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.