He declined the call from his father and turned over in bed. It was a Saturday after all. What else did he do besides sleeping in and eating? But more importantly, why was his father calling him?
Throwing his comforter over his head, he expunged the question.
Closing his eyes again, his phone buzzed. A voicemail?
With a grunt of tired laziness he flipped over and put his phone up to his ear:
"Joe-it's Dad. Um... I really wished you'd of picked up, I hate trying to tell you this... like this. But, it's Oswald. He- he had a seizure last night and... I think it might be time, Joe."
Dressed, shaved, and holding on with a death grip to the steering wheel, the 22 year-old kid sped along down Route 15. This was definitely not what Saturdays were for.
He tried to look nice, even washed his hair. A forced family reunion upon the pending death of his beloved dog was the last thing he expected to do today. He couldn't settle his nerves. Calling his father back was enough of a chore. He asked to meet him at a bar so he could have a drink. They both could use one.
"Hi Dad," he said, clasping both hands together and trying not to look as angry and strung out as he did.
"Joe," the tired face replied. "Take a seat."
He sat down with great discomfort. He knew his dad. He'd try to make light of this or turn it into a comedy sketch. That was his job anyway: the comedian. For whatever reason, his father didn't appear to be in the jocular mood.
"How've you been? It's been so long since-"
"I'm fine, Dad."
"How's the job?"
"Your apartment holding up-"
"Yes, Dad, everything I'm doing is fine!"
A stretched silence filled their conversation.
Joe ordered a drink.
His father finished his own.
"Dad, I know you think that this little get-together gives you license enough to pretend to be my father, but give it up. I'm not here to see you. I'm just here for Oz."
His father's eyes watched him sadly. He shook his head, spun the ice around in his glass and said,
"I know, son."
His hopes dashed so quickly. He predicted Joe would react like this. His temper and his fire seemed to have been passed down, from father to son.
"That's who we're all here for."
Finishing his drink, Joe looked at him, shocked.
"What? What do you mean-"
"Your mother's at the house with the dog right now."
Slamming his palms on the counter and standing, he shook his head trying to hold onto his rage.
"You've got to be kidding me."
He combed his fingers through his hair, another attempt to calm down.
"I don't believe this," the words came out sinisterly. "It's fucking
premeditated! You're gonna kill my dog so both of you earn points with me?"
He stormed out like a 5 year old in the midst of a tantrum. His father paid for his drink and slowly followed him out.
"Why does time have to move..."
They both stood in the kitchen that spilled into a screened-in porch.
"Just look at that. A boy and his dog."
Joe sat on the rug with the overweight Newfoundland, his once shiny black coat, thinning and turning to gray. Holding his muzzle in his hands and rubbing his head gently, he noticed how his entire face was silver.
"Oh Oz," he whispered, holding back a tear.
His parents, watching from a distance, were the closest they had been to each other in at least 11 years. They hadn't been in the same room together since the split. They'd take inventory of the other later; how they'd both had changed, grown more cynical, and less loving. For now, they stood, peering over a counter and
through a window at the man they used to call "their boy."
What had happened? When did he become so tall? When did he start to shave? To look like Martin, but have eyes like Therese... they supposed he'd always had those features. But suddenly it became frighteningly apparent.
Martin chewed on his thumb like he always did when he was nervous. Therese looked over at him and it caught her attention how easily she forgot how well she knew him.
"Hey," she said tenderly. "It's gonna be alright."
She took his hand away from his face and his heart clamored loudly inside him. It felt like a car taking ages to start up. Was this what cardiac arrest felt like? He told himself to breathe, and parted his lips to force down some air. He removed his hand quickly and retreated to the bathroom.
Therese watched him leave. She felt like that's all she ever did. Turning her gaze from one man to the other, she realized how the same they all were, even though much had changed. Here she was: hair up, nails painted, make-up caked, and her boy, with his dog. But not happy, this time. No one was happy. They couldn't even fake it, like they usually did.
Staring deeply into the brown eyes that aimlessly wandered, Joe couldn't help but cry. This dog had seen everything. He had been there. He felt as if he were losing his very best and truest friend.
He tried to remember the night he met Oswald:
Dad had just gotten home from touring the Vegas strip. He was electric back then. He never left a club without making every patron laugh, at least once. His humor was racy and quick and outrageous. A lot of people didn't like it, but they laughed at him anyways. He couldn't seem to tell the difference, especially
with the money coming in the way it had been.
Mom's life as a dancer had been stalled ever since having Joe. Currently, she had been taking classes at the YWCA and doing everything she could to slim down. Fitting into leotards from college just wasn't an option anymore. She heard the
doorbell from her bedroom.
Dammit she whispered and slugged the last of her wine, before forcibly zipping a sequin dress that was no longer a size 4.
Strutting downstairs furiously, she called to Joe that his father was home. Out back on the porch, the 6 year-old played with his toy trucks, running over people and houses, making all the sound effects as he went along. He was entranced by his own world. One army soldier tried to stop the big monster truck, but he wasn't strong enough. Right as the truck was about to crush him-
"JOE! It's Daddy! Come on!"
He threw down his toys and drug his feet over to the door. This was not worth losing precious play time. His mother flung open the door and embraced him, practically knocking him over. Joe noticed almost immediately that he had something big in
Martin made his way into the foyer where the light revealed a man that slightly resembled his father. His hair was shorter and he had grown a mediocre beard. And a suit jacket? That didn't seem like Martin. His eyes were bright and flickering. He gently placed a large box next to his son.
"Joe! My buddy!" he said enthusiastically, kneeling down and holding his arms open. "How 'bout a hug?"
Therese nudged Joe into his father's arms, where he grabbed and squeezed him with a great affection.
"Ah, I've missed you, pal," he said smiling. "I have a surprise for
Therese, already with another glass of wine, looked inquisitively at her husband.
"Well, a surprise for Mommy too."
Tentatively, Joe cast his attention towards the box next to him. His little hands reached for each corner and pulled up as hard as he could. With some help from Dad, the lid was off, and a small, round black head peered up at him. Joe looked, unmoving. He had never seen a puppy. Not this close. Not right in his lap. Not his own.
The puppy sensed his emotions and started to wag its tail passionately. It had never seen a boy before. Not this close. Not right in his face. Not his own.
Martin waited anxiously for a response but his boy seemed starstruck. Therese couldn't believe this. A dog? How could Martin expect her to take care of a dog while he was away?
Suddenly, the puppy jumped up to lick Joe's face and his laughter was infectious. It cut through the intensity in the air and made Therese crack a smile. Martin rejoiced silently as he bit his bottom lip and looked up at Therese in adoration.
"He's your's, buddy. That's your puppy."
Hopping out of the box and spilling into Joe's lap, the laughter continued as the tail flapped back and forth with great happiness.
"I think they'll be good together," Martin whispered to Therese. "Don't be mad at me. The kid needs a dog, I mean look at him."
Therese didn't say a word. She hated admitting Martin was right, but the picture was too perfect. A boy and his dog.
Later that night, Oswald had been named, collared, and given a crate to sleep in. Joe brought downstairs one of his baby blankets and an old toy duck for the puppy to sleep with. In his pajamas, he sat next to the crate and watched the precious ball of black fur start to settle down into his crate.
"Joey," his mother chimed. "It's getting late, babe. Better let your puppy get some rest."
Reluctantly, he left Oswald's side and followed the shimmering dress upstairs. Tucking him in gently, his mother whispered,
"Sleep well. You'll have a lot of playing to do with Ozzy tomorrow."
Joe rolled over in bed and dreamt of the happiest things. His puppy. His very own puppy.
"Look, look," Martin said pointing to the TV where he had inserted his comedy sketch tape. "This is the part where she throws her drink at me. Look, you can see it!"
Therese laid on his chest, trying not to get frustrated with the fact that her husband was more interested in his tape than her.
"Marty, baby-" she started. "Can we maybe just turn the TV off?"
He turned to look down at her. His eyes smiled. He noticed she was wearing more make-up than ever. It saddened him.
"Yeah," he said breathlessly. "Take off your make-up."
She jumped up next to him.
She was overly defensive about it. He hadn't calculated this response.
"You don't tell me what to do."
"You just did!"
He sat up in bed.
"No, Therese... that's not what I meant."
Laughter bounded forward from the TV screen. It was annoying now. He tried to calm her down, to explain the pounding feeling in his chest, but she was insulted. He couldn't seem to reach her.
"What I meant was..."
She loudly got out of bed and went into the bathroom. The water running harshly.
"What I meant was," he tried to speak up so she could still hear him. "dammit."
She emerged from the bathroom, her face red and her make-up smeared all over her cheeks.
"There! Better, asshole?"
He sighed, exasperated. His point was defeated. What he wanted to say was-
The TV shut off.
The remote was in his hand.
"Joe's up," she growled. "What's wrong?" she called, angrily getting
dressed. "Don't get up," she snapped at Martin. "It's what you
"My night light went out."
"Aw, baby. Let me see if Mommy can fix it."
"Power's out," Martin said unfeelingly. "The A/C's off."
Then suddenly, a shrill yelp made its way up the stairs.
Joe cried and jumped out of bed.
"Joe, wait. It's dark down there," Therese chased after him.
"I'll get everything together," Martin said flatly as she brushed past him.
"What are you getting together?"
"The tent. Sleeping bags, flashlights. It's cooler outside than in this big old house."
"You can sleep in a tent. Joe and I will be on the porch."
Her tone snapped him in two.
He hadn't realized how long it must have felt to be living here, without him. How much she must have missed him. And how badly he had already messed things up. He had to make things right.
"Hey," he said, catching her before she descended the steps. "What about the dog?"
"Oh, you mean your surprise to make up for not being around for 6 months? It can sleep with you in the tent."
He smiled, even at her sharpness.
He knew Joe wouldn't part with that dog. He'd get his family back.
As Martin set up the tent, and carefully laid out three sleeping bags, Therese set up fans on the porch and hoarded pillows. Joe ran around in the backyard under the stars with Oswald, barefooted and in his pajamas. Tonight was the best night
ever. He never wanted to go to sleep.
Dad told him, to put Oswald in the tent, and Joe put up a fight.
"But I want him to sleep with me, Daddy?"
Hook-line- and sinker.
"Okay, wait in the tent with Oz. I'll tell Mommy."
Trotting victoriously up the steps and opening the door, he faced an already stewing Therese. She had heard from the porch.
"Don't think you're winning him over with this dog. That is not-"
"I love you."
Her pinched up face fell. He smiled and put his arms out wide only to slap them back down
at his sides.
"I don't tell you enough, Therese. But I am... inescapably in love with you."
"But, what?" he said, taking her hands from her. "Vegas isn't as bright and shiny without you, baby. Do you think I could go anywhere and have a better time without you? God no."
"You're just trying to smooth things over-"
"No," he said, pulling her close. "I mean it."
She felt helpless when he was this romantic. He could be the biggest jerk in the world, but the moment he looked at her like that she felt like melting. Her head came lose and her heart tumbled over itself as if in a dryer.
He kissed her then. In the moonlight, with the fans revolving loudly back and forth, back and forth, they stood there, embracing, as their son played happily on the lawn.
"Is it working?" he asked giddily, his eyes aflame in the darkness. She looked down and blushed. He laughed. "It is! Oh!"
He picked her up then and swung her around until she exclaimed,
"Martin!" drowning in laughter.
Her feet back on the ground, she looked at her husband. In her heart, the question that she had wrestled with so often seemed to be answered.
Yes Therese. You made the right choice.
"Come on," he said eagerly. "I have everything set up. You, me, our
beautiful boy and this stinky dog. We're gonna sleep under the stars."
She laughed sarcastically, but then, helplessly chimed,
His lips felt hot, he wanted to kiss her again at the sound of her voice. She was beautiful. And she wasn't wearing her make-up.
Joe called to them then, and they ran over to him.
They got very little sleep between pointing out constellations, repositioning the puppy, and telling Joe stories so he'd settle. In the middle of the night, Martin, lying on his back, looked
over his shoulder and saw what he had always dreamed of. No, not crowds of thunderous applause. Not stacks of money being slid across a counter. A woman, a boy, and a dog, wrapped delicately next to him: asleep, in peace, in love. He looked at the stars then, a heavy feeling resting in his chest, and as he slowly exhaled, he thanked God.
Joe felt the old dog's chest gently fall onto the metal table. His hands holding his face, he pressed his forehead to Oswald's, and waited.
"Take as long as you need," the vet said, leaving the room.
Joe felt that the spirit of his childhood was gone. How many moments had they shared together? How many long nights on the porch, watching fireflies and reading comics, trying desperately not to hear the yelling from inside. How many walks in the rain to get out of the house. How many trips to the park. How many runs around the block in an attempt to get in shape for soccer season. How many days, how many hours, how many minutes... that they shared.
And now she said: Take as long as you need.
There was not enough time.
Martin bit on his thumb again and tried not to get over emotional. The sight of his boy like this, so pained, brought with it a new feeling of helplessness. Therese stood, leaning against the doorway. She already had used up an entire pack of tissues. She dabbed at her eyes now with a naked sleeve. Martin felt the need to say something, to do something.
He put a hand on Joe's shoulder. Resting it firmly there, expecting a rebellion. But Joe just shuttered. The pent up tears, the coping rage, the fear and the lies, came out in a flood. He cried over the dog, making his fur wet, and as if his childhood friend could speak, Joe decided-
He turned, and looking at his father, tears in both of their eyes, he hugged him.
It took Therese's breath away. Straightening up from the doorway, and wiping away the last of her make-up, she touched Martin softly on the back. Gasping from sorrow, he put his arm around her and brought her in.
Just a snapshot of a family, huddled around the lost love of their memories, as they embarked on a new stretch of their journey *