Fast asleep at my feet is the long-legged brindle greyhound my wife and I adopted two months ago, an ex-racer with green numbers tattooed in her ears and old scars on her body and a career—really an entire life—I know nothing about, a culture completely foreign to me: racing programs with inscrutable strings of numbers, statistical charts that look like puzzles for savants, post positions and kennel standings, blood quotas and double ancestors, wagers and payouts and odds, gates and tracks and lures, sires and dams, dogs with names that conjure thoroughbred racehorses: “Waverly Supreme” and “Fireball Sandy.” Fatless, sixty pound ghosts of dogs considered slow if they close a 5/16th mile racetrack in thirty three seconds—still more than twice the speed of the world fastest man.
We call her Ginger now, but her name in that world was “RLM’s Madera.” Her last race was September 10, 2011, in Birmingham, Alabama, a 3/8 mile heat in which she placed 6th, lagging a full second behind a dog named Crazy Little Thing. I know few details of Ginger’s career, no more about each race than the meager three-word descriptions that nonetheless offer up entire stories by implication, phrases like “gave ground late,” “bumped 1st turn,” or “outphotoed for 4th.” The fastest time in her records is 30:97, but Ginger ran in 70 races, more than 150 heats, often two in the same day, and every single time within a scant two seconds. She won five times, and I read, with a strange sort of pride, that she “overcame trouble” and was “determined to win.”
I can only imagine her in a racing silk and muzzle, under the lights at Birmingham, the blue glass of the skybox looming over the course, and the track lined in gleaming white railings, 10,000 spectators in the stands and 1,000 other dogs waiting in the kennels to race, my own brindle greyhound out on that track, running so fast, stretched out like a cheetah in full stride—flying, really—her feet only coming down to propel her aloft, the spray of dirt, all that tremulous muscle in her hocks and shoulders that she still retains, the shocking little bursts she takes sometimes in a playful mood, instantly at the end of the leash, or bounding down the hall after a toy, her front legs rampant like a prancing horse, the same way she must have thrown her paws out in front of her on the racetrack, perhaps the first part of her to trip the cameras at the finish line those five precious wins.
The way I think of them now, Ginger’s races were only the distance she had to run to get here, the odyssey of a dog to get home, to a dream on a folded quilt, her tiger-stripe rib cage rising and falling, ears piqued and nose twitching in some vision of her secret past: her legs in a blur, her feet moving faster than the eye can see.