Alberto had just turned ten when it happened. He had found it in the middle of the road. A car had run it over. When he got closer, he could see Nero was dead. Nero was a large black dog he always played with. But Nero wasn’t moving now, and its tongue hung out its mouth at a weird angle. Alberto was prodding the animal with a stick, when Enrico the fruit seller came over pushing a shiny new red wheelbarrow. Enrico had a watermelon stand on the side of the road. He’d once told a sceptical Alberto that the Italian flag was based on the watermelon’s colours: green, white, and red.
Enrico asked Alberto to help him load Nero on the wheelbarrow - black on red. Enrico handed a spade to Alberto and told him to follow him. Enrico was a wiry young man, who wore flared jeans and thought he looked like Frank Zappa. Women liked Enrico because he always made them laugh, except when he didn’t have customers, and he drank too much. He would start cursing loudly then, and everybody would stay out of his way, until the following morning.
Alberto followed Enrico down a slippery path behind the parking lot that led to a thick wood where you could smell pine trees and fir cones. After a few hundred metres, Enrico stopped and started digging between two large blackberry bushes. It was August, and it was midday. It was too hot to talk. We remained in religious silence. When he finished digging, he unloaded Nero into the hole, covered it up with earth, and drank a can of beer while drying his sweat from his brow with a dirty rag. It was then Enrico began cursing. He cursed the driver for hitting the dog, the dog for getting run over, the sun for being so bright, the ground for being so hard, and the can of beer for being so small.
Enrico patted with his spade for the last time the mound of earth covering Nero, turned round, picked up the wheelbarrow and started back up the path to his roadside fruit stand.
“Aren’t you going to put a cross on Nero's grave?” Asked Alberto.
Enrico laughed, “Nero can’t have a cross because dogs don’t have a soul.”
"What's a soul?" Asked Alberto.
"It's what gets you into heaven. And dogs don't have it." Said Enrico.
“Who says?” Asked the boy defiantly.
“The Church says.” Replied Enrico.
“How does the Church know?” Insisted Alberto.
“It’s its job to know; that’s why.” Enrico said, continuing up the path, pushing his red wheelbarrow.
Alberto took out a white plastic tube he always carried with him. He used it as a blowpipe, when playing with his friends. He had swapped two stickers for it. He split the narrow tube in two and fashioned a cross with duct tape.
The Church didn’t know Nero. Knowing Nero was Alberto's job. And he knew Nero would have liked a cross on his grave.