The box of puppies next to my feet attracted the flea market goers like moths to an intense white gleam of a light bulb. Whines that resembled squeals emitted from the soft-blue plastic container as children petted the spaces in between the puppies’ eyes. One by one and after a lot of begging by wide-eyed faces to their parents, the puppies disappeared from the box and into the hands of new owners.
My dad and I waited about forty-five minutes until all the caramel-colored puppies were taken and the only one left was the skinny, black coated runt of the litter. She was the only puppy whose physical appearance lived up to the negative connotation of her unknown breed, a mutt. In the corner of the box, she laid there with her tail and limbs curled under her body as she waited for someone to pick her up. I made gestures to her, signaling the pedestrians that there was one last pup that needed a home. Responses in uninterested spanish declined my offer after they saw her, excusing their disinterest by claiming that they already have enough pets at home or that they preferred cats.
My dad rubbed at his temples, hoping that someone would take the last puppy, “Your brother has emptied my wallet with all the diapers and milk I have to buy, we already have one dog and we can’t afford another one.”
The sun had then started to set, communicating that the flea market was reaching closing hours.
I said to him, “But dad, we can’t take her to the pound. People will treat her the same way they treated her here. Let’s just keep her, I promise I’ll take care of her.”
Closing his eyes and letting out a huge sigh he muttered, “Fine then, you’re in charge of la negrita from now on. Let’s go home.”
A loud tropical tune vocalized from my dad’s phone, the noise traveling from my parents’ room across the hall into mine. The numbers on my phone confirmed that it was a quarter to seven and I thanked God that it was Saturday; I could sleep in a little longer. The early sun deposited its light onto my face through the curtain I forgot to close the night before, making my face scrunch up like the skin of a raisin. Pulling the thick duvet over my head, its color waning from its original hue of soft green, I try to catch up a full night’s sleep in the amount of time it takes for my dad to come wake me up. Surely he had a task for me to do, just like every Saturday. I just wish I’d remembered that when I decided to stream an entire tv series all night.
My dad knocked on the door a few moments later, peaked his head in through my door and quickly spoke my assignment, “I have to take Negrita to the animal clinic at 9:30. Get up and shower her while I go pick up some work supplies from Home Depot. I’ll be back in an hour so don’t go back to sleep!”
I groaned and rolled my eyes although my dad couldn’t see me under my blanket. My unintelligible and throaty response was enough to let him know I heard him. As he left, I managed to get on my feet to grab the dog shampoo under the kitchen sink and her towel from the laundry.
I stepped outside and called for my dog, “Negrita! Where are you girl?”
Her head lifted from next to a huge garden rock under the palm tree close to the rusting metal chain link fence. She took a quick glance at me and easily dismissed whatever I was calling her for as unimportant. Her lethargic demeanor gave away that she wasn’t in the mood to interact with me. With the soap and towel in my hands, she understood that one of her least favorite activities was about to take place. But instead of running off into the backyard like she used to as a puppy she just seemed to roll her eyes. And using all the energy I could muster from a minimal amount of rest, I carried her closer to the hose attached to my house, in which I almost tripped over her full plate of canine food from the night before. If Negrita wasn’t going to make me run after her, she would find another way to resist a shower. I started to believe that she was just getting too old to want to be chased.
After playing around with the vivid blue dog shampoo against her backside, making figure eights with the thin stream of substance falling from the bottle, I dried her up and tied her under the porch to dry. My younger brother had taken to washing up Negrita for the last few years, relieving me from the responsibility. But my dad argued that it was too early for an eight year old to be alone outside at 7 in the morning. My brother always complained because Negrita immediately got dirty after every shower. She would run to a grassless patch in the yard and roll around in the dirt, making a jacket of mud with the water still on her fur. I wasn’t about to take another thirty minutes to shower her again; I made sure the leash was secure.
I headed back inside with the intention of catching up on sleep.
By the time I woke up again it was midday and my dad was in the front yard loading his construction materials through the back of his red beat up van.
“What’d they tell you about Negrita?” I inquired.
My dad sighed and drooped his eyes much like Negrita’s were earlier that morning, “She has parasites in her stomach, hija. That’s why she hasn’t been eating.” He gestured to her aluminum plate, ants from the grass marched over the red and brown kibble. That was when I noticed that she actually hadn’t eaten anything. The bag of dog food in our kitchen had lasted a lot longer than it usually would have if she was eating normally.
He continued, “She’s way too infested for any treatment, a treatment that we wouldn’t be able to afford anyways. I think it’s probably because she bit into some type of animal in the backyard. Who knows, but they’re putting her down on Monday.”
The following Sunday morning, my family and I sat side by side on one of the indigo-hued cushioned pews. While the people around me prayed for the remission of their sins, I laid my head against the edge of the wooden bench in front of me and grieved for my dog that hadn’t even died yet. I don’t remember anything I was taught about in Sunday school and the soft-paced Christian hymns didn’t do much to help with my mood.
As we pulled up to our driveway two hours later, the atmosphere around my home seemed gloomier than most bad weekends. I looked under the porch, surely Negrita would’ve been enjoying the shade. My eyes scanned for her slick back jacket of fur across the wooden floor but I found it empty.
“Negrita!” I shouted to the air, hoping to get at least a whimper in response.
Instead I heard pigeon feathers shuffle and fly away as I scared them off from eating the canine food in my dog’s plate. I looked across my yard once over and next to the fence was Negrita. I walked slowly towards her so as not to wake her up if she was sleeping. But at that point I think I was just lying to myself; she would’ve been conscious of our arrival.
With eyes glossed over and her abdomen as hard as the garden boulder beside her, she left us on our yard of a sad Sunday afternoon.