Storyglossia Issue 16, October 2006.

2nd Runner-up — Storyglossia Fiction Prize 2006


The Society for the Protection of Animals

by Steven Gillis


Uniss had a plan. The situation was dire. No one refuted this, though we knew at first only what Uniss told us.

In her cage, on the floor of our apartment, Uniss did her best to turn. She said it was important to feel as they did, to better understand. I questioned the necessity, wondered, "If we're supposed to be sympathetic, shouldn't we be motivated more by instinct?"

Uniss told me to, "Think about what you're saying. How can you understand what you haven't experienced?"

I could have argued the point, said many things were intuitive, like hunger and love and the want to survive, that understanding them was overkill, but I knew what Uniss would say. She had a way of moving inside her cage, naked and on all fours, up on her toes and fingers, her spine arched as she had learned to do, leaving room so when invited in I could scoot flat on my back and lay beneath her, staring directly at whatever she chose to offer.


                           ~ ~ ~


The first time Uniss told me about the dogs, I was studying for an exam, trying to wrap my head around Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Heisenberg's theory—known as the Copenhagen Interpretation —challenged objective reality, insisted the position and momentum of a particle could not be predicted simultaneously with any consistent degree of accuracy as observation itself construed reality. I watched Uniss walk across the room. She showed me the newspaper, squeezed my arm, waited for me to read what there was then said, "It's real. Look at the pictures."

Uniss sold health supplements at the Vitamin Barn, educated people on HGH and Oxidation Reaction for aging, Saw Palmetto, Pygeum, Ginseng, Rose Hips and d-Alpha Tocopherol with Beta. Twice a week she attended classes at the University, studied chemistry and microbiology, planned on opening a homeopathic clinic one day, offering alternative medicines and organic remedies. I usually parked on the opposite end of the mall, closer to Music Mart where I worked part-time, but the day Uniss and I met I wanted an Orange Julius and came in from the east side. The Vitamin Barn also sold on consignment black reclining chairs with built in massagers. Uniss sat in one of the chairs with the motor turned high. She had short black hair, thin arms pushed pale through the half sleeves of her grey and red Vitamin Barn shirt. I stopped in front of the chair, watched the vibrating waves shake her. She didn't seem to mind my staring. After a minute I gave my own body a shiver, let go from my ankles through my knees up to my hips and shoulders and head like a human wave rolling up and down again. Uniss laughed and asked if I was epileptic. I told her no, that I was just a boy studying quantum mechanics.


                           ~ ~ ~


We lived in Marshall Creek, far enough from Idlebrooke and the dogs to ignore their troubles if we chose. Uniss said we couldn't. She yanked at my arm through the bars of her cage as if pulling the chain to a lamp. "This is real," she waited for the light to come on. "We have to do something." Idlebrooke's city council had apparently made a mess of things, altering ordinances, raising the cost of dog licenses, vaccines and ownership fees, doubling the tax on breeders while restricting areas where dogs could be walked. The new policies aggravated pre-existing problems, resulted in more dogs left as strays and runaways and otherwise abandoned. Rather than rescind the new laws, the council decided to invest in a special bounty. Men with pickup trucks, station wagons and minivans trolled the city wielding ropes, dart guns, enormous fishing nets and cans of Alpo.

We went the next night to the Wet Whistle with a group of friends where Uniss showed everyone the article in the paper. She described the dogs in various stages of abuse, cried and coaxed us into indignation. We all agreed, the news was bad. Someone, we said, should do something. We sat inside the Wet Whistle and drank through our second and third pitcher of beer, feeling good about ourselves for taking the matter seriously, for recognizing the cruelty and madness and being able to bang the tabletop and rant quite loud.


                           ~ ~ ~


Uniss began having bad dreams. A month before she had found a novel by J.R. Pick called, The Society for the Protection of Animals. Pick's book was semi-autobiographical, addressed his experiences in the Terezin concentration camp near Prague in 1943. Reading about the camps, Uniss cut her hair even shorter, refused to eat more than once a day for nearly two weeks, sustained herself on vitamin B, soy and wheat germ. She took a pen and wrote a series of numbers on the underside of her right forearm, read more books; In My Hands, by Irene Gut Opdyke, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Elie Wiesel's Night. Uniss' dreams caused her to kick and moan. Sometimes I tried calming her by stroking her nipples or rubbing lower the way she liked. I didn't know what else to do, had no real answer for the way she said she saw herself while sleeping staring up as if from underwater.

We bought the cage at PetCo, a collapsible kennel, the largest they had. Uniss wanted to see what living that way felt like. She had to duck and fold herself to get inside. I fell asleep on the bed and woke mid-morning to find her in the cage, hunched down and reading a copy of Edmond Jabes The Book Of Questions: Yael, Elya, Aely. I joked with her, "You know, if its the experience you're after, dogs can't actually read." Uniss took this more seriously than I intended, slid the book out through the bars, barked twice and shook her head.


                           ~ ~ ~


My sister, Shari, had a house near the University where she worked as a dietician. Shari was married to J.J. Leeme, a junior account manager at Spotlease payroll services. In 2002, J.J. had joined the National Reserves. Three months ago, he was called up and sent to Iraq. J.J. and Shari had a baby boy named Bill, but I called him Bubba for no reason other than I liked the sound. Two days after Uniss and I bought the cage, Shari phoned and told me she had cancer. "Carcinoma in situ," breast cancer that had yet to spread outside the duct or lobule. We contacted the army but they wouldn't let J.J. come home, said the paperwork would take at least a month and everyone should just wait and see how things panned out.

The doctors did the biopsy and started Shari on chemo. I took a week off from the Music Mart. My head was a mess. I struggled with my classes. I loved my sister and told Uniss, "I don't want her to die." In the shower, I checked Uniss' breasts with my fingertips, examined rather than caressed. Uniss indulged me. For Shari, she pulled out all her books, researched remedies, educated us on what ACT—Adriamycin, Cytoxan and Taxol— did to the body's white blood cell count, how chemo messed with the neutrophil which fought infections, creating neutropenia. She put Shari on a high iron diet, had her eat lots of green vegetables, told her to avoid red meat, salt and sugar and dairy, gave her natural remedies to work with the steroids and counter the poisons: Ipecacuanha and Phosphorus 30 for vomiting, Sepia for anaemia, Selicea to help boost her immune system.

At night, I lay with Uniss wherever she wanted. I couldn't sleep now without her near. When I thanked her again for Shari, she smiled. I remained outside the cage as Uniss inside slid her fingers down my cheeks before pulling her arms back, and stretching beside me with the bars between us, asked "Do you think the dogs they've caught are scared?"


                           ~ ~ ~


The novelty of the cage turned problematic the second time Uniss and I tried having sex. Doggie-style, I banged my head against the top of the bars, had to hunch down until too much of my weight was resting on Uniss and I could barely thrust. She rolled her head around as if to snap, then laughed and collapsed and told me to, "Get out." A week after Shari started chemo, Uniss read that Idlebrooke was selling captured dogs for medical research. She came to find me at work and said she had a plan.

We drove the forty miles up Route 23 just before midnight. Along the way we listened to the news on the radio. With J.J. overseas, I paid more attention to the war. Dozen of people had died earlier that day in four separate explosions in Baghdad. Last night American soldiers raided the Ministry of Health, smashing doors and walls, confiscating money targeted for security workers. "Its endless," Dr. Ali al-Shimari, the Health Minister complained as an American spokesman said the soldiers were acting on a tip to stop the kidnapping of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and his family. "We are only here to do the right thing." Uniss bought a huge pair of wire cutters and a large hammer with a flat barrel head. Dogs not yet sold to labs were held in cages stacked and spread out in a fenced area near the old armory.

We parked and walked across the street. The air smelled of gas and beer, changed to something more feral as we came nearer the fence. I looked for a guard, wondered about cameras and alarms as we went around back, away from the street and abutting a weed dry field. The dogs stirred but didn't bark as we cut through the wires. Even as we clipped the locks and hammered at some to break the bolts, they seemed to know and waited.

The first report came on the 5:00 a.m. news. Uniss and I fell asleep together in bed, woke and listened to the broadcast. "Over 500 dogs," the reporter claimed. "503," Uniss said. I didn't realize she'd counted. Uniss bit my shoulder. Setting the dogs free had made her happy. She slipped from bed and danced. I stared at her, saw the way her t-shirt rolled over the curve of her breasts, thought of what Wheeler said about the essence of reality and how, "No phenomenon is a real phenomenon until it's an observed phenomenon." I held out my arms, kicked off the sheet and asked her to, "Come back to bed and free this dog, baby."

At noon I left for Music Mart, feeling high and pleased and only vaguely worried about being arrested. Twice at work I joked by playing the Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out" over the sound system. I had class that night and got home sometime after 10:00 p.m. to find Uniss sitting in front of our tv, the remote in her hand as she flicked back and forth between the local news channels. Dogs were shown in the streets, running between houses and buildings, on the lawns and through alleys in Idlebrooke. Six hounds were said to have been hit by cars while the hospital reported a record number of dog bites over the last twelve hours. Uniss stared at the television while I came and sat beside her, watching labrador and German shepherds, poodles and terriers and mutts of every conceivable combination dashing across the screen. I waited as Uniss reviewed what we failed to predict and considered again our options.


                           ~ ~ ~


Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, when first explaining quantum mechanics, viewed causation as a theory-specific concept varied in each new physical circumstance. Causation was broken into two components: causal connection and causal priority, with the space between described by Thomas Hausman as, "the undefined intuitive notion of a nomological linkage." All of this was rudimentary, before the real work began, and the point where I tended to get lost. At its root, I understood how no two interactions were identical, that observation altered and created the universe individually for its observer as Wheeler said, and yet, outside of ourselves and our own observations, shit still happened. But for our letting the dogs out, none of the rest would have taken place, and what did it matter then if we failed to witness it first hand?

Driving to Idlebrooke again, Uniss brought a leash and bait, found the first dog just after we left Route 23. A brown-grey mongrel mix, malamute and possibly brittany, shaggy from his withers down, his flews and muzzle dark. I pulled up to the curb and Uniss got out of the car, sat on the dew moist lawn with bacon strips and hands held out. The dog ran past, came back, slowed and stared at us. From memory maybe or just hunger, he moved toward Uniss, close enough to where she could pet and pull him in.

We rescued three dogs that night. Our apartment was small with wood floors which created a click-click-click as the hounds moved about. Pets were prohibited so we covered our front room and the space around the cage with towels and sweaters. Saving three dogs seemed a finger in the dike, but there was Uniss, happy again, sitting among the mutts, a pot of water between her outstretched legs while the hounds together came and drank.

I rested my back against the cage, across from Uniss on the floor. We remained this way for some time. I had the early shift the next morning at Music Mart and eventually crawled off to sleep. Uniss said she wanted to stay with the dogs and get them settled. She promised to find them a place to live tomorrow and agreed to arrange her work schedule to make sure this happened. I woke to find her in the cage with the malamute mutt, the other two dogs asleep nearby. The food we bought the night before was poured into my favorite cereal bowl. At some point while I slept Uniss had taken the hounds into the bathroom and washed them. When I tried to shower I found the drain thick with matted hair and my one remaining towel soaked and covered with foul dog scum. The dogs watched me move about the apartment, remained observant until I left.


                           ~ ~ ~


The mall was a ten minute drive. I bought a paper at lunch and read another story about the dogs. To my surprise, Idlebrooke had extended its bounty, the only revision to the original deal was that the hounds now caught had to be brought in dead. I called Uniss but she didn't pick up. After work I drove out to my sister's house. The chemo had killed off Shari's hair. She wore a scarf and pretended for Bubba's sake to be playing a part in a Mother Goose fable. The homeopathic remedies Uniss provided offered some relief, but the poison was cumulative. Shari had sores in her mouth and between her toes. I dangled Bubba above her, brought him close where she could kiss him. "At least the cancer will be gone," I wanted to hint of promise. Shari smiled as if she'd completely forgotten, said "The treatment was a success doctor, but the patient died."

We watched tv together, some late afternoon sitcom and a bit of the news. Shari looked for hints of J.J. in the coverage. The local news ran even more stories about the dogs, stock footage showing the hounds dashing about a few days earlier. Many of the freed dogs had made their way to Marshall Creek where rumors of a rabies outbreak gave a false excuse to those eager to collect on the bounty. I called Uniss again but still there was no answer.

At class that night we reviewed the Copenhagen Interpretation, assessed observation, causal connection and phenomena. We discussed Gell-Mann and Feynman. As an aside, Prof. Finkel mentioned the Poincare Conjecture which dealt with the nature of space. I was lost when the problem was presented. "If any loop in a certain kind of three-dimensional space can be shrunk to a point without ripping either the loop or the space, must the space then be equivalent to a sphere?" My head ached to even think where to start, and seeing my puzzled look, Finkel quoted Poincare with a smile. "Thought is only a flash in the middle of a long night, but the flash that means everything."

The quote helped me relax. I pictured three-dimensional spheres and tubes, soap films and dogs, saddles and the flare of a trumpet spread out for 12,500 miles. Driving back to the apartment after class, I thought more about causality and the theories of Hausman, Barrett, Einstein and Bohr. I parked the car and hurried up the stairs, opened the door and called to Uniss. The three dogs from yesterday were huddled in the far corner while several new hounds now filled the room. An akita mix came to sniff me, followed by a doberman and Finnish spitz. A retriever stood on our couch while the rest of the mutts moved closer.

Uniss was in the cage, sitting with her back against the right side. "Here, quick," she called to me just as a large mastiff mix moved toward me. I stared at the cage, then at the doberman raising the sides of his muzzle, showing me teeth. The mastiff pushed through the other hounds. I pictured Uniss, hearing the news about the latest bounty, driving around in search of strays, loading up her car more than once, sneaking the dogs into our apartment and for what? I turned my hips, rolled my fingers, the dogs now in a collective snarl. Only the three mutts from the night before hung back, each appearing to have been attacked earlier, the malamute I noticed with a bloodied haunch, the others with torn crests and withers and ears. The mastiff mix was black and broad and as he bit my thigh the strike was less savage than calculated. I screamed then dove past the other hounds.

Uniss opened the latch to the cage and pulled me in. We had to squirm and roll and hunch down to fit. I looked at the tear in my pants, examined the bite which was already blue beneath the blood. "What the fuck?"

I observed the dogs and saw them circle, thought of Einstein who disagreed with Heisenberg, was convinced in a causal, objective reality, argued that a real world existed independent from any act of perception. Accumulated knowledge should have told us what would happen, given us objective reality, confirming a constancy in causality which Heisenberg and Bohr otherwise denied. I modified the Uncertainty Principle to fit our situation, how Heisenberg said it was impossible to correctly gauge the position and momentum of any one particle at the same time. If our position was to help the dogs, the momentum of our act had failed to create a simultaneously accurate value as our inspiration sailed too far out ahead of where we needed to land. All the unintended phenomena was organic, like space and time expanding and collapsing, everything passing through stages, the nomological linkage, until everything that could be became apparent.

Uniss touched my thigh. I thought of the men in Idlebrooke driving around in their trucks with loaded guns and nooses. In our bedroom my books were against the far wall. I could not reach them. Across town the mall would be dark. Some of our friends were probably at the Wet Whistle drinking. Bubba was sleeping. Our phone rang then and we couldn't answer. The machine clicked on and it was Shari. Ten miles away my sister had cancer. Her voice came in huffs and bursts. "J.J.," she said, crying. I couldn't believe. I couldn't see. I shouted and wanted to know, "How?" The question was stupid. Shit happened. There was certainty and uncertainty. Predictability and unpredictability. The odds got fucked when people didn't think things through. I wrapped my arms around Uniss. Outside the cage the dogs were barking.


Copyright©2006 Steven Gillis