In the face of death, no one is a stranger.
“We Caucasians will be fighting for minority rights in ten years,” said my friend, quoting her father.
“In the world?” I asked.
“In Vancouver,” she said.
“Good,” I said.
“No, really,” she said.
: : :
At the café, a young Asian couple fuss over an older woman in a wheelchair. The man carefully puts a lavender knit wool cap on her head and green knit gloves onto her hands. Then he unfolds a blanket and tenderly places it over her knees. The young couple look at each other over the woman then back at her, checking to be sure she’s comfortable. They murmur to one another as they tuck the blanket around the woman’s ankles, then the man runs his hands along the edges to make sure it’s snug. Carefully they push the woman out of the café.
: : :
The cairn terrier leapt out the window of the station wagon while I was driving down Fourth Avenue with my sons in the back. I had slowed down to make the left turn into Jericho Park from Fourth when the dog jumped out of my son’s lap.
“Mom, Tommy jumped out of the car,” he screamed.
“What?” I said.
He said it again. He had just turned ten.
I pulled over to the first place I could stop, which happened to be the opening in the median, which I was about to drive through so that we could let the dog run free in the park. Maybe he smelled the other dogs romping in the meadow by the road. Maybe he saw a rat dart off into the trees. Maybe he was insane. One quick look behind me told me he was dying. I had held this dog in my arms, spent hours upon hours walking him and training him. Only seven months old and there he lay, twitching in the street. I ordered the kids to stay in the car and not to look. I went to the dog.
: : :
Pookie, our new dog, is almost housebroken, but not completely. At times she pees on newspaper I leave for her in the corner of the kitchen. One afternoon I knelt down to pick up the soiled paper, stuff it in a plastic bag, tie the bag and throw it down the garbage chute, and noticed that she had peed on the front page, on Saddam Hussein wearing his tailored overcoat and his noose.
As I crumpled up the paper and prepared to stuff it in the trash, I asked myself: If Hussein knew that dogs would pee on his photograph at the end of his life, would that have changed things? Did he deserve to be humiliated by a dog thousands of miles away from the place where his life ended?
Death is sacred. Even elephants know that. When they trample humans, they cover them with branches.
Spectators taunted Hussein. He deserved it. He was a murderer. He killed thousands of people. He was set up by the United States. He dug his own grave.
To have a photograph taken of a person about to be executed is primitive enough. To allow it to be peed on by foreign dogs seems profane. I shouldn’t have used that piece of newspaper. It was utterly insignificant that I had. Hussein was dead and couldn’t care less. People who respected him would never know. His grandchildren would never see that piece of newspaper.
I threw the page in the plastic bag and caught a last glimpse of Saddam Hussein’s eyes before I tied it shut.
: : :
Dark blood pooled on the pavement around the dog’s head. A car pulled over and stopped, and a white woman with blond hair got out. She had a kind face.
: : :
“My neighbour’s daughter plays flute,” my friend was telling me. “I asked her if she was playing in the high school band. She said, no way, the Asian kids have been playing since they were two. They have the entire band locked up. They hang out together. There’s no way to be friends with them. They get the best grades.”
“They aren’t a them,” I said. “They’re individuals.”
“I know they’re individuals,” she said.
: : :
The kind woman put her hand on my back. She asked if I was okay. I wasn’t okay, I said. I told her that my son in the car was hysterical. She offered to stay with the dog while I went back to comfort him. I looked from the twitching dog back to the car, where my child was hunched over in grief.
I looked back at the dog. His eyes turned up and the spasms stopped. I ran back to the car. My younger son said he wanted to go home. My older son shook with sobs. He held his face in his hands. I opened the back door of the car and climbed in. I hugged him.
“I was holding the leash, Mom. And he jumped. And I let go of the leash. If I hadn’t let go, he wouldn’t have jumped. It was my fault.”
“It isn’t your fault,” I said, over and over. “If you had thrown him out the window, it would have been your fault. He jumped. He was mentally ill.”
It was my fault, not my son’s. I should have made the dog ride in the back compartment of the station wagon. I should have kept him in his kennel. I knew how precious he was, how painfully symbolic of our fragile lives.
A few more cars had stopped. Drivers had gotten out and were standing around the dog. A transit authority van stopped and the driver put warning signs around my car so that there wouldn’t be any more accidents. The kind woman offered to call the SPCA to come and get the dog.
An East Asian man in a jogging suit stopped and took it all in. It was nobody’s fault, he said. I asked him to explain this to my son. He went to the car. “You’ve had a big loss, but you didn’t have anything to do with it,” the brown man said to the white boy. “Your dog’s in a better place now.”
My son sobbed. He nodded and looked up at the stranger.
Time moves on. It was propelling us forward, leaving Tommy behind. The crowd dispersed. The kind woman covered the dog with a towel she had found in her car. Now she had to be going, she said. “Keep the towel, please,” she said and touched my arm.
: : :
The SPCA arrived in the person of a short Asian man with a weather-worn face. With eyes full of compassion he said, “It’s hard to lose a dog,” and for the first time since Tommy had leapt out and fallen under the wheels of the car, I wept. We looked at the dead dog, this new stranger and I. He told me he could take the dog away and have him cremated. They would provide an urn, and I could go and pick up the ashes. It would cost $100. Or, the dog could be cremated for free. I wouldn’t get the ashes, but . . . I was laughing, and he smiled. Cars sped past. The air smelled of the ocean and decaying leaves mixed with wet earth. Across the street in the park, a Labrador bounded after a mutt. A cluster of small dogs ran round and round, as their keepers stood talking and looking out at the sea.
“People really save their dogs’ ashes?” I said.
“Do you want to keep the collar?” he asked.