Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Dog on El Día de los Inocentes

It had been wet and cold all month. The rain hadn't stopped for twelve hours straight, and there had been a number of mudslides in and around the small Mexican town, Rafael Delgado, in the state of Veracruz, about 140 km from the capital, Xalapa. The weather was of no concern to the Madrazo family as they prepared for the celebration.

Rosa and Malinal were busy in the kitchen, cooking the tamales and preparing the rest of the feast. Juan had gathered everything else they needed weeks ago, and he sat alone by the fireplace in the next room, looking at nothing.

Ernesto and some friends had been at the small family graveyard all night, setting up the large red tarp that the party could be held under. His father had bought the tarp several months before, justifying the need for a new one because red was Francisco's favorite color.

The dog had been watching Ernesto and his friends all night, unseen, trembling in the rain. A fallen tree offered him some protection from the elements, but the dog was skin and bones and he ached from the cold wetness. He wished he could approach Ernesto and his friends, but they were busy and he had been chased away by groups of young men many times in the past, and had even been shot at. So the dog silently watched.

After the sun rose, Malinal had approached her father and asked him if he wanted any breakfast.

"Why," Juan asked. "All we'll be doing all day is eating and drinking. And dancing." He said it plainly, and then returned his gaze to the fireplace. Malinal started to say something, thought better of it, then left the room. When she was safely away from her father, she began to cry, stopped herself, and went to her room to put on the new blue dress she had bought for the day.

Sr. and Sra. Infante, the padrinos, the godparents, had arrived at the cemetery with the altar and some food. As they set up the altar, Ernesto and his friends began to eat hungrily. They had been drinking through the cold night.

The dog had been against the fallen tree for hours now, but he lay still, watching, aching, not just with cold and hunger, but with want. He was ten months old and alone, a medium-sized black and brown dog, as common a dog as could be found in Mexico. In the months since his birth, his littermates and mother had died or disappeared, but somehow he had survived on his own.

The day had broken as much as the gloomy weather would permit by the time the Madrazo family arrived in their car, with the bulk of the food and other items. Sr. Infante braved the rain to help them unload the car, and they all quickly got underneath the tarp.

The dog's tail began to wag and his eyes shone. He could smell the tamales and the other food. He had been surviving on mice and voles, and the smell of this feast being set out was the best thing he could imagine smelling. For no reason, it reminded him of his mother and litter-mates, of that time he had been warm and safe. It was what heaven smelled like.

The quiet was broken suddenly by loud, vibrant, music coming from Ernesto's boom box. The others were startled by the sound, and they turned, as one, towards Ernesto.

"Come on," he said. "It's a party! Pedro," he said to one of his friends who had remained, "Dance with Malinal! My sister loves to dance, she's the life of the party!" Ernesto had spat the words out angrily. Malinal took his arm gently.

"Ernesto, please, not now."

"No," Ernesto said, angrily, "For God's sake, not now! Now we celebrate! Look, I'm celebrating, too, look!" He slipped on a mask of a grinning skull. He was still for a moment, before he quietly said to his sister, "Please. Dance."

The dog watched with anticipation. Ernesto's angry tone hadn't frightened him. If anything, it attracted him. His nose quivered, then he made a decision. He got up from the spot he'd been in for so long, and quietly approached the shelter provided by the tarp.

Underneath the tarp, Pedro and Malinal had tried to dance, but soon found there wasn't enough space. Rosa and Sra. Infante put the final touches on the alter. There was the picture of Francisco, the one he had taken at school. There were toys, toy trucks, cars, models. A baseball and a soccer ball sat together, along with a carefully arranged collection of butterflies, neatly pinned to a piece of cork-board, painstakingly labeled by hand.

Juan and Sr. Infante were standing near the edge of the tarp. Sr. Infante suddenly said, "Look! A dog."

Juan turned to see the cur, in the rain, looking hopeful and slowly wagging his tail .

"Get out of here! Get out of here, you dirty dog! Get out of this cemetery!" He punctuated his yelling by throwing a series of small rocks at the dog.

Frightened, the dog ran off, and Sr. Infante led Juan to the altar. "Juan, my friend," he said. "it's…" He shrugged his shoulders as his voice trailed off.

"It's a party," Ernesto shouted. Malinal trembled, both from the cold and her brother's violent tone. Rosa and Sra. Infante were preparing plates of food for everyone as her husband and Juan stood before the altar.

Everyone took their plates and began eating as the music blared on.

Malinal was the first to notice the dog come under the tarp. "Oh, he look's hungry," she said, moving towards the wet creature.

Juan's face reddened. "I told you to get out of here!" he shouted at the dog. He moved towards him, stamping his foot. "Get out!" The dog held his ground, looking back and forth between Juan and Malinal.

"He's starving," Malinal said. "Francisco would have fed him."

Juan's anger softened a little. "Get out of here now, dog!" he continued, "You're not going to eat my son's feast!"

The dog sat down, wagged his tail, and tried his best to not look mangy and starving, but to be ingratiating. Juan began to laugh, quietly.

"You're right, Malinal. Why not let him have it? How does it matter?"

"Because he was my brother!" Ernesto suddenly shouted. He had a pistol from the back of his truck in his hand.

Rosa said, "Ernesto, stop it! This is supposed to be a happy time." The dog looked at Rosa and wagged his tail. Taking this in, seeing his mother seeming to accept this terrible dog, on this terrible day, was too much for Ernesto. He aimed the pistol and shot at the dog.

The dog yelped. He had been hit in the right shoulder. He turned to run away, but fell. The pain was coursing through his body. Ernesto's friends had taken the pistol from him, and Malinal was moving towards the dog. Sr. Infante stopped her.

"He's hurt, he might bite," Sr. Infante said.

The dog got up, having lost a fair amount of blood. Now that he was aware that his right front leg didn't work anymore, he was able to hobble, surprisingly rapidly, back into the rain. He kept going and did not look back.

Malinal was crying now, and Juan looked like he might cry as well. Ernesto was sheepish and repeatedly tried to apologize to Malinal, but she kept turning away from him.

Later that night, after everyone had packed up and gone home, the dog came back.

His gunshot wound wasn't fatal, though since it hindered his ability to move freely and quickly, it likely would be soon. The pain has lessened a little, but was still extreme, and the dog was slightly dizzy from pain and  loss of blood. The rain, and the blood, and the months on his own, had matted his coat, and he looked more like a skeleton of a dog from a horror movie than like a dog itself.

The dog walked to the grave marker that said, "Francisco Delgado, 2001-2009, Son," and lay down sorrowfully on the dirt, further blanketing the little boy's remains. The cold rain beat down on him. He wouldn't get up again. He wanted to stay where he was forever.

He looked out at the sky, the full moon thwarted by clouds, threw back his head, and howled mournfully. He howled with every last bit of energy he had in him. He howled with the sadness of an abandoned child, with the bewilderment of a little boy who knew that his own admired big brother, who he had always wanted to be like, had today killed him.

© 2009, All Rights Reserved, Rich Sands

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Cathy said...

Hey thanks for stopping in and visiting my blog "Always Musing," and I enjoyed yours as well. I thought we might follow each other, but I didn't see a "following" button? Enjoyed your post.

Rich Sands said...

Thanks, Cathy. Good idea about the follow button. I used to have it but was embarrassed to have three followers, so I removed it. I guess it's time to put it back.
Thanks for checking out my writing. I'll be sure to keep up with yours.

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