by Sylvia Ann
I get along without you very well, of course I do…
I’ve forgotten you just like I should, of course I have…
Except perhaps in spring, but I should never think of spring…
For that would surely break my heart in two.
[Hoagy Carmichael Jane Brown Thompson]
He looked forward to spring with its frog songs and bird songs that stirred his reminiscences of fledgling Steller’s blue jays tumbling from their nests. His purrs were barely audible. He never meowed. He warbled, distilling everything he felt you needed to know into several trilled ‘r’s,’ spoken with a warmth that convinced you how special you were to him. He never turned grey, the way an old dog does. He had cream and coffee fur. A sooty face. Legs and tail to match.
You can pretend he was yours, if you like, since when has grief been anything but grief?
You held him when his journey had ended, searching for him in his half-open eyes that rested on yours, your own shattering his into starbursts.
Over the years his forget-me-not eyes made fun of you during your playtime, when you’d yell out his name in mock indignation and chase him as he rushed down the hallway, tail in air, flew up the stairs to the sixth step – always the sixth – spun around at a whiplash right angle and thrust his head between the banisters, butting your forehead and smiling at you with none of the muscles that would have let him smile like a dog, but smiling all the same, his sunny blue eyes blazing with pride as he taunted you with his rackety, merry, sassy-boy warble, triumphant to be a taller than you, telling you off as you’d never been told while you stood on tiptoe, laughing at and kissing him. He was your boy. Your best boy.
Sometimes you kiss the back of your hand unthinkingly, pretending it’s him, talking to him until your words fail and nothing’s left but to hide your face in the fur you’d pulled from his brush during the months he was dying. Spring is here again, and his fur has lost its tang of California redwoods.
They have your best interests at heart, they say, when they urge you to throw away his things. ‘Why hold on to that litter box?’ they ask, mystified by your rationale in keeping it beside the bed where he lay in the dark that summer morning and tried to tell you, as best he could, with one intimate warble, that he had to say goodbye. You held his paw and whispered to him that you knew he had to leave – wondering, afterwards, if his and your parting was dwarfed by the everlasting sorrows of the world. It must have been. But it was enough.
They mean well in talking you into taking down the hook from the iron chandelier, the eyesore of a hook that held the bag with its idiotic line that stretched from ceiling to floor and halfway back up. ‘And why is that sitting on the kitchen table?’ they quiz you, glaring at the blanket. They’re right. It doesn’t belong there. Yet that’s where it is in remembrance of him, for that’s where he sat day after day, his spindle-shanks trembling because he never understood why you would want to hurt him.
Every morning you lifted him onto the blanket and told him how much he meant to you, in case he couldn’t guess. He flinched when the needle went in, but then sank into a calm, glancing up at the bag now and then, or lifted his face to look at you, bewildered, but trusting in you, because you were his parent. Though it made him feel better for a few hours, what could you do but ask his forgiveness, unable to explain what he couldn’t comprehend, consoling him, instead, with the soothing baby-talk parents murmur to their child, ‘Shhh, shhh, ta-ta-ta-ta…’
The volume dropped in three days, which left you holding him and the needle with one hand and reaching out the other to accelerate the dribble by twisting and wringing the bag, hoping things would go smoothly every day, that you wouldn’t push the needle through his pinch of skin – which you did on occasion (a common, ‘comical’ mishap, according to the vet nurse) – the fluid trickling down his gnarly spine while you silently wailed, damning yourself to eternities of hellfire.
‘GOOD OL’ MAN! NOW we’re done! NOW we’re all FINISHED!’ you trumpeted in his ear minutes later, bear-hugging your boy before he jumped down, ran into the parlor, tail aloft, jumped up on the piano, thrilled to have survived the ordeal, and waited for you in joyful expectation.
You changed the needle and unhooked the bag in nine seconds flat, then followed him in to where he stood and cupped his inch-wide chin in your hand, he shutting his eyes as you tenderly brushed his whiskers and eyelids, petting and praising him all the while for looking like Charlie Quasimodo – which he did – until the hump slithered down his ribs as the months wore on and his fur coat slackened from gallons of fluid, coffee cans of needles.
After his massage, you brought out his squeaky mouse on a wand, flicking it from one end of the piano to the other for him to pounce on, partly to please you, for he guessed you were trying to jolly him along. But then came the day, as both of you knew the day would come, when all the play went out of him, as much as he wanted to be a good sport and cheer you, too, with his Nureyev leaps, making you laugh until you cried.
‘You need to move on!’ they earnestly intone, determined to snap you out of what you’re in.
Was he worth no tears?
He almost made it to the end of summer.
He’s gone now. He’s gone.
Which doesn’t mean he’s gone.
He wakes you in the middle of the night.
He’s there when you visit a pet supply store and rummage through the cat toys, the fake fur doodad he shouldn’t be without. The catnip thingy he’d…..
He’s with you in springtime when you’re driving in the country and have to pull over because you can’t see the road for him.
Dreamless, he’s there when you walk through a haze of cottonwoods, he’s with you in the sun and showers and April wind that bent his fur backwards a lifetime ago, in his and the earth’s intoxicating spring.
His memory sleeps. Yours keeps vigil because it cannot not.
Still, nothing’s colorfast. He’s bound to fade like the woodsy scent of his fur you saved as a keepsake when you watched him sail away.
As to how it is now, though, your frail old man with his beautiful eyes, your best, best Peter Pan of a boy spills through your thoughts as you stand on a shore, thankful for his sake he’s forgotten what you can’t: that he was yours and you were his.
Will he ever leave you?
A vision of infinity lies beyond the surf, a grey-gold sea with an elfin, mustard-seed of a bark, a forget-me-not speck of a cockleshell on the horizon, its mote of a sail hanging limp in the quietude, seemingly motionless, but drifting into dusk. Melting into vapor.
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