Maggie called again to check on the animal, who scurried around the yard, unaware of the good life he’d enjoyed. His dysfunctional bodily functions and the onset of dementia would end that shortly. That’s where Blanche came in.
The animal in question, Stud, was a dog. Maggie got the dog when she moved away from her parents; she’d traveled the country with him. Stud saw the vet as a puppy, then again, when Maggie’s then-boyfriend backed into him in the Volvo, and finally, when his balance went, and he began to move through the house backwards. “The growth,” said the vet, “was it.”
Two weeks ago, as Blanche drove home with Maggie after their shift, Maggie had asked for help, distraught, and Blanche offered. That day, a group of college students came in with lung fungus. They’d all inhaled contaminated hot tub fumes. It is funny, Blanche thought, as she pulled away from the driveway, that we live at the boundaries of death and still refuse to confront it.
She picked up Tim. He was the kind of person who wanted to be there for the end. Blanche was often there for the end, and the end was nothing to write home about. She’d bring coffee and crackers to the grieving families in the hallway and say, “I am sorry that this is all I can offer you.” This statement seemed to help.
“The market is hot,” Tim said. “The realtor’s seen nothing like it.”
“He’s got issues,” Blanche said.
The clinic parking lot was full. They carried Stud to the lawn near the entrance. The grass was wilted yellow, exposed from an above-freezing stretch of days that had melted most of the snow. Blanche held one of Stud’s paws. The wind went through all the layers.
“Lay down,” Tim said.
They filled out a form in the lobby with pleasant, pastel trim. The veterinarian, a balding, otherwise youthful man invited them into the room. He explained that the technician, a friendly woman named Lou, would take it from there. Lou explained that unconsciousness would be followed by respiratory, then cardiac arrest. Blanche knew. Stud flopped his ears to the right.
Lou prepped the solutions. Blanche remembered her training after nursing school, which had taken place in pediatric intensive care, the arrhythmic cadence of the ventilators and the monitors, new parents losing track of night and day.
The house wasn’t really a house. The house was their future, their children, and their marriage. She had tried to materialize it with a mortgage. Lou offered tissues to both of them, but said nothing to offer comfort.
After, they got ice cream. Tim had rocky road, and she opted for peppermint. Even so, were they really such different people?
“Let’s have a baby in the future,” Tim said. “In the future, we could have a house.”
She had seen the future. Tim handed her his napkin, which was sticky and smelled like chocolate. In the future, she thought, dogs go to heaven.
Anna Prushinskaya is a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is also an editor at Joyland Magazine. More about her at annaprushinskaya.com