In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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I want to tell you a story. There is a dog and sunlight in it. My sister is driving the car. My tall taciturn kid brother is sitting next to me. Our grand-aunt just called, sobbing. Her huge ancient dog has collapsed. We are driving along the beach road toward her house. You wouldn’t believe the light this morning. Our grand-aunt is a bigot. It is tense whenever she comes to family dinners, because she will say things like The Yankees went to hell when they hired niggers to play the outfield. There are men on the jetties fishing for striped bass. Our grand-aunt is blind. Her dog shepherds her expertly from couch to kitchen and back, her hand on his shoulder. Our grand-aunt keened at the wedding when her brother, our grandfather, married our grandmother. Keening is wailing for the dead in the ancient Irish tradition. Our grandmother never spoke to our grand-aunt for the rest of her life. How stupid Irish is that, as our dad likes to say. The dog’s name is Sandy. He is a great dog. We think he does the laundry. Our sister drives slowly and cranes her neck to see the street signs. My kid brother isn’t saying much. The men on the jetties are also hoping for bluefish. Our grand-aunt always says she can tell if people on the radio are Negroes or not. She says there are more Negroes on the radio at night. When we get to the house, we can hear her weeping inside. The front door is locked, so we go around back and let ourselves in and ask for her in the dark. There are piles of newspapers like you wouldn’t believe. Why exactly a blind woman would continue to get the paper is a mystery to me, our dad likes to say. When our grand-aunt comes to family dinners, she sits at one end of the table, and our dad sits at the other and grinds his teeth. You can hear him do it if you sit close enough. The dog is sprawled on our grand-aunt’s kitchen floor. There are dirty dishes piled so high in the sink that if you sneezed there would be a calamity. Our sister knows animals the best, and she kneels down and asks Sandy how he’s doing, and he pants and stares at us in a friendly fashion. He has the thickest whitest eyebrows you have ever seen. Our grand-aunt is sobbing on the couch. She tries to explain, but she is not using any words that we know. Sandy is such a huge dog that he takes up most of the kitchen floor. One time at dinner our grand-aunt said that the Negroes were taking over the government, and I bet people in Peru heard our dad grinding his teeth. Our sister stands up and says Sandy is dying and we have to get him to the vet. Our grand-aunt cries even harder. The dog stares at us.
I remember there was a long pause while Sandy panted and our grand-aunt cried and we tried to calculate how we were going to get this dog out of the house and into the car. And then my tall kid brother bent down and picked Sandy up as if the dog weighed no more than an ounce, and he straightened up, with his arms full of dying dog, and there was this look on his face that I just cannot find the words for. That’s the story I want to tell you. There was love and pain and fury on his face, but then the words run out of gas, and all I can say is: See his face all twisted and shining in the shadowy kitchen? See? This is the biggest, heaviest, oldest dog you can imagine, and it would have been a miracle if all three of us had managed to hoist him up and haul him to the car, but somehow my kid brother has lifted him like a feather, and now the tears are sliding silver down his face, like water over a rock, and I open the door, and the light comes pouring in all wild and careless and impatient.