Sometimes stories gain importance over time. In our own writing; thoughts, feelings, unacknowledged fears or hopes can manifest themselves without us even knowing of their existence. This past fall I wrote a short story about the end of a dogs life. Nothing personal, I told myself at the time. It’s just a topic that a lot of people can relate to. But now, after loosing my own dog this winter, it’s easy for me to see that choosing that topic was personal. Subconsciously, I think I may have wanted to spend some time working through the feelings that loosing the dog that I grew up with- the dog that I couldn’t remember a time before he existed- would bring.
So here’s the story that became a little bit more to me than what it was originally. Hope you enjoy.
I felt her muffled heartbeat through my sweatshirt, her warm yellow fur brushing up against my neck. I felt as if I couldn’t hold her tight enough to me, while at the same time she felt so fragile that I feared I would crush her. 14 years is a long life! I repeated over and over in my head, but it was of no use, I could no longer hold back the tears that had threatened to come every time I thought about losing Marmalade, except now… it was real. I knew it. It’s hard to say goodbye to something that so clearly loved you, more than it loved itself. Mom and Dad sat, each with a hand on Marmalade on either side of me on the old couch embedded with her fur and scent. I knew once I let go, she would be gone. I could have sworn her heartbeat was getting weaker by the second. I kissed her on the soft top of her head, and she nuzzled back ever so gently looking up towards my face, as if to say goodbye.
An infinite spectrum of colors fly past me at a speed I have not yet experienced; this is my first car ride! I shift and let out a yip to let them know I’m still there in the backseat. Mother told me about car rides before my new “parents” took me. Car rides can either be very good or very bad, I learned. It all depends on where they want to take you. But I know my first one just has to be good because I can smell that my new family is as excited as I am.
“Marmalade.” Ellie half says half sighs from the passenger seat of the car, with a faint smile on her face.
“What was that?” Eric replied, turning towards his wife.
“Her name is Marmalade.”
In the beginning, it’s just the three of us; I know right away that they both love me. My days are filled with walks around the cul-de-sac that we live on, which I can’t ever get enough of, and treats for doing silly things like sitting or lying down, or, Eric’s favorite, he demands “shake” and I hold out my paw and he shakes it. That always leads to the most treats and never goes without a “what a good girl!” They let me run loose too. I bring back gloves from the neighbors’ garages, to show that I love them as much as they love me. The word family suits us perfectly. At night, Ella tosses me popcorn from the shiny silver bowl as she reads in bed. I curl up around Ella’s feet, and rest my head on her ankles staring up with curiosity at her belly that seems to be growing larger and larger.
My life is lonely at first because of the tiny human. I cry because Eric and Ella rarely ask me to shake, or do other tricks anymore. Even though they were senseless, I loved them because of how proud their smiles made me feel. I have to wait longer between walks, and often am scolded for trying to get a better look at the incredibly small human. I miss the times when it was just the three of us, a family where I like to think I contributed so much to their happiness. That’s all I really ever wanted to do, make them happy.
The tiny human’s name is Jane. It doesn’t take long for us to become best friends once she becomes a little less tiny. One of us is always following the other. She often grabs a tuft of my fur and giggles; I lick her face. Sometimes, much to my chagrin, she will dress me up in people clothes. It really is my least favorite game, uncomfortable, restricting, and humiliating, but she is so delighted by wrapping Ella’s scarfs around me, or putting her hair bows on my fur, that I put up with it.
I hate thunderstorms. Tonight they left me alone in the basement. I only want to be good for them, but sometimes fear is impossible to ignore, even for those you love. The thunder grows louder and seems to shake the entire house. Rain is pouring down the windowpanes, and flashes intermittently light up the basement in an eerie white light. I feel trapped, instinct takes hold and I begin feverishly to rip through the drywall that I imagine must be between the outdoors and me. When I reach the pink fluff of insulation I become aware of the pain that is shooting through my nails, but worse than that pain is the thought of the shame that will be inevitable when my family arrives home. No sooner had I thought that, I hear the familiar rumbling of the opening of the garage door, and feel my tail immediately lower. The door clicks open and I hear Ella inhale sharply as she flicks on the light. Jane is asleep in her arms.
“Oh Marmalade, what are we going to do with you?”
An unfamiliar sound and a sense of unease awake me from a nap one day. Sun pours in through the front window, illuminating tiny specks of dust in the air; I know it must be afternoon. I follow the source of the noise down the hall, my nails clicking on the tile floor, and find Jane crouched on the floor crying, I couldn’t believe I didn’t hear her come in from the bus. She’s old enough now that Eric and Ella trust her to come home to only me, but I questioned their judgment. Unable to know why she is so sad, I sit down at her feet and stay until her tears dry. It makes me anxious that she is upset, so I nuzzle up to her and lick her hand in an effort to comfort her, and to say “I will always stay by your side.”
I sleep in Jane’s room nearly every night now. The stairs are too much for me to climb to Eric and Ella’s room on the second floor. Gone are the days of chasing the mailman’s truck all the way to our house from the bottom of the hill… I guess I’m an old dog now. But with this new territory of being old, I’ve come to realize the happiness that things as simple as napping in the sun while watching Jane read a book can bring. There’s a certain upholstered couch that belongs only to me that is a particularly good spot to observe them from. They must think it’s unappealing since it is the only piece of furniture in the living room that they let me sleep on anymore and I shed more than I used to. Jane still makes the most time for me out of the three of them, even after they got her the little kitten a few years ago. It puzzles me to think about life without Jane. But I don’t think I have to. She’s still only a relatively small human, really.
It was not so long ago that Eric and Ella drove me to my new home with them on the hill, and yet it was a lifetime ago. I feel wholly content, as Jane holds me now. I think back to how small she was when I first met her; it amazes me that she has grown to be nearly the same size as her mother and father. They are here too, I feel their warm hands brushing my fur, but my eyes are heavy with sleep; a new sleep that I feel wrapping around me like a blanket, warm and safe. I feel Jane kiss me on the head; and am overwhelmed by my intense adoration for her. I wish I could tell her not to be sad as I look up at her and nuzzle back; but I think she might have understood my thoughts, because through her tears she lets out a laugh and smiles at me.
I am happy.