The Weight

6 Jun

 

Ann and I were driving home after a rare lunch date. As we pulled into the drive and got out of the car, I saw Devon coming up the street with his friend, Theresa. Devon had a dog by its leash. It didn’t surprise me seeing Devon with a stray dog; if he had his way we’d take in every stray within twenty miles.

When Devon got closer, he hollered, “It followed us, really. We were in our canoe and he followed us along the shore from the gazebo.”

The dog strained against the leash, grinning.

Devon said, “We got a leash from Theresa’s.”

Ann took the dog tag off the collar. It had a phone number and the dog’s name: Cesar. Ann went in to call.

Maybe I was a little slow on the uptake, but I finally recognized the dog for what it was, a pit bull.

“Devon. Get that dog out of here. It’s a pit bull.”

“But…”

“No. Get it out of here.”

We have three dogs and two cats. Normally we take a stray into our backyard and begin making calls to animal control.

Devon started down the street back to Theresa’s. Later I’d ask myself why I let my son go off with a pit bull.

The dog busted free from Devon and began running in a circle, heading back to our house.

I hollered to Devon and Theresa to get inside the house.

They ran up the stairs to the front porch.

Scott had once been hospitalized by a pit bull attack in New York City. I had a healthy respect for them.

I stood on the porch, watching the dog lope around the yard, still with a dog grin on its chops. It ran up the steps next to me and began scrabbling around in the cat’s bowl. I wasn’t worried what the dog would do to me – there were no signs of aggression. I didn’t realize that my 17 year old cat, Sammy was sleeping in a corner of the porch – so old she never woke up during the whole commotion.

Cesar swooped and gripped Sammy by the neck, running down the steps and snapping her neck with a jerk.

I jumped into the yard, scooped up a twenty pound rock and chased the dog, hurling the rock and missing it by an inch.

Cesar loped off towards the lake with Sammy in its jaws, easily outrunning me.

Ann and the kids had seen everything.

I ran back to the house. “Call the cops. And don’t come outside.”

I grabbed an axe handle and ran after Cesar. I followed the shore of the lake. It wasn’t more than a quarter mile before I saw Cesar coming towards me. No Sammy. Maybe I could have killed him with the axe handle. Instead, I just stood there, yelling, “Get the fuck out of here!”

I kept looking for Sammy. I had some absurd hope I’d find her alive. Instead I found her dead, half-submerged in the lake, six feet from shore.

I’d adopted Sammy 17 years ago, when my first marriage was breaking up and I was looking for an apartment in Union City. Tired, I dropped into a tavern for a beer and a slice of pizza. As I was sitting there a tiny kitten walked the length of the bar and introduced herself. I tore off the tip of my slice and the kitten ate it hungrily. The owner of the bar said the kitten was part of a litter that had been birthed in the alley. When I asked to adopt the kitten he gave me a long, appraising look and then said, “All right.”

Sammy was special, the way some animals are special. Sometimes a pet can seem like an emissary from the past – they seem to possess a knowledge that can’t be expressed in words. I used to seriously wonder, “Was Sammy ever an Egyptian princess?”

A cop finally showed up and we walked together down to the lake. I’d seen enough cop shows that I didn’t want to disturb the evidence – I’d left Sammy by the shore. The cop watched as I waded out and put Sammy into a black garbage bag.

Cesar’s owner finally appeared – a real mook. The kind of idiot who would want to accessorize his manhood with a studly dog.

We took them to court – not for a judgment seeking money, but to have it on record they had a dangerous animal. The owner tried to blame Devon, that it was my son’s fault for getting involved. Ann and I made it clear to Devon that in no way was it his fault. That didn’t sink in, and I was grateful when a lawyer took Devon aside and said “What you did was an act of kindness. In no way are you to blame.” I could see the burden rise from Devon’s shoulders.

The night Sammy died I was pretty distraught, although I was keeping it in. The whole episode felt like some kind of proof that I couldn’t protect my family. I was also upset with myself. What was I thinking, letting Devon walk off with a pit bull? There were a lot of persistent ugly images in my mind – of Devon  being mauled, disfigured, crippled.

That night Sammy came to me in a dream. She stood upright and laid a paw against my cheek, the way she would when I was sleeping. She told me she was all right, that it was okay.

Later, my brother Scott said a comforting thing: “Try to look at it as Death coming for Sammy, that Death came in the shape of a pit bull.”

(2005)

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