Angel didn’t want to give up, but the Philadelphia chill cut through deep to his bones and challenged his will to live.
Thirteen months ago, when he started out on the journey, emotions such as love, concern, and sympathy had been tossed aside. Never again did he want to feel the agony of loss, the knife-in-his-gut rawness that ruled his life after Luisa disappeared.
And here it was, winter again.
But unlike last December, Angel wasn’t alone. Despite his best attempts, he had not been able to close his heart to Pancho. As he thought about the day of their meeting, he felt a warmth and lightness inside that fueled his blood.
They were both at the Square, using their talents for handouts and sharing the same bench for rest. The audience heard a Dylan song accented by the howls of a German shepherd that were remarkably on pitch. Dollar bills lined the guitar case, while bits of burgers, sandwiches, and desserts littered the path.
Angel did not want to love Pancho and, at first, this was not a hard task. Pancho was feisty, always ready to fight, and had been on the streets, Angel guessed, for more than one winter season. There was a look in his eyes that made it clear he had been on the receiving end of cruelty and neglect.
That look, so understood by Angel, broke his heart. It was the same look he had when he set out all those months ago. I don’t want to lose again. He stared into the eyes of another potential loss and refused to allow it to happen.
So, he walked away. But Pancho followed.
Angel acted violently, and Pancho retreated but soon came back to his side.
He avoided the bench at the Square for several days, but Pancho was there when he returned.
Angel thought of Luisa. He thought of the people who had been evil at his expense. He thought of his loved ones, taken and separated in a rush of greed. The hatred he felt had turned him into the living dead.
But that look in Pancho’s eyes was hard to ignore. Here was someone who needed him. Perhaps it was time.
That heartbreak, from which flowed compassion, love, and life, was the beginning of a friendship that brought them both to this unrelenting winter day.
Angel shivered. Someone tossed a wrinkled, fast-food bag into the hat. They had not eaten enough over the past week, and their shelter was limited to the bushes. The bitter cold was keeping people inside; no one wanted to stand around and watch a pair of losers play for cash.
Angel struggled to focus and look at his friend. Another loss, just like Luisa. But this time, Angel thought, I’m here. I’m not off someplace being used for sport and games and money and blood, while a friend withers away. I’m right here at his side.
With his remaining strength, Angel lifted himself and moved closer to Pancho. He felt the gentle arms of his friend drag him up and into his lap. The leash was cold against Angel’s neck, but it was a reminder that brought him comfort. He hoped his thinning coat would give some amount of warmth to Pancho.
Angel nuzzled his head under the neck of his companion. His eyes were heavy and refused to open. He rested, cradled in the arms of his faithful friend.
He heard Pancho whispering, telling him to go to sleep, that he’d wake up in heaven.
Heaven. Maybe he’d find Luisa there.
“Hey, Angel, it’s time to go up there.” Angel felt his friend’s breath against his face. He was desperate to show a sign of affection and raised his front paw limply.
“Yeah, maybe there’s dogs in heaven. Pretty, nice. Lots of food. Places to run. Warm places to run. I’ll see you there. Go on, now. Go on to sleep, Angel boy.”
And he did.
LOSING LUISA: I rediscovered this story a few days ago and remembered how much I enjoyed writing it (2012). I was hoping to write the story in such a way that the reader wouldn’t catch on to Angel being the dog until the last few paragraphs. If you realized this earlier in the story, let me know where I gave it away. I had never written a story from an animal’s point of view where I was trying to hide that fact. It was a good exercise for me.
Image information for this amazing photo: “A homeless man sleeps in the arms of his dog on Queen St. W. in Toronto, on a freezing day in November, 2006.” This photo was taken by Veronica Henri, multimedia journalist for the Toronto Sun, and was runner-up in the Feature category at Sun Media’s 2007 Dunlop Awards.