On Sunday morning when I awake, snow is plummeting to the ground outside my windows. Every rooftop up and down the street is frosted with white innocence. Every tree branch is trimmed with heaps of delicate ice crystals, and cars at the curb are capped with it down to their door handles. For miles around, the world is draped in a baptismal gown. Santiago wades through the powder on the deck to piss in the yard, the snow nearly touching his belly. It is quiet.
After breakfast, I join the dog, who has returned to the bed. The quilts are still taut, but he has settled onto the pink shag throw that I call his “princess bed,” kneading it comfortably around himself. I light a devotional candle that smells of rose petals and features an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe that glows before the flame. Arranging pillows behind my back, I settle in next to Santi and wrap my feet in an afghan crocheted by my mother. I begin to read aloud from The Book of Common Prayer.
Santiago likes church. He is motionless, his eyes closed, his jowl against a hump of soft, pink shag. His breathing as I speak centuries-old incantations of petition and praise becomes looser and steadier, his slowly lifting and sinking side like the swinging of thurible filled with incense. The whistling of his nose subsides. His body is a prayer of peace.
A couple of years ago, we met a man at a park beside the Mississippi River in February. It was morning. Snow was knee-high and dazzling under a bright blue sky following a two-day blizzard. The man was tall and young and black and handsome. He stood near a battered pick-up truck in the parking lot. When I got out of my car, he asked if I knew when the shelter would open. It was a Monday. It wouldn’t open.
“Do you need help?” I asked.
“I need some water for my car,” he said.
He talked quickly, explaining conditions under the open hood. He was agitated.
“I can take you to a gas station.”
“Really? That would be great!”
“Can you share the car with a dog?”
The man looked into my back seat. He hesitated.
“As long as he won’t bite me.”
I got back into my car, and the man folded himself into the passenger seat. Santiago stood up and began dancing on his back feet, pressing his snout into the man’s ear, sniffing and licking him. The man smiled. I headed in the direction of a gas station.
“What’s his name?” the man asked, submitting to Santi’s affection, offering the dog his face and his hand.
“Santiago,” I said.
“Iago,” he said. “That means James.”
“Yes,” I replied, turning my eyes to the man, “Saint James.”
“That’s my name,” he said. “James.”
I am reading Morning Prayer. When I reach the psalm, I chant it softly, as was done in the church of my childhood by a priest with tight permanent curls, a guitar, and cowboy boots under his cassock. The humidifier sighs in the corner of the room, louder, now, than Santi’s breathing, for he has fallen into exquisite slumber. I sing a hymn. I complete the prayers. Picking up a rosary, I finger the lacquered beads, reciting little mantras until my mind, too, is lulled to rest. I put my prayer book on the dresser and curl my body around Santiago’s. He lifts a single eyelid and thumps his tail. The snow falls.
St. James and his brother John left their fishing nets puddled on the sand and followed Jesus. They traveled with nothing: no purses, no food, not a fresh shirt nor a walking stick to lean upon. They had only their feet and their faith. They were there on a mountaintop when light phosphoresced around Jesus and a cloud enveloped them and a voice said, “Listen to him.” They once wondered if they ought to set heavenly fire to the opposition, but Jesus rebuked them.
I’ve been going to a cathedral on my lunch hour. Sometimes there is a service; most of the time, there is not. I sit with my prayer book in my lap and stare at the stained glass windows, telling myself Bible stories. I wander the sanctuary, looking at sculptures of Mary, of Paul, reading the scripture engraved on the pulpit, watching the flicker of votive candles.
In the evenings, Santiago and I walk. We visit a creek in which the snow-covered banks and slim pines are reflected in perfect stillness, the tree trunks reaching into both the earth and the sky ad infinitum. We wander the river at sunset, Santi burying his nose in the white woods as geese honk out on the water and lamps begin to twinkle on the opposite shore. We walk at a city park, where adults are pulling children in sleds across a skating pond and ducks are flying before an orange horizon and red wreaths shaped like hearts are hanging on front doors.
On Monday morning, the roads remain slippery from the storm. It takes me more than double the usual time to get to work. At a traffic light, I watch two men slowly cross the street, one of them holding a German Shepherd tightly on a choke chain, his hand held high. The dog minces and lurches, not knowing how to move. I start to cry. Cars inch forward, coasting atop greasy slush. Everything in my life that I cannot speak is incarnate in that dog. I pray.
When James was back in the passenger seat with a gas jug full of water, he said to me, “Not everyone would have stopped to help me.” We both understand that he means that he is a young black man and I am an older white woman and we do not yet live in the world that Jesus spoke of, the one without distinctions.
On the night of the Sunday snowfall, Santiago and I return to bed. I light the Virgin candle once more and the humidifier with its cool sigh. It is too early to sleep. I hold a book in my lap. I pet Santiago. This is my prayer.