GETTING USED TO
Zep was shocked at how quickly rigor mortis had set in. He stood at the bottom of the stairs and watched his son-in-law maneuver the old dog’s stiff limbs and then its snout past the knick-knacks in the window.
“Careful now, Manny. Don’t whack his leg!” Zep held onto the railing for support. “He’s suffered enough.”
Manny stopped at the bottom, facing Zep, the dog-body between them. Major was handsome, even in death, and Zep was compelled to poke the dog’s swollen blue tongue back into its mouth. But he was afraid to touch the petrified animal and looked back at his son-in-law instead.
“You know he’s gone, Zep, right?” Manny said.
“You know I do.”
Manny nodded. “Where should I put him?”
“In my car. Backseat, I imagine.”
“Do you know what you’re gonna do with him? I don’t think you’re exactly up to digging him a hole anywhere.”
Zep tried to keep his gaze forward, but his eyes fell back upon Major. He held his hand above the dog’s brow for a second, then brushed the eyes closed, his fingers lingering upon the silky ears, before letting his arm fall to his side.
“They’re waiting for me at the vet’s. I guess they’ll take care of all that.”
“Okay, then.” Manny shifted from one foot to the other and hitched the dog up with a thrust. “Do you have a blanket or a tarp for the backseat?”
Zep straightened up a little. “I’ll get one and meet you in the driveway.” He headed up the stairs.
Manny pushed the storm door open with his back, wondering how he was going to get into the car without a free hand. As he walked to the driveway, his wife pulled up to the curb.
“I’m so glad to see you!” Manny jerked his head toward Zep’s car. “Can you get the door for me?”
Alison rushed up to the dog instead. “Poor old Major! I hope he didn’t suffer too much.” She scratched behind the dog’s ear. “I don’t know why Dad couldn’t let the vet put the poor thing out of his misery. It would have been painless and peaceful.” She looked up as her father walked toward them over the bumpy lawn.
“I don’t exercise the power of life and death over anyone or anything. That dog went when he was damn ready. That’s all there is to it.” Zep said.
Alison gave her father a hug as he stood stiffly, blanket in hand. “How’re you doing? Was it awful?”
“It was what it was. Awful’s a good word for it I suppose. I’m getting a little used to awful now, aren’t I?”
Manny shifted his weight again. “Sorry to interrupt, but could one of you open the door and lay the blanket down. This is 70 pounds of dead weight here.”
Alison and Zep looked at him, the dog sticking straight out from his arms. Alison raised her eyebrows a little.
“Sorry.” Manny muttered. “My back is giving way.”
Alison grabbed the navy blue wool blanket from her father’s arms and took it to the car, laying it quickly on the back seat. “That okay? Want help?”
“Maybe you could go around and pull him from the other side. Try not to snap anything.” Manny rolled his eyes toward her father.
Alison cringed. “Okay.”
His wife moved around the passenger side of the car and straightened the blanket before he heaved Major onto the back seat. They pulled back and forth on the wool until the dog was in the center of the bench, Zep waiting until they closed the doors before heading back toward the house.
“I’m going for my hat and keys.”
They followed Zep through the hall into the kitchen.
“I guess I’ll wash up,” Manny said to no one in particular.
“Dad, how will you get the dog out of the car at the vet’s?”
“They’ll do it for me, I imagine. They must be used to it.”
“What a lousy thing to get used to.” Alison sat in a kitchen chair. “Where will you go afterwards? I can take the day off if you’d like to come over for a bit. The kids’ll be out of school around three. You can stay for dinner.”
Zep stood over the sink and looked out the window into the yard where he and Major used to hang out. “No, no. You go about your day. Don’t worry about me. I have some errands to do, and I thought I’d paint some of these shutters. I have plenty to keep me busy. You go to work.”
Manny came into the kitchen. “You need anything else right now, Zep? I’m gonna head out to work. I’ll be by over the weekend to clear out those gutters.”
“Good, good. Plenty of work around here. I’d do it myself if I didn’t have…,” he trailed off.
“You’ve done enough already. Let us do something for you.” Alison bustled up and gave Zep a quick squeeze. “Want me to drop off some dinner later?”
“No, no. I’ll pick up a piece of steak and fry it up. Major likes the bone….”
Alison and Manny looked quickly at one another. “It’ll take some getting used to Zep,” Manny said.
“I know all about getting used to,” Zep growled. “I’m still not used to missing my wife.” He grabbed a dirty-beige cap from the coat rack by the front door and stuck it on his head, the race-track logo faded across the bill. It matched the drab color of his short-sleeved shirt.
Manny winced and stretched backward with a groan. “Alright then, Dad. We’ll check in with you later.”
“Yeah, don’t worry about me, I’ll call you tonight.”
Zep grabbed his keys from the hall table and headed out. “Lock up behind you, now.”
After readjusting the driver’s seat, Zep manipulated the rear-view mirror, training it on Major. He turned to back out of the driveway, his eyes lingering on the dog’s long, black coat, staring long enough to assure himself there was no breath coursing in and out, no rippling wave of life across the belly. He stepped on the gas.
The ride was torturous and long, Zep keeping one eye on the dog’s reflection, fearful that every start and stop was going to dislodge the animal from the seat and crack something. He didn’t know why he was obsessing with dead bones breaking. “What the hell difference does it make now?” He muttered. Still, he did not want to hear that terrible sound.