The accumulation of events that led to the dogs’ escape is probably too complicated to tell. To go way, way back, the initial event might have been wrapping my arms around Peggoty, my first dog, one distant Christmas morning, because without my yearning for her in the years after she was gone, would I ever have acquired other dogs to fill the vacancy?
Or, even further back, it might have been my mother introducing David Copperfield to my brother and me, for without that, how could the rest have developed? And how did David, or for that matter, Dickens, ever come into being? Oh, a tangled web indeed, too old and delicate and with too many strands to make sense of, much less tell. But not beyond speculating on as I contemplate my two dogs, safe again in the fenced yard.
The instigator, a German shepherd, is on a long chain, staring out the gate onto the lane; the black lab stands nearby, staring just as fixedly and quite as if he too were on a chain. I repeatedly check the collar, check the chain, check the fence that they did not escape from but possibly might now that they have again tasted the dizzying freedom after wandering off on a walk. Una cosa lleva a la otra, one thing leads to another, is said in Spanish as in English to suggest an obvious outcome, but even outcomes that don’t surprise me rarely seem obvious. I know so little of the strange routes of unfolding events—the path of water, never straight, the line of fire, always ragged, the course of a love affair, rarely smooth, or the development of a child, which, despite your safeguards and your errors, is unpredictable no matter what you say in hindsight. I know next to nothing, so how am I going to know the heart of a dog?
The dogs were gone for a week, caused great worry and some damage, cost me money, necessitated my humble apologies to third parties and repeated assurances of no further escapes. Gone for a week! How cold they must have been. How hungry. How stressed. And yet how ready they appear, back on this side of the gate, to exchange everything they know for an uncertain unfolding, one thing becoming some other.
It was a different phrase, un cúmulo de incidentes, that was used in a job safety seminar a friend attended, where the message drummed in over the course of a week was that accidents are not a single event but an accumulation, one on top of another, building to the big event. It’s not wet floors, for example, that cause falls, but rather wet floors with no warnings posted and workers in a hurry with the wrong footwear tripping on their own loose laces while consulting a smart phone. Each factor alone is simply heedless, but put enough of them in place, and Boom! An accident! So I’ll chain my dog, and fence him, castrate him, berate him. Drug him and distract him. Make him sign a contract. In the end, to be utterly safe, to be completely sure nothing bad happens to him and he causes nothing bad to happen, it may come to the greatest safety measure yet—get rid of him. “If they ever get away again …” I say to my sons, sentence unfinished to frighten them into greater vigilance.
“If they ever get away again, what?” they ask.
“If they ever do, that’s it. For them.”
They don’t believe me. And I don’t know what to believe myself—what tale this latest fiasco will be a strand of. No drugs or scalpels for my darlings, not yet, just a new lock on the gate in addition to the latch. I watch my dogs for signs of the mysterious urge to run from one spot to another, searching, searching, full of hunger and yearning.
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