I get off at bus stop 20. I’m feeling tipsy because I was drinking with my girlfriends from college. It’s so late that the shops on the main drag have already shuttered for the night and the air is covered with that thick fog that smells like fusty smoke, like dirty smog. There is no one out and that scares me. Empty streets creep me out more than crowded ones, I don’t know why. My only line of defense is to furrow my brow, walk fast, and hope that nothing bad happens between here and my house.
I walk the first block and hear someone following me. My stomach clenches up. I can guess that it’s a gang of delinquents with double-edged knives or the creepy old man masturbating with his pants down. I turn around and find a mutt. Small, black, and wagging its tail. It’s that typical dog that crosses your path, those dogs that come and go, that find you by chance, like loose coins or bills, and that are impossible to recognize when you run into them again. Velcro dogs, I once heard them called. I bend down to pet the dog and he shows me his belly. Then I discover the dangling teats of a new mother. It’s the early hours of the morning and she’s wandering around alone, I think. I imagine that she goes out at night to look for something to feed her pups during the day. I invite her to follow me and she comes along. Now we are two night owls strutting around the streets of the Gran Avenida.
We walk and I hear the clicking of her little paws behind me and I see how her shadow grows and reaches mine, in a game of black and orange lights that the streetlamps cast on the sidewalk. She looks like Cholita, I think, the only dog who ever fulfilled her role of happy family pet. Cholita was a black mutt that my grandmother adopted when I was a girl and we lived in La Florida. She supposedly belonged to me and my brother, but in reality the dog only answered to my grandmother. She slept with her in bed and she stopped to look out the window at 10:00 every night, when my grandma was about to get home from work.
One afternoon she got lost. We don’t know how she learned to get out, but that day, maybe because she was in heat, she ran off. My grandmother was dyeing her hair and she went out with a plastic bag on her head to ask up and down our street if anyone had seen Cholita. No one, nothing. I remember that I cried, but not from sadness. I hadn’t become that fond of the dog. I cried because I knew that I had lost something that was mine and at the age of twelve I already had that notion of ownership.
What hurt most about losing Cholita is that all the boys and girls on our street had their own living, breathing stuffed animal in the front yard. I had nothing. One night I decided to fill in this void. I grabbed my jump rope and my camping backpack and went to look around other neighborhoods, where I didn’t know anyone who could make me feel guilty. I found wild dogs that bared their teeth at me as soon as I got close to the gate and I found houses where you couldn’t see anything inside because an enormous mass of golden privets covered everything up. Until in one house I finally saw a white poodle. I got close and it tilted its head so that I would pet it. I opened the gate to the house carefully. It was unlocked. Lights off. I went inside and put the leash around its neck. The poodle resisted a little, but he was tame and it was no trouble to put him in my backpack. I closed the gate and ran off with the dog howling on my back.
I got home and tied the poodle to a lime tree that was on the far side of the patio. I went to the kitchen and put a little beef stew in an old pot and took it to him. The poodle refused to eat, he was lying down and crying. I bent down in front of him and said: you’re mine now. I tried to hug him and he slipped out of my grasp. He ran toward the gate. The leash was hanging from the dog’s neck like a whip and his screeching was high-pitched and loud. Right then my grandma appeared. She fussed at me, she said I was doing the same thing that someone else had done to me when they stole Cholita. I knew she was right, but I didn’t tell her so.
My grandmother set the poodle free and the dog ran off. I hated her for a long time because of that.
I never had a dog again, except for those Velcro dogs that follow you in the street. Like now, when a Cholita clone with drooping teats keeps me company.
We walk. Every Friday night I go home the same way, but I had never seen this dog. I like her. I start to growl at her and jump from side to side, like a fellow beast, and she growls back at me and jumps and wags her tail because maybe it’s been a long time since anyone on the street has been playful with her. I rub her head and she shows me her belly again. And even though it’s dark outside, I see how fleas are walking around between her pink nipples.
We are already halfway home. Thanks to the walk, the tipsiness eases up and little by little the boxed wine with Kem Piña starts to lose its effect. I think I’m going to wash off the dog and give her Vienna sausages and bread soaked in milk when we get to my house.
Then something terrible happens.
We are approaching Gustavo’s cybercafe and a German shepherd (or maybe a mix) shows up and throws himself on the mama dog. On her neck, as if the dog were an antelope and the German mongrel a jaguar. And I scream, GET OFF OF HER YOU FUCKING DOG, FUCKING GERMAN, FUCKING NAZI. The shepherd tries to mount her and he bites her flank and the mama dog shrieks and it’s been a long time since I’ve been this scared and I start to cry. I grab a big rock from the sidewalk and throw it at him. The German jumps on me and grabs my pant leg and I feel his teeth but more than anything I feel how the injured dog’s eyes are watching me. I raise my right leg and I don’t know how but I kick the shepherd’s head and he backs away and I run, run, run. I run just like in all the cliche movie scenes where someone is running for their life.
I make it to the corner of San Francisco and El Parrón. I’m barely breathing and there’s a stabbing pain in my side. It’s my spleen, I think. My mom thought that pain was good, she would say “if it hurts it’s because you feel something, and if you feel something it’s because you’re alive.” And alive and in one piece is how I want to make it back to my house. I turn around and see the shepherd on top of the mama dog. I look ahead and see the nearly empty plaza and see my house and think about the light on in my grandma’s room and the endless clanking of her sewing machine. I think, am I gonna help this mutt or not. I tighten my gut and sell out the mama dog like everyone sells out and gives up on street dogs. Because they are just part of the landscape, like vagrants or pigeons that no one sees when they’re sleeping in the streets and no one misses when cars run them over.
I go inside my house and hear my grandmother yell my name. I don’t respond. I shut myself in the bathroom and take off my pants. Blood is dripping from my thigh to my foot. It’s not a lot, but it is blood. I clean myself with toilet paper and take out an iodine dropper from the medicine cabinet and put it on top of the wound. It’s small but deep and I think that if I tell my grandma they are going to give me a shot and I prefer to keep my mouth shut, because I already had enough with the German shepherd’s fangs.
I get in the shower and then lie down to sleep with wet hair. I dream about those cartoons where a dog showed up that was so ugly it wore a doghouse on its head and in my dream the giant ugly dog takes off his house-mask and his head is the same as the German shepherd’s and he opens his crocodile mouth and he follows me because I’m a traitor and I run and I’m dressed in a tunic and sandals like the apostles wear in Jesus of Nazareth.
The next day I wake up early. I’m not hungover, but even still something hurts inside. I leave my house and my grandma asks me where I’m going. I don’t tell her. I walk towards the corner where I abandoned the mama dog and she’s obviously not there anymore. On the cement-covered ground there’s dirt and blood stains. I touch them and move my fingers to my mouth and taste the iron of live blood. I touch the wound and the burning sensation confirms that what happened to me last night was real. I get up to go back home and then I see her. The drooping teats and four little puppies as black as she is that are hiding behind their mother. I walk over and let her know with my eyes that I will seek her out. And she stays very still on the sidewalk, without a single cord that binds her there to wait for me.
Translated by Andrea Meador Smith
From Quiltras (Los Libros de la Mujer Rota, 2022)