We sit together on the cold, clammy patio floor, watching the sunset melt molten over the mountains in the distance. We don't talk. Or make eye contact. She is perfectly still, staring straight ahead, the blooming moon balancing along the curve of her upturned ear and illuminating the smoky condensation from her breath.

I don't want her here. It is too painful. She is not my dog. My dog has died. They do not look or seem anything alike. She is startlingly white, like a sea boat's sail, like an angel's wing, like an arctic wolf. Only her ears are too big. And her nose is red. But, because she will not look at me, I have no clue as to the color of her eyes. I think she must be mute. She has made not one utterance, not a single sound, all day long. I would think she was a ghost except that . . . . when I place my hand on the floorboards, I can feel her heart beating through the wood. Or is it mine?

We are both afraid. But she is braver than I am. This morning, she climbed calmly, willingly up into the station wagon of these people who are strangers to her. To come here. I, too, got into a car that brought me to this place. But I moved reluctantly, pulling back from the hands of the person that reached for me, and I did it with tears. Neither the dog nor I had anywhere else to go.

Her nipples are still scarlet and swollen from the hungry mouths of the puppies she nursed in her shelter cage, all adopted while only she remained. I was only a step away from a shelter myself or homeless in the streets, in pain enough that I thought my heart might falter and fail in my sleep. I wonder if she dreams of those pups at night as I dream of my daughter who lives a whole continent and a vast ocean away. I wonder if she knows how close she came to death and if she would have gone just as willingly with those who would have taken her to the room for euthanasia.

An owl hoots. The dog's crooked, upright ears swivel to meet the sound. Though the music is lovely, a clear, wild, haunting anthem to the night, I notice we both shiver just a little. From my mother and from books, I have learned what this dog instinctively knows deep in her soul, which evolved from the wolves, that the beak and talons of the owl can kill. A velvet shadow passes over us like an eclipse. She swings her head around toward me. Her eyes sparkle darkly, the shade of straight, strong coffee, in the undiluted moonlight. What is this place where we find ourselves is now a thought we share. A single drop of moisture wells up in her nostril and trembles along a radiant silver whisker. No, she is not my dog. And I do not love her. But on this dead-of-winter twilight, with only rain and cold in the forecast for the coming week and no respite in sight from my self-absorbed worrying, I suddenly decide that I will.

Jana Lee Frazier can be reached at janalee3@hotmail.com.