Monday, March 26, 2012

The night the sky fell

It’s dark outside. The windows act like mirrors reflecting your life at you, all golden and glowy and warm. You’re standing in the kitchen talking to your husband, throwing a ball for your dog. You toss it in the air straight to her and she clamps her jaws around it. The ball is too big for her mouth but she insists on jamming it in there anyway. She heads off on a foot stomping, tail wagging, one dog parade around the kitchen table.

You laugh at something your husband says and then glance at your dog. She is jerking her head at a strange angle towards her backend, toenails skittering almost rhythmically on the floor, over and over again, the ball is still clamped in her mouth and she seems to be having trouble breathing around it. It is like she’s stuck in a loop, a broken record. “Are you okay?” you say as you realize she’s not and you are by her side wrapping your arms around her chest and easing her to the floor before her knees buckle.

Your husband is there too, cradling her head, the ball has bounced away somewhere, and one of you says it out loud, matter-of-fact and disbelieving at the same time, “She’s having a seizure.”

And then your dog is convulsing on the floor and there’s a puddle spreading under her of drool and pee and you’re vaguely aware that you are kneeling in it but you don’t care because your hands are on your dog’s body, her short black fur sticking up in tufts between your fingers, and you’re talking to her, trying to calm her down, trying to call her back and you feel like ten minutes have already gone past and shouldn’t she have stopped by now? She’s making the most horrible choking, gagging sounds like she can’t breathe and her tongue is hanging limply out the side of her mouth and then you’re sure she is dying right there in front of you on the kitchen floor and you think, “it wasn’t supposed to happen this way.” You’re not ready.

You have time to panic now because suddenly time doesn’t exist, and your husband and you look at each other and you hear yourself ask “What do we do?” and you don’t know what you mean by that because there’s nothing you can do but wait and watch but you’re also thinking of after. What if this is it? What do we do now? Because she’s 11 and ever since she turned ten you’ve wondered how much time you have left, but you’ve never really thought about it, never dwelled on it, just let the idea float around somewhere out there, not ready to face a time when she’s not with you.

And then it’s over. Just like that. And there’s panic in her eyes and she wants to get up.

You tell her it’s okay but she’s agitated, won’t lie still. You can’t make her stay and now she’s pacing wildly and you’re following her in loops around the kitchen, watching. Is she walking the same? Is she holding her head differently? Does she seem focused? Does she know where she is? Shouldn’t she be exhausted, want to sleep?

When she finally lies down on the blanket you folded neatly on the floor for her, she pants heavily and you sit with her on the edge of the blanket, avoiding the wet spot that got doused in water when she kicked over the water dish you put in front of her. Your husband sits on a chair because you don’t want to both crowd in, make her nervous, and you watch, and you talk about why.

But sometimes there is no good reason.

Two days later you are still watching her like a hawk and she looks at you like “What?” and you hug her again for the millionth time that day and she rolls her eyes and sighs that deep “I don’t get humans” sigh and you smile at her and hand her another treat and try to forget and not forget at the same time.

Monday, March 19, 2012


The sun skims across the tops of our trees and paints bright golden squares on our living room floor that slant from left to right and then right to left as the sun arcs through its path in the sky. Its warmth floods the house, swirls in to every corner.

By the window, I settle into my bean bag chair, the one I’ve had for about 15 years whose black vinyl skin has been pierced and slashed by little sharp claws and stitched up many times to stop floods of tiny white Styrofoam balls that pour from open wounds.

The cool smell of receding snow drifts in through a window open just a crack along with the lazy drip of melt water from the roof and the chortle of songbirds amidst the utter silence of the forest.

There are a million things I should be doing, but the beanbag chair feels softer in the sun and I sink in a little deeper as Bear stretches out on the couch, her eyes closed but for a sliver, her nose whistling softly. Chestnut sprawls beside her, a deep sigh escaping through his nose as he melts further into the couch, if that’s even possible.

Only Cleo is not relaxed, her pretty green eyes, shimmering like a couple of jewels, bulge from her face as she stares at the ceiling, mesmerized by every tiny reflection, even the flit of light reflected off the surface of my tea as it swishes about in my mug. She has not taken her eyes off the ceiling for weeks, not since the sun started showing up stronger and more regularly in clear skies.

Spring arrived early, after winter barely got going. Already there are flies and moths and other buzzing creatures that should still be in some kind of stasis somewhere. Great patches of leaf-strewn ground are emerging in the woods where just yesterday were fields of white.

In the lengthening evenings Murdoch and I explore the changing forest, try to remember the well-defined paths we made that are now melting into their surroundings. The remaining snow, the consistency of a slushie, gives way easily underfoot. It crunches and slops as we weave through the woods and watch the sun sink behind the bare-branched trees, a burning ball of gold in a peach coloured sky.

But in the early afternoon, the air smells like sunshine and our house inhales every last drop of it. The trees stand completely still as if they are sleeping and my eyes refuse to stay open. My list of a million things floats to the back of my mind, I watch it go until it is muffled by the warmth and the sun and I think “just a few minutes”, as Bear’s breathing deepens and Cleo finally closes her eyes.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Making a comeback

The sun’s heat is so strong in these late days of winter that if I close my eyes and stand in the middle of the road beside the open meadow near our walking trail or on the trail itself where the new growth trees are just starting to crowd in, it feels like early summer. And then the smell of winter drifts up on cold drafts of air skimming across the snow, fresh and clean.

In the woods silence is filled with the sighs of trees, chittering squirrels, the sweep of raven wings and of dogs sniffing every hint of new smell and the melting snow crunching and compacting beneath their paws. I watch them for a moment, lost in their own worlds, smelling the bases of trees, burying their faces in the snow up to their ears, tromping over the well-trod path.

Murdoch runs ahead and I follow Bear, watch her happy gait, her brace-clad knees pumping smoothly through the spring in her step. It is so great to have Bear back.

Since late October Bear has resumed her daily walks following almost a year of bed rest after injuring both cruciate ligaments. It was a year of faraway stares, deep, heartbreaking sighs, forlorn grumbles and insolent eye-rolls as she slid into a lethargy that I felt very deeply.

I missed walking with her, my constant companion. Bear and I have been inseparable for the last nine years. We have done everything together: camping, canoeing and swimming, traveling, walking and walking and walking.

It just didn’t feel right to leave her behind. But everyday I had to turn my back on those sad eyes as Murdoch leapt out the door on the end of his leash. I’d call back over my shoulder, “Good girl Bear! I won’t be long.” We both knew that wasn’t true.

Eventually she stopped asking to go. She shrunk into herself and curled in a ball on her bed. I felt terribly guilty and it seemed the bed rest wasn’t doing anything; she still limped when she walked and stood with her hips askew to keep weight off one leg or the other. But then we found those knee braces and, slowly, things started to change.

In the woods she fills the spaces with her presence as if she never left. Giddiness rolls off her as she skips along the path, ears flapping happily, back legs hopping along in her red braces that make her look like a castaway on a desert island, or in this case a winter forest.

I walk behind her, watch the sun shimmer off her black fur, wait for her to find a stick and spit it at my feet. When she turns to look at me, a great big grin is spread across her face as she whips her tail from side to side, and in her brown eyes there’s a spark of puppy mischief.

This is more like it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The gladiators

Jack is Murdoch’s best friend in the whole world. I constantly remind Murdoch that Jack is also his only friend and that perhaps Murdoch shouldn’t be such a bully all the time, like when he pushes Jack’s face into a snow bank or body-slams him into a ditch.

“Murds, you be nice to Jack,” I say as he steamrolls Jack off the trail into a deep, fluffy snow drift and sits on him. Jack peers up at me around a shaggy black shoulder with a wide grin on his face. I shake my head as I trudge past them, “Come on you guys, let’s go.”

Behind me I hear snarls and grumbles and claws digging into squeaky, packed snow and then a thundering charge as Murdoch whips past me, knees up around his ears, followed by Jack, snow spraying from his heels. Murdoch stops suddenly, turns back and picks up speed, lips flapping away from his teeth as he heads straight for Jack, Jack falters in his stride, turns to the right and pulls back just before Murdoch plows into him. They tumble around my feet, locked in battle, jaws clamping on necks and I jump to the side to avoid the tangle.

They leap in the air and bash chests, tails swish violently at the air, teeth flash white in the sun. They are a couple of gladiators snarling vicious threats; if I didn’t know better I’d think it was a fight to the death.

Murdoch throws his arm around Jack’s neck like the start of a head lock, Jack reaches up and grabs Murdoch’s cheek in his teeth, pulls him to the ground. They roll through the snow, Murdoch’s nimble body contorting in strange shapes, teeth bared and clashing. I expect them to chip.

They are so deep in battle I am surprised when they stop, distracted by some sound in the distance I don’t hear, and stand together, thoughtful and panting.

“You guys are crazy,” I say. They look at me, a brief flicker of recognition crossing their faces, and then Murdoch turns his head, slams sideways into Jack. Jack clamps his teeth on Murdoch’s neck and I skirt around them as slobber flies and freezes to their faces.