EJ Harris


Ellen Harris recently graduated from The University of Edinburgh. She currently lives, writes and waitresses in London.
Contact: ellenharris92 [at] gmail [dot] com

Bitch Blood


“If men knew what they could have for a tear, they would be better loved and we should be less ruinous to them.”           
- Camille, Alexandre Dumas, fils

You’re not supposed to swerve a car to avoid small animals in the road. Swerving, Emily’s driving instructor had told her, is very dangerous, and can cause accidents.

“If you can, slow to a stop,” he said. 

“And if you can’t?” Emily asked. 

“Well, then you just have to hit it.”


“If you kill a small animal it’s, you know, sad.”

“But if you kill a small human it’s, you know, illegal?” 


Her driving instructor used to lean across to the steering wheel and correct her positioning on the road without ever touching her. They shared a similar sense of humour, and Emily had looked forward to the hour they spent together each week. When she passed her test, Emily had texted to thank him, and had been unable to think of any feasible reason to stay in touch. 

When Emily hit the dog, then, she told herself that she had done nothing wrong, that she should not feel guilty. She was wearing sensible footwear, and she had not been drinking. She just didn’t see the dog until it was too late. It was dark, and the animal came out of nowhere. 

After the bump, Emily pulled the car over and sat heavily for a moment. The dark huddle of the dog on the road multiplied in her mirrors. It is true that she considered restarting the car and driving away; that the street was residential and anonymity impossible featured high on the list of reasons she did not. 

In moments, two shadowy figures raced through the darkness towards her. She opened the door, shaking, and heard a man’s voice swear loudly.

“I’m so sorry,” said Emily, hurrying over.

“Fuck,” said the man, crouched over the dog which, Emily realised with horror, was alive, and whimpering pathetically. 

“I’m so, so, sorry,” Emily said again. 

“Is he okay?”

The woman stood on the pavement, a few feet from the man and the wounded animal, backlit by the lights of the house from which they had evidently just come. Her voice was thick with imminent tears. 

“Fuck,” said the man again, and the woman began to cry in earnest but—even in the darkness Emily noticed—with elegance, placing her fingers on her face as if worried about smudging her make-up. 

The man asked Emily to stay with the dog while he took his wife back inside. Emily had been on her way to her boyfriend’s house. She was already late, but the man didn’t wait for a response, putting an arm around the woman and leading her gently away like a Victorian widow. The sound of sobbing receded into the night. Emily couldn’t help feeling, as she sat down on the curb next to the dog, that this was a bit of an over-reaction. It wasn’t even dead yet. 

The street was wide and tidy, with small front lawns preceding each house. A place where quiet, ordinary families lived what Emily imagined to be quiet, ordinary lives. Tempting and terrifying in equal measure. Whatever else she might end up wanting, though, Emily would never have a dog. She was really not a dog person. She placed what she hoped was a hand of comfort on the creature’s neck, and pulled out her phone. 

Going to be late. Long story. So sorry! She stared at the message, one hand still resting on the plaintive animal. Emily’s boyfriend had recently called her chronic lack of punctuality ‘representative of a more general self-absorption’ and accused her of ‘romanticising her own narcissism,’ because she delivered her excuses in the form of cute little anecdotes, composed on the drive over. She replaced the exclamation mark with a full stop, and pressed Send. 

The dog started whining in an urgent, wheezy kind of way. Emily was frantic and futile, petting its head and hushing it fiercely, as though telling someone off for talking through a film. She didn’t know about breeds, but the dog was tiny; a long, squat velvety thing, with little legs which were pumping away weakly, swimming against an invisible tide. Emily thought she might be sick. 

The man reappeared, strolling across his front lawn with self-conscious purpose, and asked Emily to accompany him to the emergency vet surgery. She blinked up at him from the curb. 

“Come with you?” 

“I need someone to hold him. In the car,” the man said.


“My wife—” The man gestured back to the house. “The kids.” 


Emily peered at the man, but with the light of the house behind him she could only make out his height, and relative build. 

“Please.” The man’s voice had a hard edge of disbelief in it now. Emily appreciated that she had just run over his dog. She hesitated.

When she was nine, Emily got a lift home from swimming with a friend of her parents. He towel dried her hair himself, to avoid getting the car seat damp. When she was fourteen, Emily missed the bus and hitchhiked into town with a stranger. He asked if she did extras, not sex but other stuff, and she gave him a kiss on the cheek. When she was seventeen, Emily hot-boxed a car with an Italian waiter she’d met at a party that same night. He kept one hand on her thigh as he reversed into a bollard. 

Emily had been getting into cars with older men all her life. 

The dog let out a desolate, boundless whimper. Emily said, “Okay, let’s go,” and got into the car with the man, and his dog. 


The man’s car was a large, sensible, clean-looking thing. It smelled new, and faintly powdery. There were two children’s car seats strapped in the back, and a built-in touch-screen sat-nav in the centre of the dashboard. Emily’s eyes flipped back and forth between the real road, dark and unrecognisable, and the blank straight line on the screen.

Emily had never heard of a twenty-four hour vet before, and did not know where they were headed, or how long the journey would take. The man had placed the dog carefully in Emily’s lap, but it was not finding her a source of comfort. It fidgeted weakly, struggling against her embrace. It occurred to her, too late, that they should have gone in her car, and then the man could have held his own dog. It was, Emily noticed, bleeding. Quite a lot. 

They drove in silence. The man gripped the steering wheel so tightly that the muscles protruded from his forearms. Emily watched the lights from street lamps and other cars flip over and over them. He was tanned and tall and dark. He looked too young, and slightly too well-dressed, to be a father of two (she presumed two, from the car seats). His wife had been thin, she remembered.

Emily could feel her silenced phone in her pocket like an itch in the corner of her eye. She couldn’t reach for it with an injured creature in her lap, and a man who loved it sitting less than two feet from her. Still, she sensed the texts from her boyfriend silently sliding through the air around it. Fine. And then, How much longer? After that, ?? x. And finally, For fuck’s sake Emily. She supposed that if she could predict them in such detail, she didn’t need to check her phone at all. Still, the handset wasped at her through her jeans.

After some time, the dog became calmer. Or weaker — Emily couldn’t tell. It settled its head in the crook of her arm and began to draw rattling, sickening, final-sounding breaths. The man drove faster. He sniffed and rose his knuckle to his nose, not — as she first thought— because he was crying, but with resolve, as if gearing up for a fight. 

They drove at increasing speed through fields and forest and Emily wondered how much longer they had to go, and she almost heard the man’s grip tightening on the steering wheel, and the dog breathed in and out, and out, and out. Emily, who had always hated dogs, really, stroked the animal’s head over and over, so that it would close its eyes and be unable to see its master’s determination to keep it alive. She wanted the dog to know that it wasn’t, of all things, alone in these moments. That people loved it, and would go on loving it after it had gone. She blessed the dog with her long, gentle fingers, and gave it permission to die. 

By the time they pulled into the empty car park of the low, grey, floodlit building, Emily was fairly certain she was embracing a dead animal. The man stopped the car in the middle of the tarmac, turned off the ignition, and sighed into the silence. She realised then that he already knew. The sign outside the surgery had a purple silhouette of a cat’s head inside a larger, white silhouette of a dog’s head, inside an even larger silhouette of a horse’s head, purple again. There was only one other car in the car park.  

“I’m so sorry,” Emily said. 

“It’s not your fault.” He restarted the car and performed a violent three-point turn, placing his hand on the back of her seat to reverse. “It’s going to be my fucking fault,” he said, hauling the car out of the car park at speed. Emily had a dead dog in her lap, but it was perhaps the wrong moment to make a fuss. 


Emily spent the drive back watching the hedgerows, composing texts to her boyfriend in her head. I’m in a car with a strange man and a dead dog. Isn’t it funny how plans change? Emily’s boyfriend had recently looked across the bed at her, removed a strand of her hair from the pillow between them, and began to explain a theory on the origins of his opposing fears of abandonment and commitment. Ask me what it feels like to have a dog die in your arms. I already miss you and will be with you soon. The theory was complex and involved several of his ex-girlfriends, and Emily had deliberately fallen asleep. Please do not be angry, now but also ever again. The following morning she had been pleased and refreshed in the face of his disappointment, and she allowed herself to bring him breakfast in bed, because the balance was tipped that way. 

Emily’s hands rested on the dead dog, and her thumbs twitched with vindictive potential. 

The man swerved the car abruptly into a lurid petrol station. Emily and the dead dog which was still in her lap were thrown sharply to the right, towards the driver’s seat. The dog's flaccid corpse slipped slightly. Emily caught it in a firmer grip. 

"Back in a sec," the man said, clambering from the car before she could reply. 

Emily waited. Two men in luminescent jackets crossed in front of the windscreen of the car. Emily dropped her gaze from their eyes, hoping they weren’t close enough to see what she was holding. There were no road markings on the forecourt; no parking spaces or arrows or directions of any kind, just a wide expanse of concrete.

When Emily was thirteen she had ridden a shopping trolley into a brick wall for a dare, and grazed the left side of her face from forehead to chin. She’d always remembered the way people’s expressions slid from sympathy to amused derision as she told them what she’d done to injure herself. Why, everyone asked her, had she been doing that in the first place? 

Emily watched the man through the glass walls of the petrol station, paying for something with his card. I am late because I got into a car with a strange man to drive to an unknown destination. Don’t be worried about me but if anything bad happens please note that I had no choice. No one wants to be remembered as the girl too stupid to know the very basics of survival. Possibly this was the wrong thing to worry about. Also, probably unnecessary.   

The man returned holding a ten-pack of Marlboro Lights and a lighter.

“Do you mind if I smoke?” he asked out of one corner of his mouth, the other already clamped over a cigarette.

“Go for it.” 

“Probably too close to the petrol station,” the man observed. His window buzzed down next to him. Lit up and breathing deeply, the man reached across to Emily’s lap and stroked the dead dog, just once.

“This is not going to be good,” he sighed. 

Emily stroked the dog too. Reddish fur rippled in the floodlights. She decided against apologising again.  

“Are you married?” the man asked suddenly.  



She snorted. “No.”

“No,” the man said in agreement, as if she had just said something sensible. “God. Marriage is hard.” He drew out the word, singing it softly. Emily laughed. 

“Yes. I’ve heard.”

“But you don’t know,” he said. 

Emily laughed again.

He looked at the dead dog which was still in Emily’s lap, then at her for the first time. 

“Give it a few years, I guess.”

“Mm. Maybe.” 

The man bit the knuckle of the hand that was holding his cigarette. Emily looked away. He was crying. A single tear rolled down his face, illuminated in the light of the extremely ignitable petrol station.

The smell of smoke drifted across the car to her and in the bones of her spine and the soles of her feet and the spaces between her ribs, Emily missed her boyfriend. She thought of him, sat at home on an old green sofa, tapping his cigarette into a mug. Angry with her in his safe and familiar way. I killed a dog with my car. Its owner has trapped me and is putting me in unfair and compromising positions. I will be with you soon. Please, don’t be angry. 

“Just don’t—” the man dropped his cigarette out of the window, stroked the ear of the dead dog once more, and started the car. “Just, close the back gate, I guess,” he said.


The man was careful not to touch Emily as he lifted the dead dog out of her lap when they finally arrived home. The animal’s head lolled unpleasantly, and Emily was filled with pity for the undignified, desperate creature. 

I had a dead dog in my lap for a long time but now it is gone and I am on my way. Emily’s boyfriend had recently lain down with her as she cried and had accepted as a reasonable explanation for the tantrum a hangover, combined with an unspecified sense of the precarious. He drank her tears from her face and held her until she had steadied. Afterwards, Emily kept her eyes open in the darkness and listened to his breathing as he slept. Emily’s boyfriend had a deviated septum. He breathed loudly. Please, please do not be angry. 

The man laid the dog on his front lawn and looked down at it in a hopeless sort of way. Emily was half in love with him then because he hadn’t tried to rape or kill her, and because he’d cried for his dead dog in front of a stranger. 

“Thanks for coming,” he said. 

“No problem.” 

The man looked at her and winced. 

“Do you need to borrow a — some clothes?” 

Emily looked down.  She was covered in the animal’s blood. The liquid was smeared around the side of her top and soaked into the seat of her jeans, all over her hands and, now she noticed it, dried in a streak on her neck. She felt a tectonic shift, somewhere deep and unchartered. The ocean receded, suddenly and unexpectedly, from the back of her eyes and inwards. 

“No, thank you. I’m going straight home.”

Emily managed to reach her car and start it before the tidal wave hit her. She wasn’t sure if the man saw her crying as she drove past him, still standing on his front lawn with the dog she had killed. She couldn’t call her boyfriend through her ragged hyperventilations. She arrived on his doorstep, two hours late, unexplained, covered in blood and sobbing. 

“It’s not that bad. It’s not that bad,” Emily said over and over again as her boyfriend questioned her. “I’m overreacting. I just can’t stop crying. It’s not that bad.” 

“Emily, what happened?”

Even through her own sobs, her boyfriend’s urgency sounded melodramatic, self-conscious and large. Emily began laughing through her tears. “I hit a dog,” she said when she’d steadied her breathing.

“A dog?”

“With my car. I hit it. It was an accident. The man made me go with him to the vet.”

Emily’s boyfriend stared at her.

“What kind of dog?” he asked finally.

“I don’t know. A small one.”

“Oh dear.” 

“It died.”

Emily’s boyfriend was not a dog person either. He laughed. “It’s not your fault,” he said.

“I know. You’re not supposed to swerve to avoid small animals in the road.” Emily held up her bloody hands and grinned. “I should go and wash this off though.” 

Emily allowed herself to be led down the hallway to the bathroom. Her boyfriend filled the sink with warm water, which he tested himself before lowering her hands into it. Indolent as a doll, she watched as he soaped her cuticles and knuckles, washing warm water up the white skin of her wrists, rubbing out the marks on her forearms with his thumb. I was in a car with a strange man and I watched him prepare for battle. 

“The man told me not to get married,” Emily said to her boyfriend as he enclosed her hands in a rough blue towel. 

“Did he?”

“He said it was too hard. This towel smells disgusting.” 

If you will bathe my hands every day for the rest of our lives, I will let you. 

“Did you tell him you weren’t planning on it anyway?” 

Emily’s boyfriend took off her stained top and unbuttoned her jeans. He sat her on the edge of the bath as he rolled them slowly down each leg. Emily stood shivering in her underwear on the cold bathroom tiles as he put the clothes in warm water to soak out the blood. Then he placed his damp hands on her goose-pimpled skin and took her to be warmed in bed. 

I am in bed with a strange man. He will wash me and warm me, and then one of us will leave. 

In the morning, Emily woke to find blood stains on the sheets. There had been no way to prevent it, and Emily told herself that it was not embarrassing, that she should not feel guilty. 

“I’m so, so sorry,” she said.

Her boyfriend stared at them in confusion. “We took off your clothes, though.”

“They’re not from the dog,” Emily said, tugging at her underwear. 

“Oh.” Emily’s boyfriend giggled, and passed her a jumper to put on.

“Explains the minor breakdown, also. Sorry about that,” she said.


“Don’t say yeah like that.” 

Their eyes met over the bed.

Wash me and warm me. 

“Please,” she added. 

Her boyfriend kissed her neck and stripped the sheets and didn’t mention it again. 

But I will never be clean enough to hope that he is the first one to go. 

There was no food in the fridge, but Emily made them both coffee, an act of penitence for her irrational outburst. They sat without touching on the old sofa. She watched her boyfriend watch his phone as he drank his cup. Milk and half a sugar, and still—apparently—too hot to drink without slurping. Emily picked at a piece of sponge poking through the worn upholstering, but her boyfriend would not be drawn. 

She thought of the man burying his dead dog under the accusing gaze of his wife. Then she thought of his wife, who didn’t ask a lot of the man, and didn’t want anything more than what she gave to him, and didn’t think thoughtfulness too much to expect. 

When they were finally too hungry to bear it, Emily’s boyfriend suggested going out for breakfast. Somewhere cheap but special, with sausages and bacon and the tang of something which had been alive between their teeth. Emily drove.