For two days, Santiago worries his bandaged paw.  He licks and gnaws at the gauze and tape, desperate to get at the skin that aches and itches in those initial days of healing.  When he wiggles off the dressings, I start again with iodine soaks and beeswax balm, murmuring softly and scratching his chest as a distraction from the pain.  Each night, I cut off the dressing like a cast and allow him to stretch his toes.     

On Sunday afternoon, we nap:  Santiago on a chair warmed by a heating vent and me on the floor beside him, my cheek against an orange, shag pillow, my shoulder beneath a quilt worn ragged by the dog’s claws.  The soft bubbles of his breathing send me to sleep.  After supper, Santi retires once more, curling tightly around himself on the chair, his rear end sagging off the edge of the upholstery.  I light a candle and stitch a soft, flannel patch over a tear in my favorite pair of jeans.  The radio plays.  

This is how we mend. 

I cannot walk Santiago now as we would like, cannot spend two hours at a stretch outside as we have done in recent weeks, the winter so warm that rains erode the snow, and fish houses rest uneasily on high, thin, lake ice.  But each day, we go outside, sometimes only to creep upon the rabbits who graze at dusk under the buckthorn tree, beside the headstone where the bones of my cats are buried.  We go to buy more sports tape for the dressings, and we stop at a creek, animating the mallards who tread that cold, black water beneath a fat, three-quarter moon.  

One night, we drive through suburban streets after a short walk in wind that lashes at my face. Christmas lights down the block gleam as a doe and a yearling step steadily out of the darkness, one graceful footfall following the other, crossing before our bumper from one yard to the next like the shadows of angels.  We’ve left traffic on a thoroughfare two blocks away.  I stop the car,  and Santiago and I are breathless, watching.  For long moments, there is silence.  Then, within the confines of our little car, the dog bays:  a cry like love and anger and heartbreak.  The deer move on. 

We did not walk long upon tired feet, but we met the world, and it was enough.

When Santiago first steps outside this morning, the deck gives a hard, crystalline “Pop!”  He turns around, startled, in search of the source of the sound.  It is the first truly cold day of winter.  We will not walk long tonight.  As I place the gauze and the tape and the salve on the coffee table, Santi sits on the couch and calmly lifts his foot to my hand. 

Plumes of pink smoke rise from the cityscape in a pale blue sky as I leave for work.  A chickadee is singing his two-note love song somewhere just east of the front stoop.  Spring will come.  

For now, we rest.

To see a photo of Santiago in one of his bandages, visit the gallery.



It is winter, so Santiago is injured. He began to limp last night, immediately upon touching pavement for an evening walk. Draping a rear paw across the cold air, he hobbled three-legged in the lamplight, not wanting to forfeit the pleasure of nosing at neighborhood snow banks and tree trunks and garbage cans daubed with scent. I took the favored paw in my hand and found what I find each year: a pad from which the top layer of skin had been stripped.

I am careful: we drive to parks most days and nights in this season, rather than strolling from home, to avoid the chemical salt that speckles sidewalks to melt the snow. Still, the salt and the street brine and the swampy black traffic slush all do their work: wearing out the flesh underfoot. I walk Santi only as long as it takes for him to release his bowels, then harness him into the back seat and drive to the grocery store to buy sterile pads and gauze and duct tape for a dressing. Scattered in front of the pharmacy entrance are piles of white salt.

The next day is Saturday. The work week in winter offers only two days for walking in daylight. I re-dress Santiago’s foot in the morning, wrapping it tightly in duct tape so that it will not slip off like a boot. We drive to the river.

It is early when we arrive. The woods along the shore are covered in white snow in which the divots of old footprints are pearl gray, like the sky. A cozy smell of wood smoke drifts across the water–a January smell. The winter birds chatter in their modest, cheerful way. For most of our time here, we are alone. We’ve left behind two women with a little black brush of a dog, and not until we return to the parking lot will we see a man placing a tripod camera into a hatchback. For a moment, we are joined by a hawk, but she, too, disappears.

The dressing on Santiago’s paw makes a sound as he moves over the hard-packed snow like the sound of a diapered child crawling across the floor. It is slippery, and this leg repeatedly skids off in a separate direction from the other three but does not slow him down. He jogs, stopping only to pee in haste where his nose invites him to. I jog with him, the two of us leashed together within the air that is perfectly chilly, upon the landscape that is buttercream white, among the trees resting with their eyes open all around us.

I have lived most of my life under the apprehension that joy is an accident, that one stumbles upon it as one does a dollar bill stuck in spring mud.  I think now that I have been wrong; for, it seems to me now that joy is a choice enacted.  When Santiago pulls me down a snowy trail, branches scraping at my cap and burrs catching on my coat; when the sun behind the clouds is faint like a moon, and tiny clawed prints suggest that we are tracking a raccoon to the marsh; when the trees are hung with moss and ice beside the silvered beaches; when the dog tugs hard over the hump of a footbridge and onto a hushed trail deep within woods where we have never been, it is as if a person one had made love to many times had closed his eyes and revealed a scar that one had never noticed.

I make Santiago accompany me to the beach. He prefers snow-covered savanna to driftwood and sand. But he acquiesces, and we walk to the lip of ice that meets the lapping of the open river. Santi pauses to consider whether there may be beasts in that gentle coursing, or whether the water is, itself, a moving beast. Apprehending nothing upon which to pounce, he turns back to the rocky shore, and I let go of his leash. He trots to a tree whose roots have been exposed by high water and erosion. Each tendril is decorated with snow and among the crevasses something lives. Santiago sniffs and digs, racing around the large trunk, trying to find his way in to the den of scent. He is happy. I pick up a pebble, rough and sepia and white, like the day.

On the way home, the car heater is on. Santi sits up in the back seat, facing the vents, and purrs. I drive along as many parkways and beside as many parks as I can find, going 25 mph, both of us gazing out the windows. I will put a fresh dressing on his foot, looser. I will put baby aspirin in his food. He will sleep on the couch in the afternoon, while the sun briefly shines. We have made our day’s joy.