This was written several years ago as the last part of a short trilogy. I just got it typed today.
Mom told me that my dear friend was too weak to eat her supper that night. Still, she wasn’t too weak to show her love for me the next morning. At the sight of my truck at the barn door, she arose from her resting spot on the cool, yellow clay inside and eased out into the steamy, summer sunshine to greet me. The legs that had once driven her high into the air in excited leaps and spins at my arrival were so weak and wobbly that she could only take a step or two at a time, tail barely wagging. Still, she came. I sat down on a chunk of firewood and stroked her head and neck for a few minutes, with an occasional hug thrown in. She seemed to be in a sort of quiet ecstasy—sitting there with her eyes closed most of the time, opening them only on occasion to turn and gaze into my own.
I took my penknife and cut the hotdog I’d brought into chunks, putting a pain pill in one piece for her arthritis, and antibiotic pills in two others for the sores from where she’d chewed at places on her legs due to pinched nerves. It was no use. She took a piece from my hand repeatedly, only to mouth it and let it fall to the ground uneaten. It was a horrible feeling to see my best friend in such obvious misery and know that there was nothing that I could do to help her. Well, almost nothing. My heart sunk even lower as I realized what I had to do. She saddened when I told her that I had to leave for a few minutes. She always did look downcast when I gave her a farewell, despite the fact that Mom is the one that fed her.
As I pulled out of the driveway to head to my house for a pistol and a shovel, the first predicted rain cloud of the day covered the sun. Arriving back at the farm, my friend once again hobbled out the barn door to greet me. Once again, the tail wagged weakly. When I dropped the tailgate and gently lifted her and placed her on the truckbed, she was happy. She always did like a ride.
The family who’d owned her for the first year of her life had three kids and two other dogs and went everywhere together. So, her first fall in the Christmas tree fields, she was ready to go home with every carload of kids. She never met a stranger, though she would bark happily and wag her tail to announce their arrival. I started referring to her as my “public relations committee.” From then on, nearly everyone’s first question on arrival was “How’s your dog?” My answer was usually made irrelevant by her own arrival on the scene.
After gently closing the tailgate, I drove slowly out the farm road, hoping she wouldn’t fall. Surprisingly, she stayed on her feet, sniffing the air and enjoying the ride. In the saddle-back of the ridge, I turned right, across the swale that formed the head of a small hollow and arrived at the edge of a wooded, half-acre flat on the left side of the main hollow of the farm. Previous generations of farm dogs, both ours and those of a couple neighbors, lay in the little flat that overlooks both the main hollow and the tree fields. It was always at this spot that we entered the woods when we “hunted” together.
After dropping the tailgate, I gently lifted her again and set her on the ground. I then sat down beside her, silently stroking her head and body as she sat there, eyes closed, enjoying the attention and sniffing the air. After a few minutes, I hugged her a couple times and told her what a good girl she was and stroked her head a few times. Her eyes were closed again as the little .22 slug made a small hole in the back of her skull and one the size of all hell in my heart.
She died as gently as she lived, body stiffening as she dropped to her side, the only other spasming being a slow wag of her tail. Had a sort of numbness not have come on me by then, that spasm would probably have made an emotional wreck of me. Textbooks would tell me that that it was just the spasming of muscles caused by trauma to the brain, like a headless chicken going for a run in the barnyard. But I wondered; could it have been a thank you for ending her misery, a good-bye from the other side, or an accusation for the one she loved and trusted most? Maybe it’s best that I don’t know.
I dug her grave as an oval, so she could curl up in her death-sleep as she had in life. I lined it with leaves for a bed and laid her in. Then I covered her with another layer of leaves as a blanket of sorts. After filling her grave, I covered it with small logs and brush to discourage coyotes from digging, a concern I’d never had to deal with until the last few years. I then took off my cotton gloves and laid them atop the pile, partly in hopes that my scent would further discourage coyotes, and partly as a symbol that a part of me stayed there with my friend. Then, I knelt there in the quiet woods and thanked the Lord for 13 years of friendship from the truest friend a man could have.
After getting back to the farmhouse, I loaded the decrepit doghouse onto the truck and hauled it out to the burn pile beyond the sawmill. As I drove down the rough gravel driveway to the county road, the first raindrops of the day began to fall. I remembered once overhearing a mother tell her little girl that a gentle rain is caused by tears from the angels in Heaven weeping over the sad things that they see on earth. As I pulled onto the county road to go home, I quietly imitated their actions. © 2012