The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

On the Last Day of Autumn

By J.A. McDougall

In the middle of a Wednesday afternoon, while the kids are safe at school, we are driving. I check the clock. “It’ll be quiet in there now. We won’t have to wait.”

My husband doesn’t answer or even turn his head. I follow his stare to the narrow road. Dry leaves blow from near naked poplars to clot in the place where sidewalks meet asphalt. Above, branches lean toward one another spotting the sky with curling greens ready at any moment for their release from the russet and golden canopy.

I catch sight of her fall coat in the rear view mirror. Its mosaic of ambers, blacks, and ginger is the first thing one would see, the soft white fur of her underside often hidden from view as it is now. My husband had placed her carefully there on the back seat hoping she’d stay safe, but suddenly I wish I had her in my lap, just as she was for her first car ride ten years ago. Driving from the farm, she cuddled up against my newly pregnant belly for three hours. She’s so heavy now, I can’t lift her.

We couldn’t have predicted how Lucy would change our life. The stubborn nature of a basset hound only strengthens as they age, keeping us on duty every last hour. Her acute sense of smell coupled with admirable persistence yielded her a turkey carcass from the kitchen counter one Thanksgiving. With that signature snout her craving for and ability to source anything remotely food related was confirmed the afternoon she wrestled open a Diaper Genie. Continual middle of the night interruptions made us wish we had installed a doggy door in the first place. Our frustration grew with the costs of basic needs plus the inevitable house and yard repairs resulting whenever an animal joins a family to make a home.

We park close to the door and bring Lucy inside the veterinarian’s office. An intuitive receptionist guides us straight into an exam room and spreads out a brown blanket worn soft. My husband carries Lucy to the centre of the room - her hind legs and back end dangling from his arms - and sets her on the blanket. The woman moves to help him and then she leaves. One of us slumps onto a bench, one stands at the dog’s side, both of us cry.

The next woman to appear calls Lucy by name. Her somber expression comforts me whether her cheeks are flushed with sorrow for the patient or empathy toward us, no matter. But I do worry for her. How often must she face this scene?

The woman positions a stethoscope in her ears, runs one palm along our baby’s side, then buries the silver dollar in a spot of white fur.

“She’s gone.”

I move to touch my good friend, to memorize the texture of her back thick with sleek hair and the weight of her magnificent front paws. I try to recall the clip of her nails across the kitchen floor and her scent fresh from the salon.

With patience and a mild manner, she had greeted each new baby with gentle licks to their feet and allowed them a tug on her ears once they were able to sit up. Mostly she was disinterested in us, preferring sleep over play, but the children’s movements were always tracked as she rested a safe distance away. Luggage dragged from storage caused Lucy to sulk and mount hunger strikes until a loving relative arrived to mind her. She was firmly committed to self imposed routines no one could affect until my husband became ill. It was then she had lain at the foot of his bed for days.

“Peace be with you.” My husband is whispering into her ear.

As we pass through the empty waiting room, panic begins at my core, washing over me with a shiver and stealing my breath. I grab my husband’s hand and weave our fingers together. Could we have given her more?

In the parking lot, we float slowly towards our car, free of baggage but for the support group pamphlet and a blue strap purchased a decade ago. Light flakes have begun decorating branches, veiling our path ahead, bringing with them the next season in our life and the pleasures that will surely follow.


Blogger tamara said...

Oh, sweetie, I'm so sorry for your loss. It's so hard to lose a pet. This has made reflect on my family dogs growing up; I'm all verklempt, now. Bassett's are lovely beasts (I've thought of owning one before) and yours looks so regal. Thanks for sharing this. Hugs.

Tue Nov 14, 12:28:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Beautifully written, Jen. I'm in tears. It brings me back to a similar day with our Wheaten terrier ten years ago. How are your kids?

Tue Nov 14, 03:12:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Thanks for reading, you two. Just had to write about that day last week. The girls sobbed, my optimistic son asked if we'd see her again in heaven, and my youngest son is too young to notice, I'm afraid.

Tue Nov 14, 09:07:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger MelBell said...

This has me in tears. I'm so sorry...

Tue Nov 14, 09:27:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Thank you, Jen. And thank you Lucy.

Tue Nov 14, 10:33:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Patricia said...

I was just bawling at work, oh jen..I'm so sorry, lots of hugs, you're going to miss her...xoxoxo

Tue Nov 14, 02:57:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger H.E.Eigler said...

Jeez Jen,

You are often making me cry these days. So sorry for your loss. All the best.

Tue Nov 14, 04:53:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

So sorry loss for your loss. What a beautiful tribute.

Tue Nov 14, 11:52:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came across this blog months ago and read it faithfully. I love all of your work. A very talented bunch!! I've wanted to post comments many times in the past, but, well, I haven't. I have come back to read this post many times today. So sad and beautiful at the same time. I am very sorry for the loss of your Lucy.

Charline in Calgary

Wed Nov 15, 02:46:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Thanks to all of you, she will be missed. To Charline...I'm so glad you posted a's a pleasure to hear from you. Are you a writer also?

Wed Nov 15, 08:58:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Touching how our most beloved pets often make the biggest sacrifice for our families, giving our children their first glimpse of what it means to lose a loved one.

Wed Nov 15, 09:53:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Jen! I'm just a "closet" writer. Maybe one day I'll be brave and send something somewhere!

Wed Nov 15, 01:51:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is beautiful Anna - you had me in tears as well. What a wonderful tribute to a pup that we all loved and miss so much. She was a wonderful friend to all of us. Hugs to you and the family.


Sat Nov 18, 01:58:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Margie sent me this via email and it prompted me to check out the blog again. I love your writing. Thanks for sharing. Last night my 4 year old son asked me "mommy, do you come alive again in heaven?". I said "yes, your soul lives forever." I'll bet that's true for your Lucy. I'm not sure whether this answer was good enough for him or not, but he turned over and went to sleep. By the way, as a Canadian, albeit not living in Canada, can I post writings on this blog too? I'm writing that last sentence with a lump in my throat because I haven't written much, yet have a lot I want to write about.
best, Lisa (from Jakarta)

Wed Nov 22, 05:11:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Stacy said...

Hello Jen - Thought I would check your latest writings and, oh my, you gave me some damp eyes. I thought of how you went from such a high the night before at your reading to such a sad low on the day of Lucy's passing. Life is very interesting, isn't it?

Mon Nov 27, 12:03:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops, your reading wasn't the night before. Regardless, the two events still seem to be in such sharp contrast.
Take care.

Mon Nov 27, 03:29:00 pm GMT-5  

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