"Death Eye Dog, Xolotl, cried so much when the last world, the world of the Fourth Sun ended, that his eyes fell out of his sockets."
Death Eye Dog
by Michelle Robles-Wallace
"Death Eye Dog" was a runner up in the 2018 Extra Fiction Contest. See here to read the first, second, and third winning entries and stay tuned for this year's upcoming Extra Fiction Contest.
Mictlán, barren land of darkness and skeletons, the deepest level of the underworld, rests nine worlds beneath our own. The dead take a full four years to journey there; the living never go. At the first level of the underworld, the Mexica dead, if they are lucky, pick up a dog to guide them through the harrowing dangers of the underworld.
Houses are lonely when they are no longer homes and nightfall makes the emptiness rattle. Raul walks in the night with his dog. He wears too-big, hooded sweatshirts that hide his face in darkness. This part of San Francisco is grey. The fog dampens the cold, streetlights dim the darkness and the smell of urine rises thick from the pavement. The only glitter comes from the glass chips in the sidewalk that shine in the momentary light of passing cars.
Raul walks smooth and towers over most people on the street. His arms are heavy and solid; his eyes are tired and full of unshed tears. He carries arrugas on his face so deep they sometimes appear as folds. He lives alone; even when among friends and family, he resists communion. Solid as his name, stonecold, like a fallen star who has forgotten how to shine. It is as if he wears a cloak, a tangle of scars of loss that hide the glow of his heart.
Passersby slink away from the walking duo.
Death Eye Dog sinks over the horizon with the morning light. Xolotl, the evening star, hangs heavy in the night sky, demands notice as soon as the bright rays of the sun sink beneath the horizon.
Death Eye Dog, Xolotl, cried so much when the last world, the world of the Fourth Sun ended, that his eyes fell out of his sockets.
Blind, Xolotl guided his brother, Morning Star, into the depths of Mictlán after the Fourth Sun ended in flood. The waters washed all the dead to the underworld, returning the people to their spiritual home of darkness. None were left to remake the world of the Fifth Sun anew. Morning Star, Quetzlcoatl, guided by Evening Star, Xolotl, descended to Mictlán, land of darkness and skeletons. Human bones covered the ground. Quetzlcoatl slashed his wrists, anointing the bones with his life-giving blood.
Xolotl, Death Eye Dog, gathered up the bones in his mouth, carried them from the underworld back to the material world to remake mankind in the fifth and final age of the Sun.
Raul knew a different life before this life he lives now. He had a wife, he had a daughter: he had a home. They are as gone now as if the flood of the Fourth Sun had come and washed them away.
Untethered, he never cried, gritted his teeth instead and convinced himself not to feel. Stonecold. Emotion oozes out the cracks though, or explodes in sudden unpredictable bursts. The dog was to take the edge off alone, off loss, off untethered.
His pit bull is rowdy. Rambunctious. They hold the opposite ends of the leash and pull and pull and pull. Neither ever gives in, even when Raul raises his arm up over his head hauling the dog several feet off the ground.
Raul lowers him down, lays his broad hand on the dog’s head. He doesn’t push down but lets its weight be enough to make the dog submit and release the leash.
His submissions are only momentary: he knows who is boss, but only in the practical matters of food and shelter. That pit never stops being his own dog. He mischieves all the time.
The dog too is big, he is lean and narrow, but tall, taller than pit bulls are expected to be. Raul and the dog’s eyes are the same color hazel, only the dog’s are full of joy and love and play.
A gap begs a bridge between the two, a guided path from the terrible cloak of Raul’s to the dog’s incorrigible joy. Raul ought to be blind with tears by now, instead his eyes hang heavy at the edges, as if carrying a great weight. He goes about now in a darkness as bleak as Mictlán, in a darkness as tight as a straitjacket.
From Mictlán it is possible to rise again as butterfly or bird, to resurrect oneself.
From loss it is possible to rebuild your life.
Winter rebirths spring swells into summer sheds into autumn returns to the barrenness of winter.
Wintertime, darktimes, where it appears that all is lost and nothing moves are crucial times. The earth restores during winter. Its faith never flails at the darkest time of night, during that hour before the sun sets a blood red glow on the horizon, knowing that it must arrive at those dark depths before bursting forth into spring.
Too, to rebirth from the underworld, the dead must first arrive at the depths of Mictlán.
Raul got his dog after he returned from family back to one. Something warm and alive to love in the hardest time of unknowing what next, something to care for when the dawn was nothing to set his cap at, a guide for the darkest parts of night. He lacks the morning star, the blood of life that ushers in a new dawn.
Stonecold, Raul forgets to look for the sun rising, for the red glow on the horizon. He spends his days waiting for it to be night and the night to be day, until the time that will pass, does. He tries to form a new family, one of friends, stopgaps living with partying, something to fill the time and space. The gap between he and the dog becomes an abyss, slowly, like water run through a crevice carves out a canyon.
Raul and his dog walk up 21st street, past the crowded-at-night basketball courts, the stoops where people sit, talking, drinking and hollering out to passersby. He had set out for a walk to take the chill off alone, but the darkness presses tight. They turn onto Mission, head over to a bar where a friend bartends. Raul ties his dog up outside and walks in to where a beer and a shot of tequila are sliding across the bar to him as soon as his shadow fills the doorway.
It is Guillermo’s bar, meaning, the bar where Guillermo works, not a bar that Guillermo owns. The lights are dim and throw a reddish cast to the bar, except for the bright white light that highlights the rows of bottles. There they are, working and playing, all his crew, and Miguel shouts, “Eh, man, where’d you crawl out from. You missed a great party last week, ha! Ask Devon ‘bout it,” then starts laughing maniacally, like a machine gun. Raul asks, and Guillermo sets out a row of shot glasses, fills them with tequila and then everyone reaches in and grabs one, throws them back and then gets back to work on their beers.
Devon launches into a story, “So this girl, I see her and she looks amazing and she’s alone so I give her a lil’ tap, just a tap not even on her ass, but on her hip, and then this guy over on the couch starts glaring at me and comes over and pushes me across the table,” and Guillermo starts laughing, “and I came in and—”
“Dude, shut up, I’m telling the story and—,”
And Raul’s eyes are lit up, anointed by the liquor, “Hey Guillermo, how about another round over here,” because that’s what they do, is keep going until Guillermo calls last call and then the crowd spills out onto the street, leaving just him and his boys and they head into the back and do some lines and their speech becomes sharp like knives and their laughter like metal and they leave, finally, and head over to where Miguel knows somebody spinning and it’s going to be good, man, and they go and they stay, inside in the dark cut with bright pulsating lights even while sun rises, bloodred, spilling dawn over the land.
Michelle Marie Robles Wallace is working on a collection of short stories set along the borderlands, a memoir and a YA novel. She has published short fiction, CNF and journalism and is particularly interested in themes of healing and borders. She has an MFA and is the recipient of a San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Artists Grant, a Writers' Grotto Writing Fellowship, and hosted the Borderlands Lectura.