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In Between Dogs
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Our second day in St. Pete, we do everything else on my husband’s list of distractions: Dali Museum, antiquing, lunching downtown. At 2 pm, he catches a cab to a meeting and I walk back to the penthouse. I stand in the silence of the living room, then make coffee and take my laptop out on the balcony. Thirty minutes later, having done nothing but watch prop planes glide in and out of the airport, I go back inside and lie down facing the back of the sofa. Two hours, later my phone rings, jolting me out of the blackness of sleep. “The meetings went great!” shouts my husband. I’m to meet him downstairs in an hour. I put down the phone and walk over to the window. Below, the street still swarms with traffic and crowds and horse carriages. It looks frantic to me, like throngs of people desperately seeking diversion from boredom or sorrow or regret. To pleasure, and step on it!

I often wonder how it’s possible to know the end is coming for your dogs, and to still be shocked when they die. How, when they could no longer breathe or eat or shit—the advance guards of imminent death—and you made the decision to euthanize, you could somehow feel you’d been heartless. As if, had you truly loved them, you’d have engineered something beyond biological possibility. You’d have made them immortal, like Hublot’s mechanical dog.

Suddenly I am visited by a crushing homesickness. I’ve fled back to home from wherever I was for so long, I still feel urgently that I must go there, regardless of what does or doesn’t await me. Even without dogs there is alive in me the same panicked, compulsive tending—once to their presence, now to their absence. I think of devoted Hublot, in a final sacrifice to the ever-expanding needs of his dog, moving to an empty warehouse, marking a renunciation of life as he knew it. As if to say, There is now only this. Only us. What began as expansion—saving a pup—becoming, in the end, a contraction. A narrowing. A sealing off of the exits.

This was not what I intended. This is why, when our last dog died, my husband asked for a year before getting another. And this is why I agreed.

I leave the condo and walk down to the harbor. The sun is hot on my neck, the water calm except for tiny swells that form around the boats, are swallowed up, form, and are swallowed up again in a rhythm that is hypnotic to watch. When at last I look up, my husband is standing over me, his tall, lanky form backlit by the sun. He sits down, puts his arm around me and kisses me. His shirt and lips are still cool from the chilled indoor air of his meetings. For now, there is only this. Only us.

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Dana Shavin is the author of The Body Tourist, a memoir; her essays have appeared in The Sun, Fourth Genre, Oxford American and others. She lives in Chattanooga, Tenn.

danashavin.com

Photo by JULIEN L. BALMER

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