The floor in the back of the newly opened pet store was covered with sawdust. I wandered past row after row of large dogs in crates until I came upon a single tiny Lhasa Apso puppy, his brown eyes boring into my heart.
“She dropped him off just like that! All bathed with this brand new leash and collar!” The woman in charge of the adoption event scooped up the dog and handed him to me. “We don’t get many small dogs, certainly not purebreeds.”
I called Matt and told him he needed to come over right away, that this dog wouldn’t last long in a room full of pitbulls, senior canines, and frightened cats. I held fast to the leash, already claiming him as my own. “I’m just waiting for my husband,” I’d say to anyone who dared to inquire about the puppy.
Turns out, there was a reason someone abandoned a purebred six-month-old dog to a shelter. Oscar panicked at being alone, chewed his way out of our bathroom window, splinters on the floor, the remains of the screen splayed open to the breeze. He chewed everything, in fact, destroyed a coffee table, two couches, an ottoman. He apparently had missed some opportune window for house training and never got the hang of it in his entire fourteen year life. I gave up on floor coverings years too late, having lost hundreds of dollars of rugs to dog urine.
He was supposed to be mine, this sweet fluffball of fur, but when they met, Oscar placed his little paws on Matt’s chest and gently licked his face. In the back of that pet store, Matt—who never wanted a second dog—conceded, and they became constant companions.
In his final year, Oscar would cry if he couldn’t find Matt, searching the entire house and even checking the shower stall to locate his dad. No longer our clown who’d tear across the slippery wood floor, he became an old man. He lost six teeth, then an eye, then most of his hearing. Our marriage ended too and, when Matt moved out two weeks ago, Oscar moved out with him, finally losing sight in his remaining eye. He was scared and confused and in pain and we knew it was time.
Behind my desk, I notice that the tumor in our St. Bernard’s front leg has ripened to plum size and I know that we have mere weeks left with her, if that. She struggles to stand and hobbles down the three steps to the yard and I can’t lift her by myself. I curl up on the floor, face in her soft fur, and try to match my breathing to hers. The ceiling fan rotates on its axis, its chain ticking out the time we have left together. I could stay here with her until then, but there are children to be picked up and suppers to be fixed alone and bathroom doors to cry behind, the shower running to muffle the sound.
The leaves are changing here in western North Carolina and a chilly wind kicks up in the mornings, though by late afternoon we are again sweaty and I never get the layers right on my third grader when we dress for school. Night falls more quickly, but October can’t quite give up on summer and neither can I. And so I continue to tug on cutoffs that now hang off my frame, my appetite lost to a season of sorrow.
The pumpkins on my neighbors’ porches bring me to tears. November promises to hold too much that is unfamiliar and I lie in bed at night terrified of what I no longer know.