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4th place, Prose in the Randall Albers Young Writers Award: “Dogeye” by Reghan Barnard

Thursday, May 9, 2024


Cut tally: five.

I push the tip of the pocket knife into the trampoline of my skin and pull it down, sharp and short. A thin stream of blood trickles down my arm, dying its hairs red. It bulges into a drop. The drop lets go, falls, plink! Caught by a bowl of water, its fragile structure split into so many tendrils that dance and wobble through the water. They dissolve, leaving it as clear and seemingly undisturbed as it was but a moment before.

I stare into the mirror. A sharp prominent jawline, Greek nose, and plump lips are reflected in the clear glass. My beachy waves are ruffled a bit and sprawl into my ice-blue eyes. I would be an Adonis but for the white blotch that drapes my left eye. It seems to bound toward me, leaping and sinking its teeth into me like the dog that springs with eager desire glinting in his eye to gash open the innocent throat of his prey. It is a dog’s eye, a dog-eye. wonder when in the womb that wicked little devil poured milk onto my skin to stain it forever. With two fingers I massage it, rubbing faster, harder, trying to wash it away. Wash it out. Wash it down, so that white stain will leave my skin and dribble down in a milky stream, back into the bottle from whence it came. Then I will screw on the lid and throw it away, to be forever forgotten in a dusty corner of some forbidden attic.

“One, two, three, four, five.” Five little red cuts in a row on my forearm. Five little bloodied blades. Five little jaws that eat pain with pain. Five little fingers that soothe the brain. Five little strings that won’t play a sufficient strain.

I place the blade once more against my skin and rip.


Cut, tally: six.

As I walked towards the small brick shop sitting on the horizon, the wind whipped dust into my hair. I tried to rub the particles out but they stuck anyway, blending in with my sand-colored waves. I gazed down at the cracked earth and kicked dried dirt into the air with my white sneakers. Well, they were white when I bought them. Now they’re spotted brown and the seams have begun to fray. 

Again the wind swept over me. This time throwing grit around my legs. It stung the skin peeping out from the rips in my jeans, and not the kind of rips that are fashionable these days. No, these are the kind you get when your pants are a bit too tight and split from sliding on them one too many times, when the frayed strings dangle down and your knee-caps poke out like camel-humps.

Looking up, I shielded my eyes against the hazy light. The sun wavered and rippled like a puddle against the blue backdrop of the sky. Sweat began to drip into my eyes. I dragged my arm across my forehead and wiped the fluid onto my white sweatshirt. The brick shop started to come into focus, and I could see a sign swinging lopsided from only one of its bolts, wheezing back and forth in the wind. It read “The Bubble Gum Shop” in washed-out colors. Beneath the sign was a red and white striped awning which shaded the shop’s display window. Behind it, a pyramid of pink and green bubble gum packs sagged in the sun. 

I remember when I used to see Miss Calester standing behind that glass, arranging the gum packs just so. Her cat-eye glasses reflected the sunlight as she detailed the shape to a tee. Bent over, her nose would wrinkle at the sight of dust settling on her masterpiece, followed by her thin fingers running across the top to wipe it clean. The black curls piled on top of her head would bounce as she worked her way around the display, her eyes searching for any slight imperfection. So dialed in, the rest of the world around her was but a blur. 

About a month earlier I had come in while she was thus engaged. She was the only one in the room and so, not minding the silence, I wandered for a bit, gathering a few different items. Finished, I inched towards her and whispered, “Um, excuse me, ma’am?”. Slowly, she raised her eyes from her work and stared off into the distance for a moment before looking down and locking eyes with me. Her nostrils flared ever so slightly as she smacked her jaws together squelching the wedge of gum and slowly inflating it into a balloon until it popped with a snap.

“Yes? What is it?”

I gestured with my thumb at the counter. “Um, could you ring me up?”

“Of course.”

Both of us headed for the front and I spread my purchases out as she leaned against the counter. She eyed me for a moment before she said, “Thirty dollars.”

It’s five packs of gum,” I muttered.

“Thirty dollars,” she repeated. I sighed, dugg into my pocket, pulled out a wad of cash, and shoved it into her outstretched palm.   

Now, as I stepped up to that same glass front door which had the crooked “Open” sign hanging from it, I pulled my hood up over my head. Pushing the door open with the side of my body, the bell rang and I scooted inside. I peered around. No one was at the front counter, just a small stand-up fan whizzing around and around, blowing the stale air into an empty seat. A fly buzzed in a window, banging its head against the glass again and again. Delirious, it fell onto the sill, twitched, then froze. Nearby on the counter was a neat row of flies of similar condition, still and lifeless. Their bodies displayed from smallest to largest like a collection of pebbles. 

Miss Calester was probably in the back, and smoking too because I could smell it drifting in the air and mixing with the smells of mint, strawberry, banana, orange, and grape bubble gums that sat on their shelves melting in the heat. They were organized by color, starting with red, ending with purple, and all sorts of pastels in between. I wondered if she’d ever had to restock before. Most people don’t come to a shop just to buy gum. She sold tobacco and cigs behind the counter too, but that was it. My ma had always wondered how she managed to survive with such little business. I told her it was because she ate gum for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ma had rolled her eyes at me, but I still hold to the statement, as no one’s actually ever seen her eat anything and she is always chewing, her jaw going up and down, squishing that wad of melted wax between her snow-white teeth.

I wiped my sneakers on the indoor mat, careful not to track any dirt onto the floor even though the tile was so dirty it was almost gray instead of white. Keeping my shoes from squeaking, I didn’t want to alert the Bubble Lady, I crept over to find my regular buy: chocolate bubblegum. Most people think that’s disgusting, but hey, for me, chocolate’s chocolate, even if it's in the form of wax that’s pooling in the sun. 

On my way towards the front counter I bumped into the pink and green pyramid on display. The flimsy packs crumbled into a pile on the floor with a clatter.

“Sh-t,” I hissed under my breath.

I heard a grunt and a rustling from the back.

I half- kicked, half-swept the pile into a corner, praying she wouldn’t notice, and scrambled forward keeping my eyes on the floor. Behind the register was Miss Calester, waiting. I felt her eyes boring into me. She knew. 

“Sorry,” I mumbled, still staring at the ground in embarrassment.

She snorted.

I placed my purchase on the counter. 

“Fourteen dollars,” she said. 

“Ma’am, I can’t keep payin-,” I stopped short. Something was wrong with her voice. I looked up and met her eyes.

Except they weren’t her eyes.

They were mine.

And my birthmark was gone.

The other I stared blankly back at me, and then began to string the dead flies onto a thread. He stabbed their bodies with the needle, pulled the thread through, and began to count.

Crunch, thread. “Five,” the other I whispered under his breath.

Crunch, thread “Six.”


Cut, tally: seven.

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.” Seven little slits lined up on my skin. Seven little slashes that throb to the beat of time. Seven scarlet mouths that gossip in my mind. Seven thin wires that flow with chatter. Seven little sticks that bang and clatter. Seven red raindrops that beat against my skin. Seven bleeding legs that take me to where I’ve never been.  

She melted away. I am melting away. We are all of us, individuals, melting, melting, melting, our faces dripping into pools of pure water. We are chiseling away at our own faces, molding and sculpting until nothing remains. Until our dust blurs together into one murky stream of sameness.

Until we lose everything and become perfect. 

And yet…

despite the loss

despite the pain

we grind.

So here I am today, here will be tomorrow, cut, cut, cutting away. 

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