I was convinced by lunchtime on a very snowy December day that my wife, Deena, had murdered our dog, Millie. The dog had been urinating every other night in the same approximate part of the dining room carpet for months. She was getting old. Her bladder muscles may have been weakened by a near-death experience she had about a year earlier rooting through garbage sweetened with propylene glycol. Deena didn’t exactly despise Millie, she had just gotten to the point, I think, where she didn’t see that the benefits Millie brought to us outweighed the costs. Deena is an analyst with Wharton Econometrics.
For my part, I put up with Millie—bad smells, mud in the car, morning and evening walks, the vet bills, urinating in the house—because I loved her desperate stupidity. She was a Weimaraner. The kids had wanted a Weimaraner because of those ridiculous New Yorker photos. Mary in particular, who was eight at the time, wanted a dog she could dress up in a business suit or tennis outfit. Adelaide, just four, went along with her sister, but had, I’m afraid, the idea that the dog would be the size they were in the magazine. Twelve-year-old Mike, on the other hand, was just happy to have unanimous support in his quest (a battle, really, from the age of six) to have a dog. By that time, he probably would have been just as satisfied with a Dachshund or a Chihuahua as a Weimaraner. So Millie came into our lives at those ages: four, eight, and twelve. Those are the right ages for a dog, and my children did a good job of loving her. Millie left thirteen years later when only Addie resided in our nest.
As luck would have it, though, that snowy Tuesday morning before Christmas, the whole family was together. The room we were going to eat our holiday turkey dinner in was scented with a bitter, rusty urine tang, and the thick ivory carpet was discolored and stained as if a large rodent had once been slaughtered there—a groundhog or raccoon maybe.
Thirteen is over ninety in dog years. Millie slept long, deep sleeps. I believe Deena just smothered her in her sleep. My wife is strong and athletic. It wouldn’t take much: one of our thick, white bath towels; come up behind, wrap the towel around the sleeping dog’s face; grasp the head and neck firmly; straddle the dog; hold on for maybe two minutes. The struggle is more a dance with death than a fight to survive. Loyal dogs are like that, I’ve been told. They do their family’s bidding because they can’t exist otherwise. Millie slept during the early portion of the night in the back hall off the kitchen guarding the rear entrance to our house. She died doing Deena’s bidding.
The snow had laid in thick all night long. I woke several times to hear the wind moaning against the northern side of the house. Deena was in bed two of those times. I remember, however, around 4:15, waking up and knowing immediately that her spot in the bed was empty. By the early morning hours, Millie had often moved into our room, sleeping on the floor under the window near the heating register. But one of her habits of enthusiasm is to follow anyone who is awake around the house. She was gone then, with Deena, wherever Deena was—or so I thought.
From the bedroom window, our backyard was sculpted smooth, glistening with shiny night-lit snow. It had to be close to two feet thick and still falling.
There is a silent sort of promise that heavy snowfall gives. We wake on another planet, it seems. There is a sense that this other planet is perfect because it is so surreal. It is rendered by artists. We have been on this snowy planet before, of course, on and off all of our lives, and our memories cascade in: the world shut down; sound dampened by the acoustic properties of air trapped inside trillions of snow crystals; boots, slush, clean smells, bundles and layers of cloth; the scrape of a snow shovel hitting asphalt; muffled voices flowing through cold, liquid air; the comfort, after being out and about on this new planet, of warmth near fires, hot chocolate, brandy, and the miracle of centralized household heat.
All of that flashed through my mind looking out into our backyard. I recalled other winters of the past and the joy of being snowed-in with my family, playing on the streets and hills around our house with all the kids and parents in the neighborhood, the way Millie would gambol around us while we shoveled out our driveway, the enthusiasm with which she ran through deep snow, bounding across it’s surface, her endless, daylong energy, the way she slept from dinner on if she was allowed, exhausted and spent, her legs sometimes churning as she dreamt, I imagine, of still playing in the cold white drifts, floating through the neighborhood, possessed by nothing other than her simple-minded sense of belonging and being what she imagined was the center of attention on this new planet sculpted by artists.
I smiled to myself with all of that in my head as a promise for the new day. The whole family was home and we had another chance to live through a snow day together.
I put my hand on Deena’s spot. I had no idea if she loved me anymore. No one does after nearly thirty years with the same person. I lay there wondering where she was in the house, wanting to go back to our twenties when we couldn’t keep our hands off of each other and we walked three miles to work every day and three miles home, talking about the life we wanted together, making plans that would come true but forgetting to include what we felt in those days and how to make it grow.
Millie came along at the beginning of our shift away from love. She was one of those unfortunate dogs with a low IQ and a belief that she was the center of the universe. She stole food off kitchen counters, badgered guests to pet her, waited all morning to scare the mailwoman with violent barking, and felt it her right to go on any car ride that was in the offing. But what Millie lacked in intelligence she made up for with enthusiasm. She’d been a strange sort of glue for the family in our last decade or so together.
I was drifting back into sleep when I heard Deena’s body move through the doorway. As she slid into bed, it seemed like she was trying to sneak. I wanted to touch her, to smell her scalp, feel her warmth, but I stayed in my place trying to breathe like I was sleeping. Not knowing whether you still love someone after more than twenty years is beyond pain.
To read the rest of this story, please email me. I’d be happy to send it as a PDF file. I’m in a publishing mode right now and this piece is out for review to several online publications and literary journals.
© Copyright, David Biddle, 2005