The poodle scampered across a grate, its billowing smoke warmed her fur. She was the usual client of mine, old yet upbeat, headstrong and knew how to bring me along wherever she went. Her personless leash tugged behind her, picking up rain, dew and trash — whatever graced the ground the night before. Set off from her home to eclipse the morning sun and paperboys and mailmen and dogcatchers and people trying to make their shifts and people trying to leave their shifts and people just trying to get home or go somewhere.
I’d gotten the call about her two months back.
“We’re expecting.” Her mother had said. “Kids shouldn’t have old dogs,” and I had to agree. Not on my conscience, but on principle. People didn’t know what they were asking for when they called, some of ‘em thought they knew, and others just wanted to open Pandora’s box, knowing they’ll never see what’s inside.
The woman’s bump had grown in like a teratoma since those months, and I thought not to tell her of the stillborn in her stomach, stealing nutrients and fluids just for her to call me again on delivery day, but I can’t see the future, only smell it.
Isabella, the dog’s name of course — I never was one much for remembering human’s — reminded me of another one I’d seen years pass. Many a canine had fallen into my lap of due diligence and carefully ridding them of their own existence, but Samuel was different.
A stout black lab, runt of the litter, his legs less inclined to move and more akin to loafing around. Scatterbrained and held at some Kennel house, cause who’d want a dog with too bony of legs? He’d played in some traffic, and now the vets were wondering what to do with him, then eventually thought it’d be best to call me or maybe it was the howls and yelps of Samuel that called, I don’t know. All I know is I ended up in some operating room, and as quick as I’d arrived. Sam was gone.
Dogs cry too. Beautiful tears that dripped onto blue sheets of paper laid atop metal where he’d spent his final night. Within each tear, a dream. No summer or spring, just endless streams of kibble and infinite balls whose owners never tire of throwing.
Isabella stood in a crosswalk when a suited man grabbed hold of the leash. He stared into her eyes as she stared back and he said: “We need to get you home.” Ten minutes of tugging her back and forth and her pulling back, he gave up. They always did. Everyone was always too fickle, in a hurry, didn’t have time when it came to other’s business or were just proving to the strangers around them they were good-natured when it was a false gesture, letting some old hound pull you around before you look up and realize no one was watching anyway, a good deed isn’t done when no one is around to praise it — he’d think.
A cut in-between a sandwich parlor and a bakery would be her final resting place. She scurried into the alleyway, past trash cans and missed litter; broken bottles scraping against her old paws; cold fermented weeds growing out from the cracks of the concrete; an empty dumpster riddled with rust and green. She laid down beside the dumpster and softly panted, golden fur gleaming against slits of sunlight. I kneeled down beside her and rubbed her back. Clumps of fur came off in my hand. She rumbled through her few teeth and closed her eyes.
Dogs keep time too.
Cole Stacey is a writer based out of Ohio whose car stopped working last week. He’s fond of the things that make the world bad, or good, or whatever else falls in between. Find Cole on Instagram @cole_stacey.