My daddy wasn’t always blind. For many years he was a shepherd, walking the fields with Russo, Titino, and Lilla. His sheepdogs. They’d scratch at the door every morning, begging for my daddy, and when he opened the gate—dio mio, all those sheep spilling into pasture! Russo would dart to the front of the flock, Titino swooping alongside it and Lilla catching stragglers in the back.
My daddy taught me to speak with the dogs. To whistle over low green mountains and listen to each bark and snarl. By nine years old, I knew the difference between stray sheep and rain and snake. I could howl back without losing my breath.
At sixty, maybe sixty-five, my daddy couldn’t see so good. I was in Canada by then. He wrote me, said he was losing his eyes. I should’ve gone back when I read that. I should have gone back when he was still alive. But traveling was expensive, and your papa and I could barely feed you, you know. Anyway, when my sister found our daddy crawling back to their house with a broken leg, she said That’s it, and because her husband was the farmhand before they wed, he took over the herd.
So your granddaddy, Nonno Franceschino, would sit in a wooden chair and drink his vino—one glass in the morning, one after dinner. He made his vino in the cantina, you know, in the fall. My mamma? She was in the ground then, beside my little brother. Anyway, your Nonno sat with a grease-stained mappina slung over his shoulder, a toothpick in his lips. Here and there the barn cats would rub their—come si dice?—their side bodies on his lower legs. Sure, the cats were nice—you’d go misha misha and they’d sniff your fingers—but they never stayed. They always went unnamed, meandering around one-eyed, two-eyed. Maybe missing an ear. It’s the sheepdogs that kept good company. Especially Lilla. Every day, when my daddy poured his first glass, Lilla would go zoom zoom up the hill and stretch out beside him for an hour or so. I’m here, she’d whisper, and nuzzle her snout in his hands.
Lilla did this for years until one day, she didn’t come. My daddy waited with hands open. Weeks passed. Nothing. He figured she died. But you know what? Late one evening, when the fields and mountains grew cool and hushed, a wet nose pushed into Nonno’s hand—the snout small and soft and yipping. Another animal started teething on his thumb. A third one jumped onto him and tried to lap up his vino. Then Lilla’s voice barked hello.