We’d survived two wives, a loan shark, and alcoholism together – now he was leaving me.
His name was Merry, a golden retriever I picked up outside a Cincinnati bus stop on Bay St., during a torrential downpour. He was whimpering, scared and alone, where someone had left him tied to the bench post. They must have just tethered him there because when I saw those big brown eyes open and then shutter closed with the boom of thunder, I knew the first person to come along would have scooped him up.
That’s the first and only lottery I ever won, and I didn’t even have to buy a ticket.
Merry was afraid of storms for the rest of his life, and on those nights that rumbled and crashed with cosmic flashes of terror, I’d let him slink out of his own bed and hop into mine. He’d circle the whole bed, making sure our pillowed island was secure, then plop down next to me, putting head to rest in the crook of my neck. I’d hear him breathing that hot, broth stinking breath of his in great big chuffs for a moment, then ease out of fear into comfort.
Neither wife couldn’t stand him, but that was okay, he didn’t like them either. Well, I suppose that he tolerated my second wife, probably on an account that he thought these women would keep on coming, so he might as well get used to one. And though he tried to love Kathy, she never did consider him anything but a mess waiting to happen. The truth of it was though, I was the one who kept making the messes.
Booze, gambling, and even heroin once, cost me my managing job at the pizza parlor. The anger the booze gifted me cost us my inheritance from my father. And even though Mary had stayed through booze, neither her or Kathy could handle the gambling. They were right to leave. And Merry would have been right to leave me too, but he never did.
But now he’s here, on this steel table, his deep chest throbbing up and down irregularly. The Vet is petting Merry, but I ask him to stop because he’s doing it all wrong. You’re supposed to scratch Merry on the hip, that used to get him to playfully snap at your hand, but I don’t think he’s up for wrestling anymore. I don’t think Merry feels anything now but the pain of the cancer.
I pet him behind the ear, just like I did when I picked him up, all trembling and sopping wet, from underneath that bench in Cincinnati. He looks at me from cloudy, partially blind eyes that beg for relief.
The Vet asks me if I want a minute alone with Merry.
He leaves and before the door is closed I’m walking around the table, making sure there’s enough room for the two of us. I climb up with him, but my weight dents the steel table, a resounding rumble thunders in the room. Merry whimpers, so I shush him, tell him that everything is going to be okay, that he won’t have to endure any more storms. I curl into a semi-circle around him, and slide my face over the cleft of his once strong shoulder. I kiss the side of his mouth and slope my wrinkled hands over his forehead and rub my fingers in-between his squinting eyes.
He slips his tongue out of his mouth one last time to slobber my cheek. I don’t shy away.
The Vet comes in. I don’t know how long it has been, but he’s got a needle.
He tells me it’s time.
I take the Vet’s side now, and I tell Merry that I love him.
Five minutes later- I am paying a bill, while the receptionist tells me they’ll dispose of the rest.
“The rest? Lady, there’s nothing left anymore,” I say.
Then I’m alone for the first time in fifteen years.