I´m driving up the dirt road from Fuente de San Martin, going into Moratinos the back way cause sometimes I see cool wildlife out there -- migratory geese, avutarda, hawks, and stupid quail that run up the road in front of me for a while before they realize flying might be a good idea.
I´m listening to Cameron singing "Volando Voy," always a wonderful thing. The sun is high, the sky is blue, I got what we needed in Palencia, and I got something I wanted, too -- an early lunch, a guilty pleasure, a döner kebap at the Café Istambul. Up at the Milagros farm I see the gate sliding open, one of the boys has been plowing, he´s pulling the tractor up into the yard. Must be lunchtime. They´re all out there, Milagros and Esteban, Estevinas and José, all in their work duds. I wave and smile, all of them wave and smile back, I see Roldan the bad-tempered, terminally-ill German Shepherd making a lunge for the open gate, I see José stepping toward the gate to shut it before the dog gets there, I see Toby, the yappy lap dog make a break for the gap, and then the car flies past the scene and the wheels hit the proper smooth pavement and I´m on Calle Ontanon, in Moratinos proper.
And in the rear-view mirror something is not right, José is shouting, dust is rising, I see him bending over something in the middle of the road outside the gate, and I realize...
Toby made it through the gate, just as I passed. He went under the car. I ran him over.
I don´t want to believe this. I think I will just keep driving and pretend I don´t know.
Then I think that would be awful, because I do know, and what if the dog needs to get to the veterinarian right away?
I stop the music, stop the car. I get out.
I hear Milagros voice, "Is he dead?"
Esteban shouts, "Dead?"
And José picks up the furry body and strides to the gate, saying, "I think, yes. I think he´s dead."
Horrible, horrible. The last person they want to see just then is me, the person who made their little dog dead. But there I am. My hands are curved over my mouth. I have no idea what to say or do. "Go on. Go on home," José shouts up the street, his voice choked. "It´s just an accident. A dog."
Edu comes out his gate to see what´s happening. Roque, one of Toby´s many offspring, yaps at me from the patio. I tell Edu I just ran over José´s dog. Edu shrugs. "What a shame," he says. "It´s that way with animals."
I go home. I unload groceries from the car. I tell Paddy what just happened. I start to cry.
Not so much for Toby, whose muzzle had gone grey from lounging around town, scrounging scraps from pilgrims, chasing after bitches, fathering most of the lapdogs in the district. He´s had a good run. And he apparently did not suffer long.
I cried for José, though, and the Estebans. And Milagros. I know they are there with that little dog body, crying. You don´t see these people cuddling their yard dogs, but they enjoy canine company. Toby liked to tag along with his people. He wandered loose in the streets and slept on the pavement in summer, followed the tractors to the grain-scales, and somehow lived for years without getting under their many wheels. He was not a very friendly dog, but in the past couple of years he´s let me scratch him between the ears a time or two.
It would not have been so hard, accidentally killing our neighbors´ dog, if the neighbors had not been our friends, too. And if the entire family had not been standing right there when it happened. I cried some more, at the horror they must have felt. And for the way I would feel if that was me, watching my dog run under a car.
And then our doorbell rings, and our (very alive) dogs go ballistic. And there is José, smiling. No sign of sentimentality. He sees I have been crying, and it´s kinda embarrassing. I should calm myself, he says.
Because Toby isn´t dead. Not yet. "He was out cold, but now he´s awake. He´s moving all his legs, wagging his tail. Maybe in some pain. We´ll watch him. If he doesn´t get up by this evening, we´ll take him to the veterinarian. But we want you to be calm. Tranquilo. It´s a dog, an animal."
"Please, take him to the veterinarian. You must. Just to be sure he´s alright," Paddy says. "We will pay the bills." We gave them some dog anti-inflammatory medicine, with all the dosages written-out, from when Rosie was fixed. Same size dog. In case they decide to pass on the vet.
"He is up. He´s walking. He´s swollen-up, but he´s not dead," José said. "It´s nothing."
And maybe it is nothing. Nothing but a dog.
Sometimes I know I am not tough enough for this hard country.
I am just too damn soft.