belly rubbed.
Yes! Yes! I will rub! I hop down. I nuzzle his cheek. Red meat shows near his ear, and his raw gravy is starting a puddle. I wait for Dad to shake off his pain. He closes his eyes. He wants me to leave him alone. I was bad.
He is asleep. The stairs are not soft like the bed, but we will stay here tonight. His lap is sideways, and there is no place to cuddle. I curl between his hind legs and rest my head, like the good boy I want to be.
A door above us squeaks open and one below. “Don’t move,” a man shouts. “You’re under arrest.” Heavy shoes clomp toward us. Bright lights.
Men are not all nice like Dad. We need to run. I lick his eyelid, but he will not blink. He stays still as a lizard when it is done playing.
Two men climb the stairs. I slip into shadow.
One man sits on his haunch and touches the neck of Dad. “So, this is the pervert—our urophiliac.” He shakes his head and takes the front paw of Dad. “Barely a pulse. Concussion and maybe a broken back.”
I slink down the stairs to wait for the outside door to open. I will come back in the morning, when the loud men are gone, and Dad and me are both hungry.
Vicki Hendricks is the author of noir novels Miami Purity, Iguana Love, Voluntary Madness, Sky Blues, and Cruel Poetry, the latter a finalist for an Edgar Award in 2008. Her short story collections are Florida Gothic Stories and Dangerous Sex: Three Stories. Her plots and settings reflect participation in adventure sports, such as skydiving and scuba, and knowledge of the Florida environment. Love of animals, apparent in her earlier novels, comes to the forefront in Fur People.