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“Our Dog, Stromberg” by César Augusto Medina Fortes

“Our Dog, Stromberg”

by César Augusto Medina Fortes translated by Katherine Cowley

I have always loved dogs. In 1983, my uncle João Miranda came home with a Great Dane. He was a tall dog, strong and handsome, but very clumsy. For this reason Uncle Miranda, who was a big fan of the football team Benfica, gave the dog the name “Stromberg” in memory of one of the great Swedish players, Glenn Stromberg, who had come to play for S.L. Benfica and brought much happiness to the club at that time. Stromberg, the player, was also strong, blond, and tall, and thus his name fit the dog like a glove. The dog, Stromberg, also gave much happiness to me and to my cousin Sílvio, who was the son of Uncle Miranda and my aunt Rosa.

I remember one day that my uncle Miranda told us, “Stromberg can only stay here in the house if you promise to care for him, feed him, give him water, and clean the terrace whenever he relieves himself.”

Of course, he heard a double “yes” from us. And then we committed to even more: “We promise to bathe him at Laginha Beach every single Sunday, don’t you worry.” This was a rather clever way for us to go to the sea every Sunday without adult supervision.

We went everywhere with our dog. Stromberg was our faithful companion and guard. No one dared to mess with us because we could set our dog on them. We always felt safe with Stromberg at our side. Whenever someone saw our big, strong dog barking, they ran away in fear. What they didn’t know was that inside our enormous, strong dog was a sweet soul, gentle and playful. I can’t remember a single time that Stromberg actually bit someone. And in this manner Stromberg grew up with us.

But the years went by and Stromberg grew old. It was a mournful day when Uncle Miranda gave us the news we didn’t wish to hear. He told us that it was time to have Stromberg put down, because he did not want to see him suffer until he died, and if he had to die, it was better if it were far from home. Besides, Stromberg kept eating the chickens that were kept on the terrace. We implored him, we cried endlessly that he could not do such a cruel thing to our dog Stromberg, but he was immovable. That Friday morning he called a gentleman named Leandro; if someone had a dirty job to do, he would do it for 50 escudos or a cup of “grogue,” an alcohol made from sugar cane. He was known as “Leandro the Dog Killer.”

The name itself said what he came to do. And so it was. My uncle paid him in advance and he took Stromberg, a rope tied round his neck, dragging the poor dog to death row.

He left and we children were crying, running after him and begging that he would not kill our dog, but he would not give us his ears. We stood on the steps by the gate, watching as Stromberg was taken by Leandro to be hung on the banks of the Ribeira de Julião—the Julião River—on a large, thorny acacia, a tree that can be blown with fierce winds and bend without breaking.

When they turned the last corner of our neighborhood, the Ilha de Madeira, and headed toward the river, we returned, disconsolate, to the house. We children still had lumps in our throats when we said to Uncle Miranda, “Sir, you are mean!” And we fled to the terrace to weep for our dog.

That afternoon, Sílvio and I went to school, sadly.

That night when I returned home, I ate and went to bed early. During the night I had a dream. In my dream I saw Stromberg walking with no strength, on the same road where we had seen him for the last time, only this time, he was returning to the house. He appeared tired, weak, consumed by hunger and thirst, and still wore the rope around his neck. When I woke in the morning, I told the dream to my faithful friend and cousin, Sílvio.

We spent that Saturday morning watching the road that we called “Missus Tanha of Sweet Water” (named after a lady with a fountain who sold water), full of hope that my dream would be realized, but we saw nothing of Stromberg. On Sunday, we woke very early and one more time, before going to church, we went to the gate, hoping to see Stromberg. We held onto this hope because we knew that Stromberg was strong enough to do this. It was a beautiful day and the sun had begun to cast its first rays.

It was the ideal sort of Sunday to go to Laginha Beach, but without our dog, it wouldn’t be the same. To our great astonishment, we saw Stromberg appear at the exactly the same corner where I had seen him in my dream. He was tired, dirty, thin, and the rope with which Leandro had hung him was still around his neck. Leandro had clearly hoisted him up on a tree, but he hadn’t waited for him to die. Stromberg had chewed through the rope and fled. We ran to meet our beloved dog who had escaped death. He had no strength left, and when we reached him, he licked our faces and then fell to the ground from fatigue and happiness. I carried him in my arms to the terrace of my aunt Rosa’s house. We nursed him with food and water and he slept like a warrior after the fight of his life: three days of walking, all the way from the Julião River until he reached his castle, in Ribeira Bote, 10th Street, where we, his dear friends, received him with much pomp, because he deserved it.

Our greatest joy was when Uncle Miranda arrived home and saw Stromberg and said, “Caramba! Leandro couldn’t even kill a dog. But since he managed to escape death and walk for three days until he found his way home, this is a sign of God. Stromberg can stay here until the end of his days.”

We burst with joy and shouted, “Stromberg! Stromberg! Stromberg!” And so it was that Stromberg stayed with us for many happy years.

Without a doubt, the dog was the best friend that children could have.

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