As he rested safely curled in the crook of my arm, I reclined under the canary-green canopy in a vain attempt to relax on the grass. Any neighborhood passerby would have thought I was mesmerized by the signs of the tightly-bound buds on the branches of the majestic ancient maple. The morning sun shimmered shafts of diffused lightning toward the ground creating a fairy-like playland mist through the newly formed leaves. Strewn across the lightly dewed lawn were small tawny brown helicopters; they had been force-landed…grounded because of last night’s spring shower. It was the kind of morning, the kind of place, in which we would have usually taken great pleasure: romping and playing; nipping and tussling; racing and retrieving.
But not today.
This was our favorite place to rest after a rough game of fetch. But this morning we had not played.
I could feel his heart palpitations – two to every one of mine. His coal black fur rhythmically would rise and fall with each labored breath. I wondered if he knew the time was soon. I think he did.
I wondered if he could sense that this was our last goodbye.
A slight breeze brought a new scent into the air. You could see his small, greyish black nose twitch in a remembered pastime: Attila, the neighborhood tabby bobcat expecting a good chase; Jeff, the eager jogger who was often up for a Frisbee toss or two- sometimes even three; or Emily, the five-year-old sweet-heart who always tasted of Aunt Jemima pancake syrup.
I was not in fear he was going to dash off after some unknown assailant. He had not been able to dash for several months.
This morning I had carried him- cradled in my arms- to rest with me one last time under our haven.
This morning had been another morning when walking had not been an option. Before coming out to begin our early morning routine, I had already gently cleaned the offending messes from behind him. I believe he could sense that he was not as clean as he would have liked. You could tell he had earlier tried to care for himself. The matted fur on his lower back, inches from his incessantly wagging tail, was heavily tangled. No matter the conditions in which I found him, each morning there was an anxious shudder of excitement and anticipated revelry running through his body expectant of our morning greetings; as if the single night had been months in the makings. Perked ears, a lazily lapping tongue, and prancing paws were always ready to be lifted to my chest for our morning kiss. This was the only time he was permitted to lick my face.
For the last two months (since we had become aware of the news) we had been traveling to the groomers; every two weeks like clockwork for a bath. Traveling, now, was completely different than any of our previously fun-filled freedom forays. There was no more polka-dancing at the windows to see the fascinating farming sights flash by before being overcome by the next exhilarating, ever-changing possibility . No more translucent stains of nostril-sized, sponge-potato prints on the passenger windows to be forgotten about until noticed by another, on another day, and then to be embarrassingly explained away. Now, once placed on the passenger seat, he stayed.
The groomers’ assistance with cleanliness was not only welcomed by me, but also by him. I knew from the looks in his eyes that the embarrassment caused by his “mistakes” … cleanliness, to him, was an important necessity. Some mornings his eyes betrayed such hopelessness and despair at his never-mentioned “accident” being noticed; we both felt like crying.
The groomer never asked the reason for our calendar-driven changes in grooming behavior. No comment was ever made about ‘proper hygiene’. Welcoming hands caressingly corrected the mishap, lovingly re-formed the “do’ from behind. And we were both good for another two weeks.
Did he sense that the reason he no longer had control of his hind legs was because of that small bump next to his spine. It looked as if he had been personally trying to address the cursed spot and remove it, Of course, he couldn’t. In the last several weeks that spot had threatened his world. That spot had in fact invaded and decimated his world- the world that we used to share.
His ears perked. I knew he wanted me to scratch them. Reluctantly I did. His ember eyes immediately found me; the spear-like ice blue flecks engulfed inside the ember pierced my heart. I knew the reason we were resting here this morning. This was my last time to build the memories of a goodbye. We had had so many great times here.
Here, in this place, our treasured recluse from the world, I was going to begin the last chapter of our life together. I had already placed the call. They … they were waiting on us.
He gingerly licked my arm. Struggling, he repositioned his body so that he could butterfly kiss my chin. He knew it was time, I knew it was time. The canopy above seemed suddenly to turn a misty grey. I gently adjusted him on my chest placing ChuuChuu, his tattered purple hippopotamus, near his muddled moist goatee. Quickly he resumed suckling and settled in for one more heart-to-heart.
We had often lay here to solve the ever-increasingly-difficult problems of the world. We were here to do it again… one more time…our last face-to-face conversation.
(Written for the Shenandoah Valley Writer’s Institute: 2013 at Bridgewater College, VA)