Authors: W. Bruce Cameron
At dinner I liked to stay under the table and clean up when things fell on the floor. When there were lots of children around I could usually count on several morsels, but at that time there was just Clarity and, as I’ve said, her food tasted wretched, though naturally if some fell I ate it anyway. I was lying under there a few nights after the incident with the horse when I noticed that Hannah seemed a little nervous and anxious. I sat up and nosed her, but when she petted me it was in a distracted fashion.
“Did that doctor call for me? Bill?” Gloria asked.
“No. I said I would tell you.”
“I don’t know why men do that. They ask for your number and then they don’t call.”
“Gloria. I was … I was thinking about something.”
“Well. First, I want you to know that even though you and Henry are not … you’re no longer together, and you never got married, you’re the mother of my grandchild and I will always consider you family and you are always welcome here.”
“Thank you,” Gloria said. “I feel the same way.”
“And I’m sorry Henry’s job has him overseas. He told me he’s still looking for a position back here so he can spend more time with Clarity.”
When I heard her name, I looked over at Clarity’s little feet, which were all I could see of her under the table. She was kicking them, which was how she acted when she was feeding herself her yucky dinner. When Gloria was feeding her, Clarity would twist and turn in the chair.
“Meanwhile, I know that you’re hoping to get your singing career back on track,” Hannah continued.
“Right, well, having a baby hasn’t exactly helped
I still haven’t gotten rid of this weight.”
“That’s why I was thinking. What if Clarity stayed here?”
There was a long stillness. When Gloria spoke again, her voice was very quiet. “What do you mean?”
“Rachel will be back in town next week, and when the school year starts Cindy will be off by four o’clock every day. Between us and all Clarity’s cousins, we could give her so much attention and you’d have the chance to pursue your singing. And like I said, any time you wanted to come stay with me, we have plenty of room. You’d have so much freedom.”
“So that’s what this is about,” Gloria said.
“I wondered. Inviting me here, telling me I could stay as long as I wanted. Now I know. So Clarity would live with you? And then what?”
“I’m not sure I understand what you mean, Gloria.”
“And then Henry sues to end child support, and I’m left with nothing.”
“What? No, that’s the furthest thing—”
“I know everyone in your family thinks I was trying to trap Henry into asking me to marry him, but I’ve met plenty of men who do just fine. I don’t need to trap anybody into anything.”
“No, Gloria, no one ever said that.”
With a lurch, Gloria stood up. “I knew. I knew it was something like this. Everyone acting so
I could feel the anger coming off of her, and made sure I was well away from her feet. Suddenly Clarity’s chair was shaking back and forth and her little feet vanished up into the air.
“I’m packing. We’re leaving.”
I heard Clarity give off a wail as Gloria stomped up the stairs. Clarity hardly ever cried—the last time I could remember was when she crawled into the garden and pulled a green vegetable off a plant that was so pungent it made my eyes water worse than Gloria’s toes. Though I could plainly tell it was something no one should ever eat, Clarity stuck the thing in her mouth and gummed it. She had a real look of surprise on her face when that happened, and she cried just like she was crying now—part shock, part hurt, part anger.
Hannah cried, too, after Gloria and Clarity drove off. I tried to comfort her as best I could, sitting with my head in her lap, and I’m pretty sure it helped, though she felt very sad when she fell asleep in her bed.
I didn’t really understand what had happened other than Gloria and Clarity leaving, but I figured I would see them both again. People always came back to the Farm.
I slept on Hannah’s bed, which I had started doing shortly after Ethan died. For a time she would hold me at night and sometimes she’d cry then, too. I knew why she was crying: she missed Ethan. We all missed Ethan.
The next morning, when I jumped down off Hannah’s bed, something felt like it broke in my left hip, and I couldn’t help it, I let out a yelp of pain.
“Buddy, what is it? What happened? What’s wrong with your leg?”
I could feel her fear and licked her palm in apology for upsetting her, but I wasn’t able to put my left rear leg on the floor—it hurt too much.
“We’re going right to the Vet, Buddy. You’ll be okay,” Hannah said.
We made our slow, careful way out to the car, me hopping on three legs and doing my best to look as if it wasn’t hurting so I wouldn’t make Hannah any more sad. Though I was a front-seat dog, she put me in the back, and I was grateful because it was easier to crawl up there than to try to jump up front with only three legs working.
As she started the car and drove off, I had that awful taste in my mouth again, horrible as ever.
When we got to the cool room and I was lifted onto the metal bed I thumped my tail and shivered with pleasure. I loved the Vet, who was called Doctor Deb. She touched me with such gentle hands. Mostly her fingers smelled of soap, but I could always catch the scent of cats and dogs on her sleeves. I let her feel my sore leg and it didn’t hurt at all. I stood when Doctor Deb wanted me to and was lying patiently with Hannah in a small room when the Vet came in and sat down on a stool and scooted it over to Hannah.
“It’s not good news,” Doctor Deb said.
“Oh,” Hannah said. I felt her quick sadness and looked at her in sympathy, though she had never been sad with Doctor Deb before, so I wasn’t sure what was happening.
“We could take the leg, but these big dogs don’t normally do well with the rear one gone. And there’s no guarantee the cancer hasn’t already spread—we might be simply making him less comfortable in what little time he has left. If it were up to me, I would just do painkillers at this point. He’s already eleven years old, right?”
“He was a rescue, so we don’t know for sure. But yes, around that,” Hannah said. “Is that old?”
“You know, they say that Labs average twelve and a half years, but I’ve seen them go a lot longer. It’s not that I’m saying he’s already at the end of his life span. It’s more that sometimes, in the older dogs, the tumors grow more slowly. That would be another factor to consider if we’re thinking about amputation.”
“Buddy has always been such an active dog. I just can’t imagine taking his leg,” Hannah said.
I wagged at hearing my name.
“You’re such a good dog, Buddy,” Doctor Deb murmured. I closed my eyes and leaned into her as she scratched my ears. “Let’s start him on something for pain right away. Labradors don’t always let us know when they’re hurting. They have an amazing pain threshold.”
When we got home, I was given a special treat of meat and cheese and then I got sleepy and went to my usual spot in the living room and collapsed into a deep nap.
The rest of that summer it just felt better to keep my rear leg curled up off the ground and rely on the other three to get around, so that’s what I did. The best days were when I’d go into the pond, where the cool water felt so good and where my weight was supported. Rachel came back from wherever she had been and all of her children were there and Cindy’s children would come over and they all lavished attention on me as if I were a puppy. I loved lying on the ground while two of Cindy’s little daughters tied ribbons into my fur, their small hands soothing as they worked. Later I ate the ribbons.
Hannah gave me lots of special treats and I took lots of naps. I knew I was getting older, because my muscles were often stiff and my vision was dimming somewhat, but I was very happy. I loved the smell of the leaves as they fell to the ground and curled up, and the dry perfume of Hannah’s flowers as they became brittle on their stalks.
“Buddy is chasing rabbits again,” I heard Hannah say one time when I was sleeping. I awoke at the sound of my name, but I was disoriented and it took me a moment to remember where I was. I had been dreaming very vividly of Clarity falling off the dock, but in my dream, instead of me being a bad dog, Ethan was there, knee-deep in the water. “Good dog,” he told me, and I got the sense that he was glad that I had watched over Clarity. When she came back to the Farm I would watch over her again. It was what Ethan would want me to do.
Ethan’s smell had slowly left the Farm, but I still felt his presence in some places. Sometimes I would go and stand in his bedroom and it would seem as if he were right there, sleeping, or sitting in his chair and watching me. I took comfort from the feeling. And sometimes I would remember Clarity calling me Bubby. Though I knew that her mother, Gloria, was probably taking good care of the baby, I always felt a little anxious when I thought of Clarity. I hoped she’d soon return to the Farm so I could see for myself that she was all right.
The cold weather came and I went outside less and less. Doing my business, I selected the nearest tree and got it over with, squatting because I could no longer lift my leg properly. Even if it was raining, Hannah would come out and stand with me.
The snow that winter was a delight. It would support my weight just like water, and was colder and felt even better. I would stand out in it and close my eyes and was so comfortable I felt as if I could fall asleep.
The bad taste in my mouth never left me, though sometimes it was strong and other times I forgot it was even there. The ache in my leg was the same way, though there were days when I would wake up from my nap with a start, the pain a sharp, breathtaking stab.
One day I got up to look at the snow melting outside the window and it just didn’t seem worth it to go outdoors to play, even though I usually loved it when the new grass would come poking up out of the wet, muddy earth. Hannah was watching me. “Okay, Buddy. Okay,” she said.
That day all of the children came over to see me and they petted me and talked to me. I lay on the floor and groaned with pleasure at all the attention and the little hands on me, stroking me and petting me. Some of the children were sad and some seemed bored, but they all just sat there with me on the floor until it was time for them to go.
“You are a good dog, Buddy.”
“I will miss you so much, Buddy.”
“I love you, Buddy.”
I wagged every time someone said my name.
I didn’t sleep in Hannah’s bed that night. It was simply too delicious to lie there in my spot on the floor and remember all the children touching me.
The next morning I woke up just as the sun was starting to light up the sky. It took all the effort I could muster to struggle to a standing position, and then I limped in next to Hannah’s bed. She awoke when I raised my head and placed it next to her on the blanket, panting.
I had a heavy pain in my stomach and throat, and my leg throbbed with a dull ache.
I didn’t know if she would understand, but I was looking her in the eye, trying to let her know what I needed from her. This wonderful woman, Ethan’s mate, who had so loved both of us—I knew she wouldn’t let me down.
“Oh, Buddy. You’re telling me it’s time,” she said sadly. “Okay, Buddy, okay.”
When we walked out of the house I limped to a tree to do my business. Then I stood and looked around at the Farm in the light from sunrise, everything painted orange and gold. Water dripped from the eaves, water with a cold, pure smell. The ground beneath my feet was moist and ready to burst forth with flowers and grass—I could smell the new growth, just beneath the surface of the fragrant mud. It was such a perfect day.
I made it to the car okay, but when Hannah opened the rear door I ignored it and shuffled sideways until my nose was pointed at the front door. She laughed a little and opened the door and picked up my rear to help me in.
I was a front-seat dog.
I sat and looked out at the day, which carried with it the promise of warmer breezes. Snow still lurked where the trees were most dense, but it had given up in the yard where Ethan and I had played, rolling and wrestling together. It seemed as if I could hear him, at that moment, telling me I was a good dog. My tail thumped at the memory of his voice.
Hannah reached out to touch me often on that ride in to see Doctor Deb. When Hannah spoke, her sadness came off of her in a gust and I licked the hand that was stroking me.
“Oh, Buddy,” she said.
“Every time I look at you I remember my Ethan, Buddy. You good dog. You were his companion, his special friend. His dog. And you led me back to him, Buddy. I know you don’t understand, but when you turned up on my doorstep, it led to Ethan and me getting back together. You did that. It was … No dog could ever do more for his people, Buddy.”
It made me feel happy to hear Hannah say Ethan’s name over and over again.
“You’re the best dog, Buddy. A really, really good dog. Good dog.”
I wagged at being a good dog.
At Doctor Deb’s I just sat there when Hannah opened my door. I knew there was no way I could jump down, not with my leg. I gave her a mournful look.
“Oh, okay, Buddy. You wait right here.”
Hannah shut the door and left. A few minutes later Doctor Deb and a man I had never seen before came out to the car. The man had cat smell on his hands, plus a pleasant meaty odor. He and Doctor Deb carried me into the building. I did my best to ignore the pain that flashed through me as they did so, but it left me panting. They put me on the metal bed and I was hurting too much to wag, I just laid my head down. The cool metal felt good as I sprawled on it.
“You are such a good dog, a good dog,” Hannah whispered to me.
I knew it wouldn’t be much longer, now. I focused on Hannah and she was smiling but also crying. Doctor Deb was stroking me, and I could feel her fingers looking for a fold of skin up by my neck.
I found myself thinking of little Clarity. I hoped she would find another dog soon to watch over her. Everyone needs a dog, but for Clarity it was even more of a necessity.