I can smell the intruder before he comes into view. Earthy bark of the ash tree and buttery acorns permeate my nostrils. I stand as still as possible, I barely breathe. And then a flash of gray zooms across my vision and I dart toward the beast. Together we zip through the green grass, weaving around bushes and trees, a scattering of brown leaves crunch beneath my paws. My legs are moving as fast as they can, kicking up clumps of lawn behind me and suddenly, there he is. The squirrel and his fluffy gray tail, twitching as he races me. He’s so close, I can smell what he had for breakfast. Nuts, obviously, but the fact that I can smell it urges me forward with a momentum I didn’t know I had. My breathing is heavy and my mouth waters in anticipation. The hair of his tail is tickling my nose now. Glee courses through my body. It has finally come to this! My chittering tormentor will now pay the price for stepping on my lawn. I open my jaw wider and—.
Bang! I startle awake to the sound of the front door slamming shut. I sigh and slump my head back onto the arm rest of my favorite sofa. That backyard bratwurst was just a dream. Yes, I realize it was just a squirrel, but I imagine that when I finally wrap my mouth around one, I’ll be greeted with a charred, crispy crunch followed by hot, greasy flesh. A squirt of cheese, perhaps? The cheesy ones are my favorite. Everything should taste like a bratwurst.
Feet shuffle across the floor before little shoes are kicked off, and backpacks are thunked onto the ground. Excited voices rush toward me and suddenly, I’m enveloped in a crushing hug.
“Hi, Blanche, my sweet doggie!” Sophia has her little arms wrapped tightly around my neck. I lean my head back far enough to get a whiff of her face. Peanut butter. Sophia always smells like peanut butter. And dirt. I give her cheek a lick, resulting in a series of squeals and giggles. Her laughter sounds like little tingling bells, warming my heart with every ring. Quite possibly my favorite sound.
From the cage in the corner of the kitchen, Dorothy barks. My sister has been locked away in that metal box all day. That was all my fault, really. Well, sort of.
“Roro, were you a good girl?” Rose asks as she approaches the cage. The girls have called Dorothy by this nickname ever since Sophia was little and unable to form words. To them, she is Roro, but will always be Dorothy to me.
As the older one, I often had to keep Dorothy in line when she was a pup. She was mischievous and energy seemed to leak from every hair follicle, her hind legs stopping movement only when the sky had darkened. It took her a number of nips and growls from me, the wiser of the two, to recognize the difference between the stuffed toys we were allowed to chew up and the ones that would cause a cascade of tears from the girls if we were to even drool upon them. I was always looking out for her. Today, Dorothy was looking out for me.
When our mom stepped in the mess that I don’t remember making on the carpet, Dorothy was the one who took the blame and apologized the only way dogs know how. She sat on her haunches, ducked her head to the floor and looked up at our parents with her big dark eyes. Eyes that seemed to say, ‘I’m such a bad dog/I’m so sorry/I’ll never do it again,I promise/Please don’t be mad at me.’ Thinking she might confuse the indoor rugs for grass while they were away, our parents thought the best course of action was to confine her. All day. Poor girl.
Finally free from her dark captivity, Dorothy bounds into the living room and barks at me. Mom says that we look exactly alike, except the hair around my eyes has turned white. She says that my age is showing.
Rose stands by the back door, our leashes dangling from her fingers. Dorothy shakes her long golden fur, her legs dancing with excitement. Although my bones scream with every move I make, my body instinctively responds to the jingling of the lead. I rise as quickly as I can and scamper over to Rose, who clips the leash onto my collar and leads us out the door. She leads me, anyway. Dorothy is already ten steps ahead of us.
Our walks are shorter and slower than they used to be. My body is sore and just can’t keep up. Rose senses this and we all take a break in a sunny patch of grass. I lower myself slowly to the ground, panting from the exertion. The spring air is crisp on my face, making the glow of the sun warm my nose ever so slightly. I close my eyes and soak in the rays. The grass is cool and damp beneath my body, relieving my achy joints. A family of birds twitter to each other nearby. Rose places a hand on my neck and gently strokes my fur. My head reflexively falls into her lap for more. She smells of paper and apples. I want to lay here forever, relishing in the touch and breathing the fresh air. But the day is not yet done, so we trudge on.
Food awaits us when we return home. Dorothy inhales the tasteless kibble. I stare at my bowl dubiously and then slowly back away. Without hesitation, Dorothy accepts the second dinner.
It’s not long before the two of us make our way to my favorite room of the house and flop down on our beds. Large picture windows line one wall of the living room, granting our eyes access to the expanse of the vibrant yellows and oranges of spring flowers, and the life-giving green of new leaves. I can almost hear them rustling in the breeze. As the sun makes its descent, the colors mute and the yard is bathed in a rusty light that I know is mere moments from extinguishing.
While I sink into the comfort of my bed, the rest of our family enjoys their dinner around the table. Pizza. My mouth waters at the smell of bread and the thought of their crusty leftovers being tossed our way, even though I won’t eat it. Dorothy deserves the extra treats anyway. I gaze lovingly at my sister, silently sending gratitude in her direction for her sacrifice today. She gave up a day of freedom so that I could enjoy this spot right here. The sun shining on my face, the sounds of children skipping along the sidewalk. All the backyard bratwurst to drool over. I close my eyes, remembering that bratwurst and how close I was to nabbing it. That furry tail–
My reverie is interrupted by two small bodies pressing against me. Rose and Sophia smell of soap, are dressed in clean pajamas, their hair wet from showers. I have no idea when I fell asleep, but I must have been out for hours. I am incredibly tired.
Sophia lays down next to me, snuggling herself under one of my arms and burying her face into my neck. She scratches my belly. My heart soars at her touch. I remember when she was an even smaller person, pedaling a tricycle up and down the street and hauling little Roro in the trailer that dad hooked up behind her. Sophia demanded that I sit in the trailer too, but there wasn’t enough room. Not wanting me to feel left out of the action, she convinced Dad to load me in the back of his truck and drive down the street, keeping pace with Sophia’s little legs pumping the trike along the sidewalk. Glee burst from her proud smile, triumphant in her quest to spread joy to her furry sisters. I will never forget her kindness.
“Are my Golden Girls going to read down here tonight?” Mom is standing in the doorway, looking at us. She only calls us the Golden Girls when the four of us are together. I’ve never understood what this means, but it makes grownups laugh wherever we go.
By way of answering, Dorothy trots over and flops down next to me, sandwiching Rose between our backs. Rose slowly caresses the back of my neck and begins to read us a story, as she does every night. I close my eyes and listen to her soft voice. I take it back, this is my favorite spot, surrounded by the ones I love. The soothing melody of her words and the warm snuggles from either side suddenly remind me of how tired I am. I breathe in the smells of my family, my home, and my heart fills with gratitude. If today is my last, I know how lucky I was to have it. I only hope that I was able to provide a fraction of the love they’ve all given me.