“Oooo,” I say when Murdoch’s lip quivers in annoyance and I catch a fleeting glimpse of white. “Look at those teeth! So clean and shiny!”
In exaggerated slow motion he swings his head towards me where I kneel beside him on the floor, me desperately wanting to wrap my arms around him, he trying not to melt into a puddle on the floor.
“Sorry Murds,” I say. “I just really want to look in your mouth.” But I won’t. It’s sore and he’s drugged and wobbly and, I imagine, just wanting to curl up in his kennel, slide into a drunken sleep.
He stands in the entryway on sinking knees as though he has just been dropped there, as though he had been happily enjoying himself somewhere else and now, suddenly, he is here and is feeling a little lost, a little confused.
His day started fine enough, although he missed breakfast. But there was a car ride, so that was awesome. But then there was the strange kennel and the muzzle and the people he didn’t know and, later, a soupy brain, a sore mouth, a missing tooth.
At the vet we found him lying on a comfy blanket in a large kennel, his tongue poking from the front of his mouth as though he had slid it out to taste something and forgot to put it back; his eyes glassy and unfocused with big red droopy lids underneath. But there was a slight spark at seeing my face and he stumbled to his feet, walked drunkenly beside me through the clinic and out to the car.
We drove at a crawl through a burgeoning spring storm. Ice clattered on the roof, gathered in a thick white layer on the road like frozen sand and we wondered if we might not make it up the next hill. The car dug in, clawed its way home, as Murdoch slid down slowly in the back seat, looked at me as though wondering, “How did I get here?”
He sways sleepily in the entryway, looks much thinner than he did that morning, more fragile, but he musters enough energy to growl a tiny growl as I pull out some of his hair when I remove the tape and gauze from his arm where the IV had been.
“Sorry,” I say again, holding the tape under his nose so he can see what I did. He gives it a slow sniff and then, on feet two sizes too big, he stumbles into his kennel, turns around and lies down; mouth buttoned shut, eyes staring into space.
The vet showed us on a diagram which tooth she pulled, the smaller of the two that flanked that pocket in his gum. The tooth was starting to rot where the gum had worn away, exposing the root, and there was infection underneath it. But his other teeth look good, the vet tells us. I am relieved.
In his kennel, Murdoch strains to hold up his head, his eyelids droop halfway down his face and I resist the urge to crawl in beside him. I leave him his space in the entryway where a fire glows cheerily orange in the woodstove and just outside the windows ice comes down in sheets.