Carol 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