My mother’s dog is suffering. In the early afternoon we arrive to help my father decide to put her to sleep. She’s waiting on that shabby strip of carpet between
my mother’s bed and the bathroom door where my mother always let her sleep even though she tripped over her every dark night she went to the bathroom. Abby still sleeps where my mother would find her if she returned.
In the living room we look at the pee stains on the rug in front of the fireplace while my father tells us how he accidentally bumped her backing up his car.
The vet my mother always took her to makes a house call.
My father doesn’t want to tell Abby so we do while he goes into the yard.
We sit on the floor beside my mother’s bed, ten hands touching her all at once. This old lady, she knows what we mean. She stands and
she isn’t strong or steady but seems sure of something she wants us to learn so we follow her down the unlit hall into the
family room where my mother slept to the sound of soap operas every afternoon on this couch, lumpy with distress. Then she leads us up one step into the
dining room past the teakwood table my mother drew us to for dinner, into the
living room where above the mantle she hung the portrait with our peach pastel faces lighting our childhood like five radiant moons and we step out of the room, not out of this orbit, around the corner into the
kitchen where she filled Abby’s dish with kibble and cottage cheese, and we go back down the hall into each of the cramped bedrooms we slept chapters of lifetimes in:
I. The Big Room
II. The Gray Room
III. The Green Room
passing the closets all crammed with secrets like clutter someone should purge with a trip to Goodwill, then we follow her back into the
hall where she’s limping still but stepping lighter like she’s growing younger, making us wonder if my father is wasting his energy digging a hole in the
lawn where his best flowers bloom—what if she’s trying to show us the drastic mistake we’re making—except now that she’s leading us back to the place by
my mother’s bed where we all began, we can see it’s a map she’s been making of what we must lose before leaving.
Billie and I send the girls to the yard with their sweaty hands stinking of unwashed fur, and the vet kneeling tells us it will be quiet and quick as Billie and I close our eyes and sweep our hands over all her muscle and bone and once we’re all in the
yard together we make a ritual as if my mother is watching this circle of singing and weeping and wishing we could give her the news.