She sat with the book on her lap, turning the pages slowly and
listening to the sounds that drift into a quiet house on a lively street.
Finally, she closed the book and rose from the sofa. It was time.
She went to the kitchen, opened the freezer, and pulled out the box.
It was dusk, but stepping outside she squinted at the dim light. How long since she’d been out?
It seemed like she’d always had dogs, but really it wasn’t until she bought the house. She’d thought buying a house would be something she’d do as part of a couple, and imagining moving into her first one by herself made her feel lonely. So she adopted a puppy, a black-eyed, cock-eared pit-bull mix, and they moved in together.
She got the second one when she noticed a newspaper photo of an SPCA Dog of the Week with the same black-brindle coloring as her dog; she thought they’d make a good-looking pair. But when she went to the shelter, the newspaper dog was gone, so she brought home instead a big red-and-white boxer mix they said was sweet with people but mean with other dogs. She never understood why they said that; he wasn’t mean, and when she went to sleep that night, the dogs were curled up back-to-back on blankets next to her bed.
Years later, when the tiny terrier mix showed up in the driveway, she took him in too; there was plenty of room in the big house. She walked them together, through the neighborhood streets and into the park. Other walkers smiled at them, staggered by height–large, medium, small–as if they’d been posed.
By the time the big dog died she’d already buried the older one, under the tree they’d watched swaying in the wind during their first rainy days in the new house. The big dog faded soon after. His eyes clouded, and he began to wake startled, shaky as he tried to stand, like a colt on its first legs. The morning she found him lying on his side in the yard, when she touched him and he didn’t move, she knew he was gone too, so she rolled him onto a bed sheet, knotting it tight at his head and feet. Then she dug deep into the earth, again, and made a second plot.
The little one should have lasted longer; his breed-mix was hardy and he was still young, so when he dug out of the yard and was hit by a car, she wasn’t prepared. The young musician next door had found the dog by the curb. He put it in a shoebox, and waited on her porch until she got home. He could bury it for her if she’d like—in the yard, with the others?
She looked at the box for a long minute, then held out her grocery bag, and he placed the box inside, on top of the frozen dinners and the bottle of wine. She unlocked the door and walked through the house and into the kitchen, opened the freezer door, and placed the box inside.
She hadn’t intended to stop going out—there was just no occasion. Everything she needed could be ordered and delivered. It wasn’t until she found the flyer that she realized she couldn’t remember the last time she’d left the house.
It was on the floor below the mail slot. Private, customized pet cremation, it
began. A variety of designer urns to create a lasting memorial to your loved one.
She sat on the sofa and read it again. A comforting alternative to burial, it promised.
She picked up the book from the coffee table in front of her, the album filled with all the photographs she’d taken of her dogs, beginning with the black-brindle
puppy on moving day. She looked at the book for a long time, her fingers
tracing the image of each lost pet.
Finally she closed the album and walked toward the kitchen. It was time.