Today is Lhotse’s last day in her golden, slightly goofy bear-dog skin. I lay some hours with her in her spot, in front of the house on the green lawn, with the autumn milk sky above and the sound of birdcalls. As my grooming brush burnished her luxuriant fur, it seemed to remove her pain and take her back to her days of vigor when she was the Puppy Class star and ran with Kiva in Drabbington Woods.
Lhotse has been given this day of Grace, for which I am grateful. She is clear-eyed and vital, engaged in her Lhotse objectives. She checks out every car. She monitored the garbage pickup. Every now and then she takes a drink and snarls at Spira. She is pigging liver treats. I put my knuckle in her ear and rub, in our secret way that she likes the best, the way that makes her dog-purr, even if it does sound like growling, even if she was really Dave’s dog. Her breathing and body are relaxed as she leans against me, her barrel chest moving gently. She is the reigning dowager Queen, watching over her people, her dominion. Soon she will be watching over us from a different place.
All you ever wanted, all you ever wanted, was to be a good dog.
As I brush her I tell her stories of the Olden Days.
“Do you remember,” I say, “when you were a young dog, and the world was sparkly new? And you would find the biggest stick you could carry, except that it wouldn’t be a stick, it would be a small tree, and you would run around, tail held high, with that tree in your mouth, that only you with your neck like a bear could pick up. And we would all jump off the path as you trotted by so we wouldn’t be smacked. And you would be jubilant because for once you had everyone’s attention?” Lhotse nods; yes, she remembers.
“Do you remember,” I say, “when you were a pup and you played Chase Me because Kiva wouldn’t let you play Fetch? You ran around and around the front yard tree, and circled the table with me in hot pursuit pretending I couldn’t catch your galumping self? Yes, she remembers, I can tell.
“Do you remember,” I say, “that Ariella called you Sasee and you were one of her first two words, even though only you could understand her? And that day you managed somehow, to get a stick wedged in your huge mouth with your gigantic teeth, and we had to take you, mouth stuck wide open, to the vet to have the stick extracted? And how you were way, way too strong for Talia to hold, even though you were a top-ranked fully-certified AKC Companion Dog? And do you remember that golden spring day when we and the baby took a long, long walk to the rise in the meadow by the 100 year old Campion oak. And time stopped?“ Lhotse remembers; she is smiling, sitting once again with me on the green grass under the open sky.
She is resting comfortably, somehow, bathed in the gift of a few glorious pain-free hours before going Home. Finally she is relaxed, the first time since the hospital two days ago. I sing her the Lhotse Motzi song, my face pressed against hers. I whisper her special names: Lhotzer, Lhotse Motzi, Lotus, The Motze. She smiles, clear-eyed. I am happy, resting comfortably, bathed in grace.
But then I remember. I remember with dread, that this day will be marked–Before and After. I will mark the rest of my life by today, by before Lhotse died and after Lhotse died.
Sometime tonight a car will drive slowly up the street. It will not pass safely on. Its lights will rake the house as it trespasses the driveway. The engine will stop. The night will hold its breath. The doors will open, pushing against the enormous weight of the protesting air. Two people will get out and walk softly towards my beloved.
I never signed up for this, for the intolerable responsibility of ending her life by my own bloody hands. I only signed up to love and protect her, to shelter her, to take care of her through rich and poor, to be with her in love through sickness and through health, till death did us part.
The scythe is coming. The white grey sky will darken; black will come into the clouds; the scythe, gentle as a caress, will take her from me. I can’t stand it. Another beloved.
Then I close my eyes and see another girl. A wolfish girl with impossibly black fur, big eyes that go ember at night, full of so much love it transcends even Death. She awaits you Lhotse, head held high, every atom of her radiant body ready to run. She has readied the rainbow for your racecourse. The music of the spheres will lead you. Go to her my friend, companion of my heart, go to her, and run together in the multitudinous galaxies of forever. Don’t be afraid, she awaits you.
And we, left behind, we will look for you. We will listen for you. We will reach for you. We will not see you waiting each blessed morning on your green bed afore the fireplace. We will not hear your heavy paws up the stairs each and every evening, nor hear your breathing in the night. We will not feel you bang against us awkwardly as you trot past nearly knocking us over. We will though, see your outline in the light-rimmed clouds, and hear you in the evening wind. We will feel your surprisingly rough fur on a summer morning in that moment between dreaming and waking. And every autumn, as the leaves just begin to turn and the chill faintly spices the air, we will find you. You will be there in the gloaming, when the veil between worlds is transparently thin. At your eternal guard post. And, Lhotse of the Big Heart, for the rest of our lives, as you have always done, you will guard us, protect us, love us with an unbreakable love, and keep us safe.