Ken and Mavis lived at number 9 Flosstooth Avenue. Ken loved Mavis like a dog loves its favourite bone—he would chew on her every now and then to remind himself what true gristle could taste like, but then he would bury her, and all that she meant, and would wait for weeks or months until he dug her up to gnaw at her all over again. That way it was special, and that way Ken knew he would never get bored of his favourite bone. Mavis didn’t like being gnawed at every few months; she told him just before she asked him to leave that she expected constant gnawing. He hadn’t realised that, and offered to never bury her again, but by then it was far too late.
The summer before the end, the neighbours on the side with the dead rose bush that looked like a mutant spider moved out. A few weeks later a dual-cab UTE was parked in the driveway when Ken got home from work, and after some careful investigating from the kitchen window through Mavis’s homemade gauze curtains, Ken gathered that their new neighbour had moved in, and that he was a tall, broad-chested man, with the necessary bulges to wear only a singlet as he loped from his UTE to the door with boxes and bags. Ken saw that the man with the necessary bulges had two lean and hefty dogs. Ken was terrified of dogs, ever since he had been chased by a pack of gnashing greyhounds up and over the slide in the playground one afternoon when his father had forgotten to pick him up from school. He felt trapped in the house, and told Mavis about it when she came home weary from the salon, but she didn’t seem to be listening, and just stood and watched out the window until the sun went down and there was nothing to see anymore.
A couple of months later on a Friday Ken decided to leave work early. He arrived home to see that Mavis was already there, and though he called out for her in every room in the house but he couldn’t find her. Mavis didn’t like to walk anywhere; if her car was there, she had to be too. Ken poured the tap for the kettle and as he poured he looked through the gauze straight into the man with the bulges’ living room. There he saw Mavis, completely naked and dancing around the room with the man with the necessary bulges.
Ken hadn’t wanted to leave, even after watching Mavis and the man with the bulges in a variety of positions all over the living room that made him begin to sweat under his arms and in between his elbow creases. When she came home that night, crumpled and smelling of dog food, he had offered to stay in the spare bedroom. That she simply agreed, and didn’t seem to need to ask him why, told Ken that he would never unearth his favourite bone again.
word by Laura Mcphee-Browne
colour by Ilya Shipkin
From the author: “When I first saw this illustration by Ilya Shkipin, I saw the man and the dogs he was feeding as dangerous, as hostile. As I came back to look at the illustration again and again, I began to feel that there was a special relationship between the man and the dogs; that they knew each other well, and perhaps looked after each other.
My story, ‘Ken’ is about a man who does not feel comfortable in his own skin like the man in this illustration surely does. It is about the threat that confidence and mystery can be to a flailing relationship.”