The Dog in the Trunk

dog leashCarol was 80 years old and, for most of the past 40 years, had lived alone in the small house she’d grown up in, on a shaded street in a tiny town in Indiana.

She had had no husband. No children. But many years of work at a desk, first in the accountant’s office, then at the concrete foundry. Tallying the balance sheets, recording the accounts. Looking after her elderly parents till their passing. It had been enough.

But as the years streamed by, she understood more deeply the meaning of death (and consequently life), and when she retired from work, the house felt increasingly empty—the air too thin, the TV voices turned up to fill the silence. When she turned 67, she began craving the warmth and attention of another living being, and so she got the dog — a golden retriever for her golden years.

Molly was 3 months old when Carol brought her home, a fuzzy golden bundle, the last female of the litter. Never having raised a dog, Carol found the initial months of puppyhood intriguing and exhausting — the whimpering through those first nights, the sharp teeth nibbling at her hand and, oh, the frustration of housebreaking – the soggy newspapers, puddles in the corner. As a puppy, Molly was a clumsy ball of fluff. As a dog, she grew slender, with a feathery tail and a slobbery grin.

They’d gotten there together now, into old age. Carol had seen Molly through a diagnosis of epilepsy and three surgeries to remove ingested socks. Molly, in turn, lifted Carol’s spirits after a hard fall on the unforgiving church floor, the broken elbow and leg keeping her in the hospital for a dozen weeks.

Now, here they were at the veterinarian’s office. Molly had stopped eating and was vomiting strings of foam.

“Well, girl, it’s time to say goodbye,” Carol said as she sat by the exam table, stroking the gold and graying fur around Molly’s ears. She couldn’t put the dog through another surgery to straighten out that twisted colon, but she dared not think about returning alone to a silent, barren house.

“Thirteen years gone,” she said. “You’ve been a good dog.”

Molly lifted her head to lick Carol’s hand.

When the vet confirmed that the drug injection had worked, Carol walked slowly out to her car in the cold parking lot and opened the trunk. The vet’s assistant followed, carrying Molly’s loose body, and laid the dog gently on the green blanket, which Carol had spread in the trunk. Molly had lain on that blanket on the way to the vet. Neither knew then whether they would go home together again.

Carol had already decided not to bury Molly in her yard, as was the custom for family pets in that town. Instead, she drove the 30 miles to the pet cemetery, where Molly would lie with other family pets beneath a low headstone that would be weathered by wind and rain.

 

March 8, 2016

Advertisements

Grapefruit

Kay pulled her car into the garage on a murky Thursday night after a round-trip drive from Seattle to Florida. It was just this sort of weather that had convinced her to go, to get out of the persistent rain of November and search for the golden globe of the sun, which, she believed, was embodied in the yellow sphere that was a grapefruit.

When the idea first claimed its place in her thoughts, she considered it ridiculous. Why would anyone drive thousands of miles for a silly looking yellow fruit? She could just pick one off the produce table at the local grocery (and mischievously imagine sending the whole pyramid cascading to the floor).  When she announced her plan to her teenage son, he looked at her obliquely, as though he wasn’t quite sure who this woman was.

“When the rain begins in the fall, I’m going to go south and find the perfect grapefruit,” she said one evening in February, before the cherry trees began to bloom and made her forget the inky weight of the winter clouds in Washington State.

“How will you get there?” her son asked as he sliced carrots in the kitchen for the salad.

“I’m going to drive,” she answered pensively, looking into an imaginary distance over his shoulder.

“Drive?” he asked, puzzled. “But how do I get home from school? And who’ll make dinner?”

“Well,” she answered, “by Fall you’ll be 16 and can drive yourself to school, and you and Daddy do pretty well in the kitchen when I’m not around. You’ll manage it.”

After staring at his mother for a moment, the boy went back to slicing carrots.

And so, when the first rains roared in with the wind one November morning, she set off, stopping first in Arizona, and then in Texas, looking for the perfect grapefruit. The ones she found were large and smooth, but the skin wasn’t quite the right hue, and so she drove on, across the bayous of Louisiana, through the hills of Alabama, to the Sunshine State.

And there she saw it, just outside Homestead on her way to the Keys, the very fruit she’d been looking for in a grove of roadside trees. The dark glossy leaves of the trees sheltered the heavy, shiny fruit, whose dimpled skin, a vibrant yellow, bore a subtle blush of pink.

She pulled the car to the side of the road and calmly climbed over the slatted metal fence that surrounded the trees. In just a few steps, she arrived under the arching branches of a tree and absorbed the cool air and pungent fragrance of the yellow globes clustered above.

Then, in one fluid motion, she reached up and plucked the fruit hanging right over her head.  The stem gave way with a snap and the branch sprang upward, relieved of its weight.

And there it was, round and warm and glowing in her hand, like a perfect sphere of flame.

grapefruit

March 8, 2016