I first saw it on my way to work, shivering in a corner between my building and the next. It tracked me with big brown mournful eyes as I passed. I hesitated, but there was nothing I could do and I had a bus to catch. I’d forgotten all about it by the time I got to work.
I remembered it, though, when I passed the same corner on my way home. I was glad to see it wasn’t there. Somebody must have come to get it. I told myself people ought not to let their dogs get out and run around shivering on other people’s property.
I was getting my mail when I heard two of the other residents talking.
“Did you see that dog that was hanging around here this morning? I had to chase it away from the door. It was trying to get in.”
“I’ve seen it. I don’t think it belongs to anyone in the building. Too skinny, doesn’t have a collar. Somebody ought to call the Animal Shelter.”
I took the elevator to my condo.
That evening after dinner I felt restless. I didn’t want to watch TV; didn’t know what I wanted to do. Finally I put on my coat and headed downstairs, thinking I’d go somewhere for a glass of wine.
When I passed the corner, there it was again, a thin dark shadow pressed up against the building. I stopped. What the heck was I supposed to do about this? I knew nothing about dogs. I’d never had a dog. Someone official should come deal with this dog. Did the Animal Shelter pick up dogs at night? I took out my phone. A recording told me to leave a message. It was getting colder; snow was predicted.
The dog came when I called it. The next thing I knew we were in my condo and I was feeding it scrambled eggs.
I made a bed for it out of old towels and locked it in the bathroom for the night. It looked at me with a sort of dumb gratitude as I closed the door.
The next morning when I opened the bathroom door, it almost wagged its tail off.
“Oh Lord,” I said aloud. “I guess I have to do something about you.”
So I called work to say I’d be late and after we’d both had scrambled eggs I took it to the Animal Shelter.
The guy at the counter was very friendly and helpful; he had me fill out a form and thanked me for bringing the dog in. Everything was fine until he walked around the counter with a leash. The dog took one look at him and hid behind my legs.
“Guess he likes you,” the guy said, smiling.
The dog had literally stuck its head between my knees and closed its eyes. When the leash slipped over its ears, it whimpered, a soft little whimper like it’d lost all hope.
“What happens now?” I asked.
“The vet will check him out, we’ll do some tests, see if he’s chipped. If no one claims him and he’s adoptable we’ll keep him for a while, see if he can find a home.”
“And if not?”
“This isn’t a no-kill shelter.”
I turned to go. At the door I turned back.
“How do you live with all those goodbyes?”
The question shocked us both. I didn’t wait for an answer.
Three days later, not having slept much, I went back. A woman was at the counter. I asked her what had happened to the dog. She looked it up and told me it had been adopted.
Why did I feel so empty when I should feel relieved?
When I got home my condo seemed empty too, so empty I turned right around and went out again, thinking I’d treat myself to dinner. I was halfway down the block when I saw the dog. Attached to a leash. Held by the guy from the shelter.
He went crazy when he saw me, the dog, I mean. He jumped all over me and I let him. The guy just stood there grinning. After things calmed down a bit, he said, “Please don’t think this is weird, but I was coming here hoping to see you. I remembered your address from the intake form. I wanted to tell you I heard what you said, and I realized I’d said enough goodbyes. So I’ve left the Shelter. Oliver here came with me. He’s helping me look for another job, maybe something in animal rescue.”
“After Oliver Twist. An orphan rescued by a kind lady.”
Oliver was pressing himself against my leg, panting. And shivering. It was really cold out. I said, “Want to go somewhere for coffee?” before I knew it.
The guy’s face lit up. “I know a place nearby that’s pet-friendly.”
The way Oliver trotted in front of us, you’d think it was his idea.
We see quite a bit of each other now, Oliver, Jim and I. We’ve discovered we like long walks and grassy parks and scrambled eggs. We’re looking forward to spring.
J L Wynne has been a housewife, a single mother, a psychiatric nurse, and a hospital administrator. Now she just writes fiction.