Almost in a glass sphere (set apart from the hectic life) cottonwood fuzz drifts light as air in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Nature has a gentle sense of humor there. Maybe you’ve seen but didn’t mark it, where stands a quiet place.
The house is rustic — a solitary affair with a wraparound porch both airy and deep. A knee high picket fence partitions off a weedy little herb and flower garden. Half under the eves stands an apricot tree shivering loose white blossoms. Small birds trade places in the branches, jostling the feeder with their fluttering visits.
Descending the steps in an apron a woman lifts her voice. Over the meadow and back only a faint echo answers. She carries a full bowl for Dan. The woman searches left and right, puckers up, and whistles again.
Below is a clear brook rubbing shoulders with the road before it turns to feed a field choked with cat-tails. Beyond is a red barn, slightly leaning. But like the road, the brook, or the barn… the line of trees, there comes not the least hint of a dog’s whereabouts.
She stoops exchanging the dog bowl for an old tennis ball in the dirt. Scanning the countryside the woman turns the ball under a thumb. The ragged yellow skin is still wet with saliva.
Russian olives flicker in the distance a kind of silver and green, and sibilant, whispering — where is… where is… Opposite, where the footpath meanders through tall scrub, a loitering cloud of self-absorbed gnats swirl.
Soon the porch door claps shut, and the woman has gone.
Underneath the house it was cool and dark. Dan inched on his belly toward the light. Where the sun touched his nose he stopped. His body complained he might have enjoyed a little nap while hiding under the porch. But for now his nostrils pumped. There were other considerations, namely: the bacon drippings and milk mixed and waiting in his food. What more was there? Fluttering afar off in the treetops were black shapes rising. Yes, they were coming, coming very soon.
Dan scrambled from under the porch to dash past his bowl straight for his doghouse. Diving in he turned around and crouched, muscles taut.
Out of the sky and one by one they bounced in; three magpies like paratroopers on holiday. Remaining on the edge of flight, circling the bowl with their wings half extended, they began to dance.
Sleek black, wise-fools, they dipped and goose-stepped. Chattering they bobbed and hopped. And of the would-be-shadow in the doghouse, catch is as catch can. One broke from dance, hopping on the bowl rim where Dan’s name was.
In the doghouse sinew and muscle ached for release.
More magpies joined the party. And from the palpable tension in the air all squatted in readiness. Tweezed in a slender beak and held aloft a kibble was plucked. It was a clear demonstration of possession, turning this way and that. The bird’s neck feathers, black as they were, shone iridescent green and purple in the sun. Turned this way and that, with a quick flip the kibble was at once up and gobbled down.
That was about all the dog could take. Like from the bull pens of Pamplona, Dan burst from the doghouse.
Huffing and growling he dived in on the birds. Bucking about he lunged up at their blurs of black and white, wind and wing. Jaws clapping hollow on the quick thinning air — there! and there again! — so close. All trick and no fight, like ragged shadows in a swirling updraft, one by one they disappeared.
Winding down and alone, circling the bowl, Dan finally rocked to a standstill. Frustrated for the lack of knowing what next to do he turned against the nearest thing and with a deep-seated woof welling up in his throat he cursed the bowl.
Over the driveway a small fluff of black feather turned lazy somersaults. Dan sniffed the food.
The milky warm smell reminded his belly of something. It was like the desire to eat. But the feeling remained vague — too vague. Had it been a bone he might have buried it.
A minute longer he stared at his food but then wagging a tail for no one but himself he turned again to his doghouse.
Into the shadow he submerged — to wait.