(Dedicated to the Convert.)
He wanted to run faster, to be more perfect as he said.
How can I run faster than all the other kids? Well, we need to go down to the beach and run in the sand. Black Blizzard can pace you and he’ll never get tired. Here’s an idea: let’s tape some weights to your tennis shoes and that’ll add a few pounds and I guarantee that if you do it, say, three times a week, run a mile or so, eventually you’ll get stronger and faster.
So that will work? Listen, I used to run until I puked and after a while I took a full second off of my time in the hundred.
Really? He thought that was a verification of the truth. If it worked for me then it would work for him. Such was our bond.
Of course, he never got faster, if anything he got slower and after a few weeks he gave up on the beach. The big change came when we had to get rid of Black Blizzard. He kept urinating in the house and we couldn’t break him. To make matters much worse, he was jumping our six-foot fence and running through the neighborhood killing cats and chickens. Blizzard was a cow dog and he needed to be herding and hunting. Our little neighborhood was not a game park or a ranch.
The last thing I told the boy and woman was to pick out a “calm dog, not too big.” They came back with a dog that looked like a small tiger. The only time he was every peaceful was the first few days we had him. He was weak and slept all day and it became evident he had parasites, but as the medicine took hold he quickly got stronger. Running him only made him want to run more.
He was a turbine cut loose from the bolts and frame that kept him in place.
The final nail came when the sheriff knocked on the door and delivered a JP notice to either get rid of the dog or the county would put him down.
Is this a threat or is there something legal about it?
Well, just between me and you, said the sheriff, they really haven’t taken it up in a formal way, but your dog apparently killed Mrs. Rosewater’s cat. It wasn’t feral like the others.
Are you sure it was our dog?
When I got around to calling the kill pound, which was about 30 miles away, they gave me a hard time about returning Blizzard and said they weren’t open that day. I responded that I had taken time off from work. I had to bring him in now and if they didn’t take him, I’d leave him tied to their door. If they wanted to report me to the police they had all my information.
Okay, bring him in. Somebody’ll be here, and then she hung up.
So we got Black Blizzard in the car and drove down to the pound. Blizzard turned into the perfect dog. It was the first time, except for the parasites, that I’d seen him so calm, so dependent. It was as if we were driving to meet the executioner and he knew it. His eyes got very deep, opening into the underground. He only wanted to nuzzle the arms of the boy and they sat silently in the backseat: a still life in air conditioning.
We crossed the dunes, and the sea was undisturbed. The sun was producing diamonds on the surface. There was a little palapa joint right before we turned off to make the final leg to the pound. I stopped and we got some ice cream and bought a burger for Blizzard: a final treat from our little rag-tag family. We ate in silence and then the boy said he’d like to take one last run with Blizzard.
He untied his shoes and off they went. The woman and I watched them move along the edge of the water until they were only black dots in the distance. Slowly they returned and I could see Blizzard jumping up and down as they ran and sometimes he would veer off into the flat waves. When they got back, both of them were wet and they sat out of breath in the sun until they dried.
I’ll never forget that day and how we all marched into the pound and handed Blizzard over to the woman with the disgusted expression on her face. The place reeked of hopelessness. I thought about how the human affinity for dogs was really little more than a substitute for our overwhelming feelings of isolation. We needed something to still the panic of not knowing who we were and how we got to this curious place: a dog offered respite from nightmares, from our psychological terror. A dog was a warm mass to grasp and alleviate pain.
I was carrying the dog in my arms and he was dead weight, with his legs and head shifting from side to side, and it felt as if he were praying to me with bated breath, just below the surface of our mutually fucked condition.
It had been two months to the day and now he was going back inside and the meter had already started. The general rule was ten days to get adopted or else the dog got a hot-shot and tossed into the incinerator.
When I look back upon that time I think of Black Blizzard and the boy and how I really didn’t know either one of them and all the mistakes of my life seem to roll into how I watched them take that last run on the beach: running for their lives. I thought I was seeing them, but I wasn’t, and if I could reverse time, and dig myself out of this grave where I lie, I’d go back to that moment and save the boy and the dog and we’d spend the rest of our lives on the beach, eating ice cream and burgers.
We’d all be perfect, all-knowing, and totally happy as we ran the distance.