Your dog is old. You look at her. Her clouded brown eyes. Fourteen. Fourteen is old for a dog. This dog. This whiskered Scotty, mixed with West Highland terrier and who knows what else. This dog. Your dog, with her black hair knitted with untidy strands of grey. Her hair now looking like the color yours was when you took her in.
Then, when you said to the woman with the baby in her arms, ‘Yes, we’ll take her,’ and your children said ‘Yes, we promise we’ll feed her and walk her every day’ and they unfastened her collar from the tie-out line on the spiral stake in the ground in the woman’s back yard and the dog hopped, in one leap, onto the back seat of your car and you brought her home. And she slept in the bed you bought from the pet store in town with the memory foam pad, on the floor in your room beside your bed.
You adopted her from the family you had heard about who had a new baby and who needed a home for this black dog with a piercing bark. A dog that came to you with red and blue chew toys and the sturdy tie-out line you keep in the basement and a green battery-powered bark-stop collar that you never could get to work but which all you needed to do to stop her insistent barking at the window was to hold it up and show it to her and she would crouch down on the back of the sofa by the window with her head low and the barking would stop and you felt good and bad about that at the same time.
And now you know that when she pees on the rug in spare room where you keep your books stacked on the floor, that she can’t help it because she has a tumor growing in her bladder, but you also think that maybe she is upset with you, in her way, because you have taken in a cat.
This one, the cat, is black too. Young, with yellow eyes and smooth fur that seems brown when the sun angles on it and when she stretches out her white paws to you so that you will rub her chin and smooth her white belly. And when you do, she reaches out and holds onto your hand with her front paws and her sharp gentle teeth and pinwheels her back paws fast against your hand with her pink baby-skin pads. And you know this is just what she did, that first time, to the pale brown and grey spotted House Sparrow she chased down like a jaguar in the neighbors yard and caught it in her mouth after she sprang out of the front door when the mail carrier came to give you a package with the smirking logo on the side.
The bird which you then picked up from where it had been dropped in the rough dirt and you could feel its weightless dying in your palm, and you could see your reflection in its dull eyes, now as matte and black as, only a moment ago, they were lucent and bright.
And you think of how fleeting it all is and how quickly everything seems to pass and how your old dog with the tumor growing in her belly follows you from room to room as you clean the blinds and sweep the floor and make the coffee. And how she waits for you, lying on her side outside of the bathroom door so you can bend over and pat her on the back of her head, where you can feel the hard round growths there now which were only modest bumps a few months ago and which the vet said we would need to keep an eye on.
And now your old dog sits on her aching haunches and waits for you, looking up at you, for you to give her a piece of the whole wheat toast you made, warm with butter and red raspberry jam on it, and which you have forgotten you are holding, while you look out of the window above the kitchen sink and watch the stiff old birch tree sway and creak in the wind, thinking now of other things.