In the daylight, my neighborhood is mostly quiet. Birds chirp and children bellow out from nearby yards and occassionally a bus roars by. But at night, the streets come alive with an entirely new soundtrack. A downstairs neighbor blares pop music and bad movies. A group of men clink beers from their front steps. The air expands with the hum of friends and what I imagine to be a drunken game of croquet.
Driving home one night, I take a wrong turn while looking for parking. My neighborhood is still new to me and full of one-way streets that lead to dead ends. I drive with my windows down and my arm stretched out, brushing against the heat. I love nights like this, when the air is so thick it feels like you can lie back in its grasp or walk through it as if swimming. I’m looping my way back to the main street when an enormous, wolf-like dog comes lumbering out from the darkness between two houses. It steps out into the street where it wavers for a moment and then slowly, slowly, slumps down to its stomach. One of its front legs is bent strangely and can’t seem to take much weight. I stop my car, I don’t know what else to do. Even from the other side of the street, I can practically feel the dog’s fur- thick and greasy. I imagine the sensation of it beneath my hand.
I’m hovering near the dog, half out of my car and halfway still inside. I’m speaking to it, despire my better judgement, I’m saying, dog, are you okay? Another car drives close, drives away, and then circles back and I can hardly recognize the strangeness when it finally pulls over and out steps Keith, a friend I hardly see anymore. There seems to be no room for coincidences amdist the dark air and the bubbling heat and this wolfdog lying on its side in the middle of the street. We both hover nearby, a step forward, a step back. Don’t get too close, Keith says, you can’t be sure. He wanders off to find a neighbor, and I sit on my haunches a few feet from the dog. Its breathing is slow and occassionally it nips at that same front leg.
I hardly realize that I’ve already planned this dog’s new life, its new home in my home and its visit to the vet tomorrow, when Keith comes back with a neighbor who explains that it’s a local dog, a neighborhood dog. The main points up towards the hills. It belongs to someone up there, he says. And then we all look at the dog, still lying on its side in the middle of the street, a long, stumbling distance from those houses up in the hills. He does this sometimes, the man says. He shrugs. I don’t know.
I remember my father saving turtles and spiders and birds and once, when I was six or seven, he returned from a hike with an enormous snake. Years later I would get the full story, that he’d been driving home and the snake had been stretched out across the entire length of the road. After trying to coax it along, my dad had finally somehow gathered it into his car and brought it back to our suburban townhouse. I remember standing with my face pressed against the screendoor, refusing to go any further. My dad unfurled the snake across our front yard, its thick, waxy body requiring both of his hands. Richard, my mother said from behind me, her voice rising in a panic. Richard, what is that?
There’s a strange shame that comes with the impulse to rescue- to rescue a person, an animal, anything, really. The shame comes after the high, after the heroic sense of it all, when inevitably the emotions crash and you look out at the snake now filling the front yard, its scaly stomach rough on the concrete, and realize how far it is from any sort of home. Or you look up at that house high in the hills and you look back at the wolfdog with its greasy fur and its lumbering breath and realize that it’s probably dying. And you remember how small you really are and how insignificant these saving gestures can be. Most things don’t need rescuing. They just need a cool spot of asphalt amidst the early summer heat wave, a little peace at the height of the evening and a way to come quietly to an end.