Pelagia* was born by a 50-count box of napkins in the back of a gelato shop in Porto Cervo, Sardegna.
Larger than her brother Andronicus, from an early age, Pelagia often sensed that life was unjust. In puppyhood, when moneyed customers would drip icy cold cioccolato all'arancia on the floor, Pelagia and Andronicus would both scamper out and lap up the delicious sticky sweetness. Somehow their mother, Leda, would only snap at Pelagia. "You know better," she'd say. "You're older, you have to set a good example."
Meanwhile, Andronicus was younger, smaller, more adorable, and an expert at shaping his eyes into chocolate pools of innocence, which no one — dog or human — could resist. The butcher would always throw Andronicus scraps of prosciutto; buxom young ladies with bleached hair and leopard-print bikinis would pick him up for a cuddle. If she was lucky, Pelagia would get a swift pat between the ears.
However. Pelagia had excellent eyesight. She could spot tourist ferry headed toward the island from miles away. When a aged bronzed man in a tiny swimsuit and Gucci loafers dropped his diamond earring in the shop, Pelagia saw where it went. It was Pelagia who eyed the teenage thieves on a motocicletta after Signora Cocco's purse was snatched. But this watchfulness only added to Pelagia's idea that the world was unfair. She knew who was cheating, lying, stealing. And somehow, Pelagia was the one waking up early to help open the shop (while Andronicus slept late). Pelagia always ended up guarding the door while Leda was gone because of her attentiveness — and because Andronicus was too young and too small. Pelagia was usually left behind when it was market day, not only because she was too plump and too clumsy to sneak around and scavenge through the food stalls unnoticed, but because she was now the watchdog, whether she wanted to be or not.
Pelagia grew more stout and more bitter as the years went on. She would waddle down to the marina and watch the sun set over the gleaming boats, dreaming of being somewhere else. Dreaming of being someone else.
One day, Pelagia woke up to find Andronicus — as well as everyone else — gone. She padded out to the cobblestone road and heard the sounds of laughter and music coming from the square. A festival, for something. She was left behind. Again. Pelagia headed in the opposite direction, toward the water. She marched straight down to the end of the dock and sat. The sun grew hot, the sounds of merriment grew louder, but Pelagia just sat, with her back to the town, watching the waves. She dozed. When she woke up, panting, she saw an especially beautiful, brand new boat pulling in to the dock. A 57-foot motor yacht, dazzling blue hull, crisp white bridge, flags snapping in the wind. A barefoot woman stood astern, gray braid hanging down her back, white caftan billowing around her, chunky turquoise jewelry dripping from her neck and wrists. She had the creased weathered tanned face of someone at home on the sea. Though the woman's footing was sure, Pelagia noticed that the craft was traveling just a little too fast. Who is driving that thing? It's going to hit the dock, Pelagia thought. A split second later, the boat did indeed crash into the end of the slip. The floating bumper hanging on the dock to break the impact was crushed; the wood planks groaned and shuddered, Pelagia felt herself be jolted and bumped, the lady on the stern wobbled, a silver and stone bracelet flew into the air, and the woman, realizing she was going to fall, dove into the water just a moment before Pelagia lost her balance, knocked into a ladder, scraped her paw, and also tumbled in.
Pelagia could swim, but just barely. Her doggy paddle was breathless as she frantically headed back for the dock, realizing that she would be unable to climb the ladder because, well, she was a dog. Pelagia paddled toward the ladder anyway. She saw the chunky blue bracelet bob on a wave in front of her as she blubbered and splashed. Aha. She bit the rocky thing and tread water in a little circle, looking around. Unsure of how she was to get out of the ocean, Pelagia whined. But it was just a gurgle, and no one could hear her. Her paw hurt, she was tired, she was wet, and she was annoyed. What was to become of her?
"Cucciolo sveglio!" cooed a voice. It was the lady with the gray braid, And she was smiling and shining and swimming right toward Pelagia. She plucked the bracelet from Pelagia's mouth, wrapped wrinkly but strong arms around Pelagia's round belly, and hoisted them both up the ladder and onto the wobbly, damaged dock. There was a commotion both on the dock and on the deck of the boat; yelling, swearing, excitement. The boat was not damaged, but the slip surely was, and someone on board the yacht was hitting a young man — possibly the captain? — with a beach towel. The gray-haired lady, ever smiling, calmed everyone down. Certo, certo. She'd pay for the damage, of course, certo. As long as no one was hurt. She put Pelagia down, then saw that the dog was limping. "Povera bella," the lady cried. She'd pay for a vet, too. Pelagia could see Andronicus at the end of the marina, wide-eyed, trying to figure out what the scene was all about. She turned her back on her brother and licked the ankles of the gray-haired old lady, who picked her up and, though they were both wet, nuzzled her neck and rubbed her belly. Pelagia decided right then and there: She would get onto the gray lady's boat. She'd be a sorely-needed lookout! And she would sail the world, leaving Porto Cervo behind. Forever! To hell with gelato.
*Not this dog's real name. This is a work of fiction. The pug pictured belongs to my sister and has never been to the Mediterranean.