#1: Canis Meus Non Me Amat
My dog does not love me. Canis meus non me amat. This is not the kind of complaint that one can rightfully expect another to tolerate. Unless, perhaps, that other is paid. For the record, I am staunchly against paying a person to hear what an unpaid person finds intolerable. So, I do not air my gripes when the Five Bitches (that’s the name we’ve adopted for our all-female group of morning walkers) complain about their lazy-ass husbands or their senile mothers. We spend a half-hour in Astoria park, crossing back and forth under Hell’s Gate Bridge. One morning, the sky such an unsheathed blue it threatens to fall dagger-straight into at least one heart, I listen to the babble. I have no complaint to lodge against my husband, who is good and not difficult to be around. My dog, though, is another matter. She is civil to the Bitches every time we meet, so I cannot even air my grievances by disciplining an instant of naughty behavior or disobedience. She acts so angelic in those women’s presence that any complaint from me would be viewed as extravagant and unjust. Poor dog, they’d think. So I remain quiet. And the Bitches take advantage. They welcome my silence. Crave it, actually. More kvetching for them, and more listening for me. Plus, I am an expert at the single-phrase summation of truths they’re so hungry to hear: “Out of your control,” I say, “and not your problem.” Dishwater-blonde Bitch visibly relaxes. She’s not slept all night. His leaving to-do lists for her, asking her to call his secretary, well, it’s just more proof of . . . . She touches my arm by way of a thank you for such deep attention. My dog accommodates this woman’s proximity by changing sides, trotting nicely on my left, pretty as you please. Never mind that she’s the only dog in tow. I’ve tried in subtle ways to encourage two of the other Bitches who own dogs (both Maltese), to bring them along for our group walk in the hopes that my terrier might finally show her true colors, stir up some nastiness. But my urging has fallen on deaf ears. Reprimanding her for a dog fight could so easily segue into airing deeper, more subtle angers. Well, sadness, really. If they let me talk long enough, I’d ultimately get to the pulsing heart of the matter. If those Bitches really wanted to re-pay my years of thoughtful attention and insights, they would stop nattering about the men who come home late, who load the top racks of dishwashers (where only glasses and mugs belong!) with bowls and plates simply because they are too damn lazy to bend down, who forget anniversaries and birthdays, who get drunk on highballs after work on Fridays with God knows who . . . . They’d stop with the eye rolls over doddering mothers who regularly lose keys or swallow too many pills. What if I begin with an obvious dog infraction, lead my Bitches into the matter slowly, perhaps first listing a few of my terrier’s worst infractions? But if they allow me . . . if those five could simply remain quiet on a clear, November day in Queens, New York, while flanking me, listening for once, I might say aloud, “My dog does not love me” . . . if that could just shut them up . . . and stretch their silence a little while longer, I will call out to God himself in the only language I’m told He understands: “Canis meus non me amat.”
The truth changes everything.
#2: Animals That Hurt
The most gruesome part never made the papers, or so Zach casually mentioned this morning, on the anniversary of that terrible event: When my husband was eleven, he’d fallen into the polar bear exhibit at the zoo. Badly mauled, he’d spent a month in critical condition. Whenever I heard the story, I imagined the ice cold of that water in contrast to the glaring August heat, the grab of his poor little lungs when he’d tried to breathe. Blood ribboned up from his knee, but Zach felt no pain. There must have been screaming from above. His mother was there, after all. A paw, cloud-white, swooped down. Zach saw that. Then the bear’s jaws locked to his shoulder, tearing him up from the icy water, swinging his head against the side of the exhibit’s largest rock. One of the zookeepers took the bear out with a single shot. But the boy who would become my husband was already unconscious and remained so throughout the rescue.
This morning, he had the urge to find the scrap book and study the yellowed column in The Raleigh News and Observer. Fingers spread near the photo of his wet body in gray newsprint, my husband’s eyes closed, and he looked sad in a way I’d never seen. “So what’s the part that didn’t make the papers?” I asked as his thumb shuffled through the peppery stubble on his chin. My husband smiled.
“The boring lot of time since that day.”
I did not say a thing. Even though I was included in that boring lot, I forgave him the tragic mistake of having believed, since boyhood, that one dramatic, paper-worthy moment had secured a greater purpose that, any day, might reveal itself.
Martha Witt is the author of the novel Broken As Things Are. Her book translations, in collaboration with Mary Ann Frese Witt, include Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author as well as Henry IV and The License. She is currently an associate professor of English and creative writing at William Paterson University.
“Canis Meus Non Me Amat” and “Animals That Hurt” appear in our issue, Physics (Summer 2017).