Jana turned her back on me and proceeded toward our building. I called her again but she refused to turn around. Her receding back was a blatant provocation. Guided more by anger than by logic, I decided that if Tapka was closer to Jana, then the onus of responsibility would become hers. I picked up the doll and threw it as far as I could into the parking lot.
- Tapka, get Clonchik.
Clonchik tumbled through the air. I had put everything in my six-year-old arm behind the throw, which still meant that the doll wasn't going very far. Its trajectory promised a drop no more than twenty feet from the edge of the ravine. Running, her head arched to the sky, Tapka tracked the flying clown. As the doll reached its apex it crossed paths with a sparrow. The bird veered off toward Finch Avenue and the clown plummeted to the asphalt. When the doll hit the ground, Tapka raced past it after the bird. A thousand times we had thrown Clonchik and a thousand times Tapka had retrieved him. But who knows what passes for a thought in the mind of a dog? One moment a Clonchik is a Clonchik and the next moment a sparrow is a Clonchik.
I shouted at Jana to catch Tapka and then watched as the dog, her attention fixed on the sparrow, skirted past Jana and into traffic. From the slope of the ravine I couldn't see what had happened. I saw only that Jana had broken into a sprint and I heard the caterwauling of tires followed by a shrill fractured yip.
By the time I reached the street a line of cars was already stretched a block beyond Goldfinch. At the front of the line were a brown station wagon and a pale blue sedan blistered with rust. As I neared, I noted the chrome letters on the back of the sedan: d-u-s-t-e-r. In front of the sedan Jana kneeled in a tight semicircle with a pimply young man and an older woman wearing very large sunglasses. Tapka lay panting on her side at the center of their circle. She stared at me, at Jana. Except for a hind leg twitching at the sky at an impossible angle, she looked much as she did when she rested on the rug at the Nahumovskys' apartment after a romp in the ravine.
Seeing her this way, barely mangled, I started to convince myself that things weren't as bad as I had feared and I edged forward to pet her. The woman in the sunglasses said something in a restrictive tone that I neither understood nor heeded. I placed my hand on Tapka's head and she responded by turning her face and allowing a trickle of blood to escape onto the asphalt. This was the first time I had ever seen dog blood and I was struck by the depth of its color. I hadn't expected it to be red, although I also hadn't expected it to be not-red. Set against the gray asphalt and her white coat, Tapka's blood was the red I envisioned when I closed my eyes and thought: red.
I sat with Tapka until several dozen car horns demanded that we clear the way. The woman with the large sunglasses ran to her station wagon, returned with a blanket, and scooped Tapka off the street. The pimply young man stammered a few sentences of which I understood nothing except the word "sorry." Then we were in the back seat of the station wagon with Tapka in Jana's lap. The woman kept talking until she realized that we couldn't understand her at all. As we started to drive, Jana remembered something. I motioned for the woman to stop the car and scrambled out. Above the atonal chorus of car horns I heard:
- Mark, get Clonchik.
I ran and got Clonchik.
* * *
For two hours Jana and I sat in the reception area of a small veterinary clinic in an unfamiliar part of town. In another room, with a menagerie of various afflicted creatures, Tapka lay in traction, connected to a blinking machine by a series of tubes. Jana and I had been allowed to see her once but were rushed out when we both burst into tears. Tapka's doctor, a woman in a white coat and furry slippers resembling bear paws, tried to calm us down. Again, we could neither explain ourselves nor understand what she was saying. We managed only to establish that Tapka was not our dog. The doctor gave us coloring books, stickers, and access to the phone. Every fifteen minutes we called home. Between phone calls we absently flipped pages and sniffled for Tapka and for ourselves. We had no idea what would happen to Tapka, all we knew was that she wasn't dead. As for ourselves, we already felt punished and knew only that more punishment was to come.
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