Men who noticed them assumed they were brothers, while women thought them sisters. A phenomenon: sibling strays who wandered the city together, mutts born with near identical markings. Their white fur was rarely white, grayed by dust or soot, or browned by dirt and mud. But they went the same places, and the resemblance endured.
Look at the dogs, twin brothers.
But look at the nipples on that one. It's a woman.
Well, they're family anyway. They've stuck together.
She was the fiercer of the two. Her growl rose with a more guttural menace. When a dog from some nearby street began to bark, she always joined the chorus before her brother, who would listen with his head down, standing very still, as if deciding whether to lend an effort.
One afternoon, the ground beneath them quaked with a belligerence hard to fathom. He tumbled from the bank of trash where he foraged, tangling with two goats and the mammoth sow that had been grazing below him. His sister slid to the base of a nearby trash mound but ran back to its peak before the shaking had finished, baring her teeth and barking viciously.
In those first days, only dogs and men with motorbikes could navigate the city streets, narrow paths dammed with rubble. The sorrowful hymns that rose from the survivors did nothing for the dogs, and the men with motorbikes took the highest bidders to fallen schools and offices, where their passengers descended to call out names of loved ones.
Main roads were cleared of concrete. All-terrain vehicles loaded with peacekeepers patrolled the streets, soon joined by those of the relief workers. If dogs knew self-pity, they'd have been hard-pressed to feel it; by any measure they'd gotten off easy. The humans' buildings were collapsed, tiers of each story reduced to slanted steps. The dogs [End Page 58] would later climb these steps as they roamed, discovering a view above the city once foreign to them. The humans who emerged at all did so dazed and chalky, their blood clotting with the dust. Many resettled empty lots and city plazas, crowding the spaces that by night had been the domain of dogs.
For the small, curly-haired house dog loosed from a toppled home in the hills, these conditions were drastic. He had barked at the feet of his owners before the trouble started. When he refused to shut up, they threatened him with violence. But the way the structure fell, he stood unscathed. Outdoors was a quick hop away, and he was free before his owners were cold.
The city's smog and grit made him snort. His coat collected dirt and grew into matted locks. Before long a motorcycle clipped him, and as he skittered down a side street yelping, the humans laughed with gusto. When he died days later from his injuries, there was no one to mourn an animal who'd known gleaming chrome grills, discarded steak bones jagged with meat, watermelon rinds still rich with pink.
All night long vendors flanked street corners with grills made from barrels that shot healthy flames, leaving the chicken crispy and shrunken. When the humans finished eating, they didn't care what the dogs did with their trash. Some people would tolerate them lurking about their legs, but others would catch them vulnerable and level them with a hearty kick.
Beat a dog, wait for its master, the saying goes. But no one was coming to bring these animals justice. The dog might let out a single cry, some people nearby might snicker and raise their bottles to toast, and still others would take pity, someone asking the attacker with reproach, How bad was the dog's wind, to deserve this?
As the vendors packed and cleaned in the early morning hours, some took time to sweep the remaining bones into a neat pile by the curb.
When she got sick, there was no diagnosis. Only a rawness at the skin around her eyes and a malaise that disrupted her routines. What she sought most was a cool space of concrete where she might...