Warning: the following story shows a workshop accident that involves blood. If you're afraid of blood, it might not be the best pick. Try your luck with another story!
Jennie rubbed the sandpape ... [+]
I was licking salt from the rim of my glass when Asli told me that elderly pelicans are often blind. She claimed that the force generated from smacking the water during a dive (and the fact that this act is repeated thousands of times in a pelican's lifetime) eventually destroys their vision. Asli did not come up with this little tidbit on her own. She is not that much into birds, or biology, or anything like that. She was enlightened by someone who knows.
I was quiet for a while when I heard this. I always thought the natural world was more perfect than that. Pelicans are water birds. They swim well enough to chase fish but dive well enough to not have to. They have air sacs beneath the skin of their throat and chest to cushion the impact when their bodies strike the sea. Remember Darwin? Natural selection? Something about this scenario just wasn't right. Why wouldn't pelicans evolve with some sort of built-in eye protection?
My thoughts were interrupted by barks – sporadic ones that I tried to ignore. I have always preferred the sound of the sea when it is free of competition, when it can roar in peace. It soothes me. Yet the barker persisted, apparently unconcerned that I was mentally occupied. I looked toward the naked beach. Its emptiness was broken only by a large white snout pointed in my direction. A tail wagged from somewhere behind it.
I sucked at the dregs of my drink where it cradled the ice cubes in the bottom of the glass. I am not a dog person. My aunt Barbara gave me a cat for my fourth birthday, and I have lived with one ever since. I have never lived with a dog. Asli isn't a dog person either. When we are out and about we stop in the street to pet the cats that we meet. We don't stop for dogs.
I made a slurping sound with my straw. The dog woofed.
This dog was talking to me.
Let me reiterate. I love cats. I am a cat magnet. Cats search me out. I feed cats, I talk to cats, I stroke cats, and generally ease the concerns of cats, whatever their position in life and society. I feel no prejudice toward homeless ones: scruffy and unkempt, mentally healthy or otherwise, ears missing, rotten teeth, it's all the same to me. So much am I into cats that I suspect that the more sophisticated of the breed even make use of technology, posting twitter feeds to keep each other apprised of where I am in order that they can take advantage of my good nature. But dogs? Not so.
The dog barked her little refrain.
The straw slid from my lips as I slipped my toes into my flip-flops. I am not entirely heartless. I talk to people that persist too, although sometimes quite reluctantly. I wanted to know what this dog was about. I didn't say anything to Asli. What could I say? Hey Asli, suddenly I'm curious about dogs? She wouldn't get it.
The Mexican heat softened my normally stiff joints and as I headed dogward my movements were easy and loose. Fortunately, the dog didn't act all desperate for company: bounding over, throwing herself onto my chest, knocking me down, that sort of thing. I don't want to be knocked down in the name of "friendliness." Not that I'm worried about breaking a hip. It's just that too much neediness can be really annoying. I should know, having had a good bit of practice as both the annoyer and the annoyee. I suspected that this dog had had some practice too. Maybe she had learned a thing or two from it.
Hey dog, I said, realizing then what a fine model she would make for a study in dog skeletal anatomy. She was one skinny beast. Being a sucker for curls, I put my fingers into the white ones on her neck and gave a little rub. I wondered if I should buy her a hamburger. Where were her owners? Didn't they ever feed her? The two of us stood in front of an overpriced tourist restaurant, surrounded by other overpriced tourist restaurants. I was feeling kind of cheap.
She trotted away right then as if she had read my thoughts. Damn. One more creature on the planet has figured out that I might be a miser. I guessed that she was off to find someone who paraded about with deep and generous pockets. Someone who liked to buy relationships. Someone really shallow. It bugged me.
And then she came back.
A pop bottle was partially flattened between her jaws. Dirty water sloshed inside it. I snatched the bottle from the sand where she dropped it and lobbed it toward the waves. It traveled a measly distance. I hoped no one was watching. I had no experience with this. I wanted more tequila.
The bottle floated in a few inches of water, drifting in and out near the shore. She ran and picked it up, her tail gyrating behind hips that jutted out past sunken flesh. God, she was skinny.
I reached for the bottle as she came near but she veered and ran off. Okay, I'd made a lousy toss, but still, I thought I'd get another chance. The dog dropped the bottle in the sand a few yards away. I wasn't moving. I am not that eager to please, scrawny hips or not. Plenty of people would be. They are the ones who try to satisfy everybody regardless of the circumstances. Even meanies. Even strangers. Probably even cockroaches.
The dog gave herself a tremendous shake, water dotting the sand all about. Goofy thing.
I decided to forget about her. She was just a dog. I looked toward the water to see what the pelicans were up to, aside from slowly blinding themselves.
That's when a plastic pop bottle was deposited at my feet.
Asli was beside me now.
Did you see that? Is that good manners or what? I laughed and stroked the white curls again before unscrewing the cap from the bottle and walking to the water's edge to trap a little more of the sea inside. Then I wound up and really heaved the thing. This time it flew a good long way. My dog was in the water immediately, swimming hard, throwing herself heavenward to keep her head above the breaking waves. Before long she had the plastic in her mouth and was on her way back. Again she dropped it some distance from me, shook herself off and then delivered it right to my feet. I laughed out loud. Could it really be intentional politeness? Had she purposely avoided spraying me with water? What would Darwin say about this?
I ran my hand along her back. I see people slapping dogs – swak swak swak. Do dogs like that? I never slap a cat. If I did I'd probably get my hand ripped off and justifiably so. Slapping – not a good thing. I swiggled her ears a bit but I couldn't be sure that was what she wanted. I could be sure that she wanted to retrieve a bottle thrown into the sea. So I flung it again. And again after that. And again and again and again. It occurred to me that she might be homeless. How I admired her single-minded focus. I was witnessing joy animalified. This dog knew how to have fun.
But then I had to say goodbye. There was no avoiding it.
The next morning I went to the beach thinking I'd check out the pelicans. Asli was still in bed.
The dog was there. I remembered that I had a piece of steak in my bag so I offered it to her. And then I found a pop bottle that I could throw into the sea. In case someone wanted to swim after it.