An old dog wanders off, frail and confused about which foot goes where. Known for her voracious appetite, even food has lost its pull. After 13 years on the same small farm, she walks out the gate, down the hill to a new house where she is never left alone, people feed her ground beef and cheese, the bed is soft, the door open during thunderstorms and she can hide safely in the shower stall from whatever is making the noise. Here she is again queen of the pack, establishing dominion with one growl. Her legs grow strong, her balance returns, and pain vanishes. She bounds up hills as she did when she was younger on the way up the dirt road to the cool waters of the Espiritú Santo River. There are chickens and ducks in the yard and she hunts them and no one buries their carcass before she can tear the feathers off and eat the flesh with her snout as bloody red as joy. An old dog has wandered off. People console me that she has gone off to die.
Five days later a farmer tells me that he has seen her. I arrive late and walk the gully down to the creek with a flashlight. I cannot see her. She is atavistic, burrows caves in stands of ginger, a flat mud floor in the maze. She is deaf and cannot hear me. I want to come to her and see her head quiver, expectation in her eyes; hear her breath quicken and a joyous whimper. I leave late at night.
The next day I find her where the farmer told me she was. Her body has molded to the river creek's stones. One back leg is invisible. The other one stretches out, dips in to a tiny bowl formed by rocks. There is only a trickle of water. Her lungs move. Her head occasionally jerks. She seems almost too weary for pain. Hundreds of flies land and buzz around her fur, face, feet. I swing with a split piece of bamboo, fallen from the towering trunks along the road, hear an occasional tong as I kill one. But if I pause, hundreds return and speckle her body. I know she is deaf, but I chant her name. I take the bamboo and try to fill its shallow curve. When I offer her water, she feels attacked and shatters it with her teeth. I dip a tree branch into the creek and sprinkle her. Her head snaps up and tears the leaves. She will die with those leaves in her mouth. Embedded in the stones she looks flat, her bony haunches look like the veins in a rock. When I clamber up the muddy slope, at first I cannot see her because twilight has colored her like the stones.
It is dark. It begins to rain and I imagine the creek rising to the roar of a train as I have heard it do a hundred times. But it stops. I take a needle and give her an overdose of parasite medicine, meant for a horse. She is calm, but still breathes strong. She does not hear the thunder. Along the muddy hillside, I have seen a plastic bag and look for it. I muzzle her with it, watch it expand and collapse for what seems like an hour, but must be ten minutes, then she shakes her head, but I hold fast. The bag no longer fills, but wrinkles and smoothes. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.
Before the moment of telling about it, it was a fluid uncomfortable blob in my mind that put a dull pressure on everything I thought. Telling made the horror obvious. I cannot say it without including everything, like a desperate penitent. I do not say I put Flecha down, I helped her die, I put her to sleep. I have to say I murdered Flecha. Then I speak of rain, thunder, darkness, the tight-knit thick humming black net, her glazed eyes, the piece of bamboo she shattered. There were no good choices. I killed her.
I think that what I found was so different from my fantasy of finding her and providing her pleasure for her last minutes. She would know I was there, her breath would quicken, she would whine softly and relax when I put my hand on her side. There was no way to fit what happened into my invented narrative. I think she could only see a few inches in front of her face. Malnutrition took most of her sight. She didn't recognize me. I wanted some sign from her. I guess it is incredibly logical, but something we are trained to deny, but ultimately everything is about us and when the things we love are gone, we are diminished.