I suppose I love her. I know she loves me. We’re quite a pair at night, walking the alleys of the old parts of the city, the junkyards, the tougher residential areas, where the dogs are bigger and meaner—which is what she likes.
She likes me to watch.
She stinks. It’s never bothered me much, but a pit bull or Rottie or Doberman or Dogo will smell her a mile away and go crazy, throwing itself against a chain-link fence or (this is what we’ve come for) rushing her through an open junkyard gate or pulling free of a leash in a dark alley.
I’ve named her Jasmine. Her spots are beautiful, and she weighs 140 pounds. At a thousand pounds per square inch, her bite can crack an elephant’s femur. Her body strength is up front, in her front legs. She holds her position like a pit bull, but is quicker. She can outrun a lion. She makes noises no dog has ever heard before, and she smells so bad—from that gland under her tail—it has to be disorienting to any dog.
If one of the domestic canines gets a hold of her before she can crush its legs or neck and start her chewing, I hit it with a club or a taser, and it lets go. Then she’s usually able to kill it. If it wounds her, she doesn’t complain, and I take care of it back at the compound. She leans against me as I do, making a sound no dogs make, and then we sleep together in her cage. Sometimes, because she likes the mattress there, we sleep at the little stucco house at the compound I rent for us. We lie down, and I tell her stories. Bedtime stories, sure. I know she likes them because she whines a certain way when I tell them, but also because I know exactly what she’s thinking. I mean that. I always have—ever since those first days in Mpumalanga. And she knows, by my voice and hormones, that I’m a male, one that will do anything for her, as I should. She knows what’s in my head, too. She knows the stories, what they mean, but she wants to hear them again, every night.
I tell her that Adrianna Fleming, the woman who lived with and studied Jasmine’s clan on the savannas until Fleming died suddenly, wasn’t the easiest person to work with. Not at all. I tell her (though she already knows this) how I was Fleming’s helper, her post-doc assistant, glad to be chosen and living with the clan, too, studying how the matriarchal system of Crocuta crocuta, the “spotted hyena,” works; but also how (this makes Jasmine happy, I can tell) I just didn’t think Fleming was paying Jasmine, the clan’s alpha, the respect she deserved. How the first time I felt an animal’s mind inside mine, knowing things I couldn’t have otherwise, was with my dog, a sweet lab mix, when I was eight and snuck away sometimes and slept in her doghouse in the back yard, because she wanted me to. How I killed Fleming with boomslang poison, making it look like a bite, because Jasmine said I should, that it would be better for everyone if I did. And how getting Jasmine back to the States wasn’t easy, of course, but with the right sedatives, IV nutrition, crate, papers and bribes I managed it—for her.
“If this isn’t love,” I ask her at last, tired from the night’s adventures and smelling too, as we fall asleep on the dirty mattress, the old AC making noise in the window not far away, “what is, Jasmine?”
Bruce McAllister is an award-winning West-Coast-based writing coach, writer in a wide range of genres, consultant in the fields of publishing and Hollywood, workshop leader and an “agent finder” for both new and established writers. As a writing coach, he specializes in all kinds of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and screenplays.