In the glow of a hungry moon, the yellow dog finally shook off the ropes that tethered her to the post in a yard. Her desperate claws gouged at the hollow between the old wooden door and the adobe wall until she widened it. Squeezing her body flat, she wiggled through and emerged victorious onto the cold of the street, where the males had gathered.
They’d waited restlessly as she struggled, listening to her panting body, taking in her limbs a little at a time. When she was finally free, they jostled around her in an eager commotion, hemming her in. She could smell them, too, and they examined her fur, her ears, the scent of every leg, guessing the age of the blankets she slept on, the bones in her food, the dark footsteps of her masters.
The males knew each other from before. A couple of them shared a brother, forgotten now, and others slept in the same yard, or had once played or fought together or against each other. They were acquainted from the market or the sun in the square. They all lived on the street, had all learned to sense any hints of a brandished broom, a curse before the fist or the shout could cohere and arrive. They knew how to gauge their bodies and their strength at the sight of another male ahead or beside them, and they knew the changing seasons in their fur and in the fields.
They could wander the village at all hours, because they knew the streets, knew which houses had ferocious guardians; which had shoddy walls, where they could slip in to steal something or sniff around (attentive, too, to any advancing masters) in the trash. They also knew how to identify the generous doors that occasionally swung open to offer scraps from dinner or a bowl of fresh water, doors that would reveal a hand to scratch behind their ears before snapping shut again with the heat and safety trapped inside (because that wasn’t something they got as a matter of course, but something they spent days and nights seeking and sometimes finding but sometimes not, not nearly often enough, or just for a moment at a time).
But all of that was now on pause, as if it were only a dream and the scent of the yellow dog had jolted them awake, erasing their routine of survival. This was a different kind of time: it progressed in a constant spiral and whatever happened happened twice. First in their own bodies, as if they’d never had one before, and then suspended in midair, piercing, insistent.
The males could hear, for example, how her fluids burgeoned drop by drop inside her, feeding each other, and then they felt the dense charge of them, listened to the murmur as they thickened to a torrent and surged ahead, seeping into her muscles and her bones, these same fluids reaching, now hot, her snout and paws. They could sense, as if for the first time, the sweet fragrance of the pajarilla leaves along the sidewalk, the sting of ants hidden under rocks, the rain that would stop falling by daybreak, and the paws trotting along, striking the cold earth and rough pebbles.
Now, hovering ardent around her, the males too felt heavy waves ebbing and flowing deep inside themselves, in their growl-hungry throats rasping the air, luring the female, sovereign of the smell that drowned out all the others, until everything fell away but what radiated from that yellow body.
There she was, within reach, the yellow dog and her sweat, and the males turned their blind attention to whatever dared impose itself and demanded to be destroyed in a fierce and filthy way, with betrayals and merciless snaps of jaws. The codes of coexistence, which obeyed old, hard-earned, blood-defended hierarchies, had been fading as they’d approached the house. It was all that mattered to the males, the existence of the female and whatever she did, as soon as her penetrating, inextinguishable essence had summoned them from their different sanctuaries, all the way to this deserted street, this midwinter night.
They jockeyed around the yellow dog. Menacing, they seemed to grow larger from one instant to the next, as if in surges of rage: the male body suddenly halted, rigid, the fur raised on his back, his stiffened legs, his teeth bared, about to attack, seeking complicity with some against the others.
Safe behind their walls, nestled against their stoves and blankets, the masters didn’t hear any of these primordial rites, and she, with the agility of want, her body crackling with zeal, managed to slip right through them and trot away, the night wind spilling over her face, aimless.
Her claws hurt, but that wasn’t important. Her heart beat hard, and she could see the male dogs following her, navigating the alleyway she’d just managed to skirt, turning left where she’d turned a few seconds before, tense, waiting for them, letting them catch up, allowing them a whiff of her before she trotted off again among growls and threats, knowing they were close on her trail, the full moon fracturing in the shallow puddles her feet broke among the crooked cobbles of the street.
Everything was instinct for those dogs. Her light body moved for movement’s sake, farther and farther away now, conveyed entirely by itself, not feeling the cold, not tracking the distance home or worrying about it, not thinking about where she would stop. A strange strength bore her forward unafraid and all she knew was that she wanted to arrive, there was something she’d always longed for and it was about to happen.
Then the moon cast its light in a certain direction and the yellow dog could make out the roof of the house, an old, vulnerable roof, and all the rumbling stopped. That roof, those tiles… Her snout caught an ancient smell: the stove for baking bread, and a peach tree, right at the back of that yard she knew was there, even if she couldn’t see it. Something was there that had belonged to her a long time ago: behind the sagging wall bloomed an orchard, then another yard, the second; and all the way in the back, adjacent to the square, facing it, she sensed some rooms, a grapevine and its shadow, fresh water with a kitchen and a garden.
But all of this swept over her for only an instant, and it was more of a pang than a thought, enmeshed with the panting and the haste of the dogs behind her. She was about to trot off again, but then, dispersing more of the clouds, the moon insisted, illuminating the adobe. That adobe and none other. It was all very sudden. Unable to resist, her back paws pushed back on the stones of the street, and she leapt over the wall. Behind her, the males hesitated, but in a moment they were also inside.
The silvery light bathed everything, rebirthing the sounds and smells that had been lost until then, as if what no longer was could be anew, simply because she crossed the wall and entered that house. There she found the garden and the peach tree, persisting despite the barren plot and dry trunk, and she could smell the missing pepper plants, the manure spilled among the furrows, the flowers that had ceased to bless the ground.
Then she noticed that the earth was strangely hot under her claws. Her stinging feet, coming in from the stones of the night and the winter puddles, now felt a gentle warmth. In that backyard, in that patch of trees and vegetables long dead, the earth breathed and thrummed, as if it harbored something dying but still strong enough to sprout.
There was a rush of vertigo somewhere in her body, a muted stammer, which the dog called black and the dog called bear interpreted as weakness. They leapt at her, and she reacted with rage, sinking her teeth into the dark shoulder of the larger one. The black dog seized his chance and struck as well, gripping the throat of the animal under attack. It was the signal they’d all been waiting for. Their fangs gleamed, filling the yard with barks and claws that clutched and slit, kicking up dust, tumbling down, lost.
Squeals of pain and fury, but she sniffed through the chaos. Confident, she darted toward the heavy door she knew was on the other side of the garden, and she pushed at it, sensing it would yield, and when it yielded she trotted on, plucked from the circle of life, carried along by the will of the moon, and when she crossed a dark corridor, she smelled the corn that used to be stored in the loft but wasn’t anymore (not its grains or its husks or the sweat-scent of those masters who had carried the corn all the way up on their backs), and she continued into the second yard.
Arriving, she stopped for a moment. There was the clay oven and she sensed that the clay would still be warm, it too would pulse, and the dirt in this yard felt like the dirt in the previous one. She moved closer, sniffing. A cat and her huge-eyed kittens stared at her through the crack in a door, but she wasn’t interested in that. The currents clamored on inside her: and then, on the hot earth of the house, something else happened.
Before her eyes, the yard and everything in it parted and warped, receiving her, and the straight lines, the clumsy corners built by men, went hazy, soft. Now everything was curved and throbbing like a womb. The faraway moonlight shone down on this closed world, and what was made of earth (the oven, the adobe walls, the yard) seemed to stretch and open itself to welcome what was reaching it from above. Yes, she was part of the circle, too, which is why the concave world embraced her, and she let herself be there, astonished.
The yellow dog closed her eyes, feeling like she might fall. Then she opened them and took in the trail of the masters and their movement: a chair, broken on the ground, retaining just two of its legs and part of the back. There were pieces of things that no longer were, that lay irreconcilable in the grass, coated with spatterings of mud from the rain. On one side of the yard, against a dividing wall, she saw a row of three rooms with low ceilings and small shattered windows. They’d been uninhabited for years and there were gashes in the walls, sprouting shy weeds and climbers.
The moon showed her the shadows kindled by these plants against the battered walls, showed her the small shining eyes set on her, a concave world still pulsing, and the cracks in the old semicircle of clay, as if calling to her. The dog approached the warmth of the oven and her fur stood on end: there was the fire and the bread. She wanted to enter that womb, curl up beside the ashes (although there were no ashes anymore and she knew it), and sleep.
Yet the moon wasn’t alone, and there were cycles unleashed in the bellies of the beasts, which hurtled forth inexorable. Three dogs, freed from battle, had followed the female. The least-injured approached, wanting to thrust his body onto her. She tensed and bared her teeth, furious. An unfamiliar strength overtook her, not the strength of heat or pups, and the male withdrew.
Then the rest of the pack appeared. The males were inflamed, relentless, attacking each other.
She had to keep going. With two males in close pursuit, she took the narrow corridor out to the front yard. She advanced in darkness, silent, and as she neared the end she saw a hesitant light, summoning her, drawing her out into the center. There, gathered around this yard, was the heart of the house. She recognized the kitchen door, where the cooking pot would be, for boiling corn; the tank and its old lichen still licking at the base; the little garden with the grapevine, now dead, and the greenish, foul-smelling water, and the junk and tools, the walls and windows. The rooms continued, all in a row, identical, dark but still full of their scents, the routines she’d been able to identify a long time ago.
Following those who’d gotten there first, the other males appeared as well, mixing their rages together and waging a sick supremacy she could thwart in an instant.
They were all here by now, the beasts. They’d come from the mud of the street, crossing the yards from last to first. They charged in as a horde, but scattered as soon as they felt the stillness, wary, sensing the steps, the mouths, the silenced evenings. It was a house. Masters lived here. Their snouts sought wakes: some path, some lingering echo. They sniffed at the hollow trunk of the vine, scoured the dirt for the paths of insects, the dead yellowed leaves, listened for the wind that crept down and whirled cold against the walls and against the green windows that still resisted, whimpering.
Separate, the yellow dog searched beyond the growls that the males kept trading among themselves. Here too the cobbled path was still hot, resting in the lap of the earth that throbbed beneath it. Where is it hidden, where does it come from, this living breath?
Almost nothing smelled of people anymore: the nights, the wind, and the rain had gradually blotted out their voices. And the warmth abided all the same. It was as if some current, like a river or a sleeping blood, were still drawing sporadic breath. Within the walls, beneath the stones, in the heart of the abandoned flowerpots, in the very well of still water, and most of all in the ground, the earth, something waited, drowsy, heating things.
She tracked, she searched for the source of the palpitation, as if that source had called her there, on that cold night, now that the fertile time had come.
Up above, dark clouds thickened the sky, cloaking the light behind their waters.
But everything had been unleashed already. The bear, wild, tried once again to dominate her, and when he lunged and she made herself into a lance, she flung her body against a door, and that door, so often washed by rain and dried by sun, yielded with a screech, snapping a hinge, the yellow dog stumbling forward, suddenly in the room, inside, with the moon close behind her (hurried, dissolving the storm), brutal and full, finally irrupting, colossal, hungry for secrets, ruthlessly revealing all that had been denied to any gaze until just then.
Stunned animal-eyes found shelves and boxes (sensing within them the books, forgotten photos, a diploma, blind documents), weathered clothing (and their colors, the little arms inside, little mouths spilling soup), so many hushed years, the child’s bed (that child and no other after) still made, an empty jewelry box on the nightstand, and a scrap of bread, forgotten. Terrified by this world that had shattered in the light, the bear barked, frenzied, half crying, and the things that had been sleeping until then began to stir and tremble, jumble, whine. The beasts’ anguished bodies, clumsy, jostled nightstand and boxes.
What lay still under the small wooden chest was also knocked over and pitched, falling into the empty space amid the chaos: first the jewelry box smashing against the black, then the sweet bit of bread with its oven, the clay, the hands that shaped that clay, with the fresh water, the stored wheat and its flour, along with the yeast, the tray and the trunk it was made of, the sugar and the pantry where it was kept, along with the wood and the arms that chopped it down, the chalky walls, the hunger and the bed where that hunger had slept, in any case, along with everything, and the house in that everything, everything fell, splintering into hundreds, scattering everywhere.
The moon, round and full, revealed this fragility exactly as it was. It was just some old bread, like what we keep hidden, latent, that cracks and dies once illuminated, and so what it contained also began to crack and die.
The yellow dog, nest and thunderclap, never word, looked at all that was lit up and felt the ancient, faraway creak. Fear shot through the whole of her. The cold, freed, reached out its delicate fingers, invading corners, eliminating tiny remnants, crushing stones and earth, traveling the fur of the beasts, and in the yard the dogs began to howl, forgetting their hatreds and their impulses, longing to flee the silence that had begun to coat the windows and the shadows.
Now the beasts ran, frenetic, their backs rocking over galloping paws, their once-fierce tails now shrunken, their hides alert, passing through corridors and gates, tripping into each other, navigating broken chairs, seeking the wall they’d vaulted to come in. The yellow dog, ears pressed low, behind but fleeing too, looked skyward in search of the moon. But the moon, magnificent, forgetting her, satisfied at last, hid its face and loosed the night.