The Sweepstakes


by Legacy Russell

They killed our dog.

It was December. I was in the garage. I was hiding. I hate to admit it, but I was hiding next to the goddamn freezer.

It was propped open: the freezer. We had won the local sweepstake at the school pre-Christmas fundraiser and they had given us some beef. Well, not some—a full cow. A cow’s body, cut into pieces, divided up into slabs that perspired into anxious droplets and stuck uncomfortably to the saran wrap it was rolled into. It was not how meat was supposed to be wrapped. I have no idea where this cow came from. But it didn’t matter, because there the pieces were, coming toward us, in a midday procession. It was a funeral. These slabs of cow, saran-wrapped, as if preparing themselves to head into the sauna, readied for the kitchen, for the gas chamber. Legs and arms and a head asphyxiated in plastic, prepared to sweat out some pounds inside a rectangular box alongside Costco cinnamon rolls and a honeyed ham leftover from Thanksgiving.

The box was the garage. It was not a sauna. But the freezer could have fit a body or two, yes. And it nearly fit a cow’s body—nearly. And I was hiding next to the freezer, sliding down the wall in one of his old t-shirts that ruched against my back, exposing it to the prickly brick, drawing one long line of blood down the bone of my spine. This house had fingernails. They were manicured, sharpened, painted Linkin Park After Dark. Each vertebrae was scratched just so. The fabric of my t-shirt dotted with red. The freezer could not close but for now it was OK because the box coughed up icy steam into the air and against my side felt solid and secure, just right to rest against, just tall enough to hide next to if I crouched down low enough.  I was watching the sun set through the small crack between the bottom of the garage door and the floor. Just one line. First it would get very hot, and then the light would slide to one side and then suddenly it would be cold. I would wish for a jacket. Right now my jeans stuck to my legs, my bare feet stuck to the floor.

I was next to the freezer and it could not close. But it did not matter. I was too hot. And I was in hiding. I had pulled a cigarette out from that space between the back of the freezer and the wall. He had told me not to hide them there, What if the tubing in the back got too hot? What if the plug sparked? It never did. It never did. Think about your family; be responsible, for Chrissake. One cigarette and then back into the house. He was inside, and the two boys. One of the boys, he was a bit of a bore. Slept all the time, never made funny faces, spat up on me after apple sauce, milk, water, juice, apple butter. Nine months curled up inside his mother’s pocket and he still came out exhausted, drained by the prospect of the world. The other boy was bigger. He made lots of noise. He screamed and struck me in the face when he wanted something. The last time it had been an ice pop, but before that it had been for the hatred of PBS and Bob Ross.  He wanted Spongebob.

We had played Wilhelm Wagner for him while he was still gestating. At four months it was BBC and Baby Einstein tapes. At six it was the bathtub and a big bowl of ice cream and my legs splayed out over either side, the sound of the spoon dropping into the water, scraping the porcelain. At nine months it was Wagner and Bach and Dolly Parton and digeridoo CDs because there had been an article published somewhere about the vibrations of digeridoos encouraging newborns toward relaxation. The little one was inside right now snoozing against his daddy’s heartbeat, but I could hear the bigger one, I could sense him, feel his footsteps against the womb of the house, searching, trying to find me. Mommy. MAMA. MO-MMY. I was hiding. When he found me, he would hit me. My lip would bleed and mixed with spit it would all eventually dribble down my chin. The crowd is watching! MOMMY GET UP.

First, a cigarette. And, somehow, disappearing the body of this beast into the freezer. Next door I could hear Missus Ching talking to her son through the screen door: something about almond cookies and jasmine root. Something about red dots and Chinese New Year and good luck. Inside Missus Ching’s house all the clocks read different times. Some ran on battery, some were plugged into the wall. The whole house was white, and in the afternoon when the sun cut in through the curtains laced with the ochre of generations, when it was very quiet and very still Missus Ching would nap to a symphony of tick, tick, ticking, all at different speeds. My boys loved those clocks, itched to get their hands on them, covered them with almond cookie crumbs, rudely refused jasmine root or dried pineapple. Missus Ching wanted us to stay on the other side of the screen door. When her son Rodney could not bring her the mail, I left it on the doorstep.

The garage was getting smoky. I was not holding any of it in, just pushing it out through my nose, marinating in the heat, in the curls of USA Gold, cheapest I could afford, pack older than both of my boys, plastic wrapper tacky with spills of beer and ice pop and fish stick crumbs that had slipped behind the freezer. Every time it was opened there was a wheeze; every time the lid went up there was the suction of the rubber seals and the corroded meow of hinges thirsty for WD-40.

From my corner I looked up. There was a chop poking out above me. I looked at the sunset. The line had shifted a few inches. It must have been five o’clock. I could hear the neighbor’s Passat pulling into the driveway, the rolling of gravel, the radio being turned off, the door opening.

The neighbor was a woman and her daughter. During the day when she was not working she came in and out a lot. The daughter was about twelve. Our dog lived with them both. We had the house in the middle. When our second boy had come, Missus Ching had been too old to take over pet responsibilities but the woman’s daughter next door enjoyed our dog so much that eventually we just left it there. Her mother was always saying how pleased she was about this: I’m so pleased about this. They let it run into the driveway: they left their door open and the dog would just run right into the driveway, toward the street. If I stood by our kitchen window I could see its tail disappearing behind the untrimmed hedges of bougainvillea. I wished that they would trim their hedges; twice I had slammed my head against the wall trying to see beyond their goddamn hedges.

The mother had a boyfriend. He wore starched trousers and flip-flops and workout shirts that always zipped at the neck. Their garage had no door, you just could walk right in from the street. The boyfriend must have always parked his car down the block, because he never pulled into the driveway, just walked right up and jiggled the handle of the back door until the dog started yipping.

Against my side the freezer had lost its cool touch. My arm was stuck to it, and when I bit the burning cigarette between my teeth and tried to stand up I was yanked down again. The ashes fell onto my pants and freckled the fabric. I used the chop to pull myself up, which jimmied the freezer lid open even further. The line of light was disappearing from beneath the garage door. The house was silent and as I shifted items around to get the last bit into the box I pictured my boys inside, smiling, nestled in between the fish sticks and ham. I shut the lid. Their little fists hammered from the inside.

Mommy, can we eat these sweet potato fries?

Mommy, it’s cold in here, can you make us some hot coco?

I heard him calling me from inside the house. I turned around. The sun had set. It was supper time. From the other side of the garage door, I heard the sound of flip-flops coming up the driveway, smacking bare heels. Then came the dog yip-yipping, and the next door neighbor’s door handle being jiggled.

I could hear Missus Ching talking to Rodney: something about those curtains and would he take her and Missus Pree to the swap meet at Aloha Stadium this weekend?

At first I thought it was a firecracker.  POP!

The cigarette was so low that it was burning my lips. The door in the garage flew open and slammed against the brick wall. He was there with both of our boys, the little one against his chest like a capuchin and the other hanging off of his right arm, glaring up at me.

Rodney was just outside of our garage door, slamming on the surface with his fists.

When the door went up, the whole street seemed silent.  Even the clocks.

Rodney’s eyes were red. Our garage’s stale air dissipated out into the twilight. I offered Rodney a cigarette and stepped outside just as two ambulances blocked our driveway.  Two matching sets of paramedics piled out of their vehicles and headed toward the neighbor’s back door. It was wide open and tap-tapping against the inside of the unlit house.

Story originally posted at For You. Piece republished with permission of the author.

About the Author:

Legacy Russell is a writer and curator. Born and raised in New York City, she is the Associate Curator of Exhibitions at The Studio Museum in Harlem. Recent exhibitions include Projects 110 : Michael Armitage, organized with Thelma Golden and The Studio Museum in Harlem at MoMA (2019); Dozie Kanu : Function (2019), Chloë Bass : Wayfinding (2019), Radical Reading Room (2019) at The Studio Museum in Harlem; and MOOD : Studio Museum Artists in Residence 2018-19 (2019) at MoMA PS1. Russell’s ongoing academic work and research focuses on gender, performance, digital selfdom, internet idolatry, and new media ritual. She is Visual Arts Editor of Apogee Journal, a Contributing Editor for BOMB Magazine online, and a Senior Editor at Berfrois. Russell is the recipient of the Thoma Foundation 2019 Arts Writing Award in Digital Art and a 2020 Rauschenberg Residency Fellow. Her first book, Glitch Feminism, is forthcoming from Verso Books in Fall 2020. | Instagram: @ellerustle | Twitter: @legacyrussell.