I’ve never seen eyes like hers.
I’ve seen eyes that weaken knees, eyes that made my stomach flip, eyes that wobble the earth, but never eyes like these.
Eyes that cripple.
All the joy was a fathom from the ground. A street party in St. Lucia. The Friday night “Jump Off,” with rum concoctions, laughing tourists, entrepreneurial locals, food scents wafting, pockets of exhaled ganja, flirtatious smiles, happy chatter, the bliss of a warm Caribbean night.
All the joy was a fathom from the ground—misery at our knees.
I saw her eyes. Those black eyes. Tan fur. The color of all island dogs, where years of mixing have led to the same dull brown an artist gets on her palette when all the colors go together. The color of all. Of none.
A dozen dogs mingle, their ribs beneath taut skin, the puppies learning to beg, more skittish than the adults, darting among the knees, weak with hunger, the smell of fish and chicken and ribs an impossible taunt away. Looking up. Wondering. Waiting.
They’re not the only ones begging. Yesterday, a man missing a shoe asks me to buy him some chicken in the grocery store. Tonight, the locals mingle and beg as well. Hands clutching at my elbow. The two men who helped me around the docks both ask if I’ll buy them some food. The dogs watch. The one with the black eyes. Leg lame, body thin as a rail. Never seen a dog so skinny before. Where I’m from, this is a medical condition. Here, it’s the condition. But skinnier than the rest and hobbling around.
You’ve never seen hurt like this. Desperation. Silent desperation. She needs to eat or she’ll die. Food everywhere, going in the trash, watching it go in the impossible trash, and this isn’t discomfort, isn’t a pang that will ease, this is final days. This is the dog that can’t dart in quick enough, can’t limp to salvation, is wasting away.
And the joy of this Caribbean night turns to tears. Like I say, those eyes cripple me. $10EC buys a skewer of chicken. The dog has been waiting by the stall, watching, begging. Silent grace. Not barking, or scratching, or saying, “Can’t you see I’m dying?” Just that look. Head cocked. One ear flopping. Big wet eyes. Beseeching. Begging. Dying.
There’s a line at the stall. Wasn’t one half an hour ago, when I bought food for the guys from the marina. I wait. Fumble out a $10EC bill. Try to wave down one of the women behind the counter. Don’t need a plate, just one of these skewers, I can grab it myself, just take the money, I can leave it right here, but she doesn’t see me. A long line. People buying people food. Not even that hungry, really. Just time to eat. Excuse me. Ma’am. Please.
I look around, make sure the dog is still there. She is. Watching. Waiting. Dying.
The lady wipes down a counter. Can’t get her. The line creeps. The food is right there. Should just grab it, pay later, leave the bill, anything. I hop from one foot to the other. Finally, she sees me. Tells me one minute. Why do I feel so impatient? It’s those eyes. Crippling.
A skewer, I say. No plate. No, that’s okay. Thanks. Here.
Tin foil is pulled free, a napkin, all the unnecessary accoutrements. Finally, the food. I turn to the dog,
and she’s gone.
I look. Down the side street. Behind the stalls. Plenty of hungry dogs, but none like her, with that limp, that frailness, those fearful final days. Here’s a puppy. Here’s a taller dog. But where are those eyes?
I ask my friends, and they don’t know which dog. The streets are crowded. A forest of shins and knees. A dozen dogs. I mill through, the chicken warm in my hands, that hungry searching like a boy who saw a girl who maybe noticed the boy. Looking for that stranger in a crowd of strangers. To reunite with what came and went in a glimpse.
What if I can’t find her?
And what am I doing?
A party, and my heart is breaking.
No saving anything. Hubris to think. This is their life. Their normal. Nothing to rescue. Just a cycle of breed and breed and no one to feed. Generations of dull brown fur. Thin ribs emerging from thin ribs. Life clinging on.
She’s gone. Giving up. Slunk off. Dead within the week. A corpse beneath a porch. Nothing can live that’s all bone. No more marrow to squeeze. And what would I do anyway? Delay it a week? Prolong the suffering? Just to ease my pain? Is this a selfish act? Is this for me? The chicken in my hand grows cold. Someone spills their rum drink. There is laughter while a puppy gives the pavement a wary lick.
I approach, pull a piece of chicken loose, and she takes it like she’s never taken food from a hand before. A quick, mistrustful snap of teeth. A disbelieving bite. Grabbing for the rest all at once, but there’s a dangerous skewer there. And I fear too much at once will get her sick. This is a dying dog. This is a heartbreak. This is me blinking away tears. This is me wondering how I was happy ten minutes prior. This is the misery beneath the party, the hunger on a warm Caribbean night.
Piece by piece. Somber. Taking each bite. Watching for more. Bounty. Not crumbs. Enough to last a day or two. Who am I doing this for?
The chicken is gone. A skewer to lick. I rub her head, and she’s strangely calm. Doesn’t flinch back. Pushes in. Leans. Waits for more. More of this contact as much as food. More of this love. Just the pad of a thumb, rubbing her forehead, that divot between bone ridges, skin so thin, an abrasion along one ear, that lovely brown fur, and those eyes.
She leans into the caress, hungry too for this, and I have to stand and walk away while I can still walk. It’s not yet nine o’clock. I’m told the party really gets started after ten. Just you wait. But I can’t. I’m ready to go, I tell my friends. A profound sadness, and I know it’s crazy, I know this is life, the way of things, the cycle. There was a cat in the street today, one who didn’t make it across. This is the way things are, down by our knees, in the cereal aisle at the grocery store, on the marina docks, on the street corners, in the house next door. Just the way of things. The look in someone’s eyes.