My stepboy asks me will I help him lift our healthy dog across the fence to visit Gumboot, who’ll die soon. Already he’s all bone: all parapets of spine, all open jaw of hips, all of course ribcage. This can’t but first be seen.

Yesterday a stranger knocked next door with thirty pounds of Bil-Jac from his truck. He eats, Ms. Bello told him, her coalblack arms crossed up above her breasts. Just not so much no more. I do fill his bowl.

Now my boy rubs Gumboot’s ear. He’s dusty, says my boy. Should I brush him?

I don’t think he minds the dust, I say. Ms. Bello told me all he wants to do is lay in the cool dirt.

Other neighbors too along our road have winced and said why don’t she end his suffering? Dog’s vicious anyway. Mercy.

But now our shepherd Wilma Lu draws up to sniff. Gumboot takes this fine. For years, he’d bite both man and beast within his gate. Wilma starts at paws (dark boots, his name) then studies slowly up the legs, the flank. Here is the saddest part, to me: she backs away, afraid almost, as if she sensed a snake. Some danger-mystery thing.

Gumboot, though, sensed just a dog—so up he rises. I see such joy there in his eyes behind the cataract milk. He spins a haywire circle twice in search of Lu’s tail end but comes up short and scuttles underneath her chest. The milkjoy eyes again blink up from under Wilma’s belly. Not a twitch of viciousness. His rage has burned away with all the other fat.

The two dogs play. Must be ages since, for him. Never seen a dog but he alone out here. I watch him close for suffering as Wilma paws at what remains of flesh: his shoulders, neck, some haunches still. No whine, no flinch. The two dogs only play.

Next morning with my coffee at the kitchen sink, I watch Ms. Bello through the window talking to the boy along the fence. Just her—no Gumboot anymore. She speaks. The boy’s head bends and fingers brush the chainlink. She reaches past the fence’s rail to touch his shoulderblade. It’s well enough she does it; I feel I’ve never said a single word to truly comfort someone after death. Helpless as wood. What should this woman say, sheltering over a child in grief? All I can think is, just see how we remember nothing of old Gumboot’s biting now. Only his playing at the end. See now how one light memory can float up lanternlike above a hundred heavy ones and still outshine them all.

Originally published as “That Awful Dog on Okepah County Rte. 3” in The Pinch