In the guest book, on the morning of our departure from a beach house in northwest Puerto Rico, I observed, by way of a thank-you, that "time stopped for us here."
And, indeed, for a while it had. The first night I had anxiety dreams . . . I had missed deadlines, Helen Rattray was chain-smoking, kids were tossing rotten fruit at Guild Hall, I was to take a final exam in a course I hadn't attended in six months. . . . And a door close by kept swinging open and shut, open and shut, sometimes with an authoritative two-part slam.
We don't have waves on Harbor View Drive, but soon their ceaselessness was in us, stretching each day to the horizon and shaping whatever remained of urgency into a palm-shaded beach where we sat and read and occasionally spoke, as when I noted that one of the characters in "The Importance of Being Earnest" had said it was so hard doing nothing.
It's really not once you get the knack.
Thus suspended - the fact that we had decided to forgo a telephone undoubtedly contributed to the feeling - we took delight in such things as beach glass, heart-shaped pods, egret feathers, a goat grazing in the outfield of the neighborhood ballpark, the black-eyed stare of a sand crab, and fishermen, in the company of pelicans and small dogs, casting nets for silver bait fish.
It was one of those small, sandy-colored dogs, with black eyes and a black nose and perky pointed ears and a charming manner, a dog we nicknamed Pedro, who began to remind us - at least some of us - of our home and the life we had left.
For three days and nights, Pedro adopted Mary and her mother, and, yes, me. Though I tried to maintain a certain aloofness as a shield against their entreating looks, I could not entirely harden myself. Pedro was cute, he stood guard over us, and, as Mary would say whenever I maintained it would be folly to take him back, it was clear he loved me the most. "Did you see how he followed you up the beach? It was so wonderful to see."
As the hour of departure neared, the situation became more problematic. Each morning, on arising, they would find him either on the front porch or in the backyard, eager-eyed and endearing. He would lie with us all day, growl at joggers and interloping dogs, accept politely the tidbits we offered, and was excellent company at a nearby beachside bar where we played pool at night.
The fisherman with whom I thought he was attached was evasive when I asked, "Quien es el dueno del perro?" further increasing the anxiety of Mary and her mother, who hated to think that Pedro might be abandoned. If we got him a collar, that might save him from stray-dog roundups, but, on the other hand, said Mary, it might also dissuade anyone from feeding him. It didn't make her feel any better when I said a guy I'd been talking with on the beach had said it was difficult to make a living there off-season. "Who will feed him then?"
A talk with the woman who took care of the house the morning we left helped ease the parting. Dogs there were communally owned, not licensed to particular owners as in the U.S., she said, and they tended to adopt beachfront vacationers during their stays. Several, in fact, had kidnapped them. He looked well fed, she said, but she agreed to keep an eye on him if we'd get him a collar.
Another well-intentioned act served to make the break clean - a flea bath. No sooner had Mary and her mother put a towel to him than Pedro lit out for the territory.
Last seen, he was about four houses down the beach, where the fisherman lived, spread-eagled in the sand, sporting a new blue collar and looking straight out to sea.