Ilsa

By Maria Smith, May 2020
DOG ON BED

I prayed for God to tell me, to send me a sign,
and He did, when I knelt next to you
to gently pet your head and pray over you
after I hung up the phone with the vet.
You looked at me with your jet-black eyes, reassured me
you were ready, and
I was making the right decision.

I didn’t wear mascara or eyeliner.
I knew my face would be a mess of black streaks if I did.

I came home feeling empty and numb,
my heart split in two, eyes swollen, face streaked with tears,
a knot in the deep pit of my stomach,
an aching in my chest.

I placed your tags on the kitchen windowsill,
picked up your bowl of water and empty dish
and left them both in the sink.
I couldn’t bear to wash them right away.

I felt misplaced. I didn’t know what to do.
I washed your beds and blankets,
put away your sweaters, your jacket, collars, and leashes—
but know, I’m keeping everything.
Maybe you’ll come back to me again as another puppy
with a different name, and just as sweet,
with the same gorgeous eyes, bushy eyebrows, long black eyelashes?
That’s my hope and prayer, Ilsa.

We crossed paths in such an unlikely place.
At a church bookstore, where Daddy and I
just happened to be volunteering
on an unscheduled day.

I had been sending Daddy photo after photo of rescue schnauzers,
but his answer was always no.
“We don’t have time.”
“We work long days.”
“Our schedules are taxing.”
But, I never gave up on my wish,
nor did I stop praying
for a miniature schnauzer, for you.

Then there you were, with your breeder,
snuggled up on her shoulder,
your face against her long blonde hair,
just shy of nine weeks old, a tiny baby.
Your breeder let me hold you
while she exchanged tickets for a show.
Looking at us together, Daddy knew
he couldn’t say no.
You were going to be mine.

I didn’t know it would be so hard without you,
my little friend.
We went through 16 years together, good times and bad.
Daddy even snuck you into the hospital when I was sick;
the doctors and nurses showed more interest in you than in my care.
You were a dog celebrity,
and nobody snitched on Daddy.

You always made my heart swell with love and joy
and I was truly blessed you were mine.

There’s no more tracked-in dirt to vacuum,
no more treats to buy,
toys to trip over,
car rides or adventures.
No more snuggling or kisses.
No more moving to new places together.
No more watching you explore, sniffing every blade of grass,
burrowing your head in the snow, or playing
with your best doggie friend, Kristi, next door.

Our house is so empty without
the sound of your nails clicking on the wood floor,
hurrying from room to room, following me around.
I still hear you barking at the front door,
sometimes at nothing,
I see you ringing the bell to go out,
exactly as we taught you.

You were so smart,
so easy to train, so perceptive.
Most of all,
you were our loving, affectionate,
devoted dog.

I miss you, baby girl.
You’ll forever be in my heart.

I know you’re in heaven,
as God’s furry little angel,
with your halo shining bright,
probably frolicking with
all of your new friends there,
free from pain, without a care.

I won’t say goodbye, my little Ilsa,
because I know
I’ll see you again,
when God determines it’s my time to leave this earth.

Promise me you’ll meet me when I get there.

Maria Smith is an emerging writer and artist living in Bluffton, SC with her husband, Terry. She earned her MFA in 2019 from Bay Path University’s Creative Nonfiction Writing program and currently volunteers on the editorial board of Multiplicity Magazine as their assistant blog editor.