They were laughing in the kitchen, making food. And while they spoke, he watched them, his head turning first to one, then the other. The man said something especially witty that made the woman throw her head back with delight. She made a funny sound when she laughed, the woman, but he loved it because it was just a little bit canine, and to him it felt kindred.
The delicious smells that were wafting from the top of the stove were more than he could handle. It was some sort of sauce (or perhaps a broth?) and the woman swayed in front stirring, tasting, and adding little bits of chopped up things to her steaming pot. The scent filled his nose and made his eyebrows twitch. He licked his lips and let out a slightly anxious groan. He stood up, and then sat back down again, as was his custom whenever he was looking forward to something.
He was waiting patiently by his bowl, and he would not complain, not ever, but the waiting and the patience were getting to be too much. At his little groan, the man finally glanced over, exclaiming, “oh buddy, you’re hungry aren’t you?! Coming right up, boy, sorry about that!” and this sent him into a wild, giddy frenzy. As usual, he didn’t know whether to stand or sit so he wiggled around and backed up and did his crazy, pre-meal shimmy. It was a little embarrassing how much he loved his food but being himself came naturally for him with these two, his beloved people, and they seemed to enjoy his open exuberance. He wagged his tail in lovely anticipation, thumping it on the ground for good measure, as the man poured some dry stuff into his bowl. And then, Good Lord, the man grabbed a wooden spoon from the drawer and mixed in a dollop of whatever was bubbling in the woman’s pot, and oh my goodness, the woman didn’t mind at all!
“You’re going to love it, buddy!” she sang with a generous smile. He loved his people. He simply loved them with every fiber of his being.
And he could feel it. Today was going to be a great day. Extra treats like dollops of sauce from a pot made him one happy boy and it also meant he must have been extra good on their long walk earlier. It is his mission in life to be extra good. The man set down some fresh water near his food bowl, and for a few minutes, heaven ensued as he voraciously filled his hungry belly. The woman was right. He did love it. He loved it so much he licked the bowl clean.
He knows he is a good boy. He doesn’t make messes in the house, and he listens as best he can. He tries to give his people the space they need, but usually his curiosity and adoration overwhelms him and he can’t help it, he wants to be near them every chance he gets. He likes them separately, and he likes them together too. For example, it is an absolute joy to walk with the man in the morning, and then curl up with the woman on the couch in the afternoon, when she is tired, which is happening more often these days. The woman likes to tell him her secrets. She whispers to him when she scratches behind his ears. She uses the word “baby” a lot and he has no idea what she’s talking about, but he quietly listens anyway, because listening, among other things, is a big part of his job.
When they rest together, when they are snuggled in, he listens to her body too. He knows that something is happening inside her. He can hear a certain swishing, and an extra beating, and he watches for the movement that appears out of the blue in flutters under her tight belly skin. The movement and the swishes startle and perplex him. He can’t figure it out. And while he has been given no answers, or any sort of explanation, he loves the woman and whatever is coming to life inside her is making her happy. He knows, as most dogs know, that she is growing something he must protect.
The man, his man, has always been different from the woman, because he was the first. He remembers the day the man came into the noisy shelter with his hands in his pockets, shuffling down the rows, peering into each of the desolate, enclosed cages.
“I’m looking for a friend,” he said.
“Well, yev com ter de roi place,” the short, middle-aged Irish lady at the counter replied, the one who always had little dry treats in her smock. “Thar’s a fine friend ‘ere lookin’ for yer too, lad.”
And he remembers, too, that it was love at first sight, and it was all he could do to contain himself when the man actually got down on the floor to pet and talk to him. In return, he had licked his neck, and his face, leaning in, to the point of almost knocking the man over. “Please, please, please,” was all he could think as he tried his best to make a good first impression. The man chuckled, clearly captivated, and said, “no contest here, I think. We were meant to be, right buddy?”
“Ah, yer takin’ me best!” the friendly lady declared with a wink.
And so it was settled. Like a not so small miracle, the man simply saved him. He chose him. He fastened his collar and clipped on a leash, signed some papers at the desk, and then took him home in his car. It was the best moment of his life so far.
Because life had not been easy for him up until that point. For a brief time, when he was a puppy, he recalls that he lived with a family who liked the idea of being a family with a dog. They took pictures with him, and they chortled about how cute he was, but then they slowly lost interest, as some families do. They tried to care for him, but it often felt like they were just playing pretend. Most of the time he felt like he was just another chore. They were kind when they had time to be kind, but they were busy and bustling and stressed and preoccupied. They left the house early, and came home late. They were the sort of family who said yes to job opportunities in other countries.
When they moved away, they left him with “relatives” who were not kind at all. After his first family, he endured long days of being chained to a stake outside, unscheduled feedings, no neighborhood walking, and zero play time. The mother of the family often complained. “I did not sign up for this!” she whined with a frown, keeping her distance. He was but a dropped off burden to the relatives who did not know how to be friends with an animal. The mean boy who lived in the house threw rocks at him from the deck and laughed every time one came close to hitting him, causing him to jump away in surprise. It was not a fun game.
And there was the one brutal night that is forever etched into his soul. During a violent storm, the dreadful family left him outside. He endured a long night of thunder and lightening and icy, pelting rain. He shivered in fear and it almost killed him. It certainly killed his spirit, and while he has bounced back considerably since then, he has never been the same.
He had grown sad and lonely and resigned to a life without joy or attention. His life with the relatives was far worse than the one he had before, and he would have taken the busy family back in a heartbeat. When a neighbor complained to the authorities about him being tied up outside all day, he was taken away and placed into a “home” that smelled exactly like he felt, neglected and hopeless, with 16 other barking, whimpering dogs who had their own horrifying back stories.
The woman, his woman, seemed to love him the very first day they met on top of that mountain. The man had stopped dead in his tracks when he saw her strewn across a rock. He stopped as though he knew something momentous was about to take place, and he wanted to collect his bearings. But he, on the other hand, asserted himself quickly. He pulled free and bounded over to her. He licked her face without hesitation, and the rest is history.
“Thanks for being my wing-man, pal,” the man told him, on more than one occasion, stroking his back. He had no idea what that meant, but it sounded like a compliment.
She made the man very happy. She was kind, and different, and enchanting. She completed their unit, and she often called them the “three amigos” whenever they did anything together. “Let’s go, amigos!” she would exclaim when they all piled into the car to go for their hikes, and their trips to the trails that bordered their town. She sometimes let him sit in her lap in the front. She whispered things like, “it was you, it was you I fell in love with first, and don’t you ever forget it,” with a mischievous twinkling in her eyes, just loud enough for the man to purposely overhear, and this is not something a grateful dog soon forgets.
The woman loves with her whole body and she rarely dismisses him. She gets down on the carpet for belly rubs, and head scratches, and nuzzles, and playtime. She talks to him and throws a ball for him to go get. She asks for his opinion, (which is flattering), and she actually waits for the answers he tries his best to relay with his eyes. She seems to understand him, and she does not play pretend. With her, he is not a chore. She is inclusive without being condescending, and this makes him feel special.
She is also just as nervous as he is when a storm comes through, when there is thunder and lightening and crashing above, and he can not make himself calm down, when the memories come flooding back, and he can not contain his fear. She holds him close because she understands. “Oh buddy, what happened to you? You’re okay, you’re okay” she softly sings, repeating herself to soothe him, and it sounds like a lullaby.
The man rescued him, and they found the beautiful woman together. That’s how he sees it anyway. They were three searching souls who magically became the three amigos. They had converged onto one timeline from separate paths, becoming a family, leaving the stormy waves of their tumbling, rippling lives behind.
He is a happy boy, and he tries his best to be very good.
Lately, they are acting weird. He watches her move around him, always running her hand across his body, and the man likes to ask, “how are you feeling?” with expectant eyebrows before he wraps his arms around her. The man bends over and puts his lips on her belly which is decidedly weird, but it’s what they do. He tries to give them space but it’s not always easy. He has so many questions.
After his delicious breakfast, he busies himself with his morning routine. He circles the rooms that surround the kitchen, inspecting the corners, and sniffing the air before moving to his post by the window in the living room. The tiny, old man who smiles when he passes, the one who slowly walks by the house each day with his bag and his cane, has been absent twice in a row now. This is unusual, and he makes a mental note to keep watching for him, to look for him again.
The wily squirrel who taunts him from her tree branch stops abruptly to stare at him, as she always does. She does this without fail, every morning, making eye contact, knowing she is safe outside while he peers at her from inside, and she is free to do as she pleases. He narrows his eyes, and tilts his head, offering a guttural rumbling of a growl that does not turn into a bark, for barking from inside a house is a useless, pathetic activity, and he will not lower himself to that. He remains ever unimpressed by both her agility and her freedom. Enjoy yourself now, lady, he thinks as she scampers off to another yard. I’m just biding my time.
Tired, and ready for a nap, he then curls up inside his cozy bed placed perfectly within the band of sunshine streaming through the window and dozes off because his job description requires a few naps a day and as you already know, he takes his job seriously.
If he had been a basketball, he would have bounced to the side of the road, off into a bush, only to be retrieved and brought back to the yard once the coast was clear. But, he was not a basketball, he was a dog. And dogs do not bounce.
Upon hearing the back door open, he woke up abruptly. He trotted to the kitchen, expecting to see them, but it was vacant. Their voices were coming from outside, on the deck, so after a quick slurp from his water bowl, he scratched at the door and barked, which prompted the man to pop up from his chair and open it. “Come on out, my friend, it’s warming up nicely today,” he said. The air smelled fresh and crisp, and the sun felt wonderful indeed.
He felt like playing. He clambered down the stairs and searched in the bushes for his bright orange tennis ball, which was always around somewhere. Maybe he could get the man to throw it. It was the perfect activity, and he was always up for some running.
“Oh, here we go,” the man laughed from his chair, “now you wanna play don’t you boy?!” and he did. He sure did want to play. Are you kidding me? That’s all he ever wanted to do! The thought alone set his wiry tail wagging. Fetch was the best game ever. He could do it for long stretches without getting tired or bored. He brought the ball to his man, and they began their back and forth. As it is with all boys, tossing and retrieving never seem to get old, especially, for some inexplicable reason, on a Sunday. The woman leaned back in her chair with her hands resting on her swollen belly and laughed at the two of them. “Get it, buddy! Wow, you’re a fast runner!” she exclaimed, and her praise made him want to show off and run faster.
The man threw the ball a little further each time. He didn’t mind. He was the kind of dog who loved lots of exercise. He loved the way the wind whooshed past him, the way it felt to use his lean legs, and he loved the freedom that came with a big, long yard.
The next toss was a long one, and he went flying after it. “Yikes, too far,” the man said, instantly hopping down off the deck steps. The ball caught the corner of a rock at the very end of the property. It ricocheted and rolled down a short, pebbled ravine and right into a little pothole near the side of the road. He stopped at the edge, wagging his tail and panting profusely. He looked over at the man who was jogging toward him. The woman was walking, following the man, and he was yelling something, and waving his arms a bit.
“No buddy no, come back!” the man called.
Disobeying was not something he would ever do, in fact he always did what he was told. What he thought he heard the man yell was, “go buddy go, bring it back!” and so that’s exactly what he did. He went. He went because it was his mission in life to be a good boy. A good boy that listens.
The texting college student, traveling too fast and too close to the shoulder didn’t see him scurry down the slope, into the road. She didn’t look up from her phone, nor did she swerve or even tap the brakes until it was far too late.
One moment he was trotting toward the orange ball, eagerly bounding down the little hill to get it, and in the next there came a loud, shattering “SMACK!” and he was hit, a full blow to his body by what felt to him like a speeding brick wall.
Stunned, he was tossed a few feet, unceremoniously landing with a thud into the sandy patch by the pothole. He lay there dazed and motionless. Piercing pain throbbed inside his body, and there was blood in his mouth and nose. He heard wheels screech to a halt a little ways ahead, and he smelled burning rubber and dirty exhaust. A broken bone protruded through the skin of his right back leg.
He could feel their energy, and hear their voices. They ran to him and huddled around him, first yelling, then whispering, then crying, then talking. He could feel a change taking place inside himself, but he kept his eyes open, fixed on his man and his woman. He wanted to see their faces before the foreboding sensation of what was happening to him took over. He wanted to remember them, if indeed he was going to a place where memory came along for the ride. He wanted to show with his eyes just how much he had loved them, just how much they had meant to him.
“You were the best boy,” the man sniffed. “You were always the best boy and I loved you so much,” he cried, shaking his head. “I’m sorry,” he said, and it came out like a squeak because it was lodged in his throat, where air would not pass, let alone words. He shoved his palms into his eye sockets, trying in vain to hold back the flood of tears that streamed down his face despite his attempts to massage them back in. He fell to his knees away from his beloved friend, bowing his head, rocking a bit, seemingly willing the world to back-peddle to the time, just a minute ago, when this wasn’t really happening.
“Sweetie, sweetie, no!” the woman moaned. “You’re okay, you’re okay” she sobbed, repeating herself, getting down low, pulling her amigo, the one she fell in love with first, from the side of the road into her lap, holding him in her arms as the heaving of his chest slowed and then abruptly stopped moving. “Baby,” she moaned, and she laid her face across his face, “baby, no!” she wept, cradling him, her shoulders shaking with sorrow and shock.
He drifted then, thinking about them, surrounded by the best love a dog could ever feel, hoping there were squirrels and balls to chase, and tiny old men to watch, and dollops of sauce from savory smelling pots, hoping the way a good boy hopes, that there were sunny spots near windows, so to lay down his heavy, throbbing head, and trails and treats, wherever this creeping blackness lead.