Gone Dogs

The late March sunshine warms my face as I cross the parking lot. The sky is a dazzling shade of Carolina blue, and I notice the apricot trees are beginning to blossom. Around the corner, construction equipment moves mounds of dirt while humming a soundtrack for the expansion project underway.

Today I leave work early to meet my husband and one of our dogs for a picnic. Traffic is light and I take deep breaths of spring air as I drive with the windows cracked open. At home I collect a blanket, several cups, sparkling cider and a bottle of champagne. I leave the grocery store with fruit and cheese and, impulsively, a small bouquet of hyacinths. I glance at the clock and review a mental check-list as I get back into the car; I want to make sure that I will be on time and that every detail will be perfect.

I arrive before David and busy myself cleaning smudges from my sunglass lenses. My phone is fully charged and ready to play a song I downloaded yesterday. I arrange the blanket, taking care to choose a flat spot so we can all sit comfortably. Our dog, Jenny, explores the smells and textures of the freshly cut grass as she slowly leads me around the field. When David arrives, he embraces me in a long hug and pours a generous serving of champagne for each of us. We rest our hands on Jenny’s soft fur, sipping our drinks and sitting in companionable silence as time passes by. We open a container of strawberries and unwrap some cheese. We laugh about the time Jenny knocked a pizza off the counter and gobbled up two whole slices before anyone could stop her.

I am surprised by how much I am enjoying this picnic.

Dr. McFadden finds a spot on the blanket and Jenny wags her tail, welcoming the kind oncologist we have visited countless times during the last 6 years. I see the gift Dr. McFadden carries with her – a scoop of meat sandwiched between two giant cookies, garnished with teddy grahams and M&Ms, topped with rainbow sprinkles and dripping with gravy. She calls this concoction a Cat Food Sundae and Jenny eats it with almost as much enthusiasm as those pizza slices from years ago.

A few tears form but I brush them away. I promised myself I would not cry in front of Jenny today.

I rub Jenny’s tummy and ask a few questions. I finish my champagne and use my phone to cue the song I downloaded yesterday. I kiss Jenny on her polka-dotted nose while David strokes her ears. I lower my sunglasses and rest my forehead against Jenny’s forehead as the music sings her to sleep. When the music stops, I slip a card under Jenny’s right paw and I lay the hyacinths next to her. Dr. McFadden folds the blanket around Jenny and softly says “I can’t believe she is gone.”

Now I allow myself to cry. A leisurely afternoon of sunshine and snacks and laughter and music and love. Hot tears burn my eyes and brand my heart. Every detail was perfect.

Today is beautiful.

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