It began like a baby crying, like many crying babies and like dogs barking. He awoke and sat up, suddenly aware of his heartbeat and the sounds outside. The room was cool and gray. At 6:00 a.m., the summer sun had topped the ridge and the rocky desert mountains lay bleached and baked. T́été de la India floated across the border to the south, liquid in the heat, a Mexican mirage.
The snarling and barking and crying in the yard adjacent the basement bedroom window made his arm hair stand as he hurried into his jeans and boots.
In the yard, a wooden cage built of two-by-fours and chicken wire stood chest high. Inside were twenty French Lop rabbits, some weighing over ten pounds. The cage sat under a pepper tree, shaded from the intense Cuyamaca Mountain sun by the tree and by a thin plywood roof. The cage had a heavier wire mesh floor allowing the rabbit pellets to fall to the ground, where they could be easily raked into piles and shoveled up.
Though the yard beside the adobe farmhouse was fenced, two full-sized adult Rottweilers had jumped the chain link and vine barrier. As he rounded the corner of the house he saw the muscular dogs chewing at the rabbits’ feet through the cage floor in a manic frenzy.
The dogs’ pink gums were bared, their teeth protruding as they bit and growled. There were sitting boards for the rabbits and plywood boxes for sleeping inside the cage, but the Lops panicked and ran around in circles, their feet exposed to the dogs’ teeth through the wire. Clumps of fur mixed with claws and foot pads and blood lay about on the ground.
He ran toward the cages. His heart beat faster and he felt the sun and the dry air on his skin and he smelled scrap lumber from the wood pile next to the barn. Brown pepper tree leaves crunched under his feet.
He shouted at the dogs and they looked directly at him then backed away and turned up the hill toward the fence. He picked up a large round stone with a dark line encircling it like an equator. He planted his left foot and pitched it at the dogs.
He saw the stone fly through the morning air in halting, pixilated frames, finding one of the dog’s skulls with a crack. The dog dropped to the ground and shuddered, its terrible energy and strength tapped like a burst balloon.
A round-bladed shovel was left lying in the yard and with a fury he beat the Rottweiler’s head again and again.
The second dog leapt the fence and raced off at full speed.
He stood over the limp animal, cursing and panting. His sweat dripped onto the dust and leaves around his boots. He caught his breath and looked up at the blue sky and the boulder and cactus-covered ridge across the valley. He smelled a moist breeze pass from the sea to the west.
“What are we each capable of?” he thought. “What am I capable of?” “How do I know these things?”
He began to dig into the rocky soil. He dug an hour, and then two, making a hole four feet long and three feet deep. He piled the dirt and rocks to the side. With his foot, he rolled the dead Rottweiler into the hole and filled the grave with the stones and dirt, tamping down the fresh scar in the yard with his boots. He cursed the dog again.
He showered and dressed and left for his job in the city.
He checked the grave every day for a week not sure if he expected the hole to be empty and the dog gone, or again biting and snarling at the rabbits. The fresh earth over the grave rose slightly and as he stomped it down, it released a foul gas and settled a few inches.
He recalled hearing someone say that dogs are very sensitive about others looking directly into their eyes.