- The Dog Snatcher
The stone tombs stood side by side in a row against the cliff, behind a concrete barrier. Hibiscus and banyans drove their roots tightly into the cliff’s jagged face, their foliage softening its rocky surface and partially concealing many of the tombs. Just knowing they were there, however, behind the trees and bushes, sent a sharp pain through my body. I felt my body becoming tense whenever I looked toward the cliff.
The wailing of a speeding ambulance approached, then rushed by. The sound shrieked through the room and made the glass door shake. I suddenly thought of the man who had recently been reported on the news as lost at sea. Had he been found yet?
According to the article in the morning newspaper, the man had gone fishing and had not returned. Late the following afternoon, his family had called the police and a search had begun. Apparently he was an experienced weekend fisherman. He had set out to sea as usual, by himself. The article speculated that his boat’s engine must have broken down, or some other emergency had arisen. For some reason the details in the article were still fresh in my mind—he was a forty-one-year-old electrical engineer, with a wife and two daughters.
As I lay in the darkness with all the aluminum windows shut, I could not hear the rain, but the smell of its moisture hung in the air.
Without getting out of bed, I slid open a window and parted the curtains. By the dim outdoor lights I could see rain striking the walls of the veranda and the glistening foliage. The drizzle fell as silently as fog, like white threads blowing in the darkness. It was the first rain since I had moved in.
The house was located in the countryside, a little north of the closest town, on a street with a few other houses. The street sloped gently upward before ending near the tree-covered cliff. Below the cliff was a broad plain, crowded with trees. The house was the only dwelling standing close to the numerous large tombs set among the thickets at the base of the cliff. A few houses were scattered in the distance, but the surrounding area was mostly farmland. A mountain range was visible in the distance.
I had looked at a number of other properties before finding this vacant, two-story house set amid the surrounding graves. A new, two-lane road ran past the graveyard, but the house was down a side road on its own. I had the [End Page 27] impression the old house had been built on reclaimed land, since the house site was slightly elevated and the ground around it looked unnaturally flat. When I had seen a for rent sign on the door, faded by the sun, I had entered the walled yard and walked around to the back. The weedy, overgrown kitchen garden looked like it had once been well tended. But it was the red hibiscus in the corner of the yard that caught my eye. The flowers were in full bloom, the curved petals so abundant that they weighed down the gangly branches.
As soon as I saw this house, I knew it was exactly what I had been looking for. I imagined the door suddenly opening wide, and a dear old voice welcoming me—you’re back! I tried to hold on to this cheerful image. It was my grandfather’s voice that called out to me in my fantasy. Perhaps it was the red flowers in the long-neglected backyard that made me think of him.
It had been twenty years since I left home, at age seventeen. Years later, when I heard that my grandfather was dying, I wasn’t able to return in time to be with him the day he died, and was also too late for his funeral, even though I rushed to be there. He outlived his wife, and died peacefully of old age. I felt remorse over not having visited him even once since leaving home...