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Holiday



There’s a story in all these homeless people; Seattle is a cold place and winter’s a beast whose jaw has an insatiable appetite. These people are just as human and just as smart, these homeless people have jobs and passions and everything in the world but a state capable of lowering housing prices.


The trench coat around me felt hardly capable of keeping the chill out when I watched one of the saddest effects of Seattle’s cost, a woman lying on the sidewalk, loud sirens and medical examiners wrapping the body in a human-sized-bag. Dead. Died hungry, died two nights before the new year, died on a meaningless time for her, because what’s the point of New Year’s day when you can’t even make it to the new year?


I turned my face away, seeing the gray sidewalks and crowded streets all rubbing against skyscrapers determined to reflect all this hunger. These crowds seeing this far too many times for any concern. Like the snow stuffed in their coats froze Seattle’s hearts to its body count.


Thinking back, I was one of those too, another expensive coat, another pair of glassy eyes and rose-colored cheeks. I was merely another especially cold face until I heard that bark.


Turning around, the body was gone with those bright flashing vehicles all taking the body away, and they revealed a small snowed-on light brown box with a snout and a shivering mutt.


The road at that moment allowed for cross, the deep brown curly-haired dog whined with eyes like coffee and body too small to get out. Trapped under some probable flea-infested blanket and-


“I’m coming,” I whispered, feet forgetting their path home. My tie jumped with the quick pace. When I met the mutt, I saw his damaged left paw, bleeding and with bugs swarming around it, over-licked and infected.


I looked over my left hand. The stitches had long healed over, but I’d never felt my fingers since, the black brace hiding the purple and red colors it painted itself in.


In my 26 years of living, I’d never owned a pet, I barely cared for the half-hearted relationship with my co-worker. I knew nothing about caring for something other than it was so difficult that father quit and mother paid someone else to do it for her.


It had no collar, and judging by the closeness, the dead woman had tried her best to look over it. Seeing the cheap long-ago-eaten dog food, I wondered if she’d traded her own chance of life for the dogs.


What a bitter decision.


With unknown astute foresight and the most impulsive decision I’ve ever made, I reached out with my good hand, surprised that the chill bit my hand more than the dog, who sniffed it carefully and rested his maw onto the hand.


“Hello Mr. Dog,” I greeted while I’d heaved him up with my right hand, surprised at how little I cared for his filth and smell. Seattle was a complex maze of liars and psychopaths, with not-so-common people intertwined and all hidden in tall skyscrapers and hundreds of streets filled with shops, hotels, banks, and lines of whatever humans need against a blue-black cold-hearted sea.


One of these things I found on my phone, a vet that would ask for a five-mile walk. The clouds never faded, and that cold mist still clung, but as I walked on the sky above grew favorably dark. Stars used to be visible and the only thing you’d see at night back in my hometown. Wyoming had everything that I didn’t care for, but some days the dull black sky had driven me mad.


My feet screamed by the time I’d gotten there, my watch telling me I should have been at my apartment an hour ago, but thankfully the emergency vet didn’t agree with reasonable time as it was open 24-7.


Walking in, I saw a girl and her mother crying on the waiting chairs, with a man taller than me wearing a white laboratory coat and sporting a calm and prepared energy, like someone you’d tell your life story to for no reason and they’d only offer reassuring words. But something a bit dead in those eyes too. Something too-well adjusted.


“My name’s Cole Whittaker, this,” I rose the complacent and shivering dog into eyesight above the counter, “is a dog I found on the street, I’d like for you to fix him.”


The man gave an unrestrained smile. “That’s an awful lot of affection for a dog you’ve never met.” The man raised his hands to take the dog and reminded me that this wasn’t a profit-free center, there’d be a steep bill and likely some minor surgery at least to bring this dog back to full health.


And for a reason I hadn’t been able to name, I didn’t shake my head no and let him back on the pavement and take a cab home. I could’ve laughed with the man and tossed the dog out. But I didn’t end up doing either that day; instead, I found myself feeling deprived by letting the whiny brown dog into his gloved hands.


“I’m well aware doctor, how long should I wait?” The man gave the dog to another vet, who rushed the mutt to the back with one last brown dog-eyed sad look to me before turning a corner and disappearing.


“In about fifteen minutes, I can hand over a treatment analysis, what we’ll have to do for its paw and anything else we’ll find. Any medication and the IV he’ll be on will all be included. But you have to understand, this dog is, unfortunately, malnourished and will take months of consistent treatment and care, not to mention many apartments don’t allow-”


“I’ll see you in fifteen, where should I wait?”


The man gave a small smile at the question, guiding me to a room that was only a second away and empty, reassuring me one last time that the wait won’t be long.


Once the door closed I’d looked at the warm orange walls. The vet smell wasn’t cats or dogs, it was the same as a human hospital. I leaned back, remembering my own hospital stay, bleeding white and beeping sounds that had me wanting to break the entire room, where the only other sounds were the rare moments when a nurse would give me my meals, or the gut-wrenching screams several floors down.


My hand’s skin, nerves, and part of its bone all sliced and fractured after trying to stop a beer bottle and knife in the same minute. Father left when I was seven, I barely saw mother after that until age thirteen when she was on the ground and smelling rotten with white foam in her mouth and around her lips. I found father at age twenty-one at a Seattle bar after too many shots to count, luckily there were video cameras, I wouldn’t have remembered that he attacked first, only the blaring rage I felt at his face, stinging pain in my left hand after I told him he killed his wife, and the emptiness I felt as men pulled me back right as I hit him with a bottle of my own. He never woke up.


They left me like that homeless woman left this dog. I was that dog. To this day, I think that’s what steered my feet that winter afternoon. 


I opened my eyes back up when the same man from before opened the door holding three papers all covered in words and charts filled with numbers. Handing it over, my eyes quickly found the sum total, and he didn’t lie when he said this was no charity.


“Right we’ll-”


Before he could start going through the papers, I signed the bottom in pen and handed it back with my card and email. With a sigh, he went through it anyway, running the number and email through his work phone. He started on how they’d cleaned the wound, but it was far too damaged and infected to work again, that for the dog’s movement and pain relief they’d have to amputate the leg, that it also was showing signs of A, B, C, and yada yada while hardly healthy enough for the surgery, but that it was his best chance. How the fluids and IV should help but his chances were not good. A dice roll, a gamble, a bet. And he’d need to spend another 20 hours under their care afterward. Logically, I should worry about the money this was about to spend, understand that it would be reasonable to opt-out when these hundreds would be paid.


But I just gave him back the pen and nodded my head. He told me to go home and rest, to come back on New Years Day around 8 PM if I could, but they could keep him for longer.


My clock read 11, and the bus home was dim and swaying. Countless different faces avoiding each other like the eye contact would burn their steady cold city.


Upon getting home, my co-worker looked up from the living room table, with her long brown hair and olive skin, beautiful as could be and face relieved.


“You didn’t answer your texts, I-”


“I got a dog.”


She slowly stood from her seat at the living room table, shutting her laptop and walking up slowly. I watched as she brushed the snow off my jacket and tried to take it off for me.


“Cole, I told you this before but I’m allergic, we can’t-”


“Then leave, Olivia, I thought we’d established this relationship was short-term.”


She blinked, surprise turning into anger. It was true. Nevertheless, we were aware this wasn’t meant as an always thing, just an indulgence. Something to pass the time, although I can understand the abruptness in between two big holidays.


“You’re kicking me out for a dog!?”


I looked up from my watch, rubbing my eyes and yawning a, “Yes.”


And with that, she looked at the ground, silently contemplating her own future. Whether or not I’d budge, she would never be happy with a man who’d kick her out this randomly for a dog of all things. She nearly sunk into a routine, a gloom in her eyes showed she’d almost just drifted with me until I’d be too late to leave.


“Okay.”


Robotically taking all the things I’d bought for her and that she’d brought over for weekends and holidays, she left. I didn’t feel anything when she’d closed the door, the only person I was supposed to have a caring nature for, and yet, neither of us felt that compassion or empathy. 


In fact, I finally felt free.


~~


Sleep was easy. Waking up to the Space Needle, I’d imagined how it had lit up on these nights. With 2020 knocking loud and clear, I showered and ate in a coffee shop while working on a sales analysis to send a promising investor. At the end, despite not doing any work, my left hand ached. Winters had a way of hurting what was trying to heal.


 It made me think of the dog and I noticed the vet had sent me a text about how the surgery was over, be that as it may, the dog looked anything but good. 


I stretched my jaw and thought of how sick I got in the orphanage, how cold it always was, how little food we ate. I had no relatives interested or capable of taking me in, and that was understandable. I wouldn’t want a child either. 


But it didn’t make those lonely nights any more manageable. It didn’t stop me from getting every cold and fever anyone else got. 


I was sick, and I was left alone in that light brown box of an orphanage, a vulnerable body and sickly soul. 


Sending the analysis, I closed the laptop and went shopping, picking up a kennel, dog treats, two play toys, leash and a few other items. I already planned on avoiding the new year’s parties, so all I had to do was wait until 8 PM.


~~


The vet doors were higher than I remembered them. The world around me seemed minute and empty as their glass doors showed the brilliant yellow light and the same desks and chairs I saw yesterday.


Opening these doors rang the bell I hardly noticed before, and walking up to the desk I saw the same man, “You know I never learned your name,”


 I told him before he could speak. He closed his mouth for a moment, looking me up and down as if he could tell something had changed. From last night to now something was lost or gained or remembered, but with the same face and different coat, he could tell that the Cole Whittaker here wasn’t the same person that entered this building yesterday.


“I apologize, you can call me Dr. Soloman, and I have good news, your boy is doing well.” As if on cue, a woman, short orange hair and a short height, brought the dog out next to her. Despite its little time with me, it easily trotted (if a little wobbly) over to me, sitting under my two legs with a sparkle in his eyes, clearly happy as could be even with what I saw. The cone around his head was white and small, with the entire front left leg removed.


After a lengthy debrief about his antibiotics and pain relievers, how to assist with the restroom in the first few days and that since he wasn’t using his left leg before it would be a smooth transition. They told me that it looked like a tremendous weight had collapsed on its paw, anything from a foot to a vehicle but its nerves were beyond saving along with the rigorously splintered bone.


He would need water and food whenever he could manage, the mutt surprisingly only had a minor infection that would take a week or so to get over if given the right antibiotics.


After taking him home in the kennel, I couldn’t keep the smile off my face, especially when he started trotting all over my apartment, leaning his head down and around, smelling everything and using his one front paw to scratch at the table with treats on it.


“Aye aye captain,” I said, pulling one down and watching him eat it like his life depended on it. I looked out again, same sky, same historic needle lighting up the sky as 11:50 PM hit. 


I thought of the dead woman, the one who might’ve lost her life for some dog food. I’d have wagered that she’d figured out long before me that life wasn’t about yourself. It could be, but living for something else, something you can love, helping what couldn’t be helped mixed into something beyond yourself. 


Something to care for draws you into the picture beyond your part, and even if I’m far from a saint, I should start here. Start with this dog that I still haven’t named, because he’s what needed me most. And I am now more than something soon to forget. I am something that made something pure happy and that’s something worth living for. Not something to run away from. 


The countdown began, and I was watching the dog grizzle and wag its tail on the couch as he watched the massive fireworks go off for every second closer it got to 0.


“What about Toto? As a name, 2020, Twenty-Twenty, 0 and 0, Toto,”


Toto yipped at the mark, along with the fireworks and cheers all throughout the apartment and streets. Live-feed from across America, celebration booming from everyone’s mouths. All caring about the new year of their lives. I’d just have to start with this dog to know that caring is something genuine. My father was wrong, and now I can finally prove that to myself.


~~


Every New Years’ eve since 2020 I’ve made it my job to save an animal, with 4 dogs and 2 cats to my name as well as a constant feeling of fulfillment the days are never dull. My coffee’s always warm, everyone's smiles have grown contagious, and my left-hand aches once in a blue moon. The world’s beautiful, and every year I try to care for it a little more. 

































January 04, 2020 02:10

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5 comments

Sam Kirk
22:31 Jan 08, 2020

Definitely a great sentiment.

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Bethany Winston
21:47 Jan 08, 2020

This was utterly heartfelt! The read was so satisfying

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Madeline Connor
21:59 Jan 08, 2020

I’m glad to hear you liked it ! It means a lot 🧡

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Pamela Saunders
18:47 Jan 07, 2020

Such a moving story.

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Madeline Connor
21:58 Jan 08, 2020

Thank you so much ! This was fun to write ❤️

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