At first, Gina thought the day was cloudless, but, leashing Tilda and stepping outside, she saw the entire sky was one diffuse, glaring white cloud. She fished around in her tote bag for sunglasses. Poor Tilda, blind and incontinent, barked at a pair of perfumed legs passing by.
Tilda continued to bark as the woman with the perfumed legs waited at the corner for the light to change. Did the woman know the dog was barking at her? Probably not, but a surge of embarrassment hit Gina anyway.
“What’s the matter, doggie?” said another woman, very young, with short pink hair and a nose ring. Tilda just barked madly back, while Gina tried not to stare at the burst of color on the woman’s head. “Sorry,” said Gina, though she knew a sick dog trumps all apologies. She needed to rush to the vet. Several cabs went by, but she had to wait for Peter, in case the dog needed “putting down.” She would not make that decision alone. Where the hell was Peter?
“She doesn’t bark so much when I have her,” Peter had said when he brought her back a few days earlier. “I think it’s a control issue. You let her manipulate you.” That’s how it had been being married to a therapist, and how it continued to be since they separated.
“Look, even if that were so,” Gina had answered, “she’s eleven years old and something is bothering her all the time. Her quality of life stinks.”
“So you want to put her down?” It had sounded like an accusation.
“Let’s see what the vet says,” she’d answered, rationally. If he was the therapist, why was she always the sensible one, the one making the appointment, the one carrying all the weight?
Peter was late. Gina cursed herself for deciding they should go together. She tried to steady her anger as it roiled in her chest and turned her neck muscles to steel cables. It had been eleven years of marriage, Tilda’s age marking the years.
Gina texted “Where are you?” He was almost there, he said. Tilda was panting in the strangest way. Her barks were turning to moans, with pauses for more panting.
“Meet me there,” Gina texted, but when she looked up, she saw Peter approaching. He was graying, but otherwise looked just like the man she’d married: attractive. A shock of familiarity and unfamiliarity unnerved her for a few seconds, and she couldn’t find her voice. He was towering, intelligent, and strong: in essence just whom she needed at a time like this. Yet something had broken between them. What was it? What was so broken it couldn’t be repaired, she wondered?
Tilda had stopped barking and moaning and had turned her head to Peter, as if she could see through the cloudy white of her cataracts. Gina, too, felt like she was turning toward Peter through instinct, seeing his essence instead of her long list of his false moves and failures to meet expectations. For a moment all three hung in suspense, as if one of them were about to do something consequential. It was Tilda who broke the silence. Her blind collie eyes opened wide, and she began barking like a small lap dog, high-pitched and frantic.
Peter scooped up the barking dog and he and Gina ran to the vet’s, four blocks down. They ran past reception and into the back, looking for help. An assistant pointed to a room and said he’d fetch a doctor.
They were alone for a minute with each other and the dog. There was no sound coming from Tilda now. Peter still stood with Tilda in his arms. Surely, Gina thought, he could feel against his ribs whether the dog was breathing. But she hesitated to ask, not sure if she wanted to know. Bravely, she looked up, they locked eyes, and she knew. Why had they lost her? A heart attack, the doctor would tell them, and they would use the phrase to name their loss, but right now they didn’t think in words. They looked out the door into the fluorescent light of the hallway and waited. Peter allowed the dog’s weight to rest on the table, and he freed a hand. Gina reached for it, and they held onto each other under the same cloud of grief.
Lena Silver lives in New York and is a writer of short fiction and nonfiction.