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Tito, Tito, Tito, the barking little dog. Tito, Tito, Tito, somewhere tied to a garage. Tito, Tito, Tito, please be quiet please. Tito, Tito, Tito, you’ve got us on our knees.
That was the song that he sung to himself as he woke from his dreams. It was what was dancing around his head. What pooled in his mind. What drove him from falling back to sleep.
It was the early part of the morning in dry, dying California when he heard his wife say, “I can’t do this anymore.”
Like her, he was awake and tired and bothered by the cries. The yelping of it all. He knew who it was and where the pup lived. It was the neighbor’s newest; tied to the banister of their front porch, alone out there, talking the only way it knew how to talk: barking at the parked cars in the street, to the birds in the sky, to the workers on their way to work. The little thing yelping to the world.
He thought: this is no way to live. He thought: this is no way to go on for any of us.
He watched her walk to the bathroom. He heard her run the water. He heard her fumble with the fine smelling products. He heard her sit on the toilet and then he heard her sigh.
He determined that it was as good a time as any to get it going, to start the day.
From their front window he saw the little thing going in circles. He saw it bite at its leash. He saw it tangle and then untangle. Tangle and then untangle.
And then came the yelping. The yelping of it all. He went to the kitchen. He opened the fridge. He sang in his mind, Tito, Tito, Tito, the barking little dog. Tito, Tito, Tito, you’ve got me in a fog.
He cracked a couple of eggs in the pan and then poured out glasses of water.
They’d had a dog for a few days once. A wild mutt. It was an alley dog that he’d found limping by his sister’s dumpster. They brought it in. They cleaned it up. They tried. But soon its belly was bloated. The soft underside grew and grew and grew until the little creature was wobbled on all ends. It wouldn’t eat properly and it cried through the evenings. And soon, they decided what was best for them. When he arrived at the pound that hot blinding day, there was a long line of lost pit bulls on makeshift leashes. There was an emaciated collie with gunk in its eyes. There were people seated and people carrying cats in little cardboard boxes. As he inched along, he held it high up on his shoulder so that the bigger dogs, their barks seeming all at once playful and confused and hostile, wouldn’t get to the little thing. The man at the counter said it was worms in its stomach. He said it was fixable. He said they would put it up for adoption if he needed to turn it in.
He plated the eggs and pulled the toast from the oven. He remembered how gently his wife had brought him the article a few weeks later. He still didn’t like the thought of it all. The look on her face. It still stirred up his feelings when he thought about it. He didn’t like being stirred. What kind of policy was that for a city? The world was cruel enough and despite his understanding that there was only so much room for all of them: people, animals, cars, he was very displeased to learn that some places killed the animals after a certain amount of time. This was an unknown to him. And it drove him mad for a week with worry. With grief. With wonder at what had happened to their dog.
And then there he was again, standing over his breakfast, picturing it sitting in a cage. He didn’t like the thought. Didn’t like being stirred. And so he sang, Tito, Tito, Tito, the barking little dog. Tito, Tito, Tito, at least today there’s no smog.
He heard his wife say something from the bathroom and it caused him to knock into the table as he put down the glasses of water. He found a rag. He mopped it up. And soon they sat together. They chewed their food. They thought their thoughts. He stopped his humming when she asked him to stop. He brought her more butter for her bread. And then they kissed and she headed out as she always did. He watched her as she headed for the freeway and her desk and the hours spent sitting in front of her screen.
He gathered his work, his tools, his hat and gloves. He poured himself one more cup of coffee and went to the front to sit. The weather was doughy. It was overcast and there was a slight breeze. But he knew the sun would come. It always arrived there and so he sat and drank and watched small pink flowers fall from the trees in the park near their house. He watched the palm trees sway. He watched as the mailman parked and then hitched up his pants. He watched him amble his way from house to house. The faint sound of music seeping from his headphones. And then the pup started up. The yelping. The yelping. The yelping.
Tito, Tito, Tito, please be quiet please.
He thought to himself that the neighbors weren’t bad people. Not in a biblical sense. He thought that they were negligent and abusive and unrelentingly loud but not bad. Bad was not something he liked to put on others. He wasn’t the type of person to pass judgment so early in the day.
And then he realized that his cup was empty. His time was up. It was time to leave. To drive his drive. To clock in and cut the lemons and fill the cheese dispensers and polish and fold and smile for the sake of making a living. It was his time to leave.
As he stood, as he gathered himself, he saw that the pup had tangled again. But this time it wasn’t yelping; it was letting fly a dwarfed little whimper. A small call that was almost lost in the building winds of Santa Ana. It had stopped its dance with the leash. Stopped its shuffle to be free. It sat. Constrained. Knotted. All tied up. And then he thought that it had given up. He saw that the little thing was confounded there.
He stared at the house. The windows were shuttered. Their cars were absent from the driveway. Their hose was unfurled and strewn all the way down to the concrete sidewalk.
He heard the wind building. The leaves in his lawn were being flipped and pushed towards the street. He knew that when that type of air came through; it brought with it all types of disruption and upheaval. It arrived without warning and then it was gone all the same. But while it was there, it was a stalwart, a real propelling presence in that place.
He watched the seeds drop from the large Magnolia tree. He watched a tarp on the neighbor’s roof lift up. He saw that the bricks holding it down were scraping and moving as the thing jumped higher. There was a yelp. And then he found himself watching the pup watch the tarp. He watched as the little thing sat and stared. He watched as it tilted its head and then went silent as the plastic cover snapped about with each arriving gust of the wind.
He thought back to a time when he was standing at his window, watching the wind there, and a large branch had fallen from high up. The thing sounding like a detonation as it snapped from the tree. The sheer strength of what had cracked it felt to him unnatural. It shook him there. And then he remembered the seismic sound of it. And how it fell so hard and struck the ground so powerfully that he had stepped back from where he was. Inside his home. Covered. Sheltered.
He decided to put down his things. He took his knife and crossed the street. He reached down and let the little thing sniff his hand. He cut the leash. And then he took the pup. It stayed limp and unbothered under his arm and together they felt the wind as they crossed back to the other side. In the distance there was the sound of empty garbage containers being flipped about. The mailman slammed his truck door.
He shut the door and the apartment went silent.
He went and got some water. He put down a bowl and it drank. He called his work and said that he was on the way. Heavy traffic. Nothing could be done about it. They understood.
The pup sniffed around and then jumped up onto the couch. It sat with its front paws out. They stared at each other. He reached down and gave it a good pet.
As he went to open the door, he heard it yelp. It was looking out the window and that was when he saw the neighbor’s car pulling in. They were back. He looked at the leash on the banister.
Another yelp. He thought about how things can go in so many different directions. And how sometimes things were real straightforward. Unbending. Narrow in a kind of way.
He went and lowered the blinds.
The little thing started to yelp more and more and more and then he sang his song, Tito, Tito, Tito, please be quiet please. The dog stopped. It blinked. It put its head down.
He locked the door and then he gathered his things from the front. He thought about calling his wife. He thought about how easily the sound of others carried across their street. He thought about how frustrating people can be. How unreasonable they were. He hid his coffee cup in the bushes. He hummed his little tune: please be quiet please. The neighbor was there at the steps. He saw her searching with her eyes. He saw her lift the severed leash and then he watched her watching him. He waved. He waited. She looked off and away from him. She picked up her bags. She turned her back on him. She slammed the door. And then he sang, Tito, Tito, Tito, one day you’ll be free.