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This is a story of small, shining joy that starts as a story of small, boring crud.
It happened during a trip to Iceland, when our tiny rental car broke down on our first day; something fell from the undercarriage and scraped along the road shrieking horribly until we pulled over onto the sliver of a shoulder. Trucks and monster cars roared past; the wind roared past. The rental company was of no help (do not under any circumstances rent from Sixt at the Keflavik Airport; they are crooked), but we were able to reach a mechanic in Selfoss named Axel. Axel was a dour broad-faced, deep-rooted guy (I mean, deep in himself) who immediately got under the car and yanked out a badly twisted piece of steel; we followed him back to his shop so that he could patch the car up.
So waiting by the side of the road in a foreign country in a broken rental car and then waiting more in a shop is boring crud. It was cold, I was hungry and thinking we had rented a piece of shit which we were now trapped with and would have to fight the rental company about (this last part turned out to be true.) I was in an unpleasant and petty mood when we pulled into Axel’s shop.
And then: this beautiful unbarking dog came bounding down an uneven flight of stairs to the man-cave above and everything changed. I am not a dog person. I sometimes don’t even like them. But the sight of this dog instantly wakened physical joy in me, joy that compounded when he leapt on me, dancing on his hind legs. (This is unusual; normally dogs like my husband more than me and will go to him first. This dog went right for me, maybe because at the sight of him I delightedly exclaimed “Oh!”) I took his paws in my hands and danced with him, he leapt on me again and again. At one point it was a little too much and I gave him a gentle shove with my hip meaning “take it easy” and he understood me and calmed a bit, though he made one more lunge, also gentle, pressing eloquently and so sweetly against my hip for a second before trotting off for a chew toy. His pressing touch reminded me of the way a horse I used to ride, my favorite, once pressed his nose against my cheek for a long loving moment—this strange canine and I had that rapport instantly.
I so wish I had a picture of the dog as he came bounding, but I didn’t think to take any, I don’t usually in that kind of moment. My husband took a picture of him which will have to do, even if you can’t see his face…
…or his leaping spirit. But trust me he was beautiful, with fierce, powerful blue eyes—he was an adolescent, probably a Australian Shepherd maybe mixed with a larger breed, the owner didn’t know.
I also wish I had a picture of the owner, Axel. Even in late middle age and with a big gut he was beautiful too or at least very attractive and I’m not sure why, I suppose it was his physical depth; you could feel him in a very basic way, like, immediately. He was self-contained and facially inexpressive except for one moment: when his dog found his chew toy, he (the dog) brought it to me and we began to play a vigorous tug game when I suddenly realized that I hadn’t asked Axel if it was okay to play with his animal like that. I usually don’t fool around with a person’s dog without asking them first, its unwise and also (I think) rude. So I stopped and asked “Is this okay?” And Axel, looking at me and smiling with sudden bounty, said “Yah-us,” stretching the word bigger than it had to be. Even though it was mostly me who played with the dog while my husband dealt with the car business, it made him feel better too; we left the shop with our spirits aloft.
We had a lot of experiences in Iceland. Because of my SStack hiatus, I’m not writing about them (my husband wrote about some of it, one of which I will probably restack). But I wanted to share this because it seemed wonderful that such a small non-spectacular thing could cause such pleasure. And also: just as human greatness must be acknowledged, so too with canine greatness. This dog was great!