Waccamaw
NOTICE: You are currently viewing an ARCHIVED version of the Waccamaw. Visit the redesigned site.

Strays

                                    Edmund Sandoval


We found a dog some time ago. We’d heard its yelps and howls. An old grandmother’s mutterings. Just so on the wind. That sudden anger, its desperation, pulled out and long as evening shadows. Things we’d been doing. Staring out with our jaws open and slack, hanging as they do. The low throbbing rumble of cloud and thunder, a lone plane glinting in the sky, death and life, pining on, giving into, my brother washing dander and blood off of his hands off the side of the house—waving his hand for the flies, wind like a woman’s voice at night, what was her name? 

This dog. 

She snapped at my hand and there was no saliva in her mouth. Her eyes were dull. Bite wounds in her leg, above the paw, fresh, glistening red around her muzzle. Weak. A child. I gave her my hand. 

The light was there, middle of the day and her, this low growl inside of her, my brother loping down the road toward us, his arm elongated, pistol in hand. We’d found dogs before. 

I stroked the top of her head, felt her dry hair, put my hand into her hackles and stroked. My arms around her chest, still the heavy muscle. I pulled and she turned, nipped, whimpered, pleaded. 


A calf had jumped a fence. Year ago. Spotted roan, stupid, what breed of cattle isn’t? String of barb wire between fence posts, cottonwood branches in the dry soil, a suggestion of boundary, ownership, that idea, owning something. How the land stretches, softens like hot metal under flame. Scrub brush, sage and yucca. The water bracken in the wells. Our neighbors, what neighbors? Ancient couple a mile off, their yard a litter of horse trailers. His wife, her arm folded over her face, her head on the pillow, forearm over her eyes, still tears running backwards into her eyes—her old age, her smell, a new wound on a damp day—coursing smooth over smooth skin, him, his clicking boots and in his folding hands, mobile over his knuckles, the constant worry and shame of not being able to provide the comfort of words or succor. They’d be cool in his mouth, metallic, tasting of tarnish and aluminum. 

This empty land, discarded tires by the side of the road, an old one room adobe, its roof caved in, telephone poles on a hill, the cracked dirt at the bottom of the slough, we’ve been here for a couple of years and have made it ours. 

The calf had lowed and bellowed, had cleared the cattle guard but for its rear leg, left hoof had slid between the rungs of smooth metal. Its momentum, the clean gentle snap of bone, its bone held inside of skin, the velveteen feel of fur, summertime in the desert. I looked on and flinched, the calf spurting forth with the clang of the report, latent smell of black powder, lurching, legs like dry kindling snapping underneath it. We could have left it there, let time do its part, could have collected it vellum skin, dusted the motes of fur from it and left our mark. 


I held onto the dog and felt its weight, felt her shiver in my arms, the damp smell of urine as I breathed, as I cooed into her ear. How I held her while she strained her neck, tried to get at her leg, her lips pulled back and teeth bared. 

My brother crouched beside me, he put the pistol on the ground, foreign in the dust. Hey pup, he said. The dog sniffed at him, barked. Short husky bark in the back of its throat. 

She was a big dog and her tail wagged as we sat there next to her. We didn’t want to shoot her. I didn’t want to see that. My brother left for the truck. Churning his hips as he strode up the winding gravel drive. The sun was up. The cottonwoods were still, their branches. The yellow grass. She yawned and tried to sit on her haunches then straightened up. I told her, Okay, okay now and ran my hand down her back. 

My brother held onto her muzzle as I worked her leg from between the rungs of the cattle guard. She was furious at first, thought we were the cause of her harm. Hurry it up, for god’s sake, he swore. I pulled at the leg till the froth gathered at the corners of her mouth, her paw hanging limp in the valley below the bars of the cattle guard. Wasting our time, he said. So we rearranged and I took hold of her. 

I felt the tension in her neck and her tail was between her legs where my brother was. I saw my brother’s hands clasped around her leg. He pulled but the leg caught. He laughed and, Come on, he said. 

She tried to run when the leg came free but I rolled with her and had her beside me as though she were a woman and this was the nighttime and the hard ground of the packed dirt road was our bed and the canvas, the canopy of the land was our room, our home where we were safe to be alone under the thin sheets. I held onto her and she sighed into my neck, the soft wet skin of her nose on my neck, my brother standing over us, him leaning down for the gun, leaning down to help me up, us into the bed of the truck, but we were not seeing him, the dull metal of the gun, just the smell of two bodies.


Copyright 2017 Waccamaw. All reprint rights reserved by authors.