Cassandra’s Tears

Tears of joy, tears of pain, we are reflected in the salt-water pools we create. So let us build a fleet of paper boats and sail them on our ocean of indecision, laughing at the wind-whipped white-crested waves that would wash over us, drowning us in our own despair, yet somehow never vanquishing us in the end.

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Location: Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Good dog, Chester. Good dog.

Robina doesn’t want to be doing this. She’d rather be doing anything else, she thinks, than this. But there’s no other way.

She pulls her station wagon into a parking spot next to the big white building and turns off the engine, staring at the sign posted on the wall: PARKING ONLY FOR ANIMAL CLINIC. After a moment she opens the door of the car and gets out, feeling a twinge of pain in her arthritic hip, as if in sympathy for the golden retriever lying in the back. She opens the wagon door and says as cheerfully as she can, “Come on, Chester! Out of the car!”

Chester wags his tail once and looks toward her voice with his cataract-clouded eyes. She reaches in to scratch his head and he licks her hand. I can’t do this, she thinks. Then Chester heaves himself up and, so slowly, so painfully, gets out of the car, every joint protesting the movement, and she knows she must. “Come on, Chester,” she encourages him. “That’s a good boy.”

Once the dog is outside, panting and trembling, Robina snaps the lead onto his collar and gently tugs him toward the main door of the big white building. She wonders if Chester knows. She wonders how she would feel if she were in his place, except she doesn’t know what a dog feels. Loyalty, even devotion. But love? Isn’t that a human construct?

But she is certain that Chester feels love of a canine sort. He loves her, at any rate. He liked Raymond before the divorce, before he started lying and coming home smelling of booze and cigarettes and sex. When Raymond changed for Robina, Chester stopped liking him so much. When he moved out, it was as though both dog and mistress breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Robina opens the door of the animal clinic and the retriever hesitates at the entrance. He whimpers quietly and Robina thinks, he knows. Then the dog steps over the threshold and Robina lets out the breath she doesn’t realize she’s holding. Has he made peace with his unavoidable fate? Is there any part of him that doesn’t hurt, she wonders?

They stop in front of the reception desk and Robina announces herself in low tones. “Take a seat,” says the young woman. “Dr. Yip won’t be long.”

Obediently, Robina sits down in one of the chrome and vinyl chairs, Chester dropping heavily at her feet. Tomorrow she will go to the day care where she works, make lunches: soup, sandwiches, jello desserts; and she will come home to a totally empty house. No husband, no kids, no dog.

The door to the vet’s office opens. “Good morning, Robina. I’m ready for Chester now.” They both rise and make their way into Dr. Yip’s examining room. “Can you get him up on the table?” asks the vet.

Robina helps Chester climb onto the table, noting the effort it takes for him to do so. He lies down again and licks her hand. She knows he suppressed a whimper. Why is it dogs try to hide their hurt from us? Do they think that the other pack members will sense their weakness and go for the jugular? Isn’t that exactly what I’m doing now, going for the jugular, except more gently, with kindness and compassion? Am I putting him out of his misery or lifting a burden from the shoulders of the pack?

Robina has a sudden memory of her father hooked up to life support, beseeching her with his eyes to turn it off, to let him die, and the double standard stares her in the face: how people are forced to endure a life they no longer wish to live, and pets are put down.

She holds back a sob as Dr. Yip readies the injection. He mistakes her emotion and says, “Don’t worry. Chester won’t feel a thing.”

Robina attempts a smile at the vet and replies, “It’s not Chester I’m worried about, doctor.”

3 Comments:

Blogger Ilana said...

That's very sad... good story though.

3/16/2010 10:32 AM  
Blogger scifiknitter said...

Very, very real. I remember having to lift our old, sick dog on to the table. You captured the complex emotional state of the protagonist well, too.

Anita

3/17/2010 7:47 AM  
Blogger JRS said...

I cried reading this, for ole' Chester but more so for the beauty of your writing and the multitude of topics touched upon with such respectful elegance. A major masterpiece, this.

3/30/2010 2:01 PM  

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