I sweep four times a day, but the fur remains—under the kitchen table, beneath the crib, in every corner. Also twisted around my computer cord. When I walk across the house, the fur comes off my skin in puffs like smoke and settles onto the tile. One fine strand gets caught in a web between my aloe plant and the wall, but I leave it there, an angel’s share, for the spider. The fur I sweep up is shock white; each strand is the length of my palm. They are tail hairs from our dog, Elmo. He is an Alaskan Malamute and he is dying. Or, at least, he is very sick. He sheds constantly—indeed daily, by the minute. He looses enough fur to make a sheep, which I do, because I have time and there is plenty of material. I work on the sheep all morning. I use glue and rubber bands, and an old pillowcase that gives the sheep’s body its shape. When I am done, I wrap the fur-stuffed animal in newspaper for my husband, with a joke written in Sharpie on the flap. My husband opens the present over our garbanzo bean supper. Are You Sheepish? I wait. He doesn’t laugh. Instead, he throws the sheep in the trash, and for weeks the kitchen stinks like Elmo. I quit sweeping for a while. My husband is never home to smell sick dog-mouth, anyway. Or to step in milky puddles of fur. He’s at work, if work is a thing one does for so many hours a week with someone who slathers his body with lavender oil. I sulk and Elmo sulks. We circle. Comfort the baby. Elmo continues to shed. I find fur fried into my hamburger patty, wedged in my butt crack, caked on the soap in the shower. Stuck to my baby’s pink lips. One night, my husband calls to tell me he hates the dog. But the dog loves you! I say. He says: We’ll be picking hair off our clothes forever, ‘til we’re crusts. I curl in bed with Elmo and hug him, imagining with some relief, some hope, that when the kids are gone, when the lovers are dead, I’ll be sweeping fur into old age with my husband, like he says.
One day, I find Elmo in the bathtub with his nose resting peacefully on the rim, curled up, a good old dog. And I cry, of course. I call my husband and he comes home to help me dig a hole in the yard. We bury Elmo. We say long and tearful goodbyes. After, my husband undresses for a shower and I tackle the house with a broom, meticulously sweeping all the fur—thatches and forests of it, mountains—behind the bedroom dresser. I pick up the baby and settle him onto my hip, then set the ceiling fan on low. The blades whir. Clumps of fur escape my hiding place and float into the corners of the room, onto the bed cover. A strand lands on a pile of my husband’s neatly folded jeans. I pick the hair off the denim and taste it. I guard the bedroom door, ready to press my lips into my husband’s shoulder when he comes in. There is hope. The fan will circle forever, I decide. The rotating air will draw out the fur, the very fur we will pick up, and sweep up, forever, us sweeping fur, our hands growing brittle, our backs growing stooped, our legs giving out so that we must kneel to grab fur, kneeling together for fur, forever, fur infinitum.
Katie Young Foster grew up in the Sandhills of Nebraska. She is the 2016-17 Creative Writing Fellow at The Curb Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Masters Review Anthology V, Arcadia, The Boiler Journal, Booth, SmokeLong Quarterly, The New Territory, and elsewhere.