Alejandro stands on the far side of the chain-link fence with a dead kid at his feet. This morning there is no smile, no buenos dias, no offers of zucchini, only a scowl and a gesture of dismay, intimating that I should appreciate the severity of my problem. Within minutes I realize that he’s been sent to my gate as an emissary, the bearer of bad news, and he’s taken on his role with all the solemnity of Solomon, weighing the seriousness of one señora who has lost a kid and one who will have to pay to buy another.
With Blanca at my side, her Husky tail curled, her gait cheerful, I walk toward the chain-link fence to get a closer look at the kid’s glazed eyes, the limp and broken neck. In my limited Spanish I understand that Blanca is to blame. Blanca has done the dastardly deed. She is the culprit. She has broken a little girl’s heart; she has killed the neighbour’s three-month-old billy goat.
I spend ten minutes apologizing, protesting too much, explaining that this undisciplined, wayward, murdering dog isn’t really mine. Like my gardener and my maid, she came with our casita. Abandoned by the previous tenant, Blanca appropriated us. We know only a little of her history.
She grew up down by the lake, prancing through the water scaring up half-dead fish, bounding through the fields of garbanzos hunting down rats. And when that didn’t produce dinner, she headed up to the San Antonio plaza for handouts. As a puppy, she mastered the art of looking forlorn, obsequious and peckish. But for a few short weeks in the autumn of 2003, she had had two-squares a day and rides in a pickup truck from a very grateful gringo whose life she had saved. The story goes that her previous owner had almost drowned after getting himself lost in the marshy wetlands down by the lake. Disoriented after too many margaritas, he wandered around until Blanca found him and led him towards a cow path and the dirt road into the village. From there he was able to see the mountains and stagger his way home, a good Samaritan at his heels. For her efforts, she was given a name and, for a short while, unlimited amounts of dry dog food. But within the month his truck went down the road one last time. Ever resourceful, Blanca found herself hunting, fishing and scrounging again. She extended her repertoire to the village abarrotes and the meat market. A slut at heart, ready to sell her charms for a pat or a snack, she came into her first heat.
But every night she would come home and listen for the sound of that pickup truck, and then one night, shortly before Christmas, we drove down the driveway and her prayers were answered.
She worked her way into our lives innocently enough. A few table scraps here and there, me rooting around in the kitchen garbage bin, retrieving bones I’ve inadvertently thrown out, knowing life would be simpler if I relented and invested in a bag of Kibble. Over these past three months I’ve fed her, watered her, brushed her, and spayed her. She has learned to sit if she wants her dinner; she follows me up the road to my Spanish class and waits in the noonday sun. But will she come when I call her? Not if I had a T-bone in my hand. And when we go for our morning walk, even my high-pitched commands won’t stop her from chasing the horses or harassing the calves, until she’s satisfied herself that she’s still a worthy warrior.
Yet, I have to confess that I’ve grown attached to her sweet brown eyes, her intelligence and her independence. I even admire her questionable loyalty. And because I know she’s a good traveler, the kind of dog that likes the front seat, especially sitting behind the steering wheel, I have entertained very brief fantasies – to my husband’s horror – of letting her ride and drool her way north with us, through Texas and Kentucky, all the way to the forty-ninth parallel. But at our cabin in the woods she’ll have more than dozy fish and fat rats to contend with. I imagine horrendous vet bills, porcupine quills embedded in the roof of her mouth, cans and cans of tomato juice needed to de-skunk her after she’s had a face-off, or a back-off, with Flower. And it doesn’t bear thinking what would happen to her if she lunged at a bear the way she torments Mexican calves.
All this is going through my head as I stand at my gate, trying to convince Alejandro and the distraught señora that Blanca isn’t my dog. Poco a poco, I begin to understand that I am expected to make reparation for Blanca’s transgression, reparation to the tune of 600 pesos for a dead goat. I can’t seem to convince Alejandro that just because Blanca sleeps under my car, follows me on my morning walk, comes twice a day for her dried Kibble, that doesn’t make her my dog. Sure she chose to miscarry on my doorstep a few days before Christmas. Sure I called the Spay and Neuter Clinic to take her away to Guadalajara to have her tubes forever tied-to spare her a lifetime of gang rapes and unwanted puppies. And I can’t deny that we both cried when she came home, when the vet’s cage and his knives were a thing of the past. But do a few tears make her mine?
It seems so. Someone has to be accountable; someone has to make amends. And if I accept this new responsibility, if I admit liability, will this extortion, I wonder, make Blanca even more mine? Are there degrees of ownership, depending on the investment made, over and above the feeding and watering? This becomes the philosophical question obsessing me as I fight to make myself understood, as I accept the reality that there will be no more offers of zucchini from Alejandro, no more reciprocity, no more zucchini bread sagging in my temperamental oven. I might as well move to gated Los Arroyos, I think. Gone is my attempt to go native. I’m caught not knowing the etiquette, wondering if there’s a scam I’m too naive to understand. Had the goat lying at my feet been somebody’s dinner, had it belonged to a poor Mexican family, I would have felt obligated to dish out the ransom money. But, as I was to learn later in the day when a lovely young girl turns up at my gate in her private school uniform explaining in perfect English that she’s just arrived home from her piano lesson to hear the sad news, Chica has been her beloved pet. Would I, she asks, mind very much, if she picks out her next goat? This time she doesn’t want a white one. I stall for time. Before I agree to go shopping, I have one more piece to fit into the day’s puzzling events.
Earlier in the day, a mere block from our casita, my husband had seen a “butcher” setting up shop, peddling from the tailgate of his truck what looked suspiciously like butchered goat meat. “Surely that can’t be,” I squealed. “The gardener told me the baby goat was sickly, that its stomach was distended, that it hadn’t been bled soon enough. It was inedible. He said the goat was taken to a destitute family, who would decide on the risk involved in turning it into birria.”
I was developing a bad case of paranoia, wondering where the conspiracy started. Had the tethered goat been sickly to begin with, and had Blanca been on a mission of mercy when she leapt the five-foot fence to break its neck? Or had she never killed the goat in the first place? Had she been set up by my gardener, Alejandro and the “butcher”? And if it was my dog who had brought in their bounty, surely I was entitled to a cut (so to speak) of the action.
Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well that night. The moral issue of whether or not Blanca had become my dog faded in comparison to the machinations of free enterprise and double-dealing. The following morning I was happy to see my maid and get her perspective. I took consolation in her simple philosophy; do not become a part of this, señora. You are not responsible. La Blanca belongs to the whole village. She’s the Lady who is a Tramp.
By the next day the young girl no longer wanted a pet goat. She wanted a dog. I thought of Blanca. Blanca would need a home in another few weeks. Blanca could be tethered. The little girl could pretend she was a goat and solve all our problems. In exchange, I’d not tell her pet goat had been turned into goat stew.
Another few days go by as I hide behind the curtains when the señora raps on my gate. It’s not that I don’t have the money, but I’m not sure I want to accept culpability or responsibility. I know I’m stalling, praying for clarity. I want the whole truth and nothing but the truth before I’ll admit Blanca’s guilt, before I’ll be fleeced. Daily I grill my husband: “Are you sure it was goat meat? The gardener says it was fish.”
I no longer smile at Alejandro, the farmer. The neighborhood no longer seems as innocent, as enchanting. And then comes the piece de resistance. The señora is threatening to go to the delegado, the town magistrate. My husband and I imagine deportation. Images of next winter in Canada dance in my head. It’s enough to send me knocking on the señora’s gate. We hear rumours that Blanca will be rounded up and destroyed. Once again the Spay and Neuter Clinic comes to the rescue. To spare Blanca’s life, she is taken to The Ranch and tethered.
Our departure day looms, and I’m divided, saddened. One day I think: “‘Like it or not, Blanca has become my dog. She’ll learn to live in the Canadian bush. She’ll learn to stay away from bears and skunks.'” And the next day, I tell myself she belongs in Mexico. She belongs to the lake and the fields and the plaza. Someone will adopt her. I spread the word. I talk about how sweet, affectionate and playful she is. I leave out her murdering past. I know she’d be willing to give up her marauding ways, to be more Lady and less Tramp, in exchange for tortillas and bones.
It’s less than a week till we leave. The jacarandas are no longer violet against the sky. I’m up before dawn, typing these words in the only quiet hours, and Blanca is lying at my feet. One week at The Ranch was enough for both of us. We paid off the señora and think we got off lightly.
I may never know the whole truth about what happened to that pet goat, and I tell myself we are meant to live with uncertainty. Perhaps that’s the lesson Mexico has taught us this past winter. In the meantime we are learning to live with an amenable, proud being who, in exchange for nights under our bed, has been amenable to compromise. She has learned to wear a collar and to walk on a leash. But she still insists on a stroll around the plaza after dinner. Basura, it seems, smells better than kibble. We meander through the streets of San Antonio Tlayacapan with her leading the way. Her tail is always in the air. I try calling her Lady. Deliberately, pointedly, she ignores me. There are, she’s telling me, some compromises a Lady simply cannot make.
Mexconnect features full-length excerpts from the book Agave Marias – border crossers, boundary breakers.
- First Flight by Gloria Marthai
- The Virgin Dialogue by Judy Dykstra-Brown
- The Wedding by Gloria Marthai
- Going for a Mexican Ride by dory jones
- Maid in Mexico by Harriet Hart
- Three Señoras Named Lola by Gloria Marthai
- The Lady Is a Tramp by Nina Discombe
- The Delivery by Harriet Hart