Costa Rica Cost Of Living Update:  Visit to the veterinarian that includes an examination and several shots for a dog- $25. Consecutive visits for follow up shots- $6

Just as I am about to sit on the terrace and have my first cup of coffee the phone rings. It’s Dolores, and she is crying that one of her dogs was run over by a car.

She is crying that a car fatally hit one of her dogs. The bad news doesn’t surprise me. For someone who loves and rescues dogs, Dolores is pretty careless. She doesn’t use a leash, lead, or even confine her dogs to her yard. They run freely in the road, so this was bound to happen. In between the sobbing, she asks if Rob will help bury the dog. I turn to ask him, and as always, he agrees. Rob’s heart is as big as the ocean is deep. Even though he almost broke his leg saving her bird, he knows a sixty-year-old lady should not be digging a six-foot hole in sweltering heat. He has one stipulation: he does not want to see the dog. He just wants to do all the digging and get the hell out of there. She agrees, and I tell her we will be there after we get back from doing a few errands. 

I knock on Dolores’ door and hear hollering from the other side.

“You don’t knock in Costa Rica; you say, ‘Con permiso’.”

I yell out, “Con permiso.”

She still doesn’t open the door.

This is profoundly annoying because Dolores doesn’t repeat this when she comes uninvited to my home. In fact, she doesn’t even knock on my door. Every morning Dolores marches to my house and stares directly in my living room window while I watch Everybody Loves Raymond in my pajamas. I am sure her five dogs would stare, too, if they weren’t already busy whizzing all over my yoga mat and the clean laundry hanging on my clothesline.

“Just open the damn door, Dolores,” I bark back.

She opens it and questions why it took us so long.

I ask if I can keep my ice cream sandwiches I just bought at the store in her freezer while Rob digs the hole.

She hems and haws, saying there isn’t enough room. I show her how small they are, and she finally concedes. I open her freezer, move over a Ziploc plastic bag, and place my ice cream underneath it.

We walk outside to her backyard where there are little stone markers dotted throughout the lawn. We carefully step over graves while Dolores yells.

“Don’t dig there; that’s where I buried Bingo. Don’t step here, oh, poor little Snowball, and dear Squeaky is next to her.”

Apparently, all of God’s creations, every one that marched off Noah’s Ark, are buried behind Dolores’ house. Rob cross-examines her, wants to make sure when he starts to dig he does not find one of her pets. While she is deciding, I leave her with my grave-digging husband and walk back to the house.

After I take a seat on her sofa, she comes back inside and offers me a cup of coffee. She sits down and discloses in a whispered voice, a tone that would suggest we are being wiretapped, that she can’t find her calculator.

“It’s been missing since the Indian spirits stole it.”

I lightly cover my mouth (just in case these eavesdroppers have sophisticated lip reading technology… and because I’m feeling like Agent 99) and ask her how she can be so certain Indian spirits snuck into her house on a Saturday afternoon. Maybe they yelled con permiso first, and she wasn’t home.

“I know they took it because they stole the second one I had in the drawer two days ago.”

For one nanosecond, my mind thinks Hey, she makes perfect sense before I rush back into consciousness and realize if I spend any more time with her my head might explode.

Despite my objections, Dolores tells a story of how her house is built over an Indian burial ground.

I question why the spirits want calculators, because from my previous knowledge about Indians, I am certain they are not busy doing quarterly tax reports. I am all but positive they wouldn’t pull out a Texas Instruments calculator to rectify a situation. What I don’t mention, and what you have already been thinking, is she is repeating the storyline from the movie Poltergeist.

She explains this is irrefutable proof she has bad luck. The pissed off Indian spirits seek revenge by making it impossible for her to add and multiply correctly.

I consider that if the bad luck only resulted in stolen calculators, it’s not so crummy. I would gladly offer my calculators and would even throw in my iPod if it would keep them from haunting me.

She doesn’t have a chance to answer. We hear Rob shouting, “Dolorrreeeessss”.

We run out and see Rob standing over the grave.

“I thought you told me nothing was buried here.” Through gritted teeth, Rob takes the shovel and lifts up a small white garbage bag with something rotting inside.

“Maybe it’s the missing calculators?” I chime in.

They both ignore me.

“You forgot you buried something here,” Rob grunts.

Dolores looks up to the sky for answers.

“No,” she replies. “Someone must have slipped into my backyard and buried it. Just put it on the grass over here.”

Rob tosses the bag to the side and digs farther. The deeper he goes, the more his face turns red.

I consider it is possible Rob might have a heart attack from all this exertion. Ironically, he would fall over dead in the grave he just dug; subsequently sharing a headstone with a dog named Snickerdoodles. Since I don’t want to see Dolores every time I visit my husband’s grave, I run to get a glass of cold water and pour it over the back of his neck.

Finally, it’s time to lay the dog in her final resting place. Dolores returns with a pair of hedge clippers along with the animal wrapped in a sheet. “I want you to cut off her tail before you bury her.”

“Huh… what?” Rob says. He continues in a consoling voice, “Why would you want to do that… are you sure… let’s think about this. What are you going to do with it… use it as a key chain?”

Initially, I think that’s perfectly reasonable. As a kid, I received a rabbit foot key chain in my goody bag at Tilly Goldstein’s sixth birthday party. I loved the soft fur and used to pet it throughout the school day, keeping it in the front pocket of my dungarees for easy access. It was only a couple years later I realized I was petting a petrified amputated appendage. In a Greenpeace display of activism, I threw the rabbit’s foot in the cafeteria garbage can and gave a lengthy but heartfelt denunciation on animal cruelty to a table of horrified second graders.

I repeat this story to Dolores as she sharpens the hedge clipper blades.

She briefly pauses when I also remind her she does not want to anger the calculator-stealing gods any further. This last detail appears to convince her, and she agrees to let Rob bury the dog with her tail.

Rob takes the dog and places her into the grave.

Dolores recites a lengthy eulogy. When she finishes, Rob picks up the white plastic bag with the mystery animal inside and puts it into the hole.

She screams and wants him to dig another grave for the other animal. Without acknowledging anything she just said, Rob tosses more dirt on top of both animals and fills the hole.

Back in her kitchen, I open the freezer to get my ice cream. The plastic Ziploc bag slides out of the freezer, and I catch it mid-air before it hits the floor. In my hand is a frozen wild bird. Once a beautiful blue and green Mot Mot, it visited Dolores every morning until she found it dead on her porch. She then stuck it in her freezer; that was two years ago. We have had at least half a dozen blackouts since then, so I can only imagine how many times this bird has been thawed out then frozen again during the past two years. I also consider the safety of my ice cream sandwiches that have been sitting underneath it. Instead of asking what the rest of the plastic bags in her freezer contain, we figure there would be plenty more holes to dig, so we decide to keep the conversation short and head on home.

I’m not sure what the strangest part of the story is: the pet cemetery, Indian poltergeists, or the frozen bird. Or, maybe it’s that my husband ate all the ice cream sandwiches that night while watching The History Channel. There is no way around dealing with Dolores. No matter what I do, she will be a part of my life here. I hope the Indian spirits will give her back her calculators and she finds some peace.

I didn’t bother telling Dolores there is a calculator application on her computer. It’s only a matter of time before the Indian spirits figure that out and it disappears as well.