By Miriam @ firstname.lastname@example.org
I was a bereaved person: empty, abandoned, listening for a familiar footstep. In this case, it was the patter of four paws I would miss. Well…no…not a patter, exactly. Polly the Bull Terrier’s best gait was a thud. Thud-thud, thud-thud, snuffle, snort, wham. That’s the Bull Terrier mamba…one I would never hear again.
My house was too quiet. The television droned inanely, my ancient cat wheezed softly in the rocking chair, undisturbed by the Bull Terrier mamba or a pig-like snout rooting through her cotton-candy fur. Kitty was in Nirvana. I was in hell.
It was Saturday. On Friday—drawn by some inexplicable telepathy—I had gone home to check on Polly. Her heart had been failing for some time: an enlarged, inefficiently pumping bag which sometimes skipped beats, leading to collapse and unconsciousness in a dog who had been the definition of demonic energy in her day. Sadly, Polly had too few days and Friday was her last. When I came in at lunchtime, she was dead, lying on the living room couch with her head on my favorite throw pillow. She was still warm. I was just moments too late to say goodbye.
That afternoon, my brother came to help bury her. It was a glorious Indian Summer day, just the kind Polly spent as a puppy snoozing under pine trees in the front yard of the old farmhouse where my husband and I lived then. Dave had been enthusiastic about the puppy until the first time she rocketed like an animated bowling ball into his shins, knocking him flat. Bull Terriers do things like that. He hadn’t been amused. He also hadn’t been well. We knew when we got the pup that Dave had leukemia; he bought her for me so I would have company after he was gone.
Returned to me shortly after the funeral by her breeders, who had kept her at their house when things were at their worst, Polly clung to me as if she knew how much I needed her. I had Dave’s fox terrier, Fred, but he was old and deaf and blind…not much company. The little guy felt the same way about me. That dog was my husband’s to the end; he lay in bed with Dave for weeks at a time and was there when he drew his last breath. We had to take Fred out of the room so the undertakers could do their job. It broke the poor dog’s heart.
Mine wasn’t in much better shape. We had lived in the old farmhouse for five years and it felt like mine, but it wasn’t. I had money for three months’ rent if the landlord kept our deposit. Business is business. I had to go and so did the dogs, the cats, and the horses. Dave and I had collected animals the way some people do shoes and there was no way I was going to see them lose a home just because I was losing mine. Fortunately, my aunt had left me a portion of a sizeable estate. I had to humble myself and call the trust officer handling matters, explaining that I was about to be on the street. I had had major surgery three times in eighteen months while my husband was ill and was in no condition to go job-hunting. It felt like I had been through a war. Sometimes I wakened in the morning unable to remember whether it was morning or night, whether or not Dave was dead. I could barely remember my name.
But Polly was always there, snuffle-snorting and nudging me into some semblance of animation, demanding her breakfast, her walk, her toys. She gave me a reason to get up in the mornings. Polly was a living, breathing hurricane, brimful of wriggling affection. Her slanty little eyes glinted with fun, soliciting even the slightest grunt of laughter, and on most days that was all she got. She didn’t care. She was back with me, back where she wanted to be, and all was right with her world.
The trust officer came through and so did the money; I could buy a house. I wasn’t picky. It was in the right location, it was the right price, it had enough land for the horses and a garage which could be turned into a small barn. I would never love another house anyway, so if it was structurally sound I would take it. Friends and my husband’s grown children helped me move. Dave’s son, Doug, was going to try his hand at representing his Dad’s dairy brokerage while I held down the office and we would split the proceeds. If that didn’t work out, I didn’t have many options. I had quit the social services job into which I had been grandfathered without a Master’s degree. I had done it with what everyone conceded was uncommon skill and dedication for eighteen years and people thought I was crazy to quit. But my husband needed me and that’s what you do. You know. “For better, for worse.”
But I was slowly regaining my health and I had my animals, especially Polly. And then, only a few short years later, she was dead, too, and I had nothing. The business was defunct; without Dave, it went South in a hurry and so did Doug and his wife, back to Florida where they had a home. I had taken a secretarial job for a time and several courses towards the degree I now needed, but it was impossible to finish. My aunt’s bequest had stretched as far as it could go. I had a living to earn, animals to care for, and I was in my forties. The degree wasn’t going to happen and secretarial work didn’t thrill me. It didn’t pay well, either. When a friend asked me to houseclean for her for extra cash, I didn’t say no. Before long I had more business than I could handle and was turning people away. It was time for a career change…maybe even a mid-life crisis. Dave had died with many of his dreams unfulfilled; I was going to take the time to realize some of mine before time ran out.
And then Polly’s time ran out.
On Saturday, I called Samantha. We joke that Samantha is my daughter and, in some weird way, it’s almost true. She is a much younger friend with whom one of my friends worked. Sam was just a kid then, fresh out of college and struggling to make it on her own. Family problems prevented her from returning home and pretty soon she was in mine. It was an arrangement born of mutual need—I needed income, she needed a room. We liked one another; it was that simple. She loved horses, helped out in the barn, flambee’d her hair making Bananas Foster, entertained me with her romantic entanglements and went to work for the SPCA. She was the one to take Fred there and put him to sleep when his chronic ailments of old age became unbearable and I couldn’t stand to do it. Her natural way with animals made her a hit at the shelter, but it didn’t pay the bills. She moved on to other things and then marriage. I always say I just got her between the “idges”—college and marriage. But we were close and stayed that way and she was the person I called when I lost Polly.
Sam had stayed close to some other people, too, most of them still working at the SPCA. The shelter opened on Sunday at eleven. Maybe the two of us should just go and…well…look.
The adoption fee at the shelter was $90. I had that much in change in a huge vase I kept as a doorstop in the dining room. If I got a puppy on Sunday and rolled my coins Sunday night…and got to the bank on Monday…well, maybe I could go look. I probably wouldn’t find anything. I had heard practically every dog in that shelter was a pit bull from the economically depressed area of Coatesville, where dog-fighting had become big business. I didn’t want one of those dogs. Sometimes you could find…well, a small spaniel. An older dog. Some nice little thing that would like to curl up on the couch with me.