This morning, it was the dog who rose first, squinted his eyes at the sun, and returned to his bed at the east end of the house. Then, the familiar smell of the coffee brewing on time in the kitchen, the shuffling of feet to the bathroom, and the sound of talking in the living room all seemed routine. He felt the pull to leave his bed and sit near her feet when he heard her move to the couch, but then, the overwhelming feeling of rest and the need for comfort kept him in place in the curve of his bed. Sounds around him were slower at first, then rushed. The man and woman paused in front of him at his bed. He did not remember them ever doing this, but he found comfort in the idea that they were watching over him. For a moment, there was joy in knowing that he was not alone.
The night before which seems to have been real, but which could have been dreamt, was filled with the familiar doting on him and the laughing of stories being told. The daughter and her husband came over for a visit. They brought along their dog named Minnie, who was the only dog he knew, and everyone seemed to be happy to be there and to grill hot dogs and hamburgers. He walked around the kitchen and out the back door to the yard where all the adults were gathered. He was given several pieces of meat from the grill, more than usual, and he took what he could and swallowed each treat slowly. He heard his name more than usual; he heard that he was a good dog more than he remembered. Everyone talked of the garden and neighbors and the incoming clouds that lingered around the sun and blocked the evening light. The phones were out and pictures were shared from a recent trip to a far away place. Hands were on his head. A quick run across the yard with his best dog friend. A sniff. A kiss to the face.
Then, he came inside and laid under the dining room table next to his owner’s feet, his favorite place. The rug was worn and crushed where his body had laid over the years, but he still found this spot to be the best one as it supported his sides and his back legs where there was now a constant pain. He heard the talking around the table above him. He felt the occasional rub of the daughter’s bare feet on him, her hand on his belly. He heard all his people say his name over and over again and it awoke him and then settled him back into sleep.
Today, this morning, the daughter came by again, but only by herself. The small dog used his strength to pull up his back legs, now wobbly, now a little more unsure. It was possible that he had risen a little too fast to greet her at the door as the room began to swirl all around him, but that was how he had always done it when the door bell rang. He felt the familiar urge to bark as he had always done each time someone opened the screen. He remembered once hearing footsteps down the walk and warning his people that there was someone outside. He usually ran to the front window first to see who was coming to the door, but this morning, there didn’t seem to be the need for any of that. The urge to run, make a loud sound, and alert his people, all quieted as soon as the thoughts came to him. Had he even heard the footsteps outside? He only saw the feet quickly moving around him and followed those feet to the door.
The daughter stood outside waiting for her elderly parents to turn the lock and the knob without skinning their knuckles on the metal. He patiently waited for the door to open to be sure the voice he now heard outside was her voice and that it was indeed the daughter’s face he imagined there. As the screen and door swung open, he was surprised that his guesses were right. She leaned over and placed her hands around his face, kneading her fingers into the soft fur and skin slack behind his jaw. She called his name over and over again. He heard all the words, but today he wasn’t sure of the protocol of kissing her or following the legs as they moved into the living room. He stared at her eyes waiting for an answer to which she gave direction for him to come inside and sit. He obeyed. It is what he always did but somehow used to know how to do on his own.
The daughter and her parents sat in the front room; the still-rising sun dimmed by the double paned curtains. The voices of the three moved and swirled and seemed to lull the dog into a deep sleep. He began to dream about the yard, birds flying in and out of the feeders. He felt the warmth of the sun on his back and rolled to his side on the porch’s brick. He pictured his owner coming out of the house to check the garden; he used to follow the familiar shoes down the walkway and stand just a few feet away as he bent over to pick tomatoes or peppers. A rub of the ear, a “good boy”, and a pat on his side.
For what could have been a minute or an hour, the need to go, to leave, and to do something filled the room; he was coaxed to get up and go for a ride. It was much too sudden of a shift in his new routine; he began to wheeze and cough in his owner’s arms. He was carried to the back seat of the car where he finally caught his breath and laid down. His blue blanket given to him at Christmas years ago was now next to him. He looked out of the window at the house. It was his house and his yard, and he loved to see it from this window. There were no rabbits. There were no coyotes lurking. He looked at her next to him in the back seat and she rubbed his head with the back of his hand. He did not have to do a double check, everything was fine, and he soon slumped down into the seat.
He listened to the familiar voices speak softly as the car moved down the street. There was no need to look out of the window; he knew every turn and curve of the street. Instead, he stared at the daughter’s eyes in the mirror as she drove and talked in the front seat. At a stoplight, she turned and rubbed his head and repeated how much she loved him. He could hear the words “birthday” and “home” and familiar names of a dog or a cat he thought he had heard before. Sometimes the voices seemed real, but other times, the sounds seemed forced and fake as if they were being tried on for size or used to soothe him. He did not like it. He knew something was coming, and he wished he knew what it was.
As the car turned into the parking lot, he thought he knew. This is where he had spent many days being scanned and tested. Ever since there was snow on the ground, there had been visits here. There had been many pills and x-rays and many, many days in a crate awaiting his time to be seen. Shorter breaths by all of his people filled his ears. Then there were even shorter gasps, and he felt unsure of what all of this meant or what he was supposed to do. He looked up at his people’s faces for answers, but they seemed to be focused on other things as they looked out of the window or at each other.
Then the car door opened and he could feel his paws on the pavement, as well, he could hear the familiar voice of the woman in the long coat who was holding the door. There was the kneading of his face again and the familiar sounds of “I love you” as he walked to the entrance of a darkened room. The blue blanket he once loved to scratch and turn, bundle and bunch was now neatly folded on a bed that was not his. He only made a B-line from the entrance of the hospital door to the bed where he felt he needed to rest as his legs were weak from having done so much this morning. He breathed the smells of his blanket in deeply. It had just been cleaned and smelled of the familiar dryer sheets she always used. He no longer felt the urge to scratch and make a nest of the blanket. He laid there on is belly feeling hands on his back and his ears. He heard familiar voices all around, then their soft and short breaths. He looked up in his people’s eyes for answers of what he should do; there were no commands or directions given. He closed his eyes and slept.