Dante’

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photoThe man brushes the dog gently and watches as the white puffs of fur spiral softly down the street like clouds of cotton. He has placed a blanket on the new, tender grass near the front of his house, and he and his young son sit there with their dog, Dante’. The boy’s body is wrapped like a spoon around the old dog, all kid arms and legs and white fur intertwined. It’s a beautiful, warm July day, full of sun and just a whisper of a breeze, and the man, boy and dog are bathed in a sweet, yellow light.

It is the last few hours of the dog’s life.

He is an old dog, now – over 15 – and he trembles slightly, his body worn out. The man knows the dog’s vision and hearing are long gone, but it is only recently that Dante’ has truly failed, his body shuddering on idle, waiting to turn off.

There had been a series of strokes over the last year… small moments at first but ever growing and more serious until the man decided he could no longer bear to put his dog through one more. And yet, the dog ate his full breakfast that morning and it was just yesterday that he was able to walk down to the corner and back with only two rest breaks. The man wants to believe that Dante is ok, that he’d still be fine for a few months longer, but he knows better.

A woman drives up in a red sedan and stops in front of the man’s house. She exits the car carrying a flower – a yellow orchid in a clay pot. The man and the boy watch her walk towards them. The dog, who no longer sees, stares directly ahead, his head shaking with a Parkinson’s-like tremor. When the woman is near, she hands the man the plant without a word and he smiles.

“Look Dante’,” he says sweetly to his dog. “Isn’t this nice? It’s a flower.”

And the dog somehow knows to move his nose towards the petals and sniff just a bit. He is still there, being a good dog, smelling the flower for his master. But he is ready. The old dog is ready to go.

“The vet will be here in a few minutes,” the man says to his visitor and she nods her head solemnly.

She bends to pet the dog and gives him a kiss on the head. She knows the man wants to be alone with Dante’ and she turns and leaves them to continue their sweet and painful countdown.

Eventually man’s son rises from the blanket, bored and restless, and goes into the house to find his older brother. They both come back out front, baseball gloves in hand, and play catch in the road, very near the man and his dog. There is laughter from the street – the sounds of everyday children at play who are trying very hard not to think about losing their dog. There is only so long you can think about things like that before you have to get up and throw a ball.

Very shortly a light-colored SUV appears and out pops a small woman carrying a red case. She is both a welcome and terrible sight but the man knows that this vet is a good human being just here to ease the dog’s pain, to ease everyone’s pain.

They move in a small processional, the vet, the man and his two sons, towards the back of the house for privacy. The man has picked up the dog and cradles him close as he shuffles forward in his slow, pre-funeral walk. His head is bowed, his face close to his dog.

Later that night after the two boys are asleep the man finds himself staring down at the place where his old dog used to lay, the spot right next to the couch by the window that gets the late afternoon sun. The man kneels down and pats the floor as though the dog, himself, were still lying there. When his two sons bound down the stairs in the morning, excited yet again for another warm, summer day, they find the man lying on the floor next to the couch, curled into a ball. He is sleeping soundly, one of Dante’s old toys brought into service as a pillow. The two boys giggle at their father and then grab their mitts and dash out into the sun.

 

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